Saturday, February 07, 2009

Secular Sunday: Atheist Q&A!

So I actually can't find my copy of Case for a Creator right now. I picked it up to have it with me to write this week's entry and now I can't remember where I put it, and with a new job taking up ten of my daily waking hours, I actually don't have a lot of time to look for it.

It probably sounds like I chucked it in the bin, but I didn't -- I'd tell you if I did. So please, nobody send me another one. I will find it.

But this week, we're not falling far from that tree, because I'm still going to talk about a Lee Strobel topic. Lee Strobel was asked some questions, by an atheist, which he answered.

I may address his answers another time, but I am led to think that maybe I've been a little harsh on the guy. I've accused him of intentionally obscuring or distorting the truth, but it appears quite possible that he really just has poor critical thinking skills, no doubt atrophied from years of disuse. It seems like he may honestly believe that the things he writes and relays in his books really are logically sound.

To paraphrase Gandalf: a fool he may be; but perhaps, at least, an honest one.

But as I said, that's not what I'm going to post about today. In response to the atheist questions posed to him, he and some of his apologist buddies came up with some theist questions they would like to hear answered by atheists. Other atheist blogs have addressed them, but I thought I'd take my own crack at it.

What I say is not the "official atheist answer," as no such thing can exist. Atheism has no tenets or dogma and thus cannot have an "official" position other than the non-belief in gods. These are only my responses to these questions.

By the way, some Harry Potter spoilers slipped in there by means of comparison. If you haven't read the books, particularly the last two, then you should have by now, but I'll still tag it in case you want to avoid.

Christian apologist Mike Licona: "What turns you off about Christianity? Irrespective of one's worldview, many experience periods of doubt. Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?"

Licona's first error, of course, is in assuming that the only alternative to atheism is Christianity. I might ask him what "turns him off" about Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. Perhaps he would give reasons that regarded the behavior of certain of those religions' adherents, but ultimately I think it would come down to "I just don't buy what they're selling." As the saying goes, we are both nonbelievers in Apollo, Thor, Mithra, Shiva, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, among thousands of others. I only take it one God further than he does (or three, depending on your perspective).

My issue, first and foremost, is not that Christianity has "turn offs." It is that theism in general lacks sufficient evidence to indicate the existence of any god, much less any one(/three) in particular.

Though I both experienced and continue to research theistic beliefs, I have yet to come across any evidence that has "troubled" me with regard to my current lack of belief. I would be more than willing to acknowledge such evidence, should it ever be presented, but I'm not holding my breath.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot about what's written in the Bible that I find repulsive, and I'm pretty sure from a literary standpoint that God is actually the villain of the story. And there's a lot about the intolerance and arrogance that Christianity has a tendency to engender in its followers that "turns me off." And I think that it damages critical thinking skills, and does not allow for sufficient questioning or doubt. But none of that has anything to do with the reason I don't believe in it.

Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig: "What's the real reason you don't believe in God? How and when do you lose your faith in God?"

Well, first of all, I object to the way this question is phrased. Asking for the "real reason" implies that I have or would give a "fake" one.

That aside: I don't believe in God because I have not been shown any compelling reason that I should. It's the same reason I don't believe in unicorns, faeries, goblins, or Lord Voldemort.

The second question is equally presumptuous, as it assumes that the atheist being questioned has ever had faith in any god in the first place. It happens to be true in my case, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a very loaded question.

I've already written my answer to this, but the short version is that I lost my faith in God when I went seeking for evidence to strengthen my faith, and sharpen my apologetical skills, and found at every turn that none existed. And so I was forced to determine -- against my heart's desire, at the time -- that God, too, most probably did not exist.

Author and Christian pastor John Ortberg: "How can you create a meaningful life in a meaningless universe?"

My question in return is: how does the meaningfulness of the universe impact the meaningfulness of one's own life?

