Questions of Truth

My review in the FT of Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief by John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale went through several drafts. The paper found the first two versions had too much of my own views on the subject; was not sufficiently even-handed; didn’t describe the actual contents enough; and was also a bit technical in places. Apart from that, they were perfect!

So I thought I’d share here some of the bits that got away, which I have reassembled into a hopefully coherent whole. (Read the published review to get a better sense of the book as a whole.)

I argued that the authors followed the time-honoured strategy to identify the spaces which science leaves behind and get their God of the gaps to plug them.

This works most effectively with “anthropic fine-tuning”, covered in one of three lengthy appendices, the others being on evolution and the relationship between mind and brain. The laws of physics contain six key numbers, and life could not have evolved anywhere in the universe if they were just slightly different. Currently, the most popular scientific explanation of this “fine-tuning” is that there are an infinite number of universes, and so the variables were bound to be right in one of them. In comparison, the alternative hypothesis that some divine being fixed them deliberately looks simpler and more plausible.

Many find this argument persuasive, including some very good physicists. The problem is that such divine gap-filling just isn’t science. To argue that God typed in the right numbers to allow life to evolve doesn’t even begin to solve the problem, since the mechanism by which this is supposed to have happened is utterly mysterious and can never be known scientifically. The God hypothesis may not contradict science, but the science can never lead you to it.

A truly scientific approach accepts gaps in our knowledge and keeps looking for testable answers. Beale, however, dismisses such intellectual humility, saying “there is a long tradition in atheist philosophy … of saying ‘There is no answer to this question’ when what you mean is ‘There is an answer to this question, but I don’t like it.’” It would be more accurate to say “There is an answer to this question, but it’s not scientific.” Ironically, it is the religious, who criticise “materialists” for lacking a proper sense of mystery, who seem least able to actually live with a real one when they find it.

Questions of Truth vividly illustrates how, if you are sufficiently committed to a belief, it is always possible to interpret other facts to fit in with it. It all depends on which of your beliefs you take to be non-negotiable. “The materialist takes as basic fact the existence of matter,” they say, somewhat caricaturing the atheist position. “The theist takes as basic fact the existence of a divine creator,” they add, accurately describing their own. From this starting point, it is clear there is nothing which could persuade the theist otherwise.

Polkinghorne and Beale’s exercise in apologetics shows how naïve it is to think that reason can lead all rational people inexorably to the same conclusion. Reason is not dispassionate, it is motivated by our prior commitments, and few are as strong as those of Bible believing Christians.

This does not mean that we should become entirely sceptical of reason and truth, however, simply that we must not overestimate the power of the former to illuminate the latter. Even when the truth is staring us right in the eyes, it often does so from the back of a crowd, the front row of which is filled with more seductive faces.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Julian: Good article. Maybe the God of gaps can reveal how to deal with deepening economic crisis.
    Let’s pray that he emails Obama soon about what to do about the banks.

  2. Would it be invidious to say that your review had the patina of ‘disappointingly good’? A further side light on the anthropic aspect is developed in Beale’s blog with your comment

    (What is a social philosopher/strategist?)

    The anthropic principal is perhaps metaphysics that wants to be metascience when it grows up. When I read about it I get that feeling that there’s a false move being foisted on me. But where? In Indian logic there’s a valid means of knowledge called ‘Non-apprehension of existence’ (anupalabadhi). They contrast that to the invalid ‘Apprehension of non-existence’ because perception cannot be applied to what does not exist. Now in the actual universe do we see as a shadowy overlay all the universes that might have existed? Is contingency multivalent with repect to the universe as a whole?

  3. Hi Julian,
    Just as starters, it’s interesting to me that there are at least two places in the above and your article where science and religion are interchangeable, viz.
    “. . . test the hypothesis [how it happened] it is no substitute for a proper scientific answer.” Here you were talking about God but infinite number of universes works equally well.
    “if you are sufficiently committed to a belief, it is always possible to interpret other facts to fit in with it. It all depends on which of your beliefs you take to be non-negotiable.”
    In order to maintain the Big Bang as a viable theory a great many new substances have had to be “discovered” none of which have actually been seen, measured or otherwise sensed.

  4. Polkinghorne and Beale’s exercise in apologetics shows how naïve it is to think that reason can lead all rational people inexorably to the same conclusion.

    Have they really been lead by reason? Have they shown themselves to be rational people?

    Reason is not dispassionate, it is motivated by our prior commitments, and few are as strong as those of Bible believing Christians.

    Hmm, why draw conclusions about reason instead of just saying these authors are not dispassionate, and that they are motivated by their prior commitments? These guys seem like a very skewed data base to use for reaching general conclusions about capital-r Reason.

  5. Whatever the state of science there will always be many truths that are beyond science (for Godelian and other reasons). To say that an explanation is “not scientific” is not the same as saying that it is untrue: atheism is just as “unscientific” as theism.

    However as noted on, whatever the laws of nature turned out to be (say a set L of laws and B of initial conditions) there will always be two meta-scientific questions:
    1. Why this (L, B) and not some other?
    2. Why should any laws work at all.

    It may well turn out that some deeper scientific undertsandings change our current (L,B) in a way that reduces the number of free paramaters and makes the fine tuning seem less unlikely – though at present the changes are in completely the other direction. But it will not get away from these questions. And at present the data strongly support the idea of strong anthropic fine-tuning. “No credits for the future” Pauli used to say.

  6. “2. Why should any laws work at all.”

    This reminds me of a similar debate at Stephen Law’s blog. It was very long and very heated but fun to watch from the sidelines 🙂

  7. Nicholas Beale writes–

    atheism is just as “unscientific” as theism

    This is ridiculous. Theists have inherited ideas about invisible beings from religious poetry, and want to use them to plug holes in existing science. This is not “just as scientific” as saying that we don’t have a way to plug certain holes. Julian makes a good point about how a story about God picking the constants is just not the stuff of science. I mean really, after he picked them, how did they become real? Did he say “shazzam”? Or maybe “abracadabra”? This stuff is obviously coming from story-land. A nice place to be for some, but nothing to do with science.

  8. Jean: Do you really use “arguments” like this when you teach philsophy??

    Is your position that the existence of a Loving Ultimate Creator is logically impossible or merely that you consider it, on balance, highly unlikely? Assuming the latter (even Dawkins doesn’t suppose the former) you must know that “shazzam” has nothing to do with it. If a LUC exists then by definition the LUC can create the universe.

    Science can neither establish the existence or the non-existence of a LUC. Hence Theism and Atheism are equally “non-scientific”. Nor, for that matter, can Science establish the existence of minds. Would you try to “argue” that “people who believe in other minds have inherited ideas about invisible minds from poetry and prose, and want to use them to plug holes in existing science”? If one of your students came out with that, how would you grade them?

  9. The fact that science can establish neither the existence nor the non-existence of a LUC does not signify that atheism and theism are equally non-scientific. First of all, science does not establish much, if anything; it deals with probabilities, not with certainties. So, the question is what is more probable, the LUC or her non-existence. It’s a bit like asking whether the existence of Santa Claus is probable or not.

  10. Science might not be able to establish the existence or the non-existence of a creator, but it can make a significant contribution towards finding out if the hypothesis is required.

    At the moment, the God hypothesis is a hypothesis looking for data to support it, not an intelligible way of making sense of things. It has no explanatory power and little utility.

    Even if we needed to invoke a creator, on what grounds can we make the inference he/she/it is loving?

    When people believe in a theory because they want to believe in it, rather than because they have no way of making sense of the world without it, then I think it’s understandable that hackles are raised and suspicions aroused.

  11. Paul: Do you have any evidence for these strange assertions? You may think belief in God is mistaken, but it is certainly intelligible to almost everybody, and on any objective measure (eg evolutionary fitness) it has a great deal of utility.

    On the loving bit, philosophically I’m inclined to offer “Loving Ultimate Creator” as a defintion of God. That is clearly fundamental to Christianity and I think broadly consonant with Islam & Judaism. It offers a philosophical explanations for Anthropic Fine-tuning the intelligibility of the universe, the existence of objective morality and beauty, and our strong intuition that love is the most important and fundamental aspect of the universe. It also makes sense of the phenomenon of Jesus.

    I don’t say for a moment that there are no alternative worldviews, or that there are not problems (notably suffering) with this view. But as Julian says in his review of Questions of Truth, people who would benefit from this most are fundamentalists and over-confident atheists who think that religion is irrational.

  12. Sure, it’s intelligible – in so far as it’s clearly stated. But is it required? Do we actually need it to explain anything? I wouldn’t call myself an atheist and I don’t even think a belief in God is mistaken. I don’t think people are wrong to say God exists, but I just don’t see how it has any relevance.

    I certainly do think people who believe in God are wrong when they attempt to explain anything that happens on Earth or the observable universe by reference to him or her without doing a bit of science first. If I’m honest, the well-observed rush to explain by reference to God makes me suspicious of the whole shooting match.

    Anyway, I’d be interested in understanding how the God hypothesis has utility in terms of evolutionary fitness. I was using ‘utility’ to mean ‘helps us understand the world’.

    And I’m certainly not convinced that God is required to explain or justify morality, beauty or love. I don’t see any problems in need of a God-shaped solution in any of these areas.

  13. Okay Nicholas, I have an alternative (world?)view. To me the thing that, as of now, makes the most sense is something that was (and maybe still is) instrumental in the shaping of our universe. Nothing silly like a god. Nothing that might give a damn about humans. Such a notion draws hostility from both theists and most scientists. We have physical forces, gravity, electricity, etc. Why not one that has evolved (over an infinite amount of time) so that it can manipulate it’s environment for it’s own purposes. We happened to have been a by product of whatever it was up to.

  14. Nicholas, I think it’s a perfectly good question why we take gods seriously when we are looking for serious explanations instead of telling stories. Why the Loving Ultimate Creator, not the Jealous Ultimate Creator? How about the Angry Ultimate Creator (what with all the floods and sick kids in the world)? The origins of these things in story-telling traditions does make them suspicious. It would be an amazing coincidence if the protagonist that met your story-telling needs also served the purposes of cutting edge science. It strikes me as being extremely unlikely.

    As to other minds. I know for a fact that I have a mind. So minds don’t even begin to seem like fictions. The question about other minds is whether in addition to the one I clearly have, there are more. I think it would be rather fantastic if I were the only one in the universe who had the privilege of having mind. It seems more reasonable to think I’m not unique. That’s no proof of other minds, but it’s enough to make other minds worth taking perfectly seriously.

    Rather than just joining in a debate about whether X exists or not, I think it’s quite reasonable to first ask whether the debate is worth having. The god debate got grandfathered in by 3000 years of people taking it seriously, but maybe it’s time to stop.

  15. Even if God created the universe, and is responsible for the fine-tuning etc., why does this mean I have to go to church on Sunday’s? Why does it entail immortality? Why does it mean that when someone important to me dies the Priest or whatever talks about God and the Bible, not the person I’ve lost? Why does it justify people killing each other?

    I just don’t get it. I’m sorry, I just think it’s all nuts.

  16. Nicholas,
    If you take the Big Bang as a given then there are plenty more meta-scientific unanswerable questions, e.g.
    3. Why were there just the right components for the formation of atoms.
    4. How is it that atoms formed?
    5. Why was there a period of inflation?
    6. Why the formation (if that’s the right word) of the singularity that created the B.B.
    If we don’t assume the B.B. and do assume the universe had no beginning, that is time is infinite, you can get rid of your initial conditions in 1. and 2.

  17. “It offers a philosophical explanations for Anthropic Fine-tuning the intelligibility of the universe, the existence of objective morality and beauty, and our strong intuition that love is the most important and fundamental aspect of the universe”

    It offers as much a philosophical explanation to any of those points as would inserting the idea of leprechauns, faeries, Zeus, or my butt in the place of the LUC you posited. I guess they are all some sort of answer, but certainly poor philosophy.

    “It also makes sense of the phenomenon of Jesus.”

    The real phenomenon of Jesus is that it was in no way a singular phenomenon. The story of Jesus was not an original one even at that time. There are many very human explanations that make sense of the phenomenon of Jesus.

    Jean and Paul have already said it well, but I think it’s worth preaching to the four corners of the earth if need be…any God or LUC or whatever is a hypothesis that doesn’t well serve the role of a good hypothesis. Or even a bad hypothesis. We might not ever be able to come up with a good hypothesis to explain away a lot of the big questions, but even elegant theories (String) run into this problem. At least there’s some beautiful math involved with that idea, math based on previous models based on real world hypothesis and experimentation.

    Mr. Beale seems like a knowledgeable person, well read, and I’m hoping being in the minority here doesn’t persuade him away from the discussion. I think the best medicine for this world would be more believers getting into debates with well meaning, interested atheists.

  18. Heh. But wouldn’t the probability of there being a god that created us be even more probable?

  19. Mmmmm this thread is delicious. I do enjoy these discussions.

  20. Christianity is a very complex, subtle and well-developed set of ideas, held by a large number of extremely serious and well-educated people. There is no point in trying to give a 1-liner on why it is to be preferred to any number of non-theories that no-one seriously believes.

    If a LUC exists then (s)he is unlikely to be incompetent and will therefore have some communication with the people (s)he loves. So if (s)he exists it’s reasonable to suspect that at least one of the major religions has a substantial core of truth.

    The idea that infinite time removes the need for B is an common philosophical mistake (read Augustine).

    People who can’t tell the difference between God and their butt really should learn something and cannot expect to be taken seriously any more.

  21. Glad to see such a good discussion, and Nicholas pitching in. Returning to two quite early comments made by Ralph:

    Just as starters, it’s interesting to me that there are at least two places in the above and your article where science and religion are interchangeable, viz.
    “. . . test the hypothesis [how it happened] it is no substitute for a proper scientific answer.” Here you were talking about God but infinite number of universes works equally well.

    I’m not sure enough of my physics here, but two points. First, the infinite universe hypothesis is, I believe, a result of the mathematics. But second, even if it is indeed as speculative as God. no one draws any other moral or existential conclusions from it, or uses the hypothesis to help shore up such a world view. So it;s not as much of a motivated belief.

    “if you are sufficiently committed to a belief, it is always possible to interpret other facts to fit in with it. It all depends on which of your beliefs you take to be non-negotiable.”

    Absolutely. This is not just true of religion. But I would argue that a good atheist would have minimal fundamental commitments, the kid anyone must have to think and believe at all, and would not include among them beliefs about specific deities which are clearly optional.

  22. N.Beale:
    As a believer of the tribe of Pascal who would hold that God is a living God and not a theorem I still respect your attempt to use science to give a rational basis for your belief. Anything that brings about consciousness of the living presence of God in whatever form you take it to be is a good thing. However it is surely significant that no saint, sage, prophet, jnani, mahatma etc. has ever come to God by way of a reasoned out process. Even Aquinas with his 5 ways could only show that the existence of God was at least not self-contradictory or absurd and in his final days had a vision which reduced all this apodeictic elegance to the status of a wisp of hay in a furnace.

    In our times the paradigm of rationality is science and every new theory is hopefully tried for its potential power to vanquish the infidel. Will the Anthropic Principle do it? A lot of smart people are impressed by it but I cannot get over the sense that it is infected by circularity. Why should Laws work at all? Because there is nature and things have thingness. We have this world or data because we have this world. How could data not support the Anthropic Principle when either fine tuned or gross tuned things are what they are. Even very simple things operating with simple rules can create complexity in their interaction. No fine tuning required.

  23. Clearly you cannot reason people into faith – or love for that matter. But if they think they have “scientific evidence” that their beloved is dead (photos, newspaper reports, a telegram) you may be able to show reasonably that this “evidence” is faulty (faked, drunk journalists, mistaken identity etc…).

    What you say about fine tuning sounds reasonable, and was pretty much what people supposed before they did the calculations. It turns out, at present, not to be like that at all.

  24. “What you say about fine tuning sounds reasonable, and was pretty much what people supposed before they did the calculations. It turns out, at present, not to be like that at all.”

    Can you expand on that because it seems to me to be like that tautologically: things are as they are because there are these things this way and if there weren’t we wouldn’t know about them.

    Not that ‘god’ supplies an answee even if we think there is a problem. Who did the ‘fine tuning’ to make the divinity possible? Why are things structured in such a way that there can be divine beings rather than in a way inimical to them?

  25. Julian,
    Thanks for commenting on my offering. My aim, which I only realized later, was to suggest science, or specifically cosmology, has taken up some of the aspects of religion. When you say no one draws existential conclusions from the infinite universes hypothesis, isn’t its raison d’etre to explain why we have life in our universe? I also suggest if it were accepted more generally it would have the effect of closing down other avenues of consideration.
    There are ways of dealing with the fine-tuning dilemma which are in my mind less exotic and outlandish than offered in our above hypothesis:
    We pretty much accept the notion of dark matter; its existence is inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. There are other like quantities in cosmology, i.e. undetectable by direct means. Is it such a far leap to consider the possibility of a “substance” that is in some way self-motivated? Something which for its own self-preservation “designed” our universe as it is? To make any sense at all, if you think that’s at all possible, time would have to be infinite or curved or . . . To me, this idea sure beats gods and infinite numbers of universes.

  26. John: By definition any Ultimate Creator must be self-existent. To ask “who created the UC” is simply not to understand the term.

    Ralph: if a substance is “self-motivated” then it seems to have at least some of the characteristics of personhood. But it makes no difference whether time is infinite or curved (again Augustine had this straight in the 5th C) logical or ontological dependence does not have to be temporal. You can always transform the t-axis to make it appear infinite, or finite. (John Lucas is wonderful on this in “A Treatise on Time and Space”)

  27. “John: By definition any Ultimate Creator must be self-existent. To ask “who created the UC” is simply not to understand the term.”

    Which is really just a tautological conversation stopper. What can ‘self-existent’ possibly mean and why should it not apply to the visible universe? How does it explain anything?

  28. Nicholas,
    “You can always transform the t-axis to make it appear infinite, or finite.”
    As a mathematician that doesn’t sit well with me, but I’m going to a least glance at Lucas to see what he says.
    You’ve got my curiosity up with your reference to Augustine. I’m going to poke around his stuff too. I might be back.

  29. My limited entry into the back and forth is for


    You write “The materialist takes as basic fact the existence of matter,” they say, somewhat caricaturing the atheist position.

    Could you explain why “A materialist taking as basic fact the existence of matter” is a caricature?

  30. “Clearly you cannot reason people into faith – or love for that matter. ”

    I think this is pretty much the heart of the matter (for me anyway!). If someone told me they truly loved God, then there is little I can or indeed would say. Much like I would not ask a parent why they love their child, I would not ask a believer to justify their love of God. To forcefully question this love seems to me to miss the whole point of love.

    However I would seriously question any actions based on that love which control or influence the lives of others. I include in this any attempts to indoctrinate vulnerable people (who may not have the capacity to choose otherwise) into sharing that love (i.e., children).

    Here’s a thought. If a believer based a life or death decision upon their love of God, are non-believers justified in questioning whether such a person has the capacity to make this choice? We generally feel obliged to point out to a person about to walk across an imaginary bridge between two tall buildings that the bridge might not be real. Are we obliged to point out to a believer any mistakes in their reasoning or sense experience that might be influencing a similarly consequential decision?

    While we feel obliged to stop people killing others because of their Faith (Abraham and Isaac come to mind!), we are reluctant to intervene to stop them killing themselves. That is, the Courts generally respect a person’s religious belief when that belief leads them to refuse medical treatment.

    But how is the latter case different from the person walking across the imaginary bridge?

  31. Paul: Refusing to accept medical treatment isn’t the same as killing oneself. In fact, suicide is illegal in most countries, although I don’t think that it should be illegal. In most cases, refusing to accept medical treatment only increases the probability of death. Of course, a man bleeding to death from a stab wound in the throat is sure to die, but it is very rare that someone refuses medical treatment in an emergency situation: stab wound, auto crash, drowning, etc.
    That’s interesting, isn’t it? No one refuses medical treatment, as far as I know, in the emergency room.

  32. Fair point Amos, so let’s change it from killing people to letting people die.

    For example, let’s say an experienced tight-rope walker only chooses to walk across a tight-rope between two tall buildings because they hallucinate a safety-net below them. Again, we feel obliged to query his or her capacity to make that choice.

    Compare this to a person who refuses medical treatment, not because they want to die, but because they think God will intervene or they think they’re heading to an afterlife. The Courts respect this, but I’m not sure why*.

    Anyway, these issues are probably off topic. Apologies!

    *I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’m wondering what the difference between the tight-rope walker and the believer really is.

  33. Would it be illegal to walk a tight-rope, imagining a safety-net below? I’m not sure what the current laws are about declaring someone insane and commiting them, against his or her will, to an institution. In a recent case in Chile, a woman, member of some New Age sect, bled to death, after giving birth in her New Age community. It was her decision not to seek medical help, although obviously, as she grew weaker and weaker, her ability to make rational decisions decreased. The leaders of the sect were arrested on various charges, not attending to someone in a situation of medical emergency being one of them (that is, they had a legal obligation to call an ambulance). I’m not sure how the case turned out, since the leaders of the sect were using the insanity defense the last time I heard news about it. Now, the difference between a sect and a religion is like the difference between a dialect and a language: a language is a dialect with a flag and an army.

  34. It’s not necessarily illegal, but we might feel morally obliged to point out the non-existence of the safety-net. We might even feel they are unable to properly consider the risks, given their faulty sense-experience.

  35. Anyway, I think the fact that courts don’t force people to have medical treatment when it conflicts with their religious beliefs is an Anglo-Saxon matter. I think that in Chile the courts would force the person to undergo medical treatment and I’m absolutely sure that if a child were involved, the courts would over-rule the parents’ beliefs. The problem doesn’t come up much, since this is primarily a Catholic country, although the number of fundamentalist Protestant groups is growing.

  36. 1. the evidence is that religious believers have appreciably better health and evolutionary survival. So these metaphors about safety nets are profoundly misleading.

    2. Anyone who doesn’t understand the term “self-existent” should probably not be debating the philosophy of theism. But roughly it means that your existence does not depend on any other entity. The visible universe is certainly not self-existent. It is not self-evidently contradictory to suppose that the initial signularity was, though there are some problems.

    3. Juilan: we need to disentagle the idea of an “optional” belief. If you are on a beach and you suspect (but cannot be certain) that a tsunami is on the way then in the sense you use it your belief in the tsunami is “optional”. But if the tsunami is in fact on the way it is not “optional” at all – you will (probably) die unless you hold that belief. It has been said that there are no dead atheists – only dead former atheists – becasue when they die they are either non-existent or better informed. This does not (of course) settle the question of whether God exists, but it settles the absurd idea that it doesn’t matter.

  37. “the evidence is that religious believers have appreciably better health and evolutionary survival. So these metaphors about safety nets are profoundly misleading.”

    Yes, and the evidence suggests that people who believe the dummy pills are real derive considerable benefit from them.

    I also do not doubt for one minute that our ability to believe in things because they make us feel better and despite evidence to the contrary confers survival value at times – but it’s a high risk strategy. It also says nothing about the truth of the belief, and does nothing to justify concerns about people basing consequential decisions on such a belief system. That mainstream religious belief systems can be questionable, to say the least, is nicely illustrated by the continued employment by the Vatican of an Exorcist:

    I’m also not aware of any studies that have examined the hypothesis that the health benefits of religion reflect religion’s success at creating non-existent problems in the minds of non-religious people. Perhaps the truly non-religious person rejects the existence of the problems and has no need for solutions?

    It would be interesting to compare the health of 1) people who are sceptical that the problems religious people purport to solve actually exist, 2) people who accept the religious problems but not the religious solution and 3) people who accept the religious problems and the religious solutions.

  38. “People who can’t tell the difference between God and their butt really should learn something and cannot expect to be taken seriously any more.”

    People who can’t see the similarity between the assertion that an LUC created the universe or that my butt did should also not expect to be taken seriously. I did not claim that God and my butt are the same, and contextually, that should have been obvious. I said only that they offered the same limited explanatory power to the ultimate questions. If I say that some LUC created the universe, or some self-existent leprechaun created the universe, or that my butt created the universe, any one of these ideas will help out philosophers or scientists roughly equally, which is to say roughly not at all. And I say roughly, because when it comes to my butt, scientists would at least know where to begin their experiments.

    “Christianity is a very complex, subtle and well-developed set of ideas, held by a large number of extremely serious and well-educated people. There is no point in trying to give a 1-liner on why it is to be preferred to any number of non-theories that no-one seriously believes.”

    Except for the fact that a large number of extremely serious and well-educated people hold it to be true, the rest of that statement is absolutely ludicrous. I’ve read the bible from cover to cover twice, and studied parts in between hard and often, and it’s nowhere close to subtle, well-developed, or complex. It a collection of painfully superstitious beliefs mixed with painfully inaccurate history. There is NO good reason why the “non-theory” that is christianity should be preferred over any other non-theory. If every serious and well-educated person in the world except for you was brainwashed tomorrow into believing that leprechauns exist or that my butt is magical, that would not be a reason for you to also start preferring those theories. It would be a great reason for you to be thankful that you weren’t brainwashed as well.

  39. Hey Michael could we leave your butt out of this? It’s a stupid argument and adds nothing to the debate. At least your self existent leprechaun can be made to do some work (i.e. to show how the “ultimate cause” can be cloaked in any form we wish to imagine). But a product of the universe (your butt) being the cause or source of it (the universe) is manifestly incoherent and a conversation de-railer (to the point where it’s rude).

    Arguments like this belie your statment “I think the best medicine for this world would be more believers getting into debates with well meaning, interested atheists.”

  40. I’m sorry. Upon posting the comment, I didn’t see it as a bit different from the leprechaun argument or the LUC argument, which was my point in any of it in the first place. Silly and childish, absolutely, but I often find both of those attitudes to be enjoyable. But hey, I also really like the movie Dogma, so poor taste is part and parcel.

    Only one question – “i.e. to show how the “ultimate cause” can be cloaked in any form we wish to imagine”
    makes sense to me…why should my imagination not consider magic naughty bits? especially if for no other sake than a giggle?

    Anyway, I appreciate this site, the time everyone spent reading others posts and engaging us with theirs, for their patience with my pontification, and for the general sense of humor expressed throughout. I respectfully excuse myself from further posts to this topic.

  41. Not in the least surprised to read :

    Dr.Polkinghorne believes that the universe is an “open” and “flexible” system, where patterns can be seen to exist, but where “the providential aspect cannot be ruled out.” But, in fact, his own faith has little to do with physics. It stems, instead, from a more personal “encounter with Christ.” When asked if his exacting scientific background makes him scornful of the vagaries of theology, he responds: “Far from it. Theology is much more difficult. Physics, at least at the undergraduate level, is a subject on which the dust has settled. In theology the dust never settles.”



    My point from a previous post was that people come to religion and remain in it via personal experience. They then may be able to see the merit in converging and convincing arguments for the existence of God which are far from knock down proofs in the scientific sense.

    If it is the case that

    “the scientific and philosophical arguments for the existence of God are almost overwhelming”.

    as N.Beale claims then the problem of all those people who are too thick to get them remains. The arguments may be intriguing but without the prepping of spiritual operations they will not have much force. Moreover if one makes belief a rational matter the unpersuaded will think ” I’ve been there, tried the tee-shirt and it didn’t fit”.

  42. I do say almost overwhelming. People who aren’t convinced are not “thick”. But if any other worldview needed to posit 10^100 un-knowable alternative universes to sustain its plausibility, it would be laughed out of court.

  43. And if someone said they simply did not know then that ‘negative capability’ might be treated with respect.

    “… that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” (Keats, 1817)

  44. Nicholas

    “I do say almost overwhelming. People who aren’t convinced are not “thick”. But if any other worldview needed to posit 10^100 un-knowable alternative universes to sustain its plausibility, it would be laughed out of court.”

    I’m not sure why it would be laughed out of court any more than saying there is a self-existent creator. Once one decides to bypass mystery in its general sense (i.e. gives up negative capability as Paul points out), and decides to “answer” questions that concern ultimate conditions and causes, it’s not clear to me why saying “every (L,B) that can exist does exist” (uh oh! Anselm?) is any more ridiculous than saying “only this particular set of things exists and it exists due to the action(s) of a supreme consciousness.”

    I am persuaded that both of them are pretty mindblowing to seriously contemplate, but most theories about the ultimate nature of things are pretty mindblowing whether they are Idealist or Materialist in nature.

    I guess I would add a general comment about theist vs atheist (vs deist and pantheist and panentheist) arguments is that although I do love the discussions, such discussions have a propensity to trend away from an appreciation of mystery as such. We are SO ignorant, after all this time. Our knowledge base is extraordinarily large, so much so that we fragment it into a multitude of extreme specialities that take many years if not a lifetime to master. In this way our enormous knowledge base fragments our capacity for understanding into “microunderstanding.” What holds our meaning in common?What common discourse can we use to find common ground? Perhaps a discourse that begins with (and then does not forget) an appreciation of the extreme limitations of our pursuit of truth. In the case of Christianity this is called Sin. In Science at least we can suggest an embrace of humility.

  45. N.Beale:
    No they’re clearly not thick as is shown by the fact that many philosophers who are acquainted with rational argument do not find the proofs for the existence of God convincing. ‘Almost’ overwhelming is an overstatement that attempts to put such arguments on the same footing as empirically founded theories. The anthropic principle is not like ‘ether’ or ‘phlogiston’ or ‘wave theory’ that will, as time goes by and more information becomes available, be rejected, established or continue to exist in a modified way. It will always be a meditation on providence for PhDs in Physics.

  46. Faust,
    Extremely true:
    “Our knowledge base is extraordinarily large, so much so that we fragment it into a multitude of extreme specialities that take many years if not a lifetime to master.”
    A friend of mine who was the head of the physics department at U of Southern Cal for a number of years admitted to me recently that he hardly understands anything coming out of cosmology now. I’ve tried to chip away at it, but my doctorate in math is no match for it. But it doesn’t take “a rocket science” to realize that a lot of stuff coming from cosmology is off-the-wall. Infinite numbers of universes is not the hardest to believe. Possible “observers” emitted from black holes (Hawking) I believe has that beat. The only way I can make any sense of it is to assume they’re taking some extremely low probability results from some incredibly esoteric mathematics and latching onto them for dear life (or publishing.) The “dear life” part is the result of insisting upon keeping the Big Bang Theory alive which lends itself to talking about (L,B.) In fact, without the B.B. the need to justify fine-tuning disappears.

  47. Michael: I think we are loudly agreeing. Almost overwhelming is quite consistent with philosophers finding the arguments less than certain.

    Ralph/Faust: Indeed. There is (I’m reliably told) some very deep and beautiful maths in String/M theory but at present it is all wildly speculative and has no real connection with experiment. John P and I think it has a bit of the flavour of epicycles at present. With the Standard Model there is a big Fine-tuning problem and so far every attempt to “solve” it has introduced more free parameters. But even without B.B. you would have (L,B). Fred Hoyle was convinced of the Steady State universe, but even he (a staunch atheist) concluded that “the universe was a put-up job”

  48. N.Beale:
    No we don’t agree. The existence of God is not a matter of evidence in the scientific sense in my opinion. It is a matter of personal realisation and decision to accept a testimony. The anthropic principle is not a demonstration or a near demonstration but may be useful as a meditation.

    Elsewhere Brandon at examines Julian Baggini’s understanding of Hume on miracles and causality. It has some bearing on the present discussion. Admirable clarity in a subject which is like lifting mercury with a fork.

  49. Still with this ‘anthropic principle’ red herring? The trouble is, even if we agree that there is something that needs to be explained (and Beale conceded upthread that there wasn’t when he accepted that the universe could well be ‘self-existent’ and would, therefore, not need any self-existent predecessor) , the argument from anthopic principle to god is self-refuting.

    If the argument is that conditions of nature have to be so incredibly delicately balanced to permit life that the existence of a creator is required to explain the coincidence, then it is implicit that creator must have been constrained to balance the forces of nature in just this way in order to allow life which means that the creator is bound by the laws of nature which must logically precede his or her existence, which in turn means that the problem hasn’t gone away: why are the laws of nature such that a creator must balance them in the delicate way that we see them balanced in order to permit life?

  50. John: you seem a bit confused.
    a. I don’t say the universe “could well” be self-existent. SImply that it is not (obviously) logically contradictory to suppose that it is.
    b. The argument is that the presently-known set of laws & boundary conditions (L,B) has the property that very small changes of B (subsuming for convenience the dimensionless constants into B) would make the universe non-anthropic.

    Of course a Loving Ultimate Creator can choose any (L,B) pair that (s)he wants, and is only constrained by the laws of logic.

    Pretty well every serious scientist who studies this issue realises that it is a problem, and the consensus at the moment is that the only viable “solution” is an enormously profligate multiverse. Read Martin Rees on the subject.

  51. Nicholas: Why are you so sure that an omnipotent God must be constrained by the laws of logic? By the way, does our loving God create good and evil according to her Will or is She constrained by the ethical principles of good and evil?

  52. Sorry that was an informal way of saying what should more accurately be expressed as “the laws of logic constrain what we can meaningfully say about God”.

    The problem of evil is too big for this blog, but the moment you have the possibility of people freely choosing to love/do good you have the possibility of freely choosing not to love/to do evil. And the moment you endow creation with the possibility of “freely” developing according to deep laws like those of physics and biology then the same laws that enable the emergence of beings that are free to choose to love entail the existence of disease and disaster. It does seem to be a package deal: we cannot have the freedom to love without suffering.

    Christians would add that God is not simply a spectator in this suffering, but takes it on Himself and transcends it. And that love is of infinite value, whereas suffering, though real and horrible, is finite.

    In the end it depends on a fundamental perspective that love is at the heart of the universe. And that utlimately matter and energy arise from love, and not vice-versa. You may not share this perspective, but it is certainly coherent, and offers (whether you want to accept it or not) explanations for many puzzling aspects of life that lie beyond science.

  53. Hi Amos,
    Wow, that’s an interesting thought, god not being constrained by logic. Of course, why would she be, but what would it even mean in this context? Is logic necessary for the existence of the universe? I don’t see why. In fact it necessary for lesser life forms than intelligent ones?
    As to your second question, you know god is not constrained by anything, that’s part of the neat thing about being god.

  54. Is love not better explained in evolutionary terms?

  55. Well schematically there are two possibilities:
    1. LUC ->Matter/Energy +(Love, Morality,Reason etc..)->Persons
    2. Matter/Energy ->Persons->(L, M, R etc..)
    Neither seems logically impossible. (1) answers many questions that (2) leaves un-answered, but of course the answers could be wrong. As with any metaphysical question, in the end you have to choose.

  56. Forgive me – what are the unanswered questions from (2)? And how does (1) account for the conditionality of pretty much everything we feel and think following say drugs, brain damage, dementia etