CPBD 037: John Loftus – The Christian Delusion

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 28, 2010 in Podcast

cpbd037

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview former preacher John W. Loftus. Among other things, we discuss:

  • The Outsider Test for Faith
  • The Problem of Miscommunication
  • Jesus as a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet

loftusDownload CPBD episode 037 with John Loftus. Total time is 36:40.

John Loftus links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 147 comments… read them below or add one }

chuck April 28, 2010 at 10:50 am

Love John and love CPBD. You’ve taught me Luke how to feel more comfortable inside my atheism without resorting to being an arrogant and angry blowhard. You are a gifted young man.

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John W. Loftus April 28, 2010 at 11:10 am

Thanks for the interview Luke. I think our efforts are making a difference. Since you first recorded this interview I’ve been looking into the possibility of an online Counter-Apologetics Masters Program with Bob Price and Ken Pulliam (we’re talking about it anyway). I’m conducting a poll about this possibility on my blog Debunking Christianity and after just two days 45 people are interested, “depending on the classes and the professors who will teach them.” Don’t ask me any other details since I don’t have any more to share at this point.

Cheers.

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Reginald Selkirk April 28, 2010 at 12:24 pm

“Satan is a myth” – geez, what does Satan have to do to earn some respect? Last year he won the Stanley Cup.

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chuck April 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I agree Reginald,

Sidney Crosby is Satan (but I am from Detroit).

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lukeprog April 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Thanks chuck! We don’t need any more arrogant atheist blowhards.

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Chris K April 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Interesting interview and nice overview of some of the chapters of TCD. I haven’t read the book, so I probably don’t have a great handle on everything that is going on in the interview.

For example, I think it’s great to be critical of one’s own worldview and also am interested in the question of to what extent taking the “outsider test” is possible. But I get this vague suspicion that something like the genetic fallacy is going on when it appears that Christianity is being criticized for being culturally propagated. If it’s just an illustration to make the point that we should all be striving for the outsider test, then that’s fine, but if it’s meant to be a criticism for the truth of Christianity, that seems to be problematic.

Second, I wonder what sorts of theologies of Scripture Loftus considers when making claims about the problem of divine (mis)communication. I seems that there are all kinds of ways a Christian could go about conceiving the relationship between God and the Bible that avoid this problem. For example, (most) Christians believe that the Bible has both human and divine authorship. From the divine side, we have the affirmation that God both says and does (speech acts!) things in biblical discourse. On the human side, the biblical authors occupy very different social and historical contexts than our own, and we ought not be surprised that much of what we find there seems very foreign to us. So it’s not as if the divine author spoke into a vaccuum or disregarded the context of the human author. When we’re looking at the Bible, it’s not as if we’re looking at some universal moral or scientific textbook. It is God’s message spoken into a particular context, in time, space, and history. It’s not an accident that the Bible is incarnational. On this view, the Bible is simply a record of God forming covenants with men. The objection that if God actually authored the Bible, then He has serious communication problems doesn’t appear to address the traditional Christian view of the Bible. But perhaps Loftus goes into this in his chapter.

Third, I have no pat theodicy for animal suffering, but I do have a question about the “mythology of Satan.” I’m no biblical scholar, but I understanding a little bit about the development of the Israelite concept of Satan during periods of captivity. The question becomes, what does the development of Israel’s concept of Satan have to do with his existence or inexistence? Is this a form of the genetic fallacy again? Or maybe these questions are answered in the book.

Fourth, the picture of Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet seems like a pretty reductive account of his expressed identity and mission. Sure, Schweitzer had this idea, but are we sure this label is comprehensive?

Anyway, just some thoughts…

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chuck April 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Luke, I can’t promise I won’t be an arrogant atheist blowhard. I’m just saying that your approach to critical thinking and atheism has humbled me. Also, the book you suggested on the rules of argument is great. What is your strategy for school? You need to move forward with that. Your mind is an asset that demands accreditation.

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Chris K April 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I’m also curious as to what Loftus meant when he said that Christians today believe differently than the early Christians. It’s not as if we’ve gone about amending the creeds or stopped reciting them.

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chuck April 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Chris,

I recommend the book. It’s good. Some of the answers are there.

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Scott April 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

The Thirty Years’ War…Europe’s greatest clusterfuck. WWII was more brutal, but the warring sides were obvious. Maybe only World War I can surpass it…

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Hermes April 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm

In defense of arrogant blowhardary, consider how much more effective the good cop would be if they realized an opportunity was blown open for them? So many chances are strangely wasted.

More directly, theists can and do drag along quite a bit of nonsense that they demand non-theists to take seriously. At times, aggression is just about the ideal reaction as it shows quite a bit of shocking honesty when capitulation was expected.

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Hermes April 28, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Another example — [part 1] [part 2] — from the same show as above.

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noen April 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Hermes
“In defense of arrogant blowhardary…..”

I don’t think that is quite the feather in your cap that you think it is.

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Hermes April 28, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Oooh. Bad choice.

I note that you did not reply to my comment in the Humanist Symposium thread. Care to show how you were not either dishonest and/or stunningly ignorant?

I took your previous actions as an example of your own unjustified attempt at arrogance. Oh, teh ironies!

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Hermes April 28, 2010 at 9:55 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m all for justified arrogance. Like watching a crotchety curmudgeon, it brings me joy, and I question the honesty of any one who doesn’t admit to some satisfaction with it.

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noen April 29, 2010 at 12:29 am

Hermes
“I note that you did not reply to my comment in the Humanist Symposium thread.”

Yawwwnnn, Internet Tough Guy is tough.

I’m really not interested in discussing things with you hun. Good luck with your chosen path in life.

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Jake de Backer April 29, 2010 at 1:01 am

Hermes
“I note that you did not reply to my comment in the Humanist Symposium thread.”Yawwwnnn, Internet Tough Guy is tough.I’m really not interested in discussing things with you hun. Good luck with your chosen path in life.  

I love when people respond to say they’re not interested in responding.

Dept. of Redundancy Dept.,
J.

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Chuck April 29, 2010 at 4:04 am

Hermes,

Good clips. Those folks knew their stuff. I have often been more like the caller in my application of logic to explain my atheism. Only recently have I understood this and that just because I’ve been freed from the superstition of god does not mean I am immune to cognitive bias.

I loved those clips and found both hosts to be humble. The callers on the other hand, not so much.

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Hermes April 29, 2010 at 5:45 am

Jake, yes, yes indeed. I’ll take the reply it gave as a concession.

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Hermes April 29, 2010 at 8:35 am

Chuck, yep. The specific words Matt and Jen used were spot on. At the hot end of the conversation they were definitely aggressive but not at all arrogant.

The second clip I think shows the proper attitude: Calm even polite — yet direct — insistence on the facts to start with, and when those facts are ignored … and only when they are ignored … slowly increase the bluntness and aggression. Agree quickly to things that do not matter or are irrelevant to the current conversation. At no time let the other person build on anything that is demonstratively incorrect either explicitly or implicitly by remaining silent when an error is repeated.

[ If you haven't heard of the show before, The Atheist Experience airs live in the Austin Texas area on Sunday and the show is streamed over Ustream. You can call in or send them comments or questions. Go take a look if you want, the archives go back a few years and the show has been broadcast reguarly since 1997. Jen specifically has had some weak shows before, but she's clearly stepped up to a similar level as Matt and Tracie (keep an eye out for Tracie when browsing the archives, specifically her discussion on the phrase "God exists" from a few years ago [part 1] [part 2]); sharp and exacting. If the show is too rough and tumble, they also have more formal presentations as well as a more casual podcast called The Non Prophets. ]

Sitting in my armchair, I could criticize Matt for jumping on the caller John a bit too roughly towards the end. Not for his harsh language, but for his insistence that John answer a question that actually was not that important. His frustration and flustered respons, though, is quite understandable.

Also, they could have spent a few more words — a sentence or two — explaining exactly what they meant early on. I disagree with both Jen and Matt that the caller John did not do any research. It was clear to me that John did prepare (and was likely reading from some notes), and John was honest enough to admit he was mistaken in a few places. That said, John was still wrong on a few very important details and seemed shocked that they had made mistakes that they probably felt like they could not take back.

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chuck April 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

Good stuff Hermes.

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Reginald Selkirk April 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I recently heard a sociologist, who is on book tour claiming that science and religion are not as incompatible as some make them out to be, comment regarding the recent Texas Bored of Education hearings on science textbooks that both sides (i.e. scientists and science educators vs. Creationist whackjobs) were too arrogant.

Well excu-u-u-u-use me. We have the fossils. We have the DNA sequences. We get to be arrogant. As baseball great Dizzy Dean once said, “If you can do what you say, you ain’t bragging.”

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dgsinclair April 29, 2010 at 3:13 pm

We have the fossils. We have the DNA sequences. We get to be arrogant

Actually, we both have the fossils and DNA, but they prove neither theory of origins definitively. It’s our primary assumptions that lead us to differing conclusions.

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dgsinclair April 29, 2010 at 4:01 pm

1. Agnosticism as the default position

I’m glad that John affirms that agnosticism, not atheism, is the default position.

2. The outsider test for faith

Luke, I’m glad that you finally addressed the growing elephant in the room, that this test should be applied to any methaphysical belief or unbelief system.

I also agree with John that conversion from one view to another does not mean that one used logic or used valid reasoning to embrace the new system. Just because I am an ex-agnostic does not make my belief in Chritianity true or validly arrived at, and vice versa.

Additionally, I agree somewhat with John that most of us do not seriously doubt the faith or unbelief system that we are handed growing up. Me, I grew up agnostic scientist frowning upon religionists. However, the failure of this view led me to explore faith.

I think that the main reason people question their world view is because it fails them, and they perhaps see better results or hear challenges from outside. Who would question their own view if their life seemed to be going along fine without much suffering?

3. Christianity as the most wonderful story and biggest threat

John seems to intimate that the making a world view decision based on which is the most personally appealing story is a bad one, but I think he lacks specificity here.

Of course, the most emotionally appealing story, or the one holding the biggest carrot or stick, is not necessarily true.

However, the most logically consistent, congruent with what we observe in the world and its operating principles ought to merit greater consideration.

This is one of the reasons that I returned to Christianity after leaving it for many years. It has some specific, unique ideas that translated into the real world better than any other world view. For me, those areas of excellence and congruence included:

a. the bible’s ability to translate into a meaningful judicial system in the west, as compared to the east. It’s ideas of justice, reparations, repentance, punishment, and mercy seem excellent.

b. the bible’s ability to translate into a meaningful economic system (compare the poverty of Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu nations compared to those that have enjoyed Protestant histories)

c. the bible’s soteriology seemed excellent to me – rather than requiring one to work off his debt to God (vs. his debt to society which he is expected to pay back), as Buddhism requires in mutliple reincarnations and suffering in this realm, it provides a loving sacrifice paid by someone else. That’s a superior story from the point of satisfying both justice and mercy, and contains more love than the Buddhist or Catholic systems of personal repayment.

I could go on, but my point is that the appeal of certain world views can be important if that appeal is more empirical than emotional.

4. The role of emotion in metaphysical decisions

What I do love about John is that he admits that even his decision to unbelieve may have been colored by his emotional experiences and hurts (having the church reject you when you as a pastor commit adultery is probably very painful, esp. if you seek repentance).

But I get the feeling (pun intended) that John disregards all such subjective means of decision making, and I think that this shows the atheist bias against the more subjective epistemic functions of the psyche.

What I mean is that naturalists like yourself seem to have a very negative view of what I call the ‘functions of the spirit,’ that is, intuition, conscience, and communion (I’m almost done w/ my article on this at http://www.twoorthree.net, and will post it here when done).

I think that we can have both valid and invalid subjective reasons to accept/reject metaphysical conclusions. If we are responding out of hurt emotions (God is not real because my parents were mean Christians), that’s not really good.

However, if we intuit from our experiences that God is not real (lack of answered prayer, no feeling of God in prayer or church, something deep down telling us that the claims of God’s existence are false), that might be a worthy piece of data.

In reality, I think we ALL DO make those types of evaluations in our decisions, and as Plantinga would say, if our faculties are working properly, our belief or disbelief is warranted.

5. Evidence pushing John from agnosticism to atheism

The problem with John’s atheist conclusions, I think, is that he has presupposed naturalism, and therefore, limiting himself to empirical data while ingoring the healthy intuition, conscience, and ability to commune with the spiritual world, he has essentially eliminated the epistemic data he needs to make a complete evaluation.

So, he only listens to the naturalistic data, which gives him a big fat 0 with repsect to God’s existence, then concludes there is no God. I think that’s circular.

I find it interesting that naturalists neglect the limits of reason – do they read Kant? I am amazed at the stunted view of the intuition and conscience that materialists have because they reject all such subjective referents.

6. The Problem of Miscommunication

I do think that this is a reasonable complaint. However, the amount of mayhem created by the use or abuse of the Bible throughout history is a bit of a red herring.

First, he is ignoring the fact that Christianity has contributed more to human prospering than any other worldview, including but not limited to raising human rights around the world, abolitionism, creating a foundation for modern science, inventing higher education, hospitals, and more are facts which Loftus ignores. See:
Part I: How Christianity changed the world by Alvin Schmidt – Introduction
Part II: How Christianity changed the world – Life, Sex, Marriage & Status of Women
The biblical origins of science

Second, it could easily be the case that even if God somehow communicated as clearly as John would like, men would still do evil.

So I think we have a bit of a non-sequitur here. Bad behavior = bad communication? I think that’s weak.

Regarding the method of communication, you might be interested in these views:
Why are the scriptures not written more plainly?

Some think they have an advantage to charge the Scripture with obscurity, and do thereon maintain that it was never intended to be such a revelation of doctrines as should be the rule of our faith. “Had it been so, the truths to be believed would have been proposed in some order unto us, as a creed or confession of faith, that we might at once have had a view of them and been acquainted with them; but whereas they are now left to be gathered out of a collection of histories, prophecies, prayers, songs, letters or epistles, such as the Bible is composed of, they are difficult to be found, hard to be understood, and never perfectly to be learned.”

Owen responds with these points (which I expand on in the article above):

1. We should assume that the method in which the scriptures are presented to us IS the best way to communicate such truths.

2. Didactic teaching, as opposed to communicating through stories, poetry, and other methods, robs them of their power.

3. “Artificial methodizing” of truth may help us in our comprehension, but such ready comprehension may actually hinder the type of intuitive apprehension of truth that actually transforms us.

4. So that we would rely on illumination rather than merely our own understanding

5. To hide the truth from the proud and self-righteous

6. The scriptures were written to communicate truths across history, with different emphases at different times.

See also:
Perspicuity and single meaning of scripture

I’ll continue my input tomorrow. Cheers!

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lukeprog April 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm

dgsinclair,

FYI, there is an entire chapter in Loftus’ book debunking the myth that Christianity is responsible for science.

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Chuck April 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

dg

It would be interesting to get your take on “The Christian Delusion” because many (if not all) of your assertions are reasonably falsified. You should read it. In particular Carrier decimates the odd assertion that Christianity is essential to modern science.

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Hermes April 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Well excu-u-u-u-use me. We have the fossils. We have the DNA sequences. We get to be arrogant. As baseball great Dizzy Dean once said, “If you can do what you say, you ain’t bragging.”

As usual with your comments, I fully agree. The only consideration I’d give is the same one voiced in the Flock of Dodos documentary.

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Hermes April 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Actually, we both have the fossils and DNA, but they prove neither theory of origins definitively.It’s our primary assumptions that lead us to differing conclusions.

I’d say it like this; The creationists have assumptions that cause them to ignore the physical evidence.

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Chuck April 29, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Naturalists and Creationists both have the fossils and DNA but the former use them to falsify a hypothesis while the latter use them to support a presupposition. Big difference.

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John W. Loftus April 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm

dgsinclair, I understand your interest in thinking though my arguments and attempting to show where they’re wrong. But you must first read them to see how I answer your objections. Until then, you are nothing but another example of how not to argue against me.

Cheers.

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Hermes April 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

1. Agnosticism as the default position

I’m glad that John affirms that agnosticism, not atheism, is the default position.

Agnosticism (various types) is about knowledge.

Theism, or atheism, is a statement of belief or lack of belief.

As such, since belief statement or knowledge claims aren’t incompatible, they usually should be stated as a set for completeness. For example, an “agnostic theist” would be valid, but saying “agnostic or a theist” doesn’t make much sense.

Details: What is your religious position?

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 4:17 am

Hermes, the words “agnostic” and “atheist” are defined differently, as you know. It is entirely appropriate to disagree with each other about how to define these words. These discussions are language games. I’ve entered the language game of the Christian when I use the word “agnostic” to refer to someone who doesn’t think answers are available for these type of metaphysical questions. Disagreeing with them, or me on this, and affirming Thomas Huxley’s definition as the authoritative one doesn’t tell us why anyone should accept the Huxley version as authoritative. What word would YOU use to describe someone who doesn’t think answers are available for these type of metaphysical questions?

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matt April 30, 2010 at 5:04 am

First, he is ignoring the fact that Christianity has contributed more to human prospering than any other worldview, including but not limited to raising human rights around the world, abolitionism, creating a foundation for modern science, inventing higher education, hospitals, and more are facts which Loftus ignores.

you’d think that even christian apologists would refrain from making UTTER asses of thimselves this way. this is like saying that the nazis defended the right to national self-determination because they liberated the südetendeutsche from bohemian tyranny. SOME christians within what for centuries was the christian world became abolitionists after MANY CENTURIES of chrisian practice of various and sundry forms of slavery, near-slavery and quasi-slavery (not to mention divine rights of kings, crusades and a lot of other fun with power over the powerless). so OF COURSE: christianity “created abolitionism”! (here’s another analogy: Michael Gorbachev was a democratic reformist in Stalinist Russia; he was also a Communist Party funtionary; ergo, the Soviet Communist Party created Democracy in Russia…. one could go on and on….)

I know that Dinesh D’Souza is fond of this sort of Orwellian argument, so I guess it must sound good to some people.

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matt April 30, 2010 at 5:08 am

PS: rereading my response to dgsinclair it seems rather harsh and not very nice. fuck it, some arguments deserve not very nice counterarguments. calling the purveyors of slavery the liberators of the slaves is just such an argument. having said that, i’m glad not everyone here is as caustic as i am!

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 5:39 am

Matt,

Your response to dg is a nice illustration of John’s concept that the biblical god is poor communicator. The text endorses both slavery and abolition of slavery. Both sides could (and did) use scripture to defend their actions.

dg, get John’s book, read it, and return to agnostic science. You seem like an intelligent person who for emotional reasons is clinging to a culturally accepted control belief. It is superstitious and ethnocentric to make the claims you make.

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matt April 30, 2010 at 5:39 am

a. the bible’s ability to translate into a meaningful judicial system in the west, as compared to the east. It’s ideas of justice, reparations, repentance, punishment, and mercy seem excellent.

b. the bible’s ability to translate into a meaningful economic system (compare the poverty of Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu nations compared to those that have enjoyed Protestant histories)

just have to pps about these two, too. i think it’s especially important because so much of the discussion here (rightly, i guess) revolves around abstract problems and skirts around political ones. (i wonder what sam harris thinks about points a and b, for instance…)

the bible doidn’t “translate” into democratic capitalism any more than it did into not-so-democratic socialism or even much less democratic national socialism (in luther’s hometown, so to speak). this is pure chauvenism disguised as historical ignorance. DSouza and other conservative nationalists say this sort of thing all the time,and it’s clear that it’s part and parcel of not just a Christian chauvenist worldview but a nationalist one, too, where codewords “christianity”, “democraty”, even “science”(!!) stand in for “USA” or even more narrowly, “America the Christian Nation”. I`m sorry to say that this sort of thing deserves all the contempt that Christopher Hitchens could ever dream up (if only Hitchens hadn’t bought into half of it himself…).

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matt April 30, 2010 at 5:47 am

Matt,

Your response to dg is a nice illustration of John’s concept that the biblical god is poor communicator. The text endorses both slavery and abolition of slavery. Both sides could (and did) use scripture to defend their actions.

ditto Marx, Shakespeare, John Locke and your average cookbook, for that matter. All authors are poor communicators, since any communicating always involves opening a space for interpretation. i suppose the problem is when the author is deemed to be infallible (a view that a lot of artists would also like to endorse, no doubt…).

then again, the christian can always pipe up and say that it’s the interpreter who’s fucking it up, not the “author”–for instance by appealing to “genre” (“that’s not history, that’s just allegory” etc.)

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 5:58 am

Matt,

I’m with you. The thing that helped seal my atheism was a commitment to a church that practiced expository preaching believing in both five point Calvinism and biblical inerrancy. I was okay with the Christian story when it was presented in an unorthodox “seeker-friendly” environment but, the more orthodox it became the more superstitious and primitive and useless it was.

I hate it when a bad person uses orthodox theology to commit bad actions and a wide-eyed Christian just shakes their head and mumbles, “What bad theology,” when the perpetrator is making a deeper commitment to the Christian theology than the well-meaning Christian would. Harris’ insight around the intellectual honesty of fundamentalist vs. moderate Christians helped me see the inefficacy of the Christian story and the dubious ethics of Divine Command theory.

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Hermes April 30, 2010 at 6:00 am

[ John, the following is intended for your review as well as other people who do not have your depth of experience. Please be patient and don't take any of this as a challenge to anything you've written. ]

We may not actually disagree in substance at all. We might only differ in tone or choice of presentation.

For your consideration…

I’m not affirming Huxley’s definition as the sole authoritative one and I typically don’t apply his usage as I find it to narrow. I also understand when someone entertains the Christian view of the words when discussing things with them. Personally, I take a more blunt approach for specific reasons that I consider to be well founded, but may not be ideal for every conversation or for people with different intents or goals.

For specific reasons not described in detail here, the rough definition of the word ‘agnostic’ that I used above, and that I consistently use and defend vigorously and in detail elsewhere, is parallel to the split between theism and atheism on the belief side.

That is why I call myself (in general) an agnostic atheist, and depending on context I may just say I’m an agnostic or just an atheist, or I may go into greater detail by adding additional terms. Some details discussing this can be found here, while the last Atheist Experience show roughly reflects what I’m saying: [ part 1 ] [ part 2 ] [Note: These are different links from the ones I posted earlier in this thread.] The ACA also hosts the Iron Chariots wiki and covers the word agnostic, with a good set of comments in the section titled “Misunderstandings” where they go over the distinction between knowledge and belief in usage.

What word would YOU use to describe someone who doesn’t think answers are available for these type of metaphysical questions?

Agnostic works fine.

My point was that agnosticism is about knowledge, not belief, just as atheism is about belief not knowledge. Some of the links I provided above cover this, and as I fully agree with your comment to dgsinclair that they should not dismiss your comments based on a summary, I would humbly be honored if you would consider the same irt. what I’ve provided, time permitting of course.

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Hermes April 30, 2010 at 6:01 am

Bah … “to narrow ==> should be ==> “too narrow”

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 6:17 am

Hermes, the point is that words are elastic depending on their context. The basic unit of meaning is not the word but the sentence, which provides the smallest unit of context for how a word is used (i.e. there is no smaller unit of context). So on the one hand I can use “agnostic” as I did in this interview and at the same time describe myself as an “agnostic atheist”, even though I’m using the word “agnostic” in two different (but not completely different) senses because of the perceived different contexts. In fact, the words I use mean what I intend them to mean and nothing more. Your job is merely to try and understand what I mean by how I use words. It’s doesn’t do much good in many cases to argue for your particular language game over mine (although sometimes it’s important). Hopefully the words I choose to express myself communicate to others. That’s the goal. And even then there is something more. Statements used in sentences are different than propositions. A whole host of sentences can express one lone proposition (for example: “Let’s eat.” “Come and get it.” “The food is ready.” Or even no words at all but just ringing a bell!) We must try to discern what the particular proposition is behind the statements (whether verbal or non-verbal). My goal is not to quibble about which definitions apply to which words. For the most part my goal is to understand how people use words and work with their definitions so communication can take place. Aristotle said something to the effect that “many disputes could be resolved in just a few sentences if we but defined our words.”

Cheers.

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Hermes April 30, 2010 at 6:36 am

John, OK. I was originally responding directly to dgsinclair and not commenting specifically on your unique take on this from the interview or in that context.

That said, everything I wrote here and elsewhere I stand by and I can go into details if you wish though it doesn’t seem like we were addressing the same thing … so there isn’t much of a point of that beyond a time zapping curiosity.

Consider my original comments to be a summary, with all the issues that summary statements are hobbled by.

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 6:41 am

Linguistics is a fascinating area of study. I’ve done some reading on it along with taking a master’s level class on the philosophy of language. There is much to learn and many additional questions to resolve from what I just wrote. In any case, I usually bristle when someone, anyone, tells me what a word means. Not even Webster’s Dictionary can tell me how to use a word if I want to use it differently (although, I risk not communicating when I do). English words are continually being created, re-defined and argued over every day. That’s why words change in meanings over the years. Just look up the etymology of the word “nice” as one example.

Again, cheers my friend

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Reginald Selkirk April 30, 2010 at 8:21 am

Actually, we both have the fossils and DNA, but they prove neither theory of origins definitively.It’s our primary assumptions that lead us to differing conclusions.  

Big Yawn. Take your science denial elsewhere. The Young Earth Creationism being backed by Don McElroy and his inbred pack of yokels is so thoroughly disproven by the existing evidence that anyone that deeply in science denial should be asked to scratch their protests in the mud with a pointy stick rather than write it on the web.

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chuck April 30, 2010 at 9:00 am

Well said Reginald. The idea that pre-suppositional apologetics can demand equal value between theology and science denies the issue of utility.

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Hermes April 30, 2010 at 9:21 am

Indeed. Language has fascinated me as well, though my dictionary collection is not what it was.

(Rule of thumb: Dictionaries, like technical manuals and boxed cereal, have a useful shelf life. For dictionaries it is about 10 years, sometimes less. This is why one with dated references is important, and why I still find an old copy of the shorter OED to have practical utility.)

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matt April 30, 2010 at 9:26 am

wow, this just keeps getting worse. dgsinclair links to a charming book called “how christianity changed the world” by alvin schmidt. it apparently even outdoes dsouza for neanderthal historical revisionism:

“For example, they (the anti-christians) refer to the Crusades as a religious pogrom against Islam and Judaism, rather than a response to 400 years of Muslim aggression and brutality, which unfortunately digressed in some cases to antisemitic behaviors due to an “if you are not with us you are against us” mentality which was condemned by the Church.”

Notice how PERFECTLY this dovetails with American imperial war policy: unfortunately some “bad apples” went a little too far carrying out the good crusades, which were a defensive reaction to “Muslim aggression”! And to top it off, the only error of the friendly crusaders was an occasional tendency to antisemitism, meaning of course anti-Jewishism, not anti-Muslimism (i.e., Israel good, Islam bad!). Notice how utterly simplistic and transparently chauvenistic it is, how it reduces the history of competing empires to a good-bad dichotomy along religious lines. let me underline this: the american christian right now wants to REHABILITATE THE CRUSADES! i hope i´m not the only one who sees that the problem here isn’t christianity per se; the problem is christian tainted nationalism of the dumbest variety (i.e., half the american political sprectrum, more or less). considering the very recent wars that at this very moment are killing lots of people unecessarily, i’d add this to any list of the “crimes of christianity” in an argument for atheism–but then to do so you have to be an atheist who’se against those wars, which doesn’t include some prominent members of the so-called new atheists.

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Chris K April 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

John, et al.,

Hmm. So here’s the deal: There are too many books on my list that I don’t have the budget for, so I probably won’t get to TCD for some time. I did read a few pages on amazon.com, but the viewable pages were quite few. Nevertheless, I do think my questions/criticisms still remain unanswered. So, feel free to disregard if you think the objections are negligible.

Is the Outsider Test a criticism of the truth of Christianity, or is it just an encouragement for all of us to be more critical of our beliefs?

Is the criticism of the concept of Satan an argument for his inexistence, or is it just a criticism of how the development of the Israelite’s concept of Satan was formed?

Isn’t it likely that identifying Jesus solely as an apocalyptic prophet, even when looking just at the Synoptics, is wildly reductive?

Isn’t it possible that the portrait you paint of the Bible turns out to be based on a faulty or inadequate hermeneutics?

For example, I read a criticism in the chapter on divine miscommunication that, to my understanding of Scripture, is a blatant misreading of Genesis 1. To be fair, it is one that happens a lot, namely, that Genesis 1 conflicts with evolution. What actually happens to be the case is that there is so much happening in the literary structure and in the polemics against other ancient near east cosmogonies, one would simply have to be badly informed if they didn’t realize that it is meant to be a theological argument, not a scientific explanation.

Now, this may seem to play right into Loftus’ point, that God would have to be a poor communicator at this point, if so many people (in our culture) misunderstand the text here. There seems to be an assumption that because God is supposed be the author of Scripture, the readers, both today and throughout history, should have no problems understanding the text. But why think this? There are many other ways divine authorship can go. Namely, that God isn’t out to simply write a universal moral or scientific textbook and supercede the human author’s historical and social context. Perhaps we would like him to have done that. But that just is not what the Bible is. It is a record of God making covenants with men in time, space, and history. God’s message therefore validates time, space, and history in that it is placed within it. Therefore, thinking that God’s Word can’t really be God’s Word because so many people misunderstand it and because so much of it seems strange and abhorrent is just based on a misunderstanding of the nature of divine revelation.

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Chris, look for my book in a library if and when you’re so inclined. But notice how you offer a false either/or statement of my argument. You wrote: “There seems to be an assumption that because God is supposed be the author of Scripture, the readers, both today and throughout history, should have NO (emphasis added) problems understanding the text.”

Please construct the most charitable view of my argument, especially since you haven’t read it, okay? Instead, you should’ve written that “…the readers, both today and throughout history, should have FEWER (emphasis added) problems understanding the text.”

Notice that word change? It makes a huge difference. No one is arguing that there should be NO problems given who we are as human beings.

Then you ask, “But why think this?”

Ummm, because eight million Christians killed each other during the eight French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War. An omniscient and/or foreknowing God did not have the insight to speak clearer in his revelation so they died and left many widows and fatherless children. You can imagine the pain and suffering during those days, can’t you?

Now do you understand?

Cheers.

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Chris K April 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm

John,

Good point about the wording. I should have put “fewer.”

I do understand that there is a lot of pain and suffering in war. I can imagine the pain and suffering during those days (of course, I can’t have that experience). I understand that it just doesn’t seem right. But it’s not clear to me that (1) it makes sense for us to fault God for not choosing the mode of revelation we think is the best, or that (2) if God did alter his method of revelation, religious wars would not have occurred.

By the way, I did check out the post on how not to argue against you. So, I understand that there is no genetic fallacy going on, or anything like that. I just got suspicious that a chapter in a book titled The Christian Delusion would be making either the claim or implication that Christianity is delusory, i.e., false.

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chuck April 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Chris,

Why should we answer your questions when you are unwilling to read John’s book? This thread is not the Chris K Christian presumption thread. Your hubris is a little annoying.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm

FYI, there is an entire chapter in Loftus’ book debunking the myth that Christianity is responsible for science.

Thanks. I’ve added Loftus’ book to my overburdened Amazon wish list. If any of you good atheists want to decrease the time it takes for me to get to it, you can always send it to me as a gift ;) I’ll even return the favor with your favorite Christian apologetics book if you dare :D

However, Luke, I would have said ‘attempts to debunk’ ;). Regarding the Christian contention that Christianity is not anti-science, or even further, set the cosmological groundwork for modern science. Here’s a list of the books that I know address this.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

But you must first read them to see how I answer your objections. Until then, you are nothing but another example of how not to argue against me.

John,

True, I was responding only to what I heard in the interview, so I may have many misunderstandings about what you actually mean. I will read the link, and in the meantime, allow people with more time or patience to bring me up to speed.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm

SOME christians within what for centuries was the christian world became abolitionists after MANY CENTURIES of chrisian practice of various and sundry forms of slavery, near-slavery and quasi-slavery

Matt,

I agree with you, but the historical fact is that no other world view, not humanism, atheism, or any other ism besides Christianity finally did lead to abolition. That’s my point. I am sure there were other influences, but in both abolition and civil rights, Christians and Christian thought were at the forefront. That is not insignificant.

And I think perhaps YOU are making an ass out of yourself by stooping to such inflammatory and insulting remarks. Keep that in mind for next time :p

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chuck April 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm

dg,

Why do you take credit for Christian thought being at the forefront of abolitionist thought without taking equal credit for Christian thought being at the forefront of the pro-slavery movement? By your syllogism we should expect a thriving slave trade in Thailand (95% Buddhist). And wasn’t much of the abolition movement threaded with Quakers? Far from orthodox Christains.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm

the bible doidn’t “translate” into democratic capitalism any more than it did into not-so-democratic socialism or even much less democratic national socialism

Matt, I beg to differ. In fact, in The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark uses history and logic to show the link between Christianity and Capitalism – in fact, those who claim a link between Christianity and socialism may have a much weaker argument.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm

All authors are poor communicators, since any communicating always involves opening a space for interpretation. i suppose the problem is when the author is deemed to be infallible (a view that a lot of artists would also like to endorse, no doubt…).

Actually, this calls into light what the definition of ‘inspiration’ means for the original authors. Damn, I just read about this the other night, where was that?

Well, taken from the recent Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,here’s a couple items on inspiration – basically, even such things as grammar can be incorrect, and the text can still be considered inspired because the ideas are perfect, but the human author is not. Inspiration is not seen as automatic writing.

WE AFFIRM that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
WE DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

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chuck April 30, 2010 at 1:28 pm

dg,

Ananais’ and Sapphira’s smack-down in the Book of Acts seems to indicate the Capitalistic presupposition for Capitalism is hokum.

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chuck April 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm

dg,

Your explanation for inspiration sounds like an ad hoc rationalization.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm

The thing that helped seal my atheism was a commitment to a church that practiced expository preaching believing in both five point Calvinism and biblical inerrancy.

Yeah, but what if that church was actually imbalanced? Why not judge the scriptures for yourself instead of one local implementation?

Regarding inerrancy, I am an evangelical, not liberal theologically, but admit that verbal inspiration is logically impossible, at least in the translations we have today. However, I do agree with the very nuanced and excellent view provided here:

My Take on Inerrancy By: Daniel B. Wallace

BTW, you can purchase a great 2009 debate between Wallace and Ehrman on the problem of suffering here:
Greer-Heard Forum

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Ananais’ and Sapphira’s smack-down in the Book of Acts seems to indicate the Capitalistic presupposition for Capitalism is hokum. 

That is a classic misreading of that text. Their problem was that they lied. Many Christian expositors have explained why this passage is not an indication of socialism or communism in the early church.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Your explanation for inspiration sounds like an ad hoc rationalization.

Yes, it does. So what? ;)

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Why do you take credit for Christian thought being at the forefront of abolitionist thought without taking equal credit for Christian thought being at the forefront of the pro-slavery movement?

No, because slavery pre-existed Christianity. However, if Christianity’s teachings (as opposed to the corrupt Catholic Church) made it worse, then you could blame Christianity.

This is why I can blame Darwinism for it’s role in eugenics and the Nazi’s using it as a ‘scientific’ basis for eugenics – because even though such ideas pre-existed Darwin, his ideas promoted them to a level of scientific validity that they had previously lacked.

Unfortuately, both the OT and the NT at LEAST aim at fair and kind treatment of slaves, though not banning it outright. That is a ‘failing’ of the New Testament in some people’s eyes.

However, I hasten to add that in the NT, the type of slavery we are talking about is not chattel slavery, since kidnapping is prohibited in 1 Timothy 1:10. It is more like indentured servitude.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm

the dubious ethics of Divine Command theory.

Hey, I’m a Christian and find the Divine Command Theory a poor solution to the Euthypro Dilemma. I prefer Bill Craig’s solution

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Reginald Selkirk April 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Well said Reginald.The idea that pre-suppositional apologetics can demand equal value between theology and science denies the issue of utility.  

Pre-suppositionalism is incompatible with the scientific method. Any and all conclusions of science, whether presuppositions or evidence-based, are subject to revision upon the introduction of new evidence. Examples abound in the history of science of pre-suppositions being questioned and overturned. Consider even the sense of a Euclidian 3-dimensional space which has been overturned by relativity.

To be making anti-science statements like that at the same time one is claiming credit for the birth of science is odious.

Rodney Stark’s version of history is not universally well-regarded. And even if Christianity had given birth to science, so what? To claim that precludes any later conflict of science with religion is a genetic fallacy.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Hermes, the point is that words are elastic depending on their context.

John, I’m disappointed that you would take time to wrangle over words rather than address my ‘input.’ Seems like a poorer use of time. Sigh. OK, I’ll go read that article you told me to read now ;)

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Chris K April 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Chuck,

I did not mean to be an arrogant theist blowhard. I didn’t think that there would be harm in asking the questions that came to me from the podcast. Perhaps I will spend some time at my Barnes&Noble this weekend to humble myself.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Notice how utterly simplistic and transparently chauvenistic it is, how it reduces the history of competing empires to a good-bad dichotomy along religious lines.

I’m sorry you’ve been so well schooled in anti-western and anti-Catholic revisionist history, but the Crusades were most certainly an unfortunate *response* to Muslim aggression. When they come to kill your family, you’ll understand.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

dg

I find guys like you both mildly amusing and somewhat annoying at the same time. I get it, you are excited about your belief. Having experienced the same belief with a deeply theological and biblical observant church, I see your faith as nothing more than an emotionally driven superstition. I’m sure it makes you feel good about yourself but, don’t see much more use to it than that. I find Bill Craig jus flat out annoying. Thanks. We are going to talk past each other. I subscribe to ideas that are not dependent on presuppositions of magic.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Ummm, because eight million Christians killed each other during the eight French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War. An omniscient and/or foreknowing God did not have the insight to speak clearer in his revelation so they died and left many widows and fatherless children.

As I said, such ideological wars, which are often more political and ethnic identity wars rather than over religious principle (Islam aside, which is warlike and murderous by definition).

Such wars may have occurred even if the scriptures were more ‘clear’ due, not to God’s poor communication, but man’s wickedness. Certainly, many more lives have been lost due to atheism (rightly or wrongly understood) in the last century alone, though of course, atheists don’t claim inspiration, since no such thing can really exist for them :).

So perhaps the wars John speaks of can be credited, not entirely to God’s miscommunication, but also partly (or in some cases greatly) to political and ethnic hatred that is based on religious identity rather than religion itself.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Why should we answer your questions when you are unwilling to read John’s book?

Yeah, Chris, didn’t you know that was as precondition to posting dissent on this post? ;P~~~

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm

By your syllogism we should expect a thriving slave trade in Thailand (95% Buddhist). And wasn’t much of the abolition movement threaded with Quakers? Far from orthodox Christains.

Actually, the child sex trade and human trafficking is certainly extraordinarily high in Thailand, so you’ve made my point.

You are right, however, about the Quakers, they were not quite orthodox in many ways, but still considered within the mainstream of Christianity in America.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm

dg

The thirty years war was not based on your apologetic rationalization. Sorry. I’m sure you’d like that to be the case but wasn’t. It was driven by religion.

Also, it does nothing for the case that Christianity is intellectually sound to have Christians offer dissent to a book they haven’t read.

Your use of the smiley face emoticon is annoying.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm

dg

The thirty years war was not based on your apologetic rationalization. Sorry. I’m sure you’d like that to be the case but wasn’t. It was driven by religion.

Also, it does nothing for the case that Christianity is intellectually sound to have Christians offer dissent to a book they haven’t read.

Your use of the smiley face emoticon is annoying.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I find guys like you both mildly amusing and somewhat annoying at the same time. I get it, you are excited about your belief. I subscribe to ideas that are not dependent on presuppositions of magic.

That’s OK, I find guys (like you) who are patronizing annoying as well. It comes with the territory of debate over contentious issues.

>> CHUCK: I’m sure it makes you feel good about yourself but, don’t see much more use to it than that.

If that is really your opinion, you have nearly entirely missed the essence of the Christian faith. Your simplistic view is a convenient caricature, but ignores the depth of thought, contribution, and transformative power across the ages of Christianity.

Such belittling of such a potent force in the philosophic and human realm belies an emotional antagonism as much as an intellectual one, in my eyes.

I rather appreciate Luke’s respect but disagreement model. I hold the same for atheists and atheism – they have reasonable arguments that they rely on, not just stupidity, immaturity, or evil hearts.

However, as Graham Oppy has intimated, definitive arguments do not exist, else we would probably no longer be arguing.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm

The sex slave trade does a lot of traffick to the US so I guess Christianity is not as strong an ism as you claim. Thanks for making my point. Another thing. Look up a guy named Ghandi and see how his Jainism worked in India. You continue to express your ethnocentrism. Also the only successful slave revolt in the history of mankind was performed by the voo doo population of Haiti. You like to cherry pick facts dg. I get it. Your superstition makes you feel good.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

dg

You can have your opinion but you can’t make up facts. You pick and choose from christendom to endorse your feel good belief but you ignore or deny similar facts that paint christianity in lesser lights. The arrogance of christianity and christians to claim a benovelent hegemony of their religion as evidence of their god ignores history and only exhibits solipsism. You are a good example of this.

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm

dgsinclair, I agree with you and Graham Oppy that definitive arguments do not exist. There is no silver bullet so to speak. But when it comes to my previous book Why I Became an Atheist, read what one person named Stephanie said about it: “I have read numerous books regarding the subject matter you covered in your book and by far, John, yours is the best one for Christians to read. There is no drug we can give a Christian to get them to see how irrational Christianity and all other religions truly are. However, in my opinion, this book is next best thing.”

You can see more reviews of my previous book right here (scroll down to find hers). When I tell you this it is NOT an advertisement. It’s rather a prescription for your condition. While you might not care for either an advertisement or a prescription, this is what I consider it to be.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm

The sex slave trade does a lot of traffick to the US so I guess Christianity is not as strong an ism as you claim.

a. it is illegal in the west

b. the child sex trade in the west does not find it’s origins in the Christian part of society, but in the deepening sicknesses of secular and foreign cultures that are putrefying it. Those who support porno as freedom of speech are, for example, much more to blame than Christianity.

c. in countries like thailand, such horrid practices are practiced openly. That’s a far cry from the underground sin industries in America.

I think my point stands.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm

John

Religion is an addiction and addiction’s chief symptom is denial. dg is a good example of that pathology.

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Chris wrote:

…it’s not clear to me that (1) it makes sense for us to fault God for not choosing the mode of revelation we think is the best, or that (2) if God did alter his method of revelation, religious wars would not have occurred.

Again, a charitable understanding needs to take place between us. You need to see it from my perspective and that’s what I can offer you. From my perspective I’m not faulting your God for anything. From my perspective he does not exist. What I am doing is looking at what we see in the Bible and the history of the church and asking if this is something I would expect given your depictions of God and his chosen mode of revelation.

I find it extremely puzzling, if not downright idiotic, that your God would give us minds, ask us to use them, and then not offer us what we need to believe when we use them. That’s what I find time and time again. That’s why I write my books and Blog.

Let me be very specific. If John’s Jesus told his disciples that when he spoke of the Eucharist it was not to be taken literally but rather metaphorically (or vice versa whichever the case may be) then Christian lives, homes, and property would have been saved a much needed carnage. It’s that easy.

If God is omniscient and knows us intimately and/or if he has foreknowledge and could foresee what would happen, then my question is why didn’t he communicate better about this? In my chapter I offer dozens of examples and I also deal with the major responses to it.

Cheers.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

You can see more reviews of my previous book right here (scroll down to find hers). When I tell you this it is NOT an advertisement. It’s rather a prescription for your condition. While you might not care for either an advertisement or a prescription, this is what I consider it to be. 

John, I do intend to read your books (on the list), and I did hear an interview with you where you explained your story of leaving Christianity, which I am sure is less erudite than an edited book.

However, I also have a prescription for your ‘condition,’ which is, of course, sin and rebellion against God, or as Paul put it, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”

I know that’s a conversation ender, but I say it rather as a rejoinder to your use of the word ‘condition.’ I know you mean it as a descriptive rather than pejorative term, but again, so do I.

However, based on the high marks your book is getting, along with Oppy’s and Carrier’s, I will get to them. I bear you no ill, and thank you for your contributions to clarifying the issues. You’ll forgive me if I don’t immediately submit.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Sexual slavery is illegal in Thailand too. Why do you continue to practice special pleading? The sex trade in Thailand is evidence of the moral inefficacy of Buddhism but 400 years of slavery in the devout Christian American sout is not an illustration of the moral inefficacy of Christianity because that wasn’t “real” Christianity. Your exceptionalism is annoying.

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John W. Loftus April 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

dgsinclair, You’ll forgive me if I don’t immediately submit.

I forgive you. ;-)

You seem reasonable enough to me. Let us know what you think of them both when you can.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I find it extremely puzzling, if not downright idiotic, that your God would give us minds, ask us to use them, and then not offer us what we need to believe when we use them.

In the Bible’s opinion, He most certainly has, and He does not seem to want us to disengage our minds.

Romans 1:19-20
What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

Of course, this is appealing more to intuition (and authority ;) than intellect, and in some sense, I guess you are correct that the problems of evil, suffering, hiddenness, and the imperfect communication of the Bible are good intellectual arguments against the existence of God.

And if one discounts intuition, conscience, and communion because they are subjective, and limits one’s epistemic method to intellectual empiricism, then yes, perhaps the evidence is insufficient.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I forgive you.
You seem reasonable enough to me. Let us know what you think of them both when you can.

[grin] Thanks on both accounts. I am reasonable half the time.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

You can have your opinion but you can’t make up facts. You pick and choose from christendom to endorse your feel good belief but you ignore or deny similar facts that paint christianity in lesser lights.

I agree, but which facts do you think I am making up?

And perhaps I do pick and choose a bit, but can’t i appeal to the need to save space here and just provide the information that you are missing or misstating? I mean, I agreed that some awful things were done in the name of Christianity, and even left open the door that some things could be clearer (slavery).

I really do think that Christianity is less than fully culpable, perhaps even justified, in initiating the Crusades> And in the case of the abuses of the Inquisition (arguably pushed by the King and Queen of Spain more than the Pope, who decried some of their abuses), I could chalk that up, not to the Bible, but to the theologically and politically corrupt Catholic church whose remediation was so needed that we got the Protestant Reformation. Remember that some of the great heroes of the faith, including Hus and Tyndale, not to mention Luther, were persecuted by the same “christian” Catholicism – so perhaps many of those abuses weren’t really “Christian” in ideology.

Some so-called abuses like the case of Galileo turn out to be largely legends on top of a much gentler real history, while others like the flat earth stories are complete fabrications.

All that was to say that I think John has it wrong when being entirely negative about Christianity (and perhaps he is not) – despite the foibles of those called Christians, as an ideology, I claim that it has done more good for humanity than ANY other ideology, and continues to do so today.

Who provides the MOST free healthcare and relief work worldwide? Christianity. Who gives the most income and time to charity? Religious conservatives. The list is longer than you think, and I recommend you pick up at least one of the books I mentioned so that you emerge from the spell of the anti-catholic enlightenment histories you’ve been fed without criticism.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm

dg

Galileo was threatened with death unless he recanted his theories. Your minimization of this fact is an example of your invention.

The enlightenment of Locke, Voltaire and Spinoza has done much more than Orthodox Christianity because it took us out of a self concept defined by original sin. Of course your Christianity absorbed these ideas when it could no longer condemn them. Here’s my difficulty with Christianity dg. It counts the hits and ignores the misses yet still claims to be a revealed faith blessed with the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, unique and superior in its asserted perfection. The track record shows it is as much a mixed moral bag as any other worldview.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm

The sex trade in Thailand is evidence of the moral inefficacy of Buddhism but 400 years of slavery in the devout Christian American sout is not an illustration of the moral inefficacy of Christianity because that wasn’t “real” Christianity.

I did not say that. I said that Christianity led the way in the global abolition and civil rights movements.

YOU brought up Thailand as a defeater, and I merely retorted that the overabundance of the child sex trade there (as compared to the US) shows that Buddhism has been helpless to do anything, and YOUR insistence that my argument would mean that we should somehow see more slavery there actually IS supported by the facts. That’s my argument.

And historically, WHY did slavery become illegal in Thailand? Because of Buddhism? No. See:
The Influence Of Thai Buddhism on Prostitution
Traditional Acceptance / Encouragement vs. Modern Reform Views

While Buddhist attitudes prevail about women as inferior beings, their status is karmic, or fated, and not due to a personal failing or moral flaw. Temporary work in the sex industry may be seen as fate or karma, not a moral flaw in the girl herself, or it may be seen as work for her family that gains her karmic merit.

I don’t have time to go more into this rabbit trail, but I contend that xianity can claim credit for the overwhelming and continuing good it has done in history.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I don’t begrudge you the opportunity to claim the good some christians have done. Just count the same devout christians who have enabled horror. Christianity is no different than any other supernatural mythology. It can animate good and bad depending on the person wielding it. Why don’t you do similar research on the Southern Baptist Conference and provide quotes as to how their bible teaching endorsed slavery.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Galileo was threatened with death unless he recanted his theories. Your minimization of this fact is an example of your invention.

Reference please.

The enlightenment of Locke, Voltaire and Spinoza has done much more than Orthodox Christianity because it took us out of a self concept defined by original sin. Of course your Christianity absorbed these ideas when it could no longer condemn them.

I am not sure I would group all three of these together, and I’m not at all sure that Christianity absorbed or approved of the ideas of Voltaire or Spinoza, and my impression is that Locke was quite Christian is his world view, but I may be mistaken.

I’m not sure what your beef w/ original sin is, but that ‘truth’ does not mean that Christianity has somehow done evil – in fact, such a view is consistent with what we see in the real world – ever heard “ultimate power corrupts ultimately”? Why? Original sin – all men are broken, and the fact that all mean sin, and all men die, proves it, from a Christian perspective.

But this is all sideline stuff. Why are you bringing it up? I never said historic Christians were perfect, nor did I mean to say that secularism or humanism have contributed nothing.

In fact, I approve of a christian/secular cocktail to keep everyone honest.

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Christianity is no different than any other supernatural mythology.

I wholeheartedly disagree. It is different in:
1. Its historical basis and claims
2. Its impact on humanity
3. Its internal consistency

Don’t make the bogus claim that all religions are equally implausible or somehow the same, that’s just lazy. See my posts:
Pascal’s Wager – Part II: debunking the ‘all religions are equally improbable’ ruse
Pascal’s Wager – Part III: Evaluating the gods

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dgsinclair April 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Why don’t you do similar research on the Southern Baptist Conference and provide quotes as to how their bible teaching endorsed slavery.

Because it is not material to my argument. I concede that such things have been done. I am merely citing the fact that xianity, despite these incidents, was still historically the MAIN ideology that provided leaders to the abolition movement. That paradox is worth acknowledging.

And btw, atheism has contributed mostly genocide (other can of worms), so um, I’d be more humble in criticizing the xian world view. Just sayin.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm

dg I might read something you write when you show the scholarship deserving of it. Here’s a link on the church’s death threats against Galileo.

encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/ga/Galileo_Galilei

You show an extremely entrenched cognitive bias towards Chistianity. Your assertions of belief are your right but you just seem like another garden variety apologist for Christ.

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Chuck April 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm

That paradox is worth acknowledging.

That’s all I am doing dg. A faith that claims the supernatural in-dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit should not have such a paradox (contradiction?). The horrors and holiness practiced by christians throughout history are indicative of a world-view one would expect if one were looking at a mythology created by humans.

I don’t deny that some good things have been done by people claiming to believe christianity but, that does not make the claims christianity makes true.

You can believe any story you like. That is your right. It doesn’t make that story true.

Also, be careful how you indict atheism for horrors committed. You show your lazy intellect when doing so. Pol Pot? A man who tried to instill the Ankar tradition. Hitler? A man endorsed by the Catholic Church and one who cites your Savior in Mein Kempf. Stalin? A man who looked to institute a state religion and was endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

None of these men claim what I claim in my worldview as an atheist and a metaphysical naturalist. They all had their eschatological mythologies and all of them look to parse humanity in the haves and have nots.

No different than you.

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Hermes April 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Christianity shows that humans can still do good things even under a deviant system.

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Chris K April 30, 2010 at 10:06 pm

John,

Thank you for your replies. I do understand that you don’t think that God exists, but I get confused when you use language describing a nonexistent being as a poor communicator, idiotic, and the like. When you use language like this, it appears that you are stating a hypothetical situation in which if God did exist, he would be at fault. I am simply continuing to discuss the hypothetical situation.

I am trying to understand from your point of view the point about God giving us minds, telling us to use them, and then not giving us enough to believe when we do use them. As you well know, a big part of the Christian faith is, well, faith. So then we have the tension/contrast between that and Bertrand Russell’s, “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!”

So faith in God breaks down into two parts: belief and trust. Belief is faith-that, and trust is faith-in. So faith has both an intellectual and a volitional aspect. So, the Christian tradition affirms as you say (and as dgsinclair mentioned) that we are created with minds meant for use. But it can also consistently hold that the evidence which produces belief may not be sufficient for faith (again mentioned by dgsinclair) – we also need trust as well. Trust is volitional in that it involves aligning one’s own (self-centered) will with the will of God. Anyway, this is how I would start to unpack the Christian understanding of faith and the mind.

My sense is that even if you agree that faith has these two components, you would respond that you see no reason to trust such-and-such a kind of God. And that’s fair. I’m just not sure that it would be entirely appropriate to say that trust depends on evidence. This isn’t to say that evidence isn’t needed for faith. Just that trust on the Christian view involves overcoming our fallen natural tendency to reject God for our own desires.

John’s Jesus’ discussion of his flesh and blood is interesting because it isn’t directly correlated with Jesus’ institution of the eucharist at the Last Supper, as it is the synoptic gospels. So it already takes an interpretation to apply Jesus’ words in John 6 to the eucharist. Perhaps Jesus should have been more clear here as to whether his words in the discourse pertaining to his identity as the bread of life actually did or did not have bearing on the sacrament that he was only later going to institute. But perhaps this is absurd. It is clear that there are going to be misinterpretations. This is just the nature of texts – especially ones that are read in vastly different social and historical contexts. I believe that you agree with this. So I’m still not sure we have the capacity to definitively judge what mode of revelation would be best for God to use.

And I’m still not sure that it is warranted to say “if God had communicated this more clearly, then all this carnage would not have happened.” If God’s communication was the only variable, then maybe this claim works. But what about the human receptivity side of the communication? What about political motivations?

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Zeb April 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Chuck, I think some of your criticisms of dgsinclair are valid, but how do you not see yourself making the same errors? Hitler, Stalin, and Pot are not your kind of atheist? That’s exactly what dg has been saying about the slaving and warring Christians! And you’re both right – the behavior of people who claim to adhere to an idea has no bearing on the truth value of that idea. It’s just not relevant. And your history – what possessed you to cite a poorly designed kids website? The sites’ main reference was 19th century book that it acknowledges was pointedly anti-clerical and has been rejected by modern scholarship. And if you read the whole article, as crude and biased as it is, it is clear that Galileo was “threatened with death” only in the sense that he went before the inquisition, and some people who went before the inquisition were executed. The Galileo thing is a flat out non-issue to anyone who knows the history. Your linking of Hitler and the Catholic Church is at best a ridiculously biased oversimplification, more likely straight up slander, and both that and the linking of the Orthodox Church with Stalin are great examples of blaming the victim. In both cases the lay people were facing the threat of torture and death much more real than Galileo’s, and the leaders made compomises and equivocations to protect their flocks. However in the Russian case the Soviets had been selecting subservient Orthodox bishops for decades and purging dissenters, so it’s no surprise the standing bishops at the time were supporting Stalin.

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 12:59 am

Interesting points

Atheism makes no positive claims so unless you want to assert I have been an operative in the Khmer Rouge, Communist Party or SS then to equate my atheism with dg’s positive claims of Christianity is odd.

I linked to a kid’s site because I was on my handheld and it was the first site I found when responding. You make my case when affirming that the 70 year old Galileo was brought in front of the Inquisition where people were known to be killed. Thanks.

The Vatican signed a treaty with Hitler’s Germany and he was never excommunicated. The Russian Orthodox Church receivd subsidies from Stalin’s Government. The collusion of bothe institution’s with the powers that be show that Christianity is probably a man-made thing as prone to error as any man made thing.

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 1:00 am

Atheism makes no positive claims so unless you want to assert I have been an operative in the Khmer Rouge, Communist Party or SS then to equate my atheism with dg’s positive claims of Christianity is odd.

I linked to a kid’s site because I was on my handheld and it was the first site I found when responding. You make my case when affirming that the 70 year old Galileo was brought in front of the Inquisition where people were known to be killed. Thanks.

The Vatican signed a treaty with Hitler’s Germany and he was never excommunicated. The Russian Orthodox Church receivd subsidies from Stalin’s Government. The collusion of both institution’s with the powers that be show that Christianity is probably a man-made thing as prone to error as any man made thing.

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John W. Loftus May 1, 2010 at 2:52 am

Chris, you seem reasonable enough to me too. Thanks for your responses. If you’re interested in reading further you should get the book when you get the chance.

Chris: As you well know, a big part of the Christian faith is, well, faith.

Yes, I know that all too well. I have come to the conclusion that faith is always unjustified. Don’t think me ignorant here, because at one time I embraced Plantiga’s Reformed epistemology. I just have come to reject it.

Chris: John’s Jesus’ discussion of his flesh and blood is…

I’m so happy to know your interpretation is the correct one. I wonder whether you think you are more intelligent as an exegete that the people in the 17th century to get it right, and whether you think your interpretation would convince enough people so they would not kill one another. Do you think that? Do you think they were dumb people?

Chris: It is clear that there are going to be misinterpretations. This is just the nature of texts – especially ones that are read in vastly different social and historical contexts.

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. My claim is that if there is an omniscient God then he chose a poor era and a poor medium to reveal himself to his people. But even if he did do so, any person of average intelligence who knew the history of the church as we now do could communicate better such that there would not be so much carnage. God is at least PARTIALLY to blame here.

Chris: If God’s communication was the only variable, then maybe this claim works. But what about the human receptivity side of the communication? What about political motivations?

It’s not the only variable but then I do not blame your God for it all, either. I only claim he must be partially to blame. This is a smaller claim and the smaller the claim is the easier it is to defend.

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matt May 1, 2010 at 4:48 am

in both abolition and civil rights, Christians and Christian thought were at the forefront.

hmm. why does the name “Ghandi” seem so relevant here? but i’m sure one of dg’s pamphlets tells us how he got all his ideas from jesus…

the Crusades were most certainly an unfortunate *response* to Muslim aggression. When they come to kill your family, you’ll understand.

As I said, such ideological wars, which are often more political and ethnic identity wars rather than over religious principle (Islam aside, which is warlike and murderous by definition).

Luke, I have never been an advocate of banning so-called trolls from blogs; I think it’s generally just fine when someone chooses to debate on “enemy territory” online, and I think the fans of any given blog should be willing to engage unfriendly comments on the issues. This time, I actually think dgsinclair may have stepped over the boundary into genuine “hate speech” territory. I’m not sure what the other non-Nazis here think, but defending the Crusades on the basis that “they” are coming to kill your family and then referring to Islam as “murderous by definition” more or less makes you the equivalent of a skinhead or a klansman, in my opinion. There’s really no longer a space for reasoned disagreement here. If you so chose, I’d actually cast my vote to ban this bigot from the comments here.

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matt May 1, 2010 at 5:01 am

sorry, just another ps to that last post. on calling a religion “murderous by definition”. of course, many atheists here would applaud the assertion that religion is generally “murderous by definition”: i might even half-agree with that myself. the difference is when a proven chauvenist defending the parochial claims of one religion talks about another creed this way. this is then the same as saying something like “jewry is greedy by definition” etc. in other words, the context of the “insult” matters. (even atheists can be bigots, by the way…) dgsinclair no doubt thinks there are arguments, even historical ones, to back up his obscene claim, but so does your average holocaust deniar (anybody else debated one of those online yet; it’s about the same as this discussion with dg…).

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 5:13 am

dg is a garden variety christian apologist whose religionist position is betrayed by its ethnocentrism and solipsism.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 5:56 am

Zeb: “Hitler, Stalin, and Pot are not your kind of atheist?”

Zeb, as has been pointed out, Adolph “Got mit uns” Hitler was not an atheist. But, ignoring that, in the case of the slaves there are parts of the Bible that discuss how to treat slaves as legal property, and no parts that condemn the practice. References in the Bible about the ‘Sons of Ham’ were used specifically for the slave trade in Africans. The slave owners throughout history from the Jews on could refer to those passages as justification for slavery, but none could point to parts of the Bible that condemn it.

Meanwhile, can anyone show a *single* act that any of those beasts did in the name of atheism? It’s like saying that because Hitler was a vegetarian that vegetarianism had something to do with Germany instigating WWII. For some odd reason the fictitious atheism connection but not the actual vegetarian connection gets plenty of play. Sounds like hysterical bigotry to me.

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 6:24 am

Hermes

Well said (as always).

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 6:35 am

[ tips winged helm in gratitude ]

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 6:39 am

John,

Thanks again. I too tend to disagree with Plantinga’s reformed epistemology – although I do think that there’s something right in it.

I don’t honestly know what the correct interpretation of the eucharist and the flesh and blood passages is. I was trying to point out that there is added difficulty in the John passage in knowing what the correct interpretation is. So, no, I don’t think that people who thought they had the right interpretation of the passage are dumb. Perhaps I think that they carried out their interpretation (of a non-central feature of the Christian faith) too boldly and with not enough humility. I don’t think it’s arrogant to encourage another person to use humility, but I also don’t think that this approach will change human nature, i.e. I’m not confident that my “interpretation” is enough to stop people from killing each other.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 11:27 am

Chris K, why your interpretation and not someone else’s? To me, it seems that Christians practice a form of personal and sectarian relativism — not just moral relativism — that is no different from what some Christians criticize atheists for in regards to morality and other issues such as belief.

Note that this is not a criticism of you personally. I don’t think that Christianity as a whole has a consistent core, so having differing ideas on what the religious texts and other sources mean would be expected between people.

FWIW, the criticisms of atheists I hear and am referencing are along the lines of ‘If you don’t believe in God, where do you get your morality from?’ and ‘Do you believe in anything?’, as well as a dozen variations on the above basic comments.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 11:28 am

Okay, I’m not an historian or anything, but I understand that there is strong evidence that our present cultural understanding of the Crusades is a “remembered fiction,” similar to the notion we were taught that everyone thought the world was flat before Columbus. Robert Louis Wilken reviews two books that deal with this issue here.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 11:34 am

oops, here.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 11:58 am

Hermes,

I’m not sure what you mean by my interpretation. I don’t know the correct interpretation of the eucharist passages. I don’t think that my advice to have humility about having correct interpretations, especially about non-central features of the Christian faith, is itself an interpretation. I suppose I was unclear in the last sentence of my reply to John when I said “interpretation” in quotes. That should have been, “I’m not confident that my advice to have humility is enough to stop people (with fallen human natures) from killing each other.

I’m also not sure what you mean by the personal and sectarian relativism of Christians. I guess I would respond by saying that I and most Christians do think that Christianity has a consistent core – namely, the beliefs represented in the creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, etc.). These are the absolutes that we agree upon as Christians. Differing on inessential elements of the Christian faith is not relativism. Lutherans give reasons why they believe the particulars that they do, as well as do Roman Catholics, etc.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Chris K, thank you. The first paragraph clears up a misunderstanding of mine.

* * *

IRT Christian core and sectarian relativism, the ‘through works’ vs. ‘through faith’ divide is a big one as were justifications for/against the owning of slaves, etc. The creeds express core beliefs, and I agree with those being fairly consistent though there are some substantial differences in the texts for specific sects such as the Mormons as well as less unique groups, as well as quite a few variations and what the ’10 Commandments’ from the OT actually are.

Yet, having recited versions of the Apostles’ creed many times before myself, it mainly restates the NT story and adds in a few points of dogma based on that. Besides affirming dedication to the NT and those points, it’s really not very illuminating. That said, parts of it that aren’t so universal for Christians including the early Catholic version that included ‘one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ (from the Nicene Creed).

That, and the sheer number of Christian sects or denominations.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Chris K, for your consideration, another reason why I don’t consider that Christianity has a consistent core; http://newatheism.blogspot.com/2010/05/canada-church-and-aboriginal-genocide.html

Kevin Annett pulls guidance from his Christian beliefs, and acted as I would expect anyone to act if they encountered similar horrors. Yet, that reasonable expectation was not fulfilled. If there is a core at work here, it is not the one Mr. Annett drew from.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm

The bit from the Nicene Creed about the one holy catholic and apostolic Church is actually universal for Christians. Catholic here means “universal,” and doesn’t refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Apostolic refers to the mission of the church being the mission of the apostles to the whole of humanity.

The sheer number of Christian sects and denominations doesn’t have anything to do with relativism. There is consensus over the core doctrines – Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the creeds, and thus, although they get often get lumped into Christianity, they are by their own admissions something entirely different.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hermes,

I may need to take more time to understand the content of the link, but if I understand that Christians did these atrocities, then that’s awful. But I don’t understand what this has to do with there being or not being a consistent core of doctrine to the Christian faith. It might be an emotional appeal to the idea that Christians are awful people, but what more than that, I don’t know.

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Chris K May 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Sorry, that should be, the idea that SOME Christians are awful people.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Re: creed & “Catholic”; I am corrected. Thank you.

The sheer number of Christian sects and denominations doesn’t have anything to do with relativism.

Low hanging fruit: Then why have different sects or denominations at all?

That said, when I talk to Christians I often ask them what they believe and why — even on basic issues like what they think it is that they worship. After doing that for a few decades, the differences are quite stunning even between individuals in the same denomination. That’s OK with me up to the point that Christians ask where I get my morals from or what I believe — usually while insisting that they already know the answers; I have no ‘moral foundation’ and that I must believe all sorts of things that I expressed no affinity for.

As for Mormons and JWs, groups I’m willing to ignore in our discussions (*especially* the JWs), they state for themselves the following;

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints;
Mormons are Christian – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
More: News release.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have plenty to say for themselves as well: [search: site:watchtower.org christians ]

Note that I’ve had many non-Catholic Christians argue that Catholics specifically are not Christians.

My rule of thumb is that if someone professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ as described in some reasonable form of a Christian Bible, then I have no problem accepting them as Christians if they claim that designation for themselves. If there are disagreements between self-described Christians about who is and who is not a Christian, it is a discussion for them to have and resolve (if possible).

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dgsinclair May 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I don’t begrudge you the opportunity to claim the good some christians have done.

Not “some Christians,” but the *ideas* of Christiainity have led to the transformation and success of the west. I am not arguing, as some are, based on the actions of some or other good or bad Christians, any more than I argue against atheism based on their good or bad actions.

I argue that Christian IDEAS have led to prosperity and hope and freedom, as I argue that Darwinism has led logically to eugenics, and secular atheism leads to despotism when adopted as a worldview, primarily because of the coupling of subjective morals guided by science (as if science can determine values) and the fallen hearts of men unbridled by divine correction.

I admit that most atheists are nice, just like most Muslims, not to mention Germans before WWII, were nice people. However, their ideologies allowed or encouraged the worst of human nature when scaled up to a national scale.

And for the commenter calling such observations hate speech, I contend that you are not only mistaken, but an opponent of unambiguous negative moral judgement as part of free speech. Such a stand is not only dangerous and wrong, it may also be a cowardly retreat into the safe and self-righteous harbors of political correctness.

Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much of the John Adams miniseries from HBO (I’m on #3, it is awesome), and this has my dander up. Liberty and independence!

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dgsinclair May 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Low hanging fruit: Then why have different sects or denominations at all?

Because
a. spiritual truths are both simple and complex, like real life

b. because different times call for different emphases, and some groups fail to recognize the times

c. since the reformation, a return to biblical truth has come in stages – for instance, while becoming independent from many of the misunderstandings and abuses of the Catholic Church, the Lutherans were unable to extricate themselves from, for example, the false doctrine of infant baptism. Hence the baptists/anabaptists.

d. men segregate by ethnicity even if the Bible affirms all men of one race

I mean, why don’t atheists, the scope of who’s ideology is orders of magnitude simpler and narrower than biblical precepts (which cover relationships, economics, government, parenting, etc) all agree on the same things?

Because metaphysics, and systems of value are not always clear, even if declared by God ;)

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm

The writings of Martin Luther and medieval Christianity had more to do with the Holocaust than anything Darwin wrote. Hitler quotes Luther and affirms his Christianity in Mein Kempf. He never once references Darwin.

Again dg you can have your opinion but you can’t make up facts.

The Christian Delusion debunks quite nicely the anti-science and ethnocentric notion that Darwin had anything to do with the Holocaust. Keep asserting that. You are just showing your cognitive bias.

Oh, and Adams was a deist. He would have laughed at your assertions to Christian authority (seeing he opposed the divine right of Kings)

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dgsinclair May 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm

dg I might read something you write when you show the scholarship deserving of it. Here’s a link on the church’s death threats against Galileo.
encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/ga/Galileo_Galilei

I see, you would have me do such scholarship as this? A child’s online encyclopedia (probably written by a liberal educator) with no primary references? This was either a wicked stroke of satire or a huge misstep on your behalf.

Seriously though, I understand how hard it is to find really good links w/ good footnotes in a hurry online.

But the story of Galileo has become a legend in the hands of anti-religionists, but thankfully, historical research has uncovered the true story.

Here’s my best effort on short notice, which has some footnoting. However, I commend to you Dinesh D’Souza’s well researched chapter in What’s So Great About Christianity, which returns to primary sources.

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/modmyths.html

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dgsinclair May 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm

The writings of Martin Luther and medieval Christianity had more to do with the Holocaust than anything Darwin wrote.

That is debatable, I think both Luther’s anti-semitism and Darwinism were great contributors. However, Luther’s writings had nothing do do with American eugenics, while Darwinism most certainly did.

It also played a part in undoing the post civil war civil rights for ‘negroes’ as well. See
Evolution and Social Darwinism in Civil War Reconstruction

But again, I’m not sure why we are going off on this tangent. I reaffirm that, despite such missteps, Christianity has accomplished more for the human race than humanism, secularism, or atheism (which has, in my opinion, a negative track record), and John’s use of the errs of the Catholic Church is a blunt instrument that lacks the balance of history.

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dgsinclair May 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm

The Christian Delusion debunks quite nicely the anti-science and ethnocentric notion that Darwin had anything to do with the Holocaust. Keep asserting that. You are just showing your cognitive bias.

I’m sure you are convinced by John’s attempt to debunk such ideas, but of course, there is also plenty of good scholarship to the contrary. If John actually buys into the “Christianity has been in opposition to science” myth, than my opinion of his objectivity and scholarship has already sunk significantly, since this is part of the anti-Catholic enlightenment twisting of the facts of history, in my opinion.

And, if you have not read the contrary writings, than I dare say you have come to an objective or informed opinion.

As to Darwinism’s affect on science and history, I am not at all surprised that people who have an emotional stake in such a world view, as well as an anti-theist bias, feel so passionately, regardless of contrary evidence. This is why I have penned such articles as the ones below, which explain the psychology behind such mad raving:
Mass Delusion – 10 Reasons Why the Majority of Scientists Believe in Evolution
13 Misconceptions About Evolution
How molecular biology has ‘annihilated the tree of life’

Cheers. I now choose to go on a date with my wife, who is assuredly more attractive to me than this rabble.

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

dg

We are going off on this tangent because you keep tacking that way.

What are the doctrines of atheism?

It doesn’t surprise me that you are a fan of D’souza. You follow his apologetic pattern. Assert ad infinitum a genetic fallacy as proof your superstition is real.

The kid’s encyclopedia was part mistake and part irony.

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Chuck May 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm

dg

I am not anti-theist. In fact my wife is an Evangelical Christian. I am just anti-you and your arrogant chest thumping. It is boorish and emotionally immature. You assert and assert and assert like a little boy exclaiming his sports team is the best. D’Souza does the same when he argues the church wasn’t so bad during th Inquisition by minimizing the tyranny through the amoritization of deaths. That’s called minimization and psychologically it is denial.

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Zeb May 1, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I too am offended by some of what dgsinclair has said (esp. the “Islam is… murderous by definition” remark), but I think the crusades deserve a more nuanced historical view than most modern people, especially atheist arguers, give. Wikipedia starts with this: “The Crusades originally had the goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule and were launched in response to a call from the Christian Byzantine Empire for help against the expansion of the Muslim Seljuk Turks into Anatolia.” They say “recaptured” because the Holy Land had been Christian kingdoms for 300 year prior the Muslim conquest, and there were large populations of Christians still in those lands after 300 years of Muslim rule. A case can be made that the crusades helped to just barely prevent the Muslim conquest from taking much of Europe. I don’t think the crusades would have been worth it even if they’d been successful and free of the massive atrocities committed in the process against people of all kinds, but you do have to acknowledge that self defense and defense of fellow Christians from real threat were the original purposes, and possibly the achieved results of the crusades.

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Chris K May 2, 2010 at 6:10 am

Hermes,

Mormon’s consider themselves to be the only true Christians; JW’s believe themselves to be the only true Christians. Both are “restorationist” movements, in which the entirety of Christian history and the creeds are not only false, but the works of Satan. They have very different core doctrinal content regarding the nature of God and Jesus Christ. The literature they produce, however, attempts to minimize the actual differences between themselves and historic Christianity in order to draw more converts.

Christians who think that Roman Catholics aren’t Christians actually have the same core doctrinal content as Roman Catholics. They only think they don’t.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 7:55 am

Chris K, thank you. For what it’s worth, the variance in professed beliefs of Christians that I talk to is quite wide. To me it seems to be a grand field of grey not distinct and uniform agreement.

For example;

b. because different times call for different emphases, and some groups fail to recognize the times

c. since the reformation, a return to biblical truth has come in stages – for instance, while becoming independent from many of the misunderstandings and abuses of the Catholic Church, the Lutherans were unable to extricate themselves from, for example, the false doctrine of infant baptism. Hence the baptists/anabaptists.

d. men segregate by ethnicity even if the Bible affirms all men of one race.

(Note that on items B & C, we have a form of relativism. Additionally, D. is demonstratively not true, but still held to be true by many Christians currently.)

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 8:14 am

I mean, why don’t atheists, the scope of who’s ideology is orders of magnitude simpler and narrower than biblical precepts (which cover relationships, economics, government, parenting, etc) all agree on the same things?

Because atheism is not an ideology. It is a response to a claim by theists;

theist: “I believe there (is a/are) god(s)!”
atheist: “I don’t believe that.”

That is why some people who are atheists look for more active ideas such as skepticism and/or humanism or simply gardener or fishermen your next-door neighbor to describe themselves. FWIW, I’ve met a few atheists that are quite credulous and believe all sorts of nonsense that many Christians I know would laugh at.

Personally, I would hope that most people are humbly skeptical and are willing to speak up when nonsense is promoted in any field or by any person. In the case of religion, Pat Condell nails it;

Why does faith deserve respect? (main point)

Why debate dogma? (tempers main point, and puts an edge on it)

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Chris K May 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

Okay, Hermes, I think I see what’s going on here: a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive relativism is needed. When dg is describing how it happens that different denominations pop up, he is describing the fact that sometimes Christians plot out their belief systems in detail relative to their social and historical contexts. I think that this is a noncontroversial, descriptive point about how people in general reason about things. But when I make the claim that some of my reasoning is relative to my context, this is not to say that I do not give reasons for my beliefs in relation to some absolute(s). So I can noncontroversially be a descriptive relativist in the sense described above without being a prescriptive or normative relativist – one who holds that there are no absolutes which make truths true apart from their context.

My guess is that Christians who charge you of being a moral relativist think that you have no absolute moral facts which make other moral facts true apart from context. They say that they do have such an absolute, namely, God. Now, their method of arguing from this absolute may be descriptively relative to their context, but they can be perfectly consistent in their critique by not being normative relativists. Does this make sense?

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Reginald Selkirk May 2, 2010 at 10:33 am

How molecular biology has ‘annihilated the tree of life’

You are profoundly wrong in that essay, in many ways too numerous to detail here. Just for a few examples:

The irony of accusing scientists of your own sin: “The problem for evolutionists is that most lack the courage to follow the data wherever it leads…”

I do not understand at all your distinction about phylogenetic trees based on RNA vs. DNA, and I suspect you don’t understand it either. (I think perhaps you are referring to the distinction between protein sequences and genetic sequences, but who knows?)

You magnify all doubt while obscuring the focus of the doubt. Consider this quote from Lynn Margulis which you somehow don’t go into in any detail: ““[e]specially dogmatic are those molecular modelers of the ‘tree of life’ who, ignorant of alternative topologies (such as webs), don’t study ancestors.

While the existence of a single-rooted “tree of life” has indeed been questioned, no reputable biologist questions the idea of common ancestry. What does Margulis mean here by “webs”? What do others, such as science writer Carl Zimmer, mean by “the mangrove of life”? Do even understand the ways and extent to which these people are questioning the “tree of life” concept?

It is true that lateral gene transfer complicates the picture of a single-rooted tree. (And since you quote Margulis, same for endosymbiosis) However, since lateral gene transfer has been observed, and in some cases quantified, it is not at all clear to me how it constitutes any serious challenge to evolutionary theory and common ancestry. Lateral gene transfer depends for its success on a shared genetic code, and the near-universality of a common genetic code is itself evidence of common ancestry.
The Three Domain Hypothesis

Evolutionary trees constructed by studying biological molecules often don’t resemble those drawn up from morphology.

Actually, not so. The overall agreement is quite impressive. There are differences in detail of course. Consider the whales, and how they fit into the tree of mammalian ancestry. No one (other than inbred creationist yokels) doubts that whales are mammals, and that they do have mammalian ancestors. There was disagreement between paleontologists and molecular geneticists over where exactly they branched off. Over the last two decades, a flurry of new fossil evidence has brought the paleontologists in line with the molecular geneticists.

And of course, you never mention how such “doubts” about a tree of life support the notion of design. Why should such evidence as is discussed by the people you quote lead them to reject common ancestry and embrace design?

From you, in the comments: “… thing is: It has been impossible up to this very day to transfer unliving matter into living matter. No lab on earth has yes accomplished a thing like that.”

WTF are you talking about? Matter has been moved into and out of “living systems” quite readily for the better part of a century. it’s called biochemistry. Molecules such as enzyme catalysts have been extracted from cells and put to chemical, industrial, and medicinal use. synthetic metabolic substrates containing tracer isotopes have been fed to cells and used to trace biochemical pathways on a regular basis. Biomolecules including proteins and nucleic acids have been chemically synthesized and inserted into cells, and function as well as those produced by cells. Such work has progressed even to the point of replacing the entire chromosomal content of a bacterium:
I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer
Vitalism is way dead. If you are unaware of it, you are certainly not the person I will be turning to for meaningful opinions on biological science.

My conclusion is that you are a pseudo-intellectual. Naturally, this conclusion is provisional, and subject to hew evidence.

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Chuck May 2, 2010 at 12:14 pm

“pseudo-intellectual” is too kind when describing dg. He is plain and simple a liar.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I do not understand at all your distinction about phylogenetic trees based on RNA vs. DNA

Reginald, I think this is too off topic here. If you would like to repost your comment on the original article, I would be glad to discuss. And by the way, the comment about ‘unliving matter’ was not mine, and I find it equally unintelligible.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Because atheism is not an ideology. It is a response to a claim by theists;
theist: “I believe there (is a/are) god(s)!”
atheist: “I don’t believe that.”
That is why some people who are atheists look for more active ideas such as skepticism and/or humanism or simply gardener or fishermen your next-door neighbor to describe themselves.

Hermies,

I think that’s a half truth. I agree that atheism in tha narrow sense is not a world view or ideology.

However, there is a sense in which it does function as an ideology or world view, in that it portends (pretends? ;) to answer some ultimate questions, and by extension, blends directly, if not irrevocably into such other world views such as secularism.

Of course, since atheism itself does not contain a method to derive, for instance, values and morals, it must look for such ideas as desirism, utilitarianism, enlightened self-interest etc. So in this sense, I agree with you – in many arenas, atheism is open to partnerships with many other options.

However, I also see it as a foundational idea behind the overtly atheistic communist regimes that did so much damage, and in it’s removal of God and absolute values (arguably – the contention that atheism logically demands that values must be subjective is a good one, despite the fact that many atheists, realizing that objective values must exist, have looked for away to avoid this obvious conclusion) paves the way for persecution of dissent and totalitarian dominance. Of course, that’s a huge subject.

To summarize, I half agree, but think that to absolve atheism of it’s world view and ideological impact, while in the purest sense, seems logical, in the real and practical sense, I think it is an avoidance of the full picture.

Also, returning to my point, the fact that even atheists like to discuss what atheism includes or does not, with regard to such a simple one-line assertion (there is no God) makes the varieties of Christendom, with it’s much fuller ideological coverage, very understandable.

I think I am making a weak point here, admittedly, but I’m just thinking out loud.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm

When dg is describing how it happens that different denominations pop up, he is describing the fact that sometimes Christians plot out their belief systems in detail relative to their social and historical contexts. I think that this is a noncontroversial, descriptive point about how people in general reason about things.

That was just ONE of my possible explanations. I make claim that for both descriptive and prescriptive reasons Christians may differ, and this is to be expected without necessarily undermining the truths of Christianity’s core tenets.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Christians who think that Roman Catholics aren’t Christians actually have the same core doctrinal content as Roman Catholics. They only think they don’t. 

I mostly agree with this, but only since recent changes in Catholic teaching, like in Vatican II, have brought them more in line with biblical Christianity.

In addition, Catholic teaching, while perhaps similar to biblical protestantism in it’s core, putrefies that core with very many unbiblical stories and priorities that keep people from understanding and believing the gospel, not least of which are the Cult of the Saints, The Pseudo-deity and sinlessness of Mary, infant baptism, a priesthood (done away with by Christ), and teachings that confuse the works of faith and sanctification with salvation by works.

I would agree that Mormons and JW’s are non-Christian cults, and that Catholicism is within the bounds of biblical Christendom. I would also agree that there are surely true born again believers in all of these organizations – but less where the gospel is occluded by bad doctrine.

Seeing the doctrines of the mideival Catholic church, it is no wonder that both Calvin and Luther saw the papacy as the seat of the antichrist, for many of their teachings were anti-Christ and his salvific work.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Here’s the remainder of my observations about John’s interview, continuing from my initial 6 point comment above.

7. Judges 19-21

I’ve read these, and an not as overwhelmed by the brutishness of the Hebrews as John. They were men, and John has a priori rejected conquest by foreign nations as a type of God’s judgement.

Interestingly, John confuses historical narrative and God’s instructions to Israel with God’s prescriptives for mankind, or at least minimizes the difference so that he may reject Christianity.

8. Christians who maintain literal six days

John is wrong about how many Christians believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Most Christians do not capitulate to evolutionary claims, nor are they cowed by the agressive claims of evolutionists because there are so many good resources out there to show the bogus and exaggerated claims of evolutionary propoganda.

Sure, there are guys like Hugh Ross who try to combine an old universe and mythological creation story with the Bible, but they don’t hold as much sway – the fact that such a huge number of Americans still doubt evolution and believe in Creation, as per recent polls, shows that John is mistaken.

Christians aren’t ashamedly backing off due to the ‘onslaught of evoluionary science,’ but rather, are steeled in their resistence to the onslaught of evolutionary propoganda. The articles I wrote on evolution mentioned above are, to many of us, the strong medicine that cures the deception of evolutionary bluster, and we do see it precisely that way.

Evolutionary ‘scientists’ are not making headway with Americans, not because Americans are brainwashed by religion, but because they have learned how to think for themselves, and can tell the difference between science and philosophy of science, between meaningful claims and consistently withdrawn and solipsistic claims from evolutionary believers. And we do not fall into the traps of government or science as savior that those who have no faith in God must. See Science as Salvation – A Cautionary Tale

9. Moving the goalposts of the KOG and Jesus

This is a pretty common objection which has been addressed by many theologians across the ages. Not a bad argument, but it is quite possible that Christians, like the Jews before them, misunderstand the timing of prophetic utterances.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

However, there is a sense in which it does function as an ideology or world view, in that it portends (pretends? ;) to answer some ultimate questions, and by extension, blends directly, if not irrevocably into such other world views such as secularism.

Great. Some details. What questions and what answers to them?

As most if not everything else you wrote flows from that claim, I’d like some examples.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm

10. Animal Suffering

This is a good objection to Christianity, but as John admitted about many other subjects, this objection alone does not debunk Christianity (nor does the sum of his objections, many of which I think are insufficient or ‘easily’ rebuffed), it’s merely a (good) objection.

Luke, you mentioned a lot of possible theologies that Christians use to explain (though not defend) why God allowed animal suffering, but you made it sound like all were of equal standing, when really, I think only one is considered the most accepted. That claim is that all creation fell with the sin of the literal Adam and Eve. This is not only the traditional argument, as John mentioned, your (Luke) dripping disdain for this was ugly.

The reason that this is most consistent with the entire corpus of the bible is the following (for those who care):

a. The scriptures declare that ALL things will be restored – it is clear from such statments as “the lion shall lay down with the lamb” that this includes predation. The term ‘restored’ typically means to a previous state.

b. The scriptures declare that all creation groans for the redemption – this would include animals.

c. As part of the curse of genesis, it is clear that God changed BIOLOGY as part of the curse, including
- plants (adding thorns and weeds)
- animals (the ‘serpent’ lost legs)
- humans (the woman gained pain in childbirth)

So the claim that God changed biology by adding predation, and all the biochemical and morphologic changes that come with it, is consistent with the biblical record.

The other possible solutions you mentioned may have been broached, but I think they have much greater problems with internal consistency with the rest of scripture, though to some they may seem more consistent with external views of evolution and cosmology (the latter of which already took a big step towards biblical cosmology with the big bang, and many creationists are predicting that the same will happen in biology – the difference being that people have a much greater emotional investment in the story of evolution as myth.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Great. Some details. What questions and what answers to them?

Well, here’s a list of worldview questions I like, but there are others. Again, I may ascribe way too much to atheism, but many of the isms associated with it are, naturally (pun intended) held by the majority of aspirants.

1. What is God like (Atheism: there is no God)
2. What is the nature of man (Darwinism: “animal”)
3. Why do we suffer and die (Atheism: “it’s natural”)
4. What is the solution to suffering and death (Atheism: Get over it, nobody knows)
5. What do we do with our existential aloneness
6. What do we do with our guilt
7. What happens after we die (atheism: nothing we cease to exist)
8. How do we assign meaning to our lives and activities?
9. What is moral or immoral, ethical or unethical?

As you say, atheism does not answer even a majority of these, but it does directly address a couple, and indirectly points us to certain corollaries.

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dgsinclair May 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Why does faith deserve respect? (main point)

BTW, I like the curmudgeon Pat Connel when he is railing on Islam (since we agree), but when he bunches all religion up in the same ribbon, I think he’s not so great.

He is right to respect others, but to be willing to disrespect bad ideologies.

However, he seems to think that he is basically attacking religion from a Libertarian position – religionists can’t ‘think other’s people’s private lives are their business.’

I, of course, agree. Unless you think that people have a right to, for example, kill children (abortion). That’s not a faith position necessarily.

He also assumes that all faith is unexamined. False.
He also assumes that passing on our values and faith is a type of brainwashing. That may be true if you fail to teach and allow your children to choose their own system of belief as they grow. Unfortunately, unbelievers can be guilty of the same.

As for earning v. deserving respect, I agree with him. He, of course, is ignoring the overwhelming good that Christian believers do in the earth, more than any other ideological group.

As to God speaking to him personally, I hope that happens. However, God resists the proud, so good luck on that.

He also assumes that those who believe don’t think – ignoring the fact that many of the greatest thinkers of history have been believers. He has a caricature in mind, and thinks he’s very smart.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Dg, all 9 points are incorrect, for reasons that I’ll detail in a moment.

To put this in perspective, consider these two points;

1. Atheism is, as mentioned before and gave a quote to show explicitly what I meant, a response.

2. In addition to #1, ask yourself this: What questions does theism (all beliefs in a god or gods) address and how does theism answer them?

Note that I’m not addressing “Christians vs. atheists” but “all potential types of theists vs. all atheists”. It is that perspective that I’d like an answer to. If you did not mean “all theists vs. all atheists”, then feel free to rephrase what subgroup of atheists you are addressing, and I may agree with your characterization for that specific more narrow subgroup.

Also, as theisms and atheisms are beliefs and not claims of actual knowledge, any knowledge claims by a theist or an atheist must be taken into account based on those knowledge claims and not the generic category of theism or atheism.

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Reginald Selkirk May 3, 2010 at 5:32 am

Reginald, I think this is too off topic here.

Agreed. But it certainly affects my opinion of you and whether in general you know what you are writing about.

And by the way, the comment about ‘unliving matter’ was not mine, and I find it equally unintelligible.

OK.

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Vlastimil Vohánka May 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Dear Luke,

Have considered to interview the most technical contemporary philosophers of religion? I mean esp. Timothy McGrew (WMU), Michael Tooley (Boulder), James Franklin (UNSW), Alexander Pruss (Baylor), Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Eric Steinhart (Wm. Paterson University). I am most interested in Tim (at least because he’s the most well-read person in anti/apologetics that I can think of).

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lukeprog May 12, 2010 at 12:22 am

Vlastimil,

Please do post your recommendations here!

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Rinku Mathew May 24, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Re: the problem of animal suffering, I think Michael J. Murrary’s volume on the subject is excellent: “Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Oxford University Press, 2008″

see here: http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Red-Tooth-Claw-Suffering/dp/0199237271/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274765071&sr=1-1

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