Sure, the fact is that millions of years from now, not only will I be long gone, but the entire human race will be gone. There will be no one left to remember my name or my deeds, and the universe will continue to do what it does as if humanity had never existed. But that's true whether God exists or not, isn't it? The fact that my life doesn't mean anything to the dust of Mars is a fact, whether there is a God or isn't.

Does that really preoccupy anyone on a day-to-day basis?

Quite honestly, I think life has more meaning when that meaning is ours to determine and create, rather than just fulfilling a grand "plan" in which our every action is already anticipated and accounted for. Where is the meaning there, when your part to play is given to you by some outside entity rather than self-determined? How is this life "meaningful" when it is supposedly the lesser of the two lives one will live?

I create a meaningful life by making use of my life to improve and enhance the lives of those around me. It is fleeting for all of us, and that should make us more determined to make it as enjoyable as possible. Meaning is whatever we make of it.

Resurrection apologist Gary Habermas: "Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus' resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself." "These historical facts are:

-Jesus was killed by crucifixion
-Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
-The conversion of the church persecutor Saul
-the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus' half-brother
-The empty tomb of Jesus.

These "minimal facts" are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn't enjoy quite the same universal consensus, nevertheless it is conceded by 75 percent of these scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions."

That's a lot of assertion, and a lot of bandying-about of the word "fact" without actually backing it up.

Who are these "contemporary scholars"? I want names, and the reasons that they "concede" these "historical facts." Better yet, skip the appeal to authority and just tell me what the evidence is that makes those assertions "facts." As far as I can tell, they are not facts at all, just a semantical ploy. Borrowing from another atheist blogger's answers, I will rephrase your "facts" in the form of questions, because that's really what they are: questions to be answered.

Was Jesus killed by crucifixion? Skipping the questionable nature of the very existence of Jesus at all (and yes, it is questionable), it is reasonable to believe that he might have been crucified. It was an actual method of execution, so it is not outside the boundaries of possibility that a rabble-rouser named Jesus was executed by means of crucifixion.

Did Jesus' disciples believe that he rose and appeared to them? Again granting that he existed at all, sure. His followers may very well have believed that Jesus rose and appeared to them. But the Aztecs believed that human sacrifice made the sun rise. Scientologists believe that our bodies are filled with alien ghosts. Just because a person or group of people believe something does not mean that it is true.

Did the church persecutor Saul convert to Christianity? Once again, the first assumption is that such a person ever existed, although admittedly it is likely that he did. Saul of Tarsus may genuinely have converted to Christianity, and may genuinely have believed that he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But again, because someone believes something does not make it true. As no one was with him when he had his vision, it seems perfectly possible that he hallucinated the experience. He was walking in desert heat, maybe he got sunstroke. That he genuinely believed it happened does not mean it really happened.

My pet theory, on the other hand, is that Saul realized that he could benefit much more by conning believers than by killing them. Paul realized he could make some serious cash off the whole "tithing" thing if he got in at the high levels of the church, which he did. He's also the one who invented the notion, out of thin air, that Jesus' salvation applied to Gentile as much as Jew. Sounds like he was trying to add more members to swell up the coffers.

I have no evidence of that, but it's certainly a "natural explanation...that makes better sense than [resurrection]."

Did the skeptic James, Jesus' half-brother, convert to Christianity? As I hope is clear by now, I find this point irrelevant. Doesn't make it true even if he did.

Was Jesus' tomb empty? So what if it was? The best and most sensible explanation you've got for a dead body not being where it's supposed to is that it un-died? Grave-robbing is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, if there in fact even was a Jesus and if in fact there even was an empty tomb. I might as well say that [HARRY POTTER SPOILERS]Dumbledore's cracked tomb is evidence of Voldemort's return[/SPOILERS]. If we can't even establish the existence of the tomb, much less its empty or cracked state, then it's fatuous to claim that its emptiness is evidence of supernatural events.

In fact, of all explanations for all the so-called "historical facts," even if their historicity was totally undisputed, the resurrection explanation is the one that makes the least sense, is the least reasonable, and has the least evidentiary support.

These "minimal facts" are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975.

Name them, and their writings. Don't just say "there's lots of them, srsly." Doesn't fly.

Christian philosopher and apologist Paul Copan: "Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?"

"And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don't such ‘injustices' or ‘evils' seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?"

Well, to the first question. I'm not sure that the belief that all matter and energy began a finite time ago is "commonly recognized." Certainly the universe as we know it had a "beginning," which we call the Big Bang, but it was not a sudden creation of matter -- just a sudden expansion. It represented a change in the state of matter and energy, but not necessarily the beginnings of them.

I'm sure the "fine tuning" argument will come up later in Case for a Creator, so I won't go into it now, but I have a counter-question: if the universe is so "finely tuned" for life, why is there remarkably little life in the universe? Why is so much of the universe hostile to life as we know it? The vacuum of space does not support life, nor does any other planet of which we are currently aware. Even our own planet has large swaths of its surface that are hostile to life. It's a bit like finding a single silver atom in a 20 ton granite boulder, and saying that the boulder was "finely tuned" for silver.

A universe "finely tuned" to support life should presumably be teeming with it. It seems to me that life as we know it has finely tuned itself to survive within the constraints of this universe, rather than the reverse.

As for the question of evil, it's an easily observable fact that there is no universal morality or concept of evil that transcends boundaries of culture. We believe the actions of Muslim terrorists are evil; they in turn think the same of our actions. Who is right?

Everyone defines evil in their own way, and cultures create a consensus, one that can shift drastically (see, for example, the shift in Western culture from considering homosexuality "evil" to merely "undesirable," and now very nearly to "acceptable").

The notion of something being "bad" or "wrong" is not remarkable when each culture, and each individual, ultimately defines it for themselves.

Radio host Frank Pastore: "Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from death, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source."

Okay, one at a time:

How does something come from nothing? Atheists aren't the ones that say it does. Theists are, and they have no answer for how other than "magic." In the beginning God created etc.

I happen to think that all the matter in the universe has always existed in some form. So I can't answer the question because I don't believe the assertion I'm being asked to defend.

How can life come from death? Life doesn't come from death. Life, as we define it, comes from natural chemical processes that occur in various reproductive cycles.

How can mind come from brain? Dunno how. It's a fascinating question currently without an answer.

But despite the fact that we don't yet know how it does, we do have strong evidence indicating that it does. With MRI and other scanning technology, we can see brain activity occurring when a person engages their higher functions of thought and reasoning, and the areas of the brain triggered have a consistent correlation with the types of thought processes occurring. And we have plenty of documented cases in which brain damage has drastically altered a person's personality and thought patterns (aka what we would call "mind").

How did our moral senses develop from an amoral source? This is a question that would be done a disservice with a short blog answer. Entire books can be (and have been) written on the subject, and I suggest you look into them for a more comprehensive answer. But for the sake of the Q&A, the short-to-the-point-of-oversimplification version is that humans are pack animals, a cooperative species. In our evolutionary past, we would have survived better working together than against each other, and so it would have benefitted us as a species to evolve a sense of how to get along with each other. Hence what we call "morality."

Not to mention basic empathy. There's nothing mystical about "I don't want it to happen to me, so I won't make it happen to others."

Christian apologist Greg Koukl: "Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?"

The first question implies that there is a "why," and also that "nothing" being here is even a possibility, neither of which we have reason to claim are or could be the case. As I mentioned above, just because the universe as we know it is not eternal, does not mean that the matter comprising the universe is in some way finite. On what basis would you expect there to be "nothing" here?

The "two" options are not only a false dichotomy -- they are actually saying the same thing. If everything has to come from somewhere, then the "something outside the physical universe" had to come from somewhere. Or else it came from nothing. So if you believe that something outside of the universe created the universe, you're still stating that everything came from nothing, you're just pushing that "nothing" back a step. What's the point of that?

Neither of the two options presented is particularly reasonable, and as a result, I have not "opted for" either one.

What about the third option, that the universe has always existed? That's the answer you would give to "where did God come from," isn't it? "He's always been there." So why can't that answer be true of the universe, and just skip the tacked-on anthropomorphized "cause"?

Well, that was fun. Presumably back to Case for a Creator next week.


Lee said...

Wow. These puerile ravings are absolutely breathtaking in their stupidity and hubris. It’s clear that you don’t even know how much you don’t know. If you were aware how silly you look to anyone with a modicum of knowledge in the relevant areas, I’m sure you wouldn’t post this on the Internet for all to see.

Dorkman said...

Lee: if you have information -- based on evidence -- which you can use to demonstrate where any statement I made is inaccurate or a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of "knowledge in the relevant areas," then you are welcome to present it. That is why I leave the comments open on these (and all) posts.

But if the best you've got is to say "nuh uh" and call me a doodyhead, then I do not consider your side of the argument particularly convincing, nor in any position to all others "puerile."

deepstructure said...

LOL - i started to read lee's comment and was thinking "exactly!" until i realized he was talking about you instead of the idiotic questioners.

typical fervored response - all breathless emotion and no facts. how anyone in their right mind could say those things and act as if the exist of a god is simply fact is beyond me.

i was amazed at how religiously-centric the questions were. ideas like belief=meaning, belief=morality. sheesh. the lack of thinking outside their narrowly defined views amazing.

"How can you create a meaningful life in a meaningless universe?"

the simple answer is: you can't. there is no meaning to life. there is meaning to you for your life. but there's absolutely no evidence for any meaning to the universe at all.

TheGamut said...

deepstructure: Same here, except I managed to get all the way into Michael's comment before realizing who Lee addressed.

Michael: Quoting Galdalf? (Then again, I'm a dork for knowing that Gandalf is properly pronounced like Gandalv so I have no room to jibe, but I'ma gonna anyway.) :P

(As for the spoiler? The problem is: I can't unread the last two Potter books.) :P

Q#1: Pretty much the same answer here, but I'd still be explaining my answer by now most likely. (I'm not good with words.)

However, I would approach the Bible differently. I see the Book as a record of History through a selective set of eyes, parsed through more minds and their interpretations and experiences. For accuracy, the thing gets a complete F, but for a tool to examine Humanity throughout its lifespan (which goes beyond just reading the thing), it's quite enlightening. To many (and I feel you are included), such examinations can lead one to lose confidence in Humanity when so many take such texts as stone-solid facts. Through all the Book's twists and turns, I see Humanity's ability to adapt, evolve and learn. It is true enough that it doesn't happen as nearly fast as I would like, but it is happening. If the Book(s) and the surrounding religion(s) are the villains, it is because they are misunderstood. They are key in moving forward, but only when they are taking in context beyond the words on the pages.

You're trying to get people to put things in context, but I think you're approaching it as the bogeyman instead of Frankenstein's monster. I think a level of pity for this thing that people have deified and demonized will be helpful to find less-hostile common ground to start talking to people. Sure, it doesn't pity us, but patience and kindness will turn that beaten junkyard dog into a loyal friend. (I've literally done that... Took months, but I never gave up.) Otherwise, you've put people on the defensive and they'll cling to what they know. [sic]

Perhaps instead of starting with what's repulsive about the Bible, why not start with what the thing got right? There are some good fables in there. We think they're common sense, but let's face it: Common sense isn't all that common. It apparently has to be learned (as we have done ourselves to reach our current beliefs).

Q#2: Yes. Very "leading" question. I think an important point you should make notable (despite the link) is that we also don't feel the need to believe in God(s).

I realized what I believe the same way I realized why the sky was blue and why there was no Santa Claus. As my knowledge grew, questions got answered and questions arose to get answers. Wash, rinse, repeat. I can't name a point where it just suddenly vanished because it didn't. While I never believed in unicorns, I did believe in Santa Claus. Despite that my RAM is faulty, I'm confident that it was a gradual thing that came to the point when I realized I had already let go. The only struggle was not asking the questions I wanted to answer.

Q#3: Yeah. That's a common misconception. Their faith fills a part of the Universe they do not understand, and they can only imagine that thing missing leaving a hollow void. They do not imagine it is already full of amazing things.

Ripping away that security blanket is traumatic enough when one is young. Trying to rip away such from an adult is not only much harder but, also, more destructive. (It's not unlike getting Chicken Pox for the first time as an adult.) It's just something that takes a lot of patience if it's deemed necessary for the sake of the individual. Cold turkey alcoholics can actually die. Cold turkey smokers most often fail. Weening is a much longer process in adults. Sometimes going cold turkey is necessary for their survival. Weening or cold turkey, it is not something I would put upon someone else for my own agenda.

Q#4: Yeah. The whole Virgin Birth, Miracles and Resurrection don't make sense with the whole "became Man" business in my mind. If someone wanted to "become Man" to reach us at the same level as we, then it would be no more than a Man from birth to death. Otherwise, it just separates Him from us. It makes Him the impossible goal, an object of eternal envy, inhuman... alien... incomprehensible... (After all, how can we relate to someone like that when we cannot do any of those things?)

It takes the whole message and renders it ridiculous. Everything about His commands are, then, meant only for us and not for Him to follow. Yet, that's how I see it.

Some see it as the reason to heed such a person as it was the only means to mark Him as the "Word made flesh". To me, that also undermines the whole "faith" thing that runs the length of most religious texts. (Of course, the obvious retort is: It doesn't undermine it as we can't prove any of those things happened and it is, therefor, faith. Yet in that stead, a person has chosen to mark this man as special instead, taking the power ordained only to God upon himself or herself.)

Still, some even see the Miracles as a reason to fear such a person -- someone who was not bound by the rules in which we live. They have seen what can happen when a Man gets access to power. They refuse to believe someone would wield it responsibly. (Many who use Jesus as their icon are not always responsible with it, so the fear is not without warrant.) IMHO, the Miracles were irresponsible. They tell people that there are "easy outs". It's only easy if we set our mind to do it ourselves. The more we look to inspiration from something else, the harder it will be to find from inside.

If such a being existed, I would be fascinated... as the questions proposed by the mere thought fascinate me. We wouldn't have to fear something like that. We've found a way to survive everything so far. If such a being came to enact the rapture, we would still survive. I have faith on that.

Still, you'd think with Atheists being people instead of Superhumans that we'd be able to connect with people on their beliefs better. Yet, that's the problem and the answer. We are the same. We don't have more authority than the icon, but we do have the commonality of being completely Human; something the icon doesn't have. That commonality is our leverage.

Q#5: Finely tuned??? By what standards? NVM. You said the same thing. (Reading as I comment.)

Yeah. I didn't understand the whole "evil" question. I can't figure out how they meant it to apply to support their argument (as each of these questions are dying to support their stance). While I completely agree with you on your answer, I can't figure out if it fits with the question. As I said, I can't make any sense of the question.

Q#6: Yeah. That's another misconception about us. AFAIK, we don't believe that time began. We don't believe the Universe began. We don't limit ourselves to the idea that our "big bang" is the only one out there or that it was even the beginning of it all. Our current physical knowledge dictates that the big bang didn't start existence (except, over time, ours here and now). Given what's happening out there suggests we've got more going on outside of our view to suggest there's probably several of these big-bangs existing in space out there.

(I find it fascinating how some of us choose different things we can't see as our bases. To me, the evidence says a certain set of possibilities. To others, it says a different set of possibilities. I don't understand how we arrive at different conclusions with the same information, but we do.)

Mind? Explain. What exactly is a "mind"? (Talking to the interrogator here.) I'm thinking they're saying "soul" here and not "mind". The word soul, itself, needs definition if they want us to address it.

Morality? Morality is just another word for being nice by whatever standards one considers is nice or not. Being nice is what killed the housing market in the USA. Being nice is what you do when you let your retarded kid run amok in a store so they can grow up to be $#@&*(!@. Being nice almost killed all of the trees in a forest that some self-proclaimed environmentalist bought to keep anyone from cutting it down (when nobody wanted to chop it down in the first place, but it had an epidemic spreading through the trees). Being nice is what created the edict that men must deny feelings of deep love and physical attraction between each other. (Ironic. Isn't it?)

Saving one at the cost of millions is nice, but is it moral?

We haven't developed a sense of morality. We've only developed a sense of playing "the hero" by the easiest road possible. That's what morality is.

I don't believe in morality. I believe in necessity. Still, that is defined how I see it, but at least, I'm taking a hint from our evolutionary ancestry on this planet to set my scope of it instead of just trying to become a quick celebrity. (Necessity is often seen as cold, cruel and evil. It's sad, really, because everyone has necessities. Denying those seems to be cold, cruel and... not-nice to me. My personal necessities do not outweigh everyone else's but some of these necessities being tossed around for the sake of being nice are not necessary for anyone.)

Last Q: Didn't they already ask that?

Drew Mazanec said...

These are all excellent questions. Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with some of them for a very long time.

William Lane Craig is an outstanding philosopher and debater. I'd reccommend any of his debates to anyone studying Christian apologetics.

There is very little that can be known with absolute certainty. Logical and mathematical proofs might be among them, but almost any proposition can be shot down with enough hyperskepticism. I could deny many propositions that virtually everyone else would agree are true; that other minds exist, that the outside world is real, that George Washington was the first US President. I could deny the holocaust, or deny that the world is older than five minutes, claiming that age is an illusion. While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

I wouldn't worry too much about the minimal facts approach to the resurrection of Jesus. Under a physicalist worldview, no amount of evidence would be sufficient to reach such a conclusion. The resurrection of Jesus is not meant as an answer to "Is there a God?" but "Why Christianity and not some other theistic religion?"

What might appear as bald-faced assertions in these arguments are core propositions, where in a debate, you state them, and then defend them against attacks. It would be extraneous to state these propositions, every objection, every answer to every objection, every answer to the objection to the answer, and so on. It would be like calculating every possible game in chess. However, there is good reason to believe them, and they are defensible. I would not suggest that they are undoubtable, for very little, excepting tautologies, the law of non-contradiction and a few other propositions can be described that way. It's the same way with Strobel's book. He is trying to establish that his propositions are more likely than their negations, not that they are beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Systematic Theology vs Sunday School Christianity

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Sunday School view of God as the anthropomorphic old guy with a white beard is not the theologians' view of God. Theologians see God as an uncaused, unembodied mind, with the properties of intelligence, volition, morality, and causal potency. Here are the four main arguments and what they attempt to demonstrate:

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency

Teleological Argument: That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency

Ontological Argument: That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds

Moral Argument: Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

None of these are arguments from ignorance, which punt to God questions that we cannot answer. They are deductive arguments. In a deductive argument, if the premises are more likely true than not, then the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. Also note that the Biblical God does not necessarily follow from these arguments. Almost any form of monotheism follows from them. In fact, Deism follows from them, too.

I will post the Kalam Cosmological Argument on my blog shortly.

Dorkman said...

While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

But you don't need evidence to "support a negation." If you make an assertion, then the evidence must support it, or by default it is assumed to not be true -- or at the very least, have insufficient evidence to conclude it is true.

I wouldn't worry too much about the minimal facts approach to the resurrection of Jesus. Under a physicalist worldview, no amount of evidence would be sufficient to reach such a conclusion.

This is patently untrue. There are a number of ways that what you call "physicalists" -- what I would call "rational people" -- could be convinced that the resurrection event may have actually happened. It is the same way that we determine that other historical events -- such as George Washington's Presidency and the Holocaust -- occurred: contemporary accounts and consistency within those accounts.

We do not have a single eyewitness account of anything that Jesus did. Nothing. Not the miraculous, not the mundane. You would think, with a man working miracles in front of thousands of people at a time, at least one of them might have written a letter to a friend.

"Holy shit, dude, this guy Jesus took like a tiny amount of bread and fish and fed everyone who was there; I know that doesn't make sense, I wouldn't even believe it myself if I hadn't been there."

Or "Oh man, I nearly drowned in this storm, but this guy Jesus WALKED ON THE WATER and stopped the storm and saved us. I totally joined his club. You gotta come meet this guy!"

Or "You know that guy Jesus? Frigging Romans crucified him, but get this: he CAME BACK TO LIFE. I saw him!"

Or heck, what about just "Hey, I went out to the Mount today and heard this guy Jesus, and he was saying some really cool stuff about the meek and whatnot" (though the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount is questionable).

Or "So this guy Jesus is REALLY starting to piss off the Pharisees around here;" or "This guy Jesus is really starting to piss ME off."

But not a single letter of that sort has ever been found. Not ONE, out of the thousands of people that he supposedly affected with his actions.

And if not of Jesus specifically, what about the ancillary effects of what he did? Where is the letter from the pig farmer lamenting how all his pigs suddenly went insane and ran off a cliff. Or how about the events of Matthew 27:52-53:

And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

There's a lot in the Bible that's open to interpretation, but those two passages are pretty direct: when Jesus rose from the dead, so did a bunch of other people, and they were seen by many in Jerusalem. And yet not a single one of these "many" apparently thought that their city being overrun by zombies warranted any kind of mention in their written communication with friends and family abroad. Not a single mention of such an even exists in any known historical document from the time. You'd think someone in the government would have at least noted the sudden change in population density, or otherwise found some place to indicate that THE DEAD WERE WALKING AROUND THE CITY.

Even the other Gospel writers don't seem to think this is noteworthy, as none of the other three resurrection accounts mention it (among their other inconsistencies). It is mentioned a single time, by a single source, and therefore the most reasonable conclusion until further evidence emerges is that the event never actually took place.

I know it's a standard defense mechanism to say "no evidence will convince you if you don't want to believe," but that's nonsense. It takes exactly the same amount -- and kind -- of evidence to convince me of a religious proposition, as a non-religious one. What I "want" to believe is irrelevant, the question is: does the evidence support the conclusion?

What might appear as bald-faced assertions in these arguments are core propositions, where in a debate, you state them, and then defend them against attacks.

That's not how debate works. In debate you state a proposition, and then explain what evidence and reasoning makes this fundamental proposition true.

I can't just declare that unicorns exist and expect to spend the rest of the debate hashing out our opinions over their eating and mating habits. I first have to support the basic assertion that they exist at all.

What you are talking about IS a case of making bald assertions and then constructing an argument based on fabricated presuppositions.

However, there is good reason to believe them, and they are defensible.

You can't just declare there are good reasons. You have to give the reasons for the assertion before you defend the implications of the assertion.

It's the same way with Strobel's book. He is trying to establish that his propositions are more likely than their negations, not that they are beyond a shadow of a doubt.

He is failing spectacularly.

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal.

Why? Based on what evidence can we conclude that there cannot be an infinite number of past events? You can't go any further with this argument without accepting the premise, and you can't (or rather, shouldn't) accept the premise unless it can be demonstrated.

That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency


That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds

Why is it necessary that such a thing should exist?

Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

What is "objective morality" and by what reasoning can we declare it exists?

It's bald assertion after bald assertion, and they only work if you already accept the premise it is trying to prove. That's totally tautological.

Dorkman said...

Oh, and William Lane Craig isn't much of a debater. Like most apologists, what he actually is, is more of a performance artist. One of the other atheist blogs I read just used a Craig debate as a case study of how atheist debaters tend to get caught off guard by the fact that apologists don't have the better argument, but they give the better presentation.

TheGamut said...

Reminded of:
"Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it? I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time."

Anyway. I wouldn't mind a little clarity on something: ... establish that his propositions are more likely than the negations?

This refers to which negations and to which requirements that will constitute "more"?

That which is greater than anything that can be conceived actually exists in all possible worlds.

That's a possibility, but "actually" is too strong of a word. Still, why would that, which is greater than anything that can be conceived, be a conscious God? This statement does nothing to support the existence of God. It doesn't even suggest a parallel presence in the entire Universe. We know that we can't currently conceive the entire Universe and that it "more likely" (by logical definition) exists in all worlds. The statement doesn't say anything that we don't already know is possible.

I Googled Objective Morality, and I found strange analogies that do not seem to have anything to do with objective reality and how one is to relate morality to it (which they seem to concur is how to define objective morality).

In fact, the most compelling arguments I found say that people most often define objective morality as absolute morality (which must be the same in every instance), which is a paradox given the fluid definition of morality based on perspective.

An objective morality would have to be a universal morality regardless what we as individuals claim is moral. Yet if it did exist, who gets to define it? The obvious answer is God, but God has yet to be proven (even as "more likely").

Even if God exists, we get the following scenario: "God tells us what is moral, and it is wrong kill innocent people who are among God's enemies." Then, someone else says, "God tells us that you're wrong about what is moral and that there are no innocents among God's enemies." Still, another person says, "You're both wrong because God says that it is wrong for people to kill anything for any reason at all but that animals are excused from this because they're doing what God made them to do."

I love how they fall onto the Hitler was morally wrong by all standards argument. So many people thought he was right. (Some people still think he was right.)

So much for being universal. We're stuck with "You're wrong about God" arguments with nobody proving anything about what God said or how someone else is wrong.

Anders Branderud said...

"It is that theism in general lacks sufficient evidence to indicate the existence of any god, much less any one(/three) in particular. "

There is evidence for the existence of a Creator.
According to science our universe has a beginning.

It is a fundamental law of physics (causality) that every physical occurrence in the universe has a cause. Since space-time has a beginning there was a first physical occurrence. Every observed physical occurence has a cause. By induction also the first physical occurence has a cause. The fact that space-time has a beginning implies that this Prime Cause is non-dimensional and independent of space-time.

Furthermore it is possible to prove the Will of the Creator will humankind:
Being logically consistent (orderly), the orderly universe must mirror its Prime Cause —Who must be Orderly ; i.e. Perfect. Therefore, no intelligent person can ignore that our purpose and challenge in life is learning how we, as imperfect humans, may successfully relate to a Perfect Creator without our co-mingling, which transcends the timespace of this dimensional physical universe, becoming an imperfection to the Perfect Creator.

An orderly Prime Cause necessarily had an Intelligent Purpose in creating this universe and us within it and, being Just and Orderly, necessarily placed an explanation, a "Life's Instruction Manual," within the reach of His subjects—humankind.

It defies the orderliness (logic / mathematics) of both the universe and Perfection of its Creator to assert that humanity was (contrary to His Tor•âh′ , see below) without any means of rapproachment until millennia after the first couple in recorded history as well as millennia after Abraham, Moses and the prophets. Therefore, the Creator's "Life's Instruction Manual" has been available to man at least since the beginning of recorded history. The only enduring document of this kind is the Tor•âh′ —which, interestingly, translates to "Instruction" (not "law" as popularly alleged). [Quote for parts of the post and further reading of how to relate to the Creator:]

The fact that the Creator is perfect implies that He isn’t self-contradictory. Therefore any religion that contradicts Torah is the antithesis to the Creator.

Reply to counter arguments: