Is Jesus an “Invisible, Magical, Wish-Granting Friend” to Christians?

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 27, 2009 in Christian Theology,Debates,Letters

blind man

My debate with Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian, after making great progress, came to a sudden halt when Tom quit.

Why did Tom end the debate? I had said that “most Christians believe Jesus is an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend.” (Let’s call that proposition P.) Tom writes:

The main problem with your depiction of Christian belief is… that it distorts the truth by imbalancing its presentation of what Christian belief is.

Tom says it is my “unwillingness or inability to see this” that caused him to quit.

But wait a minute! I explicitly said in my earlier letters that I agree that P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine!

For example, in Letter 17 I wrote:

I never said that calling Jesus an “invisible, magical, wish-granting friend” was to offer a good description of Christian belief, either. I know it’s distorted. In the same way, saying that Christianity is belief in an “Almighty Creator and Savior” is also a huge distortion, for it leaves out hugely important attributes like God’s invisibility, supernaturality, prayer-responsiveness, and so on.

…In a “World Religions 101″ article it would be ludicrous to say that Christianity is belief in an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend and then move on!

Tom says he quit because I was unwilling or unable to see that P “distorts the truth by imbalancing its presentation of what Christian belief is.”

But above, you can see that I quite explicitly asserted that P presents a distorted and imbalanced presentation of Christian belief. So Tom’s explanation of why he left the debate is explicitly contradicted by my earlier letter.

But is P literally true?

Now, many of you might quite understandably say that even if P is literally true, such language is inappropriate and disrespectful in disciplined debate. That’s quite understandable. In that same letter 17 I explained my reasons for using such language,1 and I want to discuss that purpose in a separate post, later. For now I just want to talk about whether or not P is literally true, regardless of its appropriateness or respectfulness.

So for now I don’t care if you assume that P is the most inappropriate and morally condemnable depiction of Christian doctrine you can imagine. Let’s set that aside for now. Instead, let’s move on to a different point. Is P literally true? Have I really so badly misunderstood the faith I grew up in?

Here’s proposition P again:

P. Most Christians believe Jesus is an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend.

Is that literally true? To find out, I wrote to Tom in letter 18:

…I’m still under the impression that you think Jesus is an…

  • Invisible. He wouldn’t be much of a god if he wasn’t. He wouldn’t be much of a god if he was some powerful guy sitting on a throne atop mount Figi, that you could just climb to and chat with.
  • Magical. Again, he wouldn’t be much of a god if he wasn’t. Though some Christians are materialists, standard Christian doctrine says that Jesus is magical, so much so that most Christians wouldn’t even consider Christian materialists to be Christian at all. And if Jesus isn’t magical in the sense of “supernatural,” that would just mean he must be magical in the trivial sense of being an illusionist.
  • Wish-granting. Just as some Christians deny that Jesus is supernatural, some Christians also deny that Jesus answers prayer requests. But you believe in intercessory prayer, right, Tom? Or have I got that wrong?
  • Friend. I suppose this is the most contentious, but I still think most Christians think of Jesus as – among many other things - a loving companion with whom they have a personal relationship. Is that not part of how you conceive of Jesus, Tom? Have I got that wrong?

Tom did not respond to these questions, so after he quit the debate I asked him, via email, which adjective he denied of Jesus:

Do you believe Jesus is normally visible?

Do you believe Jesus is not magical; that he acts only by natural means?

Do you believe Jesus does not answer prayers?

Do you believe Jesus is not a loving, caring, personal companion?

Tom said he could not answer the questions because he denied their premises. Specifically, with regard to magic, he wrote that my statement

…implies a binary distinction between magic and natural means. I have explained already how that binary distinction is false.

He also wrote that my statement about wish-granting

…implies an equivalence between answering prayers and granting wishes, which I have also explained is incorrect.

Tom did affirm that Jesus is invisible and a friend,2 so let’s zoom in on whether he is magical and wish-granting.

Is Jesus magic?

More specifically, with regard to magic Tom wrote in his letter 15:

God is decidedly not “magical” in the sense stated in answers.com. He does not “invoke the supernatural.” He is himself the being behind all other being, and his essence is of course supernatural, but he does not use some “art” to “invoke” himself! …The term “magical” as applied to God is just wrong. God acts out of his own being, not out of some magical art.

But I replied to Tom in my letter 17:

You say it’s not magic because Jesus didn’t invoke the supernatural to affect the natural world. Rather, he used his own supernatural powers to heal the lame and exorcise demons, etc. But I don’t really see the difference. Whether he’s calling on God’s magic powers or using his own magic powers, they’re still magic powers. Saying that it’s Jesus’ own magical powers doing the work only makes Jesus all the more magical. In that case, Jesus himself is magical rather than just being a conduit of or summoner of magical powers.

Tom did not reply to that.

Note that the first two definitions of “magic” we were using are:

  1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
  2. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.

But it is trivial to show that the Jesus of the New Testament engaged in such practices. For example, see John 9:6-7:

Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Jesus also commanded his followers to invoke the supernatural, for example when sending out the disciples in Matthew 10:8:

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons…

Of course, Tom could get out of this by just denying the legitimacy of each Biblical passage that depicts Jesus performing magic, but I doubt he’d do that because in his letter 2 he wrote:

My position regarding the Bible is that it is the authoritative and trustworthy word of God, accurate in all that it affirms…

So the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus that Christians believe in, is magical in the sense that we were debating, and in common senses of the word “magic” with which I’m familiar.

Am I wrong on this? If so, somebody please explain exactly how Jesus is not magical according to standard Christian doctrine.

Does Jesus grant wishes?

Concerning my claim that according to Christians, Jesus grants wishes (aka “prayers”), Tom wrote in letter 15:

Don’t you see how you have chopped off 98% of what it means to be in relationship with God? Don’t you see that our relationship with him is not one where he “grants wishes,” but where he builds character, molds our desires to be in tune with his good and ultimate moral nature (and thus molds our very wishes), calls on us to sacrifice ourselves and yield to him, calls on us to give him the worship that is due him?

But as I repeatedly affirmed, I know that Jesus is – according to Christians – much more than just a wish-granter. And since Tom says I “chopped off 98% of what it means to be in a relationship with God,” it sounds like he admits that roughly 2% of it concerns wish-granting (answering prayers). But apparently that’s not what he believes, because he wrote (above) that there is no equivalence “between answering prayers and granting wishes.”

But Tom did not explain how this is so. Certainly, the concept of prayer in Christianity performs many functions, but one of them is to ask God for what you wish, and Jesus explicitly instructs his followers to do exactly that. For example, in Matthew 7:7-11:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

And in Luke 11:13:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

And of course the Lord’s Prayer, including:

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Time and again, Jesus explicitly instructs his followers to ask God for what they wish, and says God will be happy to grant their wishes. To say that Jesus is not (among other things of course) a granter of wishes is simply anti-Biblical and contrary to orthodox Christian theology.

So again, I ask: If I am wrong in understanding this part of standard Christian theology, how is it that I misunderstand it?

And remember, I know this isn’t the whole picture of Jesus. I know it’s a caricature. We’ll talk about that later. What I need to know right now is what is literally false about proposition P?

Please, please tell me.

Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if I know the Bible better than the Christians who keep saying I don’t understand Christian theology.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2010:8&version=ESV

  1. My purpose in using caricature:

    No, my purpose was much different. It was, as I’ve said, to jolt believers with something that is undeniably, literally true about what they believe, so that they might be better able to examine their worldview more objectively, “from the outside.” And I do that to myself all the time, too.

    If I was a dogmatic worshiper of the Grand Canyon, I hope someone would have the courage to ask “Why are you worshiping a big hole in the ground?” That would be literally true but also a huge distortion of the majesty of the Grand Canyon. But it might help me to examine my beliefs more objectively, since it would be literally true of what I believe.

    Tom, when I was a Christian and I got jolted by an atheist who said I literally had an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend, it wasn’t as if I thought that’s all Jesus was. No, I knew Christianity’s impressive intellectual history. I knew its theological complexity and magnificence. I knew Jesus was a whole lot more than an invisible, magical, and wish-granting friend. I knew that wasn’t a very complete or helpful description of Jesus in the Christian tradition. I was already reading people like Dallas Willard and William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne. I did not have a Sunday School concept of Christianity.

    But it was literally true of what I believed. And that disturbed me enough to try to take the faith-colored glasses off so I could look at Christianity with the same eyes as I looked at every other religion – so I could drop the dishonest double standard. And when I did that, I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity had no more warrant than Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Sikhism or Zoroastrianism. As Christian philosopher James D. Strauss said, “If you don’t start with God, you’ll never get to God.”

    No, the Grand Canyon isn’t just a big hole in the ground. But if I’m dogmatically worshiping the Grand Canyon, I hope somebody will have the guts to ask, “Why are you worshiping a big hole in the ground?” Of course I would complain that the Grand Canyon is not “just” a big hole in the ground, and that this is a huge distortion of what I believe, but hopefully the truth of this question would jar me just enough to help me look at my beliefs more objectively.

    []

  2. In his letter 16, Tom writes that “Yes, God is invisible in a woodenly literal sense; i.e., we can’t take a picture of him. He wouldn’t be much of a god (the lower case there is intentional) if we could.” He also writes that “God is certainly a friend, and yes, I do literally believe in him as one.” []

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{ 107 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven D. November 27, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Luke,

My opinion is that this rhetorical strategy is counter-productive to meaningful (or at least longlasting) dialogue. I’m sorry to see the debate end right before it got interesting.

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Hermes November 27, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Luke, while I’m on vacation, I was tempted to take a look at your blog at the end of a day of family festivities … and was not disappointed. While my take on the topic is a bit more brutal, I appreciate you returning to this one after your last blog post on it. I think you do have something here and that it needs to be addressed just as many other questions — often uncomfortable — that have been raised in the past and have yet to be addressed in an even handed manner by even moderate Christians of good intent.

This question cuts through the pleasantries and gets at the core of the issues.

Unlike many of those other questions that allow for a reasonable stance even if that reasonable stance is often rejected or fervently ignored, this question looks to be different. I don’t think there is a consistent reply by a Christian (moderate or more fervent) to the question of magic besides “Yes, I believe that magic — not illusionist tricks — happens”.

Then again, I could be mistaken.

There could be a reasonable and rational explanation of the issues you’ve raised. Ones that both a moderate Christian and a Christian of more fervent temperament and understanding will agree on.

If such an explanation is available, it is important that it be aired in public and that both Christians and non-Christians (atheists or not) are able to see what reasonable comments the Christians are making.

I’m for understanding reality and purging any mistakes in comprehending it as soon as possible — even when those answers are awkward and don’t neatly fit with what I currently think is the case.

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ayer November 27, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Even if your strategy of mockery to jolt believers is appropriate in some situations (which I doubt, though I believe Craig has used it against atheists in a few of his debates, and Dsouza endorses the use of it in debate) an online discussion was not the place for it. In a live debate, there is a certain “entertainment” aspect that would make a remark like that more effective, but in a written discussion it just looks silly (because you certainly aren’t going to “jolt” someone serious like Tom out of his faith). I don’t blame Tom for calling it off.

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urbster1 November 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I think your tactics are totally legit. It’s not like these are straight-up ad hominem attacks or anything like that. You’ve already openly credited yourself with being completely honest about your understanding of Christianity. If Christians can’t take it, too bad for them. It makes them look much worse if they can’t seriously defend their beliefs, even when you’ve made a slight caricature. After all, we can only take these kinds of beliefs “seriously” for so long; I’m not sure if they really merit so much serious consideration when there is already a LOT of scholarly research and debate on them. Kind of reminds me of Jesus and Mo, the comic you posted earlier. Yes, that was a comic, but comedians and artists often use humor to tell the truth.

Speaking of which, as Sarah Silverman says, “Jesus is Magic!” so I think you’re obviously correct on this one :)

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josefjohann November 27, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Kind of like saying “I do not bite my thumb at thee, but I do bite my thumb!”

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Chuck November 28, 2009 at 12:45 am

If Jesus were a character in a fantasy novel, no question. He would be “magical”. I guess Tom doesn’t read a lot of fantasy . . .

As for what happened, I too am at a loss. You can’t readily debate a Christianity unless he takes the time to present one.

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Chuck November 28, 2009 at 1:26 am

Luke,

The proposition is true according to my definitions. Jesus is invisible (can’t see him), magical (works miracles), wish-granting (“Ask and it shall be given to you…”), and friend.

However, I don’t think many Christians are going to see it that way, especially once the reptilian in them kicks in.

They will call your choice of ‘invisible’ misleading because when we use that word, this isn’t what we normally mean. (When we say a thing is ‘invisible’, we mean it exists in the real world. It is made of atoms. We just can’t see them. Etc.)

They will argue with your use of the term “magical”. Now I read a lot of fantasy, so my definition is a bit broader than the one in the dictionary. But most Christians aren’t going to see things our way. To them, magic is synonymous with witchcraft (and witchcraft is synonymous with (cue ominous music) Evil), and in their head I think it goes something like,

Magic == Witchcraft == Evil;
Jesus != Evil;
Therefore, Jesus != Magical;

As for “wish-granting”, the ready answer goes something like, “But Jesus is so much more than that!” Or else, they think you are trying to equate the LORD with a genie and then the reptilian brain kicks in again, and after that it doesn’t matter what you say. They stopped listening five minutes ago.

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John D November 28, 2009 at 1:57 am

I agree with Chuck.

While those terms are acceptable to me, they have pejorative connotations that most Christians will balk at.

You might be able to get around this by lulling them into a false sense of security first. E.g. quoting the biblical passages you refer to, carefully considering the differences between – say – ‘supernatural’ and ‘magical’, showing how the purported distinction is meaningless, and then saying triumphantly ‘Ha ha, so Jesus is a magical, wish-granting, zombie Jew!’

In other words, end with the jolt, don’t open with it.

That would be my two cents.

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Derrida November 28, 2009 at 2:17 am

Surely an appropriate definition of the term “magic” is some force that we don’t understand and that appears to be intentional in nature.

As Arthur C Clarke pointed out:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

What is magic? Magic is “Ta da!”

Magic is utilising some force that we don’t understand to yield results that we wouldn’t expect in a naturalistic universe. And under this definition, Jesus and God certainly are magic.

One of the big problems with claiming “God did it”, as Luke has stated, is that we don’t know how God does what He does, and can’t understand what He does naturally. That’s magic, folks.

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Bebok November 28, 2009 at 2:18 am

Luke,

For me “friend” is most problematic. I think you’re slightly evangelical-centered in this respect. Most of Catholics I know don’t have any personal relationship with God. And even those who claim that they have one are usually reluctant to call it a “friendship”, because that assumes God is their peer. Your friend may have powers you don’t have, but her status in relationship is still equal. You don’t worship someone who is your friend and don’t obey her commands.

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snafu November 28, 2009 at 2:26 am

Personally, I’m with urbster1. Nothing wrong with ‘jolts’ in the cut and thrust of debate…and online is a perfectly good medium for it. I wouldn’t use this tactic on my best friend, of course, but the context of a debate-centric-blog-relationship, I see no problem.

I don’t think Tom is going to deconvert any time soon (but, I suspect that deconversion wasn’t a realistic prospect from the start). However, many theists on the edge may well find that conversations like this tip the balance. Certainly applies to me, looking back at the past few years.

Kudos.

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Haecceitas November 28, 2009 at 3:04 am

In your terminology, is “magic” basically a synonym for “supernatural”? Or can you conceive of something being supernatural while not being magic?

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Tom Gilson November 28, 2009 at 4:38 am

I too am disappointed at how it came out. I thought our discussion had great potential and I was enjoying it. But then it took a turn in a very unproductive direction.

Luke says here that I pulled out of the discussion because I thought he kept distorting my position, and that I should not have pulled out because he acknowledged he was distorting it for purposes he was explaining as he went along. Actually there was more to my decision than that. Some of that additional reasoning was in my closing letter to Luke on Discussion Grounds, and some of it I passed along to him in emails, portions of which are also posted in comments at DG.

I wrote in my closing letter,

In my last letter I said that if we could not settle this we would be at an impasse, before we even have opportunity really to begin, because we cannot agree on the topic we are debating…..

Please note that I am not pulling out because of disagreement on conclusions to our debate. Rather it is because we have been unable to settle on the terms of the debate; and specifically, it is because you insist on re-defining the basic terms of the opposite side in such a tendentious manner.

After this we exchanged a couple of emails, and I put some appropriate portions of that on Discussion Grounds as two comments.

Luke read those emails, as he indicated here, but in his response here he has omitted other information in those that explained further why I pulled out of the debate. I encourage you to read the comments I’ve linked to here (adapted from those emails), especially the first, so that you may see that this was not only a disagreement about the truth of P. It’s also about the way the discussion (speaking as charitably as I can) was failing to make progress, which led me to conclude it was not wise to continue.

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Thomas Reid November 28, 2009 at 6:39 am

But wait a minute! I explicitly said in my earlier letters that I agree that P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine!

No, you didn’t. You stated this in Letter 17, several letters after using the description. You also didn’t offer your definitions until it was pointed out to you that these are neither commonly-understood usages of these terms (“magical” and “wish-granting” in particular – notice that even on this thread people are still asking you to clarify your definition of “magic”) nor are they anything close to a comprehensive understanding of who believers claim Christ to be or who Christ claimed he was.

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Walter November 28, 2009 at 6:47 am

Most believers feel like such terms as “magic” and “wish granting” are used to trivialize their beliefs–it does not sound pious enough. After a few years of trying to casually debate believers online, I have about come to the conclusion that it is next to impossible to have a friendly exchange of ideas.

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Munjaros November 28, 2009 at 7:14 am

The only point I see that Tom has is that he doesn’t accept the term “magical” (you say “potato”…), otherwise he seems to accept the description. Of course he doesn’t think it’s helpful or fully descriptive, but, as Luck pointed out, it’s not supposed to be. Luke also pointed out that he wouldn’t be using this description of Christianity to argue against Tom’s claims of Christianity’s superior explanatory power.

Luke’s response regarding the Grand Canyon being “a big hole in the ground” was apt and to the point. The open minded Grand Canyon worshiper would embrace the description as true and examine his beliefs in light of this. He could even say “yes, it is a big hole in the ground, and isn’t it magnificent?!”

Tom doesn’t like the words that Luke uses, maybe they’re not respectful enough of for him. So how about when Luke says:

“So I think we’re in agreement. According to Christian tradition, Jesus is an invisible (unseen), magical (supernatural), wish-granting (prayer-responsive) friend (loving companion). That’s literally true. But he’s much more than that!”

Tom still seems to think that Luke is misrepresenting his beliefs. I guess Tom doesn’t believe that Jesus is an unseen, supernatural, prayer-responsive, loving companion? That puts him pretty far outside the Christian norm.

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 7:22 am

For what it is worth, the entire “invisible, magical friend” thread was snuck into the discussion via the “back-door” of the comments on DG.

But in those comments, the difficulty of this thread was called out earlylong before Luke gave any indication that he felt that the misrepresentation was in any way insufficient.

Comments #218-#222 represent an interesting exchange between Luke and me, ending in this comment:
Now that we’ve “sanitized” the terms “friend” “magic” and “invisible” so that an opponent can actually accept them as having some connection to what he believes, they suddenly have lost all impact! (i.e., please demonstrate that I have any reason at all to be uncomfortable with having an invisible magical friend).

Strangely, Luke has yet to offer any reason why I should be uncomfortable with having that kind of invisible magical friend. The only (non-)reasons are emotional — he finds the term “invisible, magical friend” to be belittling.

The reason that the DG debate was derailed was unquestionably because of Luke’s desire to pursue the “invisible magical friend” theme. But surely there was a reason to pursue such a theme beyond the fact that it resembles a schoolyard taunt? If so, it certainly hasn’t been communicated.

NB: this is not just the rantings of some wacky Christian ;-) This exact criticism of Luke’s strategy is also provided from an atheist’s perspective in comment #269.

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cartesian November 28, 2009 at 7:42 am

Luke,
I’m sorry to see that you’re still up to this lame argument by connotation and guilt by association. By calling Jesus a “magical,” “wish-granting,” “invisible friend,” you lump him in with cheap sleight-of-hand artists, mythical genies, and the imaginary friends of self-deluded children. The unattractiveness of the resulting description is due to these associations and connotations, *not* due to the words’ literal meanings that you disingenuously claim solely to be using.

What would actually be impressive is if you could defeat a position on its own terms, by offering substantive criticisms rather than cheap word games, you godless, profane, deluded antichrist. (Look ‘em up!) ;-)

-Cartesian

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drj November 28, 2009 at 8:09 am

I must say, I see these “magic” discussions exasperating even the most anal, pedantic, and die-hard among d&d fanatics.

Is the term “magic” really THAT scary, that it should produce such silly conversations? I guess so. I’ll have to use it more often;)

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drj November 28, 2009 at 8:12 am

cartesian: By calling Jesus a “magical,” “wish-granting,” “invisible friend,” you lump him in with cheap sleight-of-hand artists, mythical genies, and the imaginary friends of self-deluded children.

I see that as the precise aim of this sort of argument.

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Apollo November 28, 2009 at 8:29 am

Luke, your fetishistic use of the words “magical” and “wish-granting friend” is really getting old, boring, and exceedingly tiresome. If God exists then he exists in a dimension far above what we experience. Miracles would be everyday stuff to him. You might as well call Quantum Physics magic since we experience nothing like that in everyday life.

As for your assertion that Jesus is a “wish-granting” being you need not fear that you know the Bible well–no offense. People pray in Jesus name. We can wish and pray that we will win the lottery all we want but Jesus is not going to make that happen for us. Spiritual growth is obviously what the NT is concerned with when it comes to prayer and and flippantly wishing to grow in love or wisdom, etc. won’t make it happen.

Supernatural and magical are not synonyms. If the supernatural exists then miracles and answered prayers would simply be a part of ultimate reality.

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witnessatdiscussiongrounds November 28, 2009 at 8:44 am

I had looked forward to the exchange of ideas at Discussion Grounds between Luke and Tom and was sadly disappointed.

There were several problems that arose, but the most deleterious to the discussion was that it didn’t seem that Luke wanted to engage in the topic at hand; he used rhetorical devices (his go-to seemed to be the “Straw Man”) to avoid actual substantive debate. Sadly, it seems he has chosen to persist in this tactic in his presentation of why the discussion ended prematurely.

Though there may be better definitions, Wikipedia provides this decent summation of the “Straw Man Fallacy”:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under guise of being equivalent to topic A.

Topic B is usually a distorted version of A. It can be set up in several ways, including:

1. Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person’s arguments – thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
2. Misrepresenting the opponent’s position and refuting the misrepresentation, giving the appearance that it was the opponent’s position which has been refuted.
3. Quoting an opponent’s words out of context — i.e. choosing quotations which intentionally misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions (see contextomy and quote mining).
4. Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
5. Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

3. A participant (usually the one who introduced B) attacks B, as if it were A.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious, because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position.

What I am unclear of at this point is whether or not Luke understands his use/misuse of these tactics and how obvious they are to others that he was using them. Perhaps he believes they are valid devices for intellectual engagement. Regardless, it is the use of tactics like this that the discussion was derailed.

To answer Luke’s question above, Proposition P (“Invisible, Magical, Wish-granting Friend”) was not under discussion, Luke only purports that it was (and still is). This is textbook “Straw Man.”

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Robert Gressis November 28, 2009 at 8:55 am

Hi Luke,

I take it you take “supernatural” and “magical” to be close to synonymous? I infer this because you write, “2. Do you think Jesus is not magical; i.e. that he only acts by natural means?” So, is non-natural different from magical? Is it only causing something non-naturally that amounts to magic?

Would you also describe the following views as magical: substance dualism; property dualism; moral realism; libertarianism about free will; Platonism about abstract objects?

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Munjaros November 28, 2009 at 9:01 am

Witnessatdiscussiongrounds,
Where did Luke argue against the oversimplified description of Christianity that he presented? I recall him specifically stating that he wasn’t going to be basing his arguments on that and he conceded multiple times that it wasn’t “a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine.” Luke did not present an inaccurate portrayal of Christian belief and then argue against that portrayal, so your accusation of his using a straw man argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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cartesian November 28, 2009 at 9:23 am

Dr J,
I said this:
>>By calling Jesus a “magical,” “wish-granting,” “invisible friend,” you lump him in with cheap sleight-of-hand artists, mythical genies, and the imaginary friends of self-deluded children.>>

You replied:
>>I see that as the precise aim of this sort of argument>>

I agree, that is Luke’s aim. I just think it’s a lame way to argue, though calling it an ‘argument’ may be unduly dignifying. It’s just a lumping-in, not a genuine argument. I’ll just use one example to illustrate why it’s lame.

An invisible friend has several properties (or would, if any existed). One is the property of not being seen. Another is the property of being a friend. Another is the property of typically being believed in as the product of childish imagination and self-delusion.

Luke makes the following trivial connection: “Hey, you think Jesus can’t be seen, and that he’s your friend? In those respects, he’s an invisible friend. So Jesus is your invisible friend.”

But Luke doesn’t make this connection innocently, for that trivial conclusion. Nope, he thinks it stings because of the connotations of “invisible friend,” i.e. for the associations we form in our minds when we hear “invisible friend.” Namely, we associate “invisible friend” with the property of typically being believed in as a result of childish imagination and self-delusion. That’s the conclusion that Luke is driving at. That’s why he goes to the trouble of introducing this “invisible friend” talk. But he hasn’t *argued* for that conclusion, he’s merely relied on connotation and association. That’s why I think this form of ‘argument’ is lame.

Here’s the general form of the argument:
(1) Only Xs have property P [and Xs have property Q]
(2) Y has property P
(3) Therefore, Y is an X
(4) [Therefore, Y has property Q]

The second conjunct in (1) and the main conclusion are in brackets because they are left unsaid. The argument relies on the audience to unconsciously supply (1) and to unconsciously infer (4), though the inference from (1)-(3) to (4) is obviously fallacious. But only the main conclusion, (4), is interesting.

Here’s how Luke runs this argument:

(1) Only invisible friends are unseen&friendly [and they're typically believed in as the product of childish imagination/self-delusion]
(2) Jesus is unseen&friendly.
(3) So Jesus is an invisible friend.
(4) [So, Jesus is believed in as the product of childish imagination/self-delusion]

The main conclusion is not argued for. Luke claims to just be arguing for the trivial and uninteresting conclusion (3), since he knows better than to fallaciously infer (4) from (1)-(3). But really, I think, he’s being disingenuous: he believes (4) and hopes his audience will draw that conclusion. He hopes his audience will go ahead and make that fallacious inference themselves.

It’s like calling Luke “antichrist” in conversation. One meaning of this word just “a disbeliever in Christ.” But other, far more common meanings of the word are quite negative and offensive. If I were to say this: “Well, you don’t believe in Jesus, right? So it’s literally true that you’re an antichrist, right? Check the dictionary! So I’m going to call you ‘antichrist’ from now on,” that would be a pretty lame thing to do. Any sting is derived from connotation and association, not from substantive argument.

And the worst part is that I’ve told Luke this before, so he can’t appeal to ignorance here. He knows better.

Go to school, Luke! Don’t be a village atheist forever. You’re better than this, or at least you could be.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:11 am

Bebok,

Yeah, I said in my letters that “friend” was the most problematic, but not for Tom since he’s probably an evangelical.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:13 am

Haecceitas,

To me, “magic” and “supernatural” have usually meant the same thing, but even if we narrow the definition to be some kind of “art” of controlling the natural world through non-natural intentional will, Jesus is still magic. To me, magic is “Poof! Done.” And that’s exactly what Jesus does.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:21 am

Tom,

In your emails you said you were tired of me saying that we were in agreement. But that’s only because I thought we were in agreement. In later letters, I acknowledged that you had said we were still not in agreement, and tried to get you to specify where that disagreement lies. You have endlessly refused to explain which adjective is not literally true of Jesus, according to your Christian theology. We have already agreed that my rendering is incomplete and imbalanced. What I’m trying to find out is: “Is it literally true?” And I can’t seem to get an answer, from you or any Christian. Meanwhile, I am quite happy to admit that I believe consciousness and morality evolved by the chance bouncing around of invisible particles, even though that is an absurd caricature of my views.

Also, you said that I indicate agreement and then cancel that agreement. I did no such thing.

It is very, very confusing to have me say that I agree my way of phrasing Christian doctrine is imbalanced, and then ask what is literally wrong about it, and then to hear you only repeat that it is imbalanced. For the life of me I cannot get any Christian to tell me what is literally false about the way I presented Christian doctrine about Jesus. Even now, in your comment to my post that reiterates the question.

You must understand this all looks very suspicious, repeatedly dodging a direct question.

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aklym November 28, 2009 at 11:25 am

It is amazing how sensitive believers are to comments which seem to ridicule their beliefs. They demand a certain level of civility and respect that they (and their god) do not offer in return. Vast numbers of evangelical Christians and Catholics believe that those of us who are nonbelievers will be consigned for eternity to a fiery hell for our “sin” of being born human and not accepting the “free” gift of salvation. Shockingly, they argue that this penalty is just, proper, and even loving. These people who believe we will and should be eternally barbecued demand that we not hurt their feelings.

Help me understand. It is wrong for us to hurt a believer’s feelings, but it is ok for me them to look forward to an afterlife in which I am tortured for eternity by their god? If honest disagreement requires us not to hurt another’s feelings, I ask all believers to pray their “god” devise a hell in which nonbelievers feelings (and bodies) are not hurt.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:26 am

Thomas Reid,

I said in letter 17 that I agree P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine. Tom quit in letter 18, saying I was unwilling or unable to say that P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine. As you know, 17 comes before 18.

Wish-granting means granting wishes. Jesus repeatedly tells his followers to bring their wishes to God, and he will grant them, as I’ve shown by quoting the frickin’ Bible (which Christians are supposed to be familiar with).

Throughout the entire series of letters Tom and I were explicitly using the definitions of magic given by answers.com. He knew it, I knew it, and I quoted the definitions again in the above letter.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:29 am

Munjaros,

Thank you. Does nobody else see this? Tom does not reject the literal meaning of the adjectives I applied to Jesus – or if he does, I cannot get him no matter how hard I try to explain which part he rejects. Instead, he merely complains that I do not use his chosen euphemisms: “supernatural” for “magic” and “prayer-responsive” for “wish-granting,” etc.

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John D November 28, 2009 at 11:30 am

Bear in mind Luke,

it’s almost impossible to avoid offending or upsetting someone with a deep commitment to a particular faith.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to point out the potential absurdity or childish nature of what they believe. Just don’t be surprised when they get upset.

Note: cartesian tries to do the same to you by calling you the ‘village atheist’. A term that is no doubt deployed because of its ability to conjure up images of the ‘village idiot’ or ‘village drunk’.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:32 am

Doug,

I was very confused by that last string of comments from you, as you know. Could you clarify what you mean? Are you actually willing to admit that according to Christian doctrine, Jesus is an invisible (unseen), magical (invokes the supernatural to control the natural world), wish-granting (prayer-responsive) friend (loving companion)?

If you admitted that already, I missed it.

And yes, you are absolutely right that I gave no reason to think that was FALSE. As I said in my letters, when I realized that Jesus literally was an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend, I KNEW that didn’t mean he was an illusion. In my exchange with Tom I didn’t offer a single argument whatsoever against the existence of God. We hadn’t gotten to my turn yet.

The fact that seeing Jesus as an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend sounds belittling is no reason at all to think it is false, as I’ve said many times.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:35 am

Cartesian,

I would very much like to have a letter exchange with you. And I promise – here in front of everybody – not to use the terms “magical,” “wish-granting,” or “invisible friend.” Then we could get right to the arguments. What do you say?

Also, as you probably know, I repeatedly said that I would NOT be trying to debunk Christianity conceived of as “belief in an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend.” I said that like 5 times to Tom. I said I would rebut Christianity in whatever terms he presented it in. I just wanted to know if my terms were literally applicable to his concept of Jesus.

I have also repeatedly said that just because Christians have an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend does not mean Christianity is false. That is no fucking argument at all.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

drj,

Please do use it more often.

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Roman November 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

Hi Cartesian,

Good to see you posting comments. I always enjoy yours. I hope you will carry on commenting on this site!

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John D November 28, 2009 at 11:37 am

cartesian: Well, you don’t believe in Jesus, right? So it’s literally true that you’re an antichrist, right? Check the dictionary! So I’m going to call you ‘antichrist’ from now on,”

I would suspect an atheist couldn’t care less. Call me antichrist all you like. Once you don’t believe, the pejorative connotation is blunted.

We are always warring over the moral, emotional and political ‘auras’ that surround terms like this. One of the great pluses of the New Atheist movement is that it strips ‘atheist’ of its negative garbing.

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John H November 28, 2009 at 11:39 am

Am I wrong on this? If so, somebody please explain exactly how Jesus is not magical according to standard Christian doctrine.

Right now you are simply obtuse and non-responsive on this.

In your “Jesus is Magic” post a number of folks, including folks who agree with you on the existence of God, beat the death out of this prejorative – and you have not yet answered any of those points. In the comments here, a number of atheists have pointed out that use of this prejorative is discussion-killing.

The stated goal of your site is to have reasonsed discussion on these types of issues. You continue to try to float this term into discussions with Christians without responding to their critiques in a reasoned manner. As such, I would assume at this point it is simply an intentioned insult.

So, rubber meet road.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:39 am

Apollo,

You have yet to explain how the adjectives I use do not apply to the Christian concept of Jesus.

Quantum mechanics is not magic according to any definition I’ve seen. Performing healing miracles by “poof!” is magic. And that’s what Jesus did.

You assert a different understanding of prayer, but I was the one who actually quoted the words of Jesus. The Jesus of the NT agrees with me on this one.

If the supernatural exists then yes, magic would just be part of ultimate reality. And that’s quite possible. I’m not ruling that out. I just want Christians to man up and admit what they really believe. I can’t get them to do that, though.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

witnessatdiscussionground,

I repeatedly said I would NOT rebut the case for Christianity represented as “belief in an invisible, magical, wish-granting friend.” I said I would rebut the case for Christianity however Tom presented it. I just wanted to know if my terms were literally applicable. And I had already dropped the whole “magic” thing many letters ago. We were just about ready to launch into the substance of the debate – over Christianity’s ability to explain the human condition, using whatever conception of Christianity Tom presented – when Tom brought up the “magic” thing again, and then failed to explain how Jesus is NOT magical.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:43 am

Robert,

The definitions for magic that Tom and I were using are quoted in the above letter.

By those definitions, it seems to me that some forms of dualism are magical and some are not, few forms of moral realism are magical, only some forms of libertarianism is magical, and Platonism about abstract objects is probably not magical.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:47 am

Cartesian,

I never, ever made such an argument. In fact, I specifically repudiated any such argument several times. I also stated several times that some extremely intelligent people are Christians, and make genuine contributions to the history of knowledge. I also said that Christianity has a rich intellectual history. I’ve also said that atheism vs. theism is a matter for rational argument. I never, ever made any such argument that Christianity is false because it is invisible-friend-belief, or that Christianity is usually the product of childish imagination and self-delusion. Indeed, I will positively assert that no child could ever dream up something as bizarre and convoluted as Christianity.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

Status check: 42 comments in and no Christian has explained how P is literally false.

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Steven November 28, 2009 at 11:51 am

If arguing about the virtues of basketball, someone is bound to say “It’s just a bunch of tall guys trying to throw a ball through a hoop!”

This is technically true, but fails to capture the essence of the game.

I think Luke was unwise to attempt a “jolt” before any discussion really began. A purposefully uncharitable description of an opponent’s position early on probably isn’t the best strategy . I was looking forward to reading the arguments from teleology, morality, etc. ah well!

Then again, I have to side with Luke that I don’t really see any precise reasons why his terminology is wrong – except that it carries cultural baggage. And Luke was using the terms for their cultural baggage – hence the attempt at a “jolt.”

Of course, “cultural baggage” us just as real as the meanings in the dictionary for certain words.

Is the truth of charity and respect for an opponent greater than the truth of precision and literalness?

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Robert Gressis November 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Hi Luke,

If by “invisible” you mean “sometimes not seeable”, then yes, Jesus is (right now, but not for about thirty years 2000 years ago) invisible.

If by “friend” you mean “someone who can comfort you in times of need”, then yes, Jesus is a friend.

If by “magical” you mean “capable of bringing about a natural event X through an intention, where X is the kind of natural event that no other humans can bring about through their intentions, and where no connotation that one is juvenile for believing in such a thing is meant”, then yes, Jesus is magical.

However, despite all that, I’m a little bit loathe to describe it as _literally_ true that Jesus is a magical, invisible friend, for two reasons: (1) we cannot force people by definitional fiat to avoid including a connotation in their understanding of a word; and (2) many, many Christian thinkers have thought that very, very little is literally true of God, but is at best analogously true of God.

Let me just say another word about (1). Imagine you said, “I’m going to call black people negroes [or even more extremely, n*****s] no matter how much it offends them. All I mean by it is the rather loosely defined set of people who we nowadays call “black” or “African-American”. Is it literally true that black people are negroes?” Well, yes, it’s literally true. But you can’t avoid your listeners bringing up the negative connotation of that description.

Or take an example that is closer to the current discussion. Imagine you said that “I’m going to call any person ‘a primitive thinker’ who believes a metaphysical proposition that came to prominence around 2,000 or more years ago. Thus, Alvin Plantinga is a primitive thinker. Similarly, by my criteria anyone who believes that we have free will, that there is a right and wrong, etc., are primitive thinkers. Nevertheless, it’s literally true that, as I’ve outlined the phrase, anyone who is a theist is a primitive thinker, right? OK, so what’s the problem?”

Anyway, Cartesian outlined this much better than I did in his post above, and as of the time I’m composing this post, you still haven’t answered him.

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ayer November 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

lukeprog: Status check: 42 comments in and no Christian has explained how P is literally false.  

This was covered by on the “Jesus in Magic” thread, where it was determined that you refuse to accept the distinction made by scholars between magic and religion. Christians are under no obligation to accept your conflating of the two instead of the distinction between the two made by experts who have studied the matter.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm

ayer,

There is a big debate between scholars on how they want to use those terms in their particular fields of study. Tom and I, once again I must repeat, using the definitions from answers.com. Also, I think that people normally think of “Poof! Done.” actions as magic. And Jesus certainly did a lot of that.

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Taranu November 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Luke, I would love to see a debate between you and Cartesian. If Cartesian agrees maybe Tom will let you debate on Discussion Grounds. I find that site very adequate for such exchanges.

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witnessatdiscussiongrounds November 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Munjaros,

Thank you for your question.

Munjaros: Witnessatdiscussiongrounds,
Where did Luke argue against the oversimplified description of Christianity that he presented? I recall him specifically stating that he wasn’t going to be basing his arguments on that and he conceded multiple times that it wasn’t “a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine.” Luke did not present an inaccurate portrayal of Christian belief and then argue against that portrayal, so your accusation of his using a straw man argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  

I’ll respond to your question below, and I’d like to ask a few of my own as well. Is it your contention that:

1) The totality of my conclusion (that Luke’s methodologies impeded the discussion) hinges on whether or not one example with which you chose to engage meets the definition of “Straw Man”?

2) That “Proposition P (God is an Invisible, Magical, Wish-Granting Friend)” was the true subject of the debate at Discussion Grounds?

3) That disagreement over the issue in #2 is the sole problem in the discussion – the only reason that the discussion ended?

My point was not that Luke argued against Proposition P, but that he is now stating that Proposition P and his and Tom’s engagement re: Proposition P was the sole reason the discussion ended.

Here is the “Straw Man”:
1. Presentation: Luke has presented Tom’s reason(s) for “quit[ting]” the discussion in a particular way and Tom disagrees with Luke’s characterization of his reasons, and
2. Luke is arguing against those (mischaracterized) reasons. This is textbook “Straw Man.” I hope this elaboration helps.

One more suspicious than I might contend that you did the same in your question to me. ;) I’m inclined to believe you simply missed my point. I apologize if I was unclear.

While I did not state (in my original post above) that the introduction of “Proposition P” into the discussion at DG was itself the Straw Man, one could certainly make the case that constructing the misrepresentation of another’s position meets the necessary and sufficient qualities for that definition, especially if the misrepresentation itself contains an implicit “argument” – in this case: ridicule. (Not all fallacy definitions are discrete, as you’re probably aware).

Regardless of all that, the point of my original post here remains the same: Luke’s style of discourse (whether intentionally equivocal or not) hampered the progression of the discussion.

In the particular instance you have mentioned, you have stated that Luke agrees:

it wasn’t “a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine.”

Thanks for your question, Munjaros. I’ll likely not be visiting the site again; I stopped by originally to read Luke’s response to the end of the debate, so if you reply to my reply ;), I’ll likely not read it, which obviously means I’ll likely not reply.

Thanks again – it’s good that you try to keep people on their toes.

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cartesian November 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm

lukeprog: Cartesian,I would very much like to have a letter exchange with you.   

Hi Luke,
We already sort of did that, remember? ;-)
http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=260714

Maybe we could do it again in the Spring, when things mellow out for me a bit. This semester is particularly hectic.

—-
So this Robert Gressis guy seems nice and smart, and he teaches at Cal State Northridge. And I’m guessing he thinks you’re pretty sharp, otherwise he wouldn’t spend time posting on here. If I’m not mistaken, CSUN is near you. Why don’t you go take some classes with him? Or maybe sign up for some independent study? Or just hang out at his office hours? I bet CSUN isn’t too expensive…

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Robert,

That is not what I mean by “magical” at all. Once again, Tom and I were using the definitions given by answers.com.

Regarding (1), yes I agree. As I stated explicitly, it was not my intent to avoid the cultural connotations that come with the word “magic.”

Re: “a primitive thinker.” I take the mainstream position that words mean whatever we say they mean, but that’s doesn’t mean we should redefine them willy-nilly. By saying that Jesus is magic I am relying on standard, everyday uses of the word – as assimilated by answers.com or any other standard dictionary. I’ve also made reference to the “Poof! Done.” everyday concept of magic, which certainly applies to Jesus. My definition of magic is the everyday definition of magic. The problem with your hypothetical definition for “a primitive thinker” is that it’s pretty far from what that phrase normally means – at least to my awareness of the usage of that phrase.

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ayer November 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

lukeprog: ayer,There is a big debate between scholars on how they want to use those terms in their particular fields of study. Tom and I, once again I must repeat, using the definitions from answers.com. Also, I think that people normally think of “Poof! Done.” actions as magic. And Jesus certainly did a lot of that.  

Surely you know that in analytical philosophy (or any other scholarly field) it is not acceptable to be satisfied with the “everyday” definitions of terms? To reject the scholarly definitions and distinctions is just sloppy thinking.

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cartesian November 28, 2009 at 12:36 pm

lukeprog: I think that people normally think of “Poof! Done.” actions as magic.

I wonder if this is why all the ladies called me “Magic man” in high school. :-/

LOLz!

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:40 pm

cartesian: Luke claims to just be arguing for the trivial and uninteresting conclusion (3), since he knows better than to fallaciously infer (4) from (1)-(3). But really, I think, he’s being disingenuous: he believes (4) and hopes his audience will draw that conclusion. He hopes his audience will go ahead and make that fallacious inference themselves.
It’s like calling Luke “antichrist” in conversation. One meaning of this word just “a disbeliever in Christ.” But other, far more common meanings of the word are quite negative and offensive. If I were to say this: “Well, you don’t believe in Jesus, right? So it’s literally true that you’re an antichrist, right? Check the dictionary! So I’m going to call you ‘antichrist’ from now on,” that would be a pretty lame thing to do. Any sting is derived from connotation and association, not from substantive argument.

Cartesian, allow me to follow up on my earlier response:

First, you are quite right that I would never infer (4) from (1)-(3).

Second, (3) is it trivial but apparently not so uninteresting because I can’t get many Christians to arrive at (3), which is trivially true. Now that is interesting.

Third, do I hope my audience will mistakenly infer (4). I think this is reasonable reading on your part. That’s probably what I would guess if I saw somebody saying what I’m saying. But I’ve tried to guard against that. I’ve said several times – including in my letters to Tom – that there is NO valid inference from (1)-(3) to (4). I’ve repeatedly affirmed that Christianity is not something stupid to be laughed off, but a matter of rational argument (in my letters to Tom, and here as well). So I am not hoping people will infer (4), and I have lots of textual evidence to back up that claim. I do not want to encourage wrong inferences. Enough of that goes on as it is. I’m writing an ‘intro to logic’ course, for cryin’ out loud. I’m fighting against such false inferences, and I repeatedly denied the inference you have said I was hoping people would make.

As for antichrist, I already explained the utility of the “jolt.” See my response to Tom’s analogy about the Grand Canyon being “a big hole in the ground.”

Now, is there anything of yours I failed to respond to?

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John H November 28, 2009 at 12:41 pm

lukeprog: Status check: 42 comments in and no Christian has explained how P is literally false.

It was done in the “Jesus is Magic” post. I hate repeating myself.

Quick synopsis: Your statement is that Jesus is magic to me. That is, from my perspective and not yours.

The earliest Christians, in Acts, separated belief in Christ by banning the use of magic, burning magic books, calling magic evil. No one made an exception for Christian magic. Christ was not a magical friend to them

Since that time there has been a separation between the terms magic and supernatural. They are not identical – and your definition acknowledges that by saying that the magician invokes (calls on) the supernatural as a tool to affect or predict. nature. Christ did not do that, or use spells, potions, etc. Even if you want to say He was a magician, he is not one to us – that is your perspective not ours.

The connotive meaning of magic (if not denotative) has always been connected with animism, pantheism, and/or panentheism. Those are all about the spirtual world being intrinsic to nature and animating it. They view God or Gods as being part of creation (and usually not the Creator of nature) instead of being separate from and outside of nature.

Magic implies that the magician can learn to use and control those supernatural forces animating nature to their own will and devices. Christians have no such belief about our use of God for own purposes (at least none that are not blasphemy). God is picking up a rock he created as I might pick up a pen to use it. Neither the rock or the pen is infused with supernatural forces that we invoke in order to use them. We both wield direct force.

There were other comments that were better than mine on that thread – all of which you ignored.

Are you going to ignore them again, and then ask in the next post why we haven’t answered the question?

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Cartesian,

Robert Gressis is indeed nice and smart.

I’m looking around to see if I can get a scholarship. That is the deciding factor on whether or not I return to school.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm

ayer,

Philosophers go to great lengths to try to argue about what people actually mean when they use common words, for example moral terms. They strive very hard to not just make up their own definitions for things. Also, you seem to be forgetting that Tom and I stipulated which definition for “magic” we were talking about, so that the definition was explicit.

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Steven D. November 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Luke,

As a huge fan of your blog and of you I have to say this is all quite silly. May I offer a bit of advice?

1) Know your audience. The rhetorical tactic you employed with Tom is largely ineffective at achieving the desired result. It sidetracks the discussion and gets everyone in a big tizzy.

2) Tone. I understand it is difficult to discern tone from words on a screen, but you could try a little bit harder to couch your language in a way that allows for more fruitful discussion. Most of the time you are excellent with this, but as an impartial observer I note that sometimes you can be abrasive. Ease up on those italics :)

I happen to think literally, according to the definitions you and Tom agreed to use, your caricature is correct. But just because you can draw a picture of Mohammad humping Bugs Bunny doesn’t mean you should, especially if you are trying to deconvert them!

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urbster1 November 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm

I still disagree with everyone who says you need to lighten your tone when dealing with these folks. As you yourself said, it makes you think about the ridiculous reality of the beliefs when you phrase them this way. As atheists I don’t think we should be the ones responsible for portraying kind pictures of religious beliefs; leave that to the theologians.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 12:56 pm

John H,

I appreciate your response, and your summary. I feel like we are getting closer to understanding.

You’ll remember that the definition that Tom and I were using said nothing about magic being restricted to animism and pantheism, or even spells and potions. It was rather “the art of invoking the supernatural…” Jesus did that, and he told his disciples to do that.

Or perhaps you are saying that Jesus did not practice magic because he did not “call on” some other force “out there” to perform works for him, because Jesus was HIMSELF the magic. But as I said to Tom, that just makes things worse. Jesus was himself magic in that case, rather than just practicing magic.

But I do need your help clarifying that.

Also, you make a historical distinction between magic and Christian supernaturalism. But again, I’m trying to use an “everyday” meaning of the term, so as to be as clear as possible. That everyday term is captured by the definition in answers.com, not by some stipulative distinction made in a particular academic field that normal people never talk about.

Which comments did I ignore on the ‘Jesus is magic’ thread? I tried to respond to all of them that were not just repeats of something I had already answered.

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rushmore November 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Luke:

You repeatedly use the ‘poof-done’ idea of magic to describe what Christ is purported to have done. I’m not sure that’s a fair or accurate notion given the record we have. Usually the miracles of Christ consisted of the acceleration of natural processes (water over time becomes wine for example) or the reversal of unwanted processes (blind men seeing, lame men walking, the dead rising, fig trees withering).

Additionally there was invariably an illustrative purpose behind the miraculous. This pretty clearly distinguishes the ‘magic’ Christ performed from the sort of common ‘poof-done’ you imply; there is no biblical rabbit from a hat.

Finally, I’m a bit confused. You concur that your phrasing of invisible, magic, wish-granting friend is a woeful understatement of true Christian belief – IIRC you suggested to Tom that you agreed it was perhaps 2 percent of the truth. You go on to say that you have no intention of using your mischaracterization as a basis for further discussions; you fully know it’s inadequate and are prepared to lay it aside if your opponent will only concede to your perjorative terminology. What then are you gaining if Tom had conceded to your phrasing? Mockery at best.

Given the absence of any other reason for your insistence on the terms, it seems to me that the headshots provided for the discussion between you and Tom are only too perfect: your mouth is frozen open and your ears are plugged. You do not appear to be interested in a civil and fair discussion of viewpoints.

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Haecceitas November 28, 2009 at 12:58 pm

To me, “magic” and “supernatural” have usually meant the same thing, but even if we narrow the definition to be some kind of “art” of controlling the natural world through non-natural intentional will, Jesus is still magic. To me, magic is “Poof! Done.” And that’s exactly what Jesus does.

I take it that you’re mainly referring to what Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Would it be a reasonable compromise if you limited your use of “magic” to such contexts where you’re talking about those particular things that Jesus did, which do seem to have prima facie magical-like character? I actually agree that some of the Gospel narratives about Jesus’ healings can be clearly distinguished from magic only when viewed against a more developed set of theological beliefs (rather than simply making one’s judgement solely on the basis of the narrative).

One may wonder why Jesus would have performed his cures in such ways as he did. I think that one answer is to note that the purpose of the incarnation was to live a full human life, which entailed taking on certain limitations. Thus, Jesus did not exercise his divine prerogatives in a direct and unlimited way. This at least begins to make sense of why he would have used more indirect means.

(Edit: after rereading your post, I noticed that I may have based my answer on a misapprehension of what you find “magical” about Jesus, but I’ll leave this comment as it is.)

What I find most inaccurate about your way of using the term “magic” is the description of divine action in general as magical. In terms of action theory, one could say that an omnipotent being has a maximal domain of basic actions. To call a basic action “magic” is no more justified than calling the most fundamental physical forces or the natural capabilities of a human person “magic”.

I’ll end this post with few questions:

- If the concepts of supernatural and magical are more or less synonymous, then shouldn’t it be the case that from a rational point of view, your arguments are equally compelling regardless of which term you use?

- Do you see any difference between:
(1) an agent being generally bound by natural laws but occasionally using unusual means to transcend them by invoking outside forces
and
(2) an agent that is by definition not bound by natural laws and thus being able to act directly in ways that transcend them?

Even if there are some things in common between these two concepts, surely they are distinct enough to merit distinct special terms in a discussion that purports to be philosophically rigorous?

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Steven D.,

I think I agree with everything you said.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 1:39 pm

rushmore,

I have explained my reasons for using this phrasing several times.

Also, I don’t see how Jesus’ miracles are not “poof! done.” And I never said “poof! done.” can’t have an illustrative purpose.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Haecceitas,

I don’t see how Jesus’ “poof! done.” acts are less magical when he is no longer in human form but performing the same kinds of acts. And yes, if you want to define everything God does as not-magical (“basic”), then of course God is not magical. But that definition is highly contrary to everyday usage of the word.

You asked some questions:

“If the concepts of supernatural and magical are more or less synonymous, then shouldn’t it be the case that from a rational point of view, your arguments are equally compelling regardless of which term you use?”

Yes.

“- Do you see any difference between:
(1) an agent being generally bound by natural laws but occasionally using unusual means to transcend them by invoking outside forces
and
(2) an agent that is by definition not bound by natural laws and thus being able to act directly in ways that transcend them?”

Yes.

Is (1) what most people think of as “magic”? If so, perhaps I have an idiosyncratic understanding of the term. (Either way, your definition is not the definition of magic that Tom and I were using.)

Also, according to your own theology, would (1) have applied to Jesus while he was on earth?

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Chuck November 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose I say I have a magical horse. What exactly do I mean? How is it “magical”? I tell you, “My horse can fly.”

Now clearly, my horse is an agent not bound by natural law (gravity). It doesn’t “invoke the supernatural” or employ rituals. It just behaves in a way that is “normal” for it.

What’s more, my horse fits with the common, everyday sense of what we mean when we say something is “magical”. Don’t believe me? Go to the a public library and look in any children’s book.

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 2:14 pm

lukeprog: If you admitted that already, I missed it.

What I admitted was:

Doug : I have always been comfortable in saying that I believe in an invisible, magical friend. “Wish-granting” not so much. “Prayer-responsive” certainly.

Had you missed that?

In any event, please feel free to explain why it matters in the least whether or not I have an “invisible, magical friend.” (But please also recall that I had made it clear that “magical” is not “poof, done!” — communication is magical; love is magical; art is magical; compassion is magical)

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Doug,

What if we use the definition of “magical” that Tom and I have been using? Do you believe in that kind of magic?

Also, do you deny that Jesus told his disciples many times to ask God for what they wish, and that God would grant their wishes? You have a different interpretation, perhaps?

I’ve already explained why I bring this up, and I said I would do so again in a future post.

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Thomas Reid November 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm

lukeprog: Thomas Reid,I said in letter 17 that I agree P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine. Tom quit in letter 18, saying I was unwilling or unable to say that P is not a balanced or helpful description of Christian doctrine. As you know, 17 comes before 18.

Yes, I know when you said it. The problem is you say in the OP that in your earlier letters that you were using an unbalanced and unhelpful definition of Christian doctrine. I didn’t see in your earlier letters where you establish that you were going to use an unbalanced and unhelpful definition of Christian doctrine. This reader was not assuming that such intentionally warped definitions of your opponents viewpoint was part of a “disciplined debate”. In the interest of giving the benefit of the doubt, I was not willing to conclude of your intentions what Cartesian called you on. Congratulations, I was “jolted”.

Wish-granting means granting wishes. Jesus repeatedly tells his followers to bring their wishes to God, and he will grant them, as I’ve shown by quoting the frickin’ Bible (which Christians are supposed to be familiar with).Throughout the entire series of letters Tom and I were explicitly using the definitions of magic given by answers.com. He knew it, I knew it, and I quoted the definitions again in the above letter.  

It seems to me that you think any entity or causal process that is not physical is “magic” – do you? This is still not clear to me, and that is the definition I think you were using, which is not what you quoted from answers.com. Further, for some unknown reason you seem to equate “answering prayers” with “granting wishes”. I guess it’s OK to do this, but slows the conversation down so everyone can figure out your unusual definitions. Shall I quote “answer”, “prayer”, “grant”, and “wishes” from answers.com to make this clear for you?

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Haecceitas November 28, 2009 at 3:47 pm

“And yes, if you want to define everything God does as not-magical (”basic”), then of course God is not magical. But that definition is highly contrary to everyday usage of the word.”

The straightforward meaning of what you just wrote would be that you actually admit that God is not magical if we understand God’s actions as unmediated, basic actions that are directly brought about. As far as I know, this is not in the least contrary to the everyday usage of the concept of divine action. But perhaps you mean something quite different.

“Yes.”

But if your use of the word “magic” adds nothing on a rational level to your criticism, then I’m a bit puzzled about your continuous use of the term, despite the fact that its meaningfulness is disputed by most of your “opponents”. If you use it for for rhetorical purposes while admitting that it has no distinctive rational merit, then how is this not just “empty rhetoric”?

“Yes.”

OK. And since most theists see that as a significant distinction (at least I think they do), you might avoid much trouble by distinguishing between these in your writings, rather than lumping them together.

“Is (1) what most people think of as “magic”? If so, perhaps I have an idiosyncratic understanding of the term.”

At least that’s how I understand the concept, and I fail to see why most people wouldn’t agree upon a moments reflection that, at the very least, (1) represents the clear paradigmatic case of something being magical.

“Also, according to your own theology, would (1) have applied to Jesus while he was on earth?”

I think that one can at least make a good case for viewing some of Jesus’ ministry as fitting with (1). But I do think that one can further refine the definitions so that (1) is divided into subcategories in such a way that the clearest, most paradigmatic examples of magic would not be in the same category as Jesus’ actions while on earth. (But this discussion would get into finer details on which rational persons can no doubt disagree.)

One more question, if you don’t mind. Let’s suppose for a moment that substance dualism is true. Does it follow that it’s now correct to call all intentional human actions “magic”?

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 3:47 pm

lukeprog: What if we use the definition of “magical” that Tom and I have been using?

Your definition of magic is boring, inaccurate and misleading.

do you deny that Jesus told his disciples many times to ask God for what they wish, and that God would grant their wishes?

Let me provide context: Mark 11 “have faith in God”; Matthew 21 “if you have faith”; John 14 “anyone who has faith in me.” While it might further your argument (whatever that might be, you haven’t told us yet) to divorce these statements from those contexts, it would be intellectually dishonest to do so. So the answer to your question is “yes” (i.e., I do deny it). The construction “if you X, then Y” is not “telling someone to do Y”.

I’ve already explained why I bring this up, and I said I would do so again in a future post.

Please be more clear. Do you consider the fact that I believe in a “invisible, magical friend” to be risible? Yes or no? And if so, why?

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Haecceitas: Let’s suppose for a moment that substance dualism is true. Does it follow that it’s now correct to call all intentional human actions “magic”?  

Well, yes! As a matter of fact it does. :-)

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

According to Luke, I am a “magical wish-granting friend” to my teenage son. Most days, he also prefers that I’m “invisible.” Hmmm.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm

No, there are many processes conjectured by liberal naturalists that are not supernatural. Tom and I were using the definition from answers.com about invoking the supernatural to control natural events.

Yes, I don’t understand the difference between God answering “prayer requests” and God granting wishes. Jesus instructed his followers to send God their wishes, and he would grant them. What about that is not granting wishes?

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Haecceitas,

Concerning the definition of magic, I can only repeat that Tom and I were using the definition that called magic “the art of controlling nature by invoking the supernatural.” Jesus is magical according to that definition.

Is “magic”, then, “empty rhetoric”? I’m not sure what you mean by empty. Rhetoric has an effect – usually more than rational argument does. I’ve already explained my reasons for this rhetoric, and will do again in another post.

Re: substance dualism. I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on which type of substance dualism is being supposed.

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 5:06 pm

“supernatural” is bigger than “magic,” Luke. Magic is simply “outside our ability to understand.” Supernatural is “outside the natural course of things.” There are plenty of natural things that are magic, though all things supernatural are also magic. (And I still say that your definition of magic is useless).

But I’m still not getting it: you hammer on “wish-granting” and “magic” as if they were actually going somewhere. Don’t you see? If you actually define those terms so they stick, they won’t be at all troublesome to your opponents. On the other hand, if you insist on the tendentious definitions, they won’t stick! Either way, you’re wasting our time!

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Doug,

My definition? I just turned to the first internet dictionary that popped into my head. It’s not “my” definition. Is Jesus magical according to the definition Tom and I were using?

Re: context. Who said anything about Mark 11, Matthew 21, or John 14? Consider one of my examples, Matthew 7:7-11: in that passage, how is Jesus not instructing his disciples to ask God for what they wish, and telling them that God will grant their wishes?

Concerning: risibility. Is the fact that you have an invisible, magical friend risible? In some circumstances, I suppose. I’m not in the mood at the moment. But that’s not why I brought this up, as I’ve explained.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Doug: Don’t you see? If you actually define those terms so they stick, they won’t be at all troublesome to your opponents. On the other hand, if you insist on the tendentious definitions, they won’t stick! Either way, you’re wasting our time!  

Really? I think we’ve defined our terms so that they DO stick, and yet they ARE troublesome to most Christians.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus is unseen.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus invokes the supernatural to control natural events.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus instructs his followers to submit their wishes to God and he will grant them. (See above Bible verses.)

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus is seen as a loving companion (among other things).

Now I think that sticks. And yet this has been very troublesome to my interlocutors.

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm

lukeprog: onsider one of my examples, Matthew 7:7-11: in that passage, how is Jesus not instructing his disciples to ask God for what they wish, and telling them that God will grant their wishes?

Well, how about actually considering what he said then?

7″Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9″Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Do you consider “seeking” and “knocking” to be sensible metaphors for “wishes”, Luke? Or perhaps Jesus intention was not quite as childish as you are attempting to make out? And since Jesus reminds us of it, what do you make of the fact that in my son’s preferred universe, I am an “invisible, magical wish-granting friend” to him?

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Doug November 28, 2009 at 5:24 pm

lukeprog: It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus is unseen.

Partly true. While he is unseen now, this is not always the case (cf. me and my son) 0.5/1.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus invokes the supernatural to control natural events.

False. Jesus is supernatural. Why go with a two-penny definition of “magic”? Go big or stay home. 0.5/2.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus instructs his followers to submit their wishes to God and he will grant them.

Partly true. An interesting, if childish interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. If Jesus’ hearers were as literal-minded as you, they would have laughed him off the pages of history. 1/3.

It’s quite clear that according to Christian tradition, Jesus is seen as a loving companion (among other things)

True enough. 2/4.
In most courses, 50% is a fail. Perhaps this has been troublesome due to the fact that it doesn’t stick!

Figure. It. Out!

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Thomas Reid November 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm

lukeprog:Yes, I don’t understand the difference between God answering “prayer requests” and God granting wishes. Jesus instructed his followers to send God their wishes, and he would grant them. What about that is not granting wishes?  

Come now Luke, you cannot be serious on this “wish-granting” business. To see you cling to this equivalence and claim ignorance on the difference between these two strains credulity. You are too sharp for this, there is no need to dig in your heels on this one. Your opponents won’t think less of you if you reverse course and start using these words according to what they mean, they’ll think more.

First, as a matter of dictionary definitions, an “answer” is not a “grant”, although a “grant” can be a type of “answer”. Anybody can look this up.

As a matter of connotation, we all know what “someone who grants wishes” implies – the genie in the bottle. But tell us, does the genie ever say “no”, or “wait”? Does the genie ever preface his granting of the wish with a conditional that it be in his will? No, he simply grants the wish. In other words, he does what he is told, when he is told, all other considerations tossed to the wayside. There’s a reason you didn’t use “wish-denier” when assembling your description.

You will find not a shred of evidence in the Bible that God is anything like this, someone who does whatever He is told, whenever He is told. Simply because He says yes to something we ask Him doesn’t make Him someone who “grants wishes”. You must know this.

Are you next going to tell us that this reasoning is unfair because you never said he doesn’t grant wishes? Are you more eager to further constrict your reference to a basic tenet of Christian doctrine until it loses all meaning whatsoever?

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Doug,

If he’s unseen now but (maybe) not sometime in the future, I think it’s fair to call him invisible. I don’t think there’s even much of a negative connotation with that one, either. Lots of things are invisible: gravity, subatomic particles, magnetic fields, etc.

Re: “magic.” So you’re saying that Jesus does not practice magic because he IS supernatural rather than calling upon (“invoking”) the supernatural. Now that’s interesting. So according to the answers.com definition of magic, it would be Christians themselves who practice magic but not Jesus? Is that right?

Re: wish-granting. I’ve repeatedly stressed that prayer isn’t JUST for getting God to grant you wishes. But it’s quite clearly part of the equation. How else should be interpret “ask and it will be given to you”? You seem to be ignoring those words of Jesus that don’t fit with your position, whereas I am paying attention to all the words and asserting that their are many functions of prayer sanctioned by Christian scripture.

Luke

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Thomas Reid,

Yes, a grant can be a type of answer. Surely Christians believe that Jesus sometimes grants their prayer requests. That is what Jesus teaches, anyway.

You say I will not find a shred of evidence in the Bible that God does whatever is asked of him. But I have already quoted such evidence. Jesus himself said that: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives…”

Now of course Jesus is blatantly incorrect, and so the church has interpreted this verse very liberally, especially that last verse. They have interpreted “everyone who asks receives” to mean “not everyone who asks receives.”

That doesn’t surprise me, but that is indeed a “shred” of Biblical evidence.

However, you are right that Christian theology doesn’t see God as a mere wish-granter.

I’m not sure, but I think you and Doug are finally getting through to me. I might one day write a post entitled “Jesus is not magic.” :)

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Thomas Reid November 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm

lukeprog:
Yes, a grant can be a type of answer. Surely Christians believe that Jesus sometimes grants their prayer requests. That is what Jesus teaches, anyway.

Well, if that is what you mean, then everyone who says “yes” to any request of them whatsoever is a wish-granter, and you’ve said nothing in particular about anyone. But then, whence the “jolt”? See, you can’t have it both ways here.

You supply a quote lifted from context to substantiate the claim that God is someone who does whatever He is told, whenever He is told? Tell me, what do you think the “it” is in Luke 11:9?

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Hermes November 28, 2009 at 8:27 pm

ayer: Even if your strategy of mockery to jolt believers is appropriate in some situations (which I doubt, though I believe Craig has used it against atheists in a few of his debates, and Dsouza endorses the use of it in debate) an online discussion was not the place for it. In a live debate, there is a certain “entertainment” aspect that would make a remark like that more effective, but in a written discussion it just looks silly (because you certainly aren’t going to “jolt” someone serious like Tom out of his faith). I don’t blame Tom for calling it off.

Mockery or not, the framing is valid, the question is valid.

As for Dsouza, mockery is his dress code. Unfortunately, it’s as effective as clown shoes in his case and to give Christians the benefit of the doubt, I assume that they do not think he is a representative for them, and that they would not invite him to a dinner party let alone admire his words. Craig, while too clinging to his need for abstractions and not demonstrable reality, is not an embarrassment. Craig is like a swan, and adorns your country pond quite nicely even while shedding and sluffing off his less noble attributes along the way.

So, entertainment or not, the point stands even if everyone in the conversation rejects regular magic (not illusionists or trickery) or magical supernaturalism as demonstrable aspects that are manifest in reality. Personally, I’d do less mocking myself if there were no attempts at distraction by hand waving — weather the hand being waved has a wand at the end of it or a Bible.

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lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Thomas,

You ask what I think the “it” is in Luke 11:9. But I used the example from Matthew 7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives.”

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Munjaros November 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Witnessatdiscussiongrounds,

I realize that you said you’re probably not going to read this, but since you asked me some questions, I’ll reply anyway.

Is it your contention that:
1) The totality of my conclusion (that Luke’s methodologies impeded the discussion) hinges on whether or not one example with which you chose to engage meets the definition of “Straw Man”?

No.

2) That “Proposition P (God is an Invisible, Magical, Wish-Granting Friend)” was the true subject of the debate at Discussion Grounds?

No.

3) That disagreement over the issue in #2 is the sole problem in the discussion – the only reason that the discussion ended?

Yes.

My point was not that Luke argued against Proposition P, but that he is now stating that Proposition P and his and Tom’s engagement re: Proposition P was the sole reason the discussion ended.

I did misunderstand the “Straw Man” that you were referring to, and I appreciate your clearing it up for me without assuming ill intent on my part. But I would disagree with you that this was a “Straw Man.” Based on my reading of Luke and Tom’s interaction, Luke’s presentation of Tom’s reason for quitting was accurate.

Regardless of all that, the point of my original post here remains the same: Luke’s style of discourse (whether intentionally equivocal or not) hampered the progression of the discussion.

Yes, if Luke were to simply agree with whatever Tom said, Tom might not have decided to quit. (I might have just used a straw man there.) On the other hand, if Tom had accepted Luke’s offer to move on from the subject, since it wasn’t the subject of the debate, and Luke wasn’t going to be basing his arguments on it, they seemed to be approaching some ground rules from which they could have begun the debate in earnest. Regretfully, Tom was unable to look past the “Jesus is an invisible (unseen), magical (supernatural), wish-granting (prayer-responsive) friend (loving companion)” statement, and we’ll never know how the debate may have unfolded.

Thanks again – it’s good that you try to keep people on their toes.

And thank you for the toe exercise in return. We all need to get up on our toes now and then.

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John H November 28, 2009 at 11:02 pm

lukeprog: You’ll remember that the definition that Tom and I were using said nothing about magic being restricted to animism and pantheism, or even spells and potions. It was rather “the art of invoking the supernatural…” Jesus did that, and he told his disciples to do that.

You really haven’t followed that definition up to this point, or you would not say magic = supernatural. Both words are used separately in the definition – they cannot mean the same thing. Otherwise, the definition would read either:

“Magic is the art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking magic.”

or

“The supernatural is the art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.”

That aside – you keep trying to say you are looking for a commonly held definition. Since Christians comprise 75% of the US population – what would be that commonly held outside our general understanding?

The answers.com quote specifically mentions spells etc. The Oxford English is more to the point I am trying to make:

The pretended art of influencing the course of events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena, by processes supposed to owe [the process'] efficacy to [the process'] power of compelling the intervention of spiritual beings, or of bringing into operation some occult controlling principle of nature; sorcery, witchcraft.

This lays the power to influence to the process and not the invoker of the process. The magical process compels (forces) the intervention of spiritual beings or some unseen principle of nature (see below)

I didn’t even deal with the use of the word “art” in the definition.

art:Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.

Again, the commonly held understanding of “art” or “artist” would be someone that practices a skill in order to perfect it: trying different brushstrokes to perfect a style, different chisels to get the right texture, (more to the point) a martial artist practicing kick after kick to perfect the technique. In no sense is Jesus portrayed as an “artist” at what he does – except in His discussion of the law.

There are connotative meanings of all the words in that definition – and the connotative meaning of “magician” (someone who does magic) is Harry Potter or Merlin or maybe Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. All mortals who harnessed control of the “web of power” in nature – like was described in the “Jesus is Magic” post.

Haukur: “Because Paganism is a religion of connection it is inherently Magical. The interconnectedness of all things is a Great Mystery, but one which is not closed to us. Through study leading to knowledge and prayer leading to inspiration we can learn how to pull on the threads of Indra’s Net in one place in order to create the intended effect somewhere else. Because Paganism is a religion of connection, there is no part of me that is not of the Gods. Nor is there anything of the Gods to which I cannot aspire.”

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Thomas Reid November 29, 2009 at 3:56 am

lukeprog: Thomas,You ask what I think the “it” is in Luke 11:9. But I used the example from Matthew 7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives.”  

These are sourced from the same story, are they not? Is that why you also quoted Luke 11:13, because you thought they were different examples? No, as a former believer, you know they are they document the same story.

But as you wish: what is the “it” in Matthew 7? A stolen Ferrari, a new subscription to Playboy, reasons not to believe God exists?

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Doug November 29, 2009 at 5:30 am

I don’t think that it is at all a coincidence that verse six precedes verse seven in Matthew chapter seven. For those too lazy to look it up, Jesus is giving a pretty clear indication that what he is about to say (in verse seven, for example) can be taken a number of ways and, indeed, abused. Surprise!

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Tony Hoffman November 29, 2009 at 8:28 am

Luke,

I have to say that I saw the conclusion of the Gilson series coming a mile away, although I was surprised (and impressed) at how long you were able to keep it going.

The fact is that Tom closed down the discussion. This is a pattern he has shown many times on his own website where he regularly bans commenters whose criticism threatens to derail a topic from its predetermined, fundamentalist Christian conclusion (Everything the Bible says is true! Non-theists just really don’t understand the arguments! Science has been hijacked by dogmatic materialists! The historical reliability of the New Testament is beyond question! Euthyphro’s dilemma is really a false dichotomy! Etc.)

I haven’t read the whole set of letters yet, but I read most of them. It appears when Tom saw that he wouldn’t be able to fix the rules of the game to output his desired outcome, he stopped the discussion. There are terms for people who say that they are one thing, but balk when their own rules are applied even-handedly to them.

Kudos to you for not falling for this schtick, and exposing that “thinking” Christians like Tom are more concerned with appearing intellectual than pursuing the activity wherever it may lead.

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lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Thomas Reid,

“Ask and it will be given to you.” I don’t read Greek, so maybe I’ve got this wrong, but it sounds to me like he’s saying “Ask and [what you asked for] will be given to you.”

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Munjaros November 29, 2009 at 1:25 pm

But it doesn’t mean that, Luke. How could it mean what it says if it’s obviously not true. It must mean something else.

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Thomas Reid November 29, 2009 at 2:33 pm

lukeprog:
Thomas Reid,“Ask and it will be given to you.” I don’t read Greek, so maybe I’ve got this wrong, but it sounds to me like he’s saying “Ask and [what you asked for] will be given to you.”  

I believe you are better than this. As someone who professes to know much about Christian theology, surely you understand He doesn’t mean whatever you asked for will be given unto you. Otherwise why not readily agree that it could mean one of the items I listed above? You didn’t agree, I think in part because you know the difference between “answering prayers” and “granting wishes”.

What is the “it” to which He refers? At the least, he is referring to the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and at most, that which is good for you (Matt 7:11). This is clear from the context.

Resist the temptation for quote-mining. You are undercutting any force of your argument by using this method. Anyone can make any point they want by selectively quoting something somebody else says, such as when I quote you saying: “I know the Bible better than the Christians”.

I’ve said my peace – thanks for the conversation on this.

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Mark November 29, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I will take this opportunity to write my farewell message to Luke and this blog.

Tom, I wouldn’t dare debate Luke because his various ideas have all the stability of a plane of fault lines. A Lukeprog idea is not only subject to change, it’s subject to transform in the way a cat might come back reincarnated as a parrot. In other words it would be a waste of my time to debate him, as it is most definitely a waste of yours.

Furthermore, I also think this blog is not so much a quest for truth as it is Luke’s personal pulpit for decrying the Christian faith (and the people who pushed it on him) as FRAUDULENT. Luke clearly believes he was hoodwinked and bamboozled, and his writing tone betrays this in nearly every post from “about me” to his latest and greatest Jesus bash. I believe this is his way of exacting revenge on the faith that he believes failed him without directly offending the folks in his family who raised him on it.

That doesn’t mean I’m judging Luke. I’m not. Luke can believe whatever the heck he wants to believe. I LOVE that we live in a country founded on liberty that affords him that right. I just take exception to the false pretense under which this blog operates, and I feel its been a worthwhile investment of my time to address since–after all–it IS a public web site and Luke is–after all–attacking my little invisible Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Yes the passion of Luke is Christ. His words don’t lie. Notice he doesn’t beat up on other religions. That is very telling. It’s the Christian religion that really chaps his arse. It is the one most deserving of his borrowed cartoons and buffoonish caricature, while the figures of other so-called mystical religions get an all access pass. That makes Luke’s religion not atheism, but what I will coin “retaliatheism.” In fact I think a more appropriate title for the blog would be “common sense retaliatheism.” At least THAT would be honest.

Luke doesn’t know what he believes. I probably would have never commented in the first place if he was an agnostic in search of the truth.

Peace and love to all,

Mark

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drj November 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Mark: Tom, I wouldn’t dare debate Luke because his various ideas have all the stability of a plane of fault lines. A Lukeprog idea is not only subject to change, it’s subject to transform in the way a cat might come back reincarnated as a parrot. In other words it would be a waste of my time to debate him, as it is most definitely a waste of yours.

What kind of lunacy is this? So are we to believe you value a steadfast opinion, over a change of heart in the face of compelling evidence? Just… wow.

I don’t agree with Luke’s retraction in this case, but its good evidence of a strength of character that he openly admits when he believes his arguments have been beaten.

Is that not one of the primary purposes of debate? To convince someone that your opinion is the most correct ? If so, then Luke has proven himself to be one with whom it is definately not a “waste” to debate.

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brgulker November 30, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Luke,

I’ve been following your debate with Tom since it started (although mostly abstaining from the comments).

Just so you know who I am: I’m a Christian. I’ve studied history, theology, philosophy, and psychology, and I’m proud to have earned an MDiv. along the way. I’m not currently working in the church, although it remains an important part of my life.

But more relevant to the conversation, I also know skepticism, because I experienced (and still do experience) it myself. I’m not as well-read as you or Tom, but I’ve read broadly enough to have my beliefs thoroughly called into question.

All that to say this:

I’m a Christian who accepts and embraces Science. I’m fascinated by cosmology and astronomy in particular. I have no problem accepting their theories (and of course, evolution).

I debate these points with Christian friends often, on the web and in RL. Often, I hear this question, “So you really think that we just came from monkeys?” I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

It’s kind of the trump card in the mind of the asker, isn’t it? As if it should be obvious to any thinking person that something as complex as human existence could not have evolved from a “lowly” life form like a monkey …

But here’s the point — In my experience, when a person asks that question, it’s a conversation killer. There’s nothing that’s provably false about the question, so I am forced to consent to it. Yet at the same time, the question itself is such a ridiculous trivialization of evolutionary theory that progress from that point becomes very difficult (again, based on my experience). The person who asks the “monkey question” probably fully understands that evolutionary theory is much more developed than the question implies, but that fact no longer matters.

To be perfectly honest with you, you’re acting like a stubborn creationist right now. (Or perhaps “were” is better … you’ve posted some type of recant on your blog as well). Your question, regardless of your intent, is a conversation killer, because regardless of how literally true the content of the question might be, it is so utterly reductionistic that there’s nowhere to go after answering it.

Knowing all of this, I can’t help but wonder why you were so reluctant to just let the issue rest? You know full well that it’s not just “jolting” as you put it but is in fact inflammatory!

My conclusion:

In the same way that the question, “So you really think that we came from monkeys?” Contributes nothing to an intelligent debate about evolutionary theory, the question P, which you persisted in asking, contributes nothing to an intelligent debate about the merit of Christianity.

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brgulker November 30, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Forgot to subscribe to comments. Sorry for the double.

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Tony Hoffman November 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm

“So you really think that we just came from monkeys?”

For what it’s worth, I don’t consider that a conversation killer. I’d use it as an opportunity to explain some finer points of evolution, that many other animals are capable of sophisticated social behavior, etc.

I am annoyed, as I imagine Luke and many other non-theists here must be, that Luke’s irreverence is being spun as the reason for a breakdown in dialogue. Luke may have been provocative in his choice of language, but Tom consistently refused to answer questions, wrote long, off-topic musings, and failed to engage meaningfully way past the point of courtesy.

If Tom, or other Christians, can’t stand the heat of common sense questions then they are more afraid of scrutiny than even I thought they were. And that is how Tom has made himself, and other Christians look — prissy, unengaged, demanding of special privileges, and incapable of defending that which he publicly announced is easy to defend. It’s hard to be a Christian apologetic, I think, if mean words like “magic” and “invisible” and “friend” are so devastating you cannot come up with a more convincing way to define those terms.

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brgulker December 1, 2009 at 8:32 am

Tony Hoffman:
For what it’s worth, I don’t consider that a conversation killer…

I am annoyed, as I imagine Luke and many other non-theists here must be, that Luke’s irreverence is being spun as the reason for a breakdown in dialogue…

If Tom, or other Christians, can’t stand the heat of common sense questions then they are more afraid of scrutiny than even I thought they were…  

Well, I was careful to preface my comments with “in my experience.” If your experience has been different than mine, then perhaps I could learn from you. I’ll take that into consideration next time that happens. But thus far, when that question gets asked, it’s usually indicative to me of several things; one of those things is that those people are communicating that they don’t even have a basic understanding of evolutionary theory. Yes, evolutionary theory claims that human beings came from monkeys — but that’s a gross oversimplification that is explicitly intended to trivialize the theory.

IMO, that was the consequence, whether intended or not, of Luke’s comments. Again, IMO, Tom demonstrated how that was actually the case, and from the perspective of a Christian, I have to agree. It’s simply not possible to have an intelligent conversation about Christian theology when your conversation partner refuses to go beyond that trivial reduction. Yes, Luke said that he was willing to go beyond that; but, for one reason or another, he never did. Maybe Tom cut him off early. I sympathize with Tom on that point ,and I won’t pretend to hide my bias. I’m sure you and others on the other side of the aisle are just as frustrated, and I would imagine that none of you would pretend to hide your bias either. All that to say, the frustration is mutual, and I think both parties contributed to it (I’m not going to defend Tom blindly).

Finally, to your point about enduring criticism — if there’s one thing that I am not (and after having read Tom for quite some time now, I think it’s fair to say this about him as well), it is that I am not afraid to subject my beliefs to rigorous intellectual criticism. I’ve been doing it regularly and intentionally since I began studying theology in college. In other words, I don’t think it’s at all fair for you to conclude that the reason the debate fell apart because of a lack of willingness to scrutinize the Christian faith — that is simply not an accurate representation of what happened. To paint those of us who were involved in the debate as readers, debaters, or commenters with the “fear” brush is naive, and frankly, a bit insulting. Please don’t assume that simply because we are Christians we don’t think as clearly or rigorously as you do. And certainly don’t accuse us of something based on a faulty assumption. That’s not rational, right?

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Tony Hoffman December 1, 2009 at 9:44 am

brgulker :Please don’t assume that simply because we are Christians we don’t think as clearly or rigorously as you do. And certainly don’t accuse us of something based on a faulty assumption. That’s not rational, right?

Why do you think that I assume that Chrisitians don’t think as clearly or rigorously as I do? My comments are based on a lengthy exposure to Tom’s thinking and behavior at his blog, and I only meant to impugn those who act as he has.

It appears that you have made the faulty assumption above, accusing me of basing my opinion on a faulty assumption. My premise, as it turns out, is well founded. I am, among other things, very familiar with Tom’s willingness to withstand legitimate criticism. I witnessed many critics on his site banned for arbitrary and trivial reasons, and by arbitrary I mean that he regularly tolerates a level of invective from Christian commenters there but often finds the same behavior by non-theists violates his discussion policy. I agree that he appears to invite dialogue, but he does not tolerate those who press him on his obvious contradictions, etc. He demonstrated that, yet again, in his discussion with Luke.

But don’t take my word for it. I was banned there a month or two ago for no reason other than pointing out that Tom was providing a false summary of previous posts and comments. I invite you to look at how Tom accepts “rigorous intellectual criticism” by reading the link below (and the relevant comments), and to compare how Tom handles this kind of thing versus how Luke does here.

http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/concluding-unscientific-postscript/

The discussion is in comments: 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25 and 27.

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brgulker December 1, 2009 at 11:41 am

Tony,

I didn’t mean to assume something bad about you, but I did so unintentionally. Please accept this as my apology for jumping the gun.

I hate to sound trite and look like I’m dodging, but I have a very long to do list … and I simply don’t have too much time to post another followup comment. But I did want to at least apologize if I was offensive.

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Tony Hoffman December 1, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Brgulker,

Sheesh, you guys worry a lot about one and being offensive. I wasn’t offended, and you didn’t hurt my feelings. That’s why we have these discussions, to find out what each other thinks and knows, and to maybe learn a little more in the process.

If you seem to make an assumption about me with which I disagree, or make a claim based on a weak or faulty premies, I’ll call you on it. I expect you to do the same to me.

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brgulker December 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Who is “you guys”?

“If you seem to make an assumption about me with which I disagree, or make a claim based on a weak or faulty premies, I’ll call you on it. I expect you to do the same to me. ”

Sounds good to me!

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Chuck December 1, 2009 at 8:17 pm

brgulker: Yes, evolutionary theory claims that human beings came from monkeys

That isn’t what the theory says.

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brgulker December 2, 2009 at 5:32 am

Chuck: brgulker: Yes, evolutionary theory claims that human beings came from monkeysThat isn’t what the theory says.  

Sheesh, talk about nitpickey :)

Yes, I realize that; I was being intentionally brief.

Anyway, nice chatting with you all. I’ve added Luke’s blog to my reader, so I’ll see you again!

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rhis December 12, 2009 at 5:15 pm

brgulker: I debate these points with Christian friends often, on the web and in RL. Often, I hear this question, “So you really think that we just came from monkeys?” I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

It’s kind of the trump card in the mind of the asker, isn’t it? As if it should be obvious to any thinking person that something as complex as human existence could not have evolved from a “lowly” life form like a monkey …

But here’s the point — In my experience, when a person asks that question, it’s a conversation killer. There’s nothing that’s provably false about the question, so I am forced to consent to it. Yet at the same time, the question itself is such a ridiculous trivialization of evolutionary theory that progress from that point becomes very difficult (again, based on my experience). The person who asks the “monkey question” probably fully understands that evolutionary theory is much more developed than the question implies, but that fact no longer matters.

Why should this end a conversation? The answer is, “No. But, you’re correct that we share a common ancestor.”

And, reduction to absurdity is a perfectly fair rhetorical technique.

So, at this point I have to show that it’s not absurd to think that humans evolved from some other creature.

By the same token, is it hard for a christian to say, “I’d use different language, and am careful to not say ‘just’ an imaginary friend, but you’re right. And, it’s reasonable to believe in this particular creature because ____.”

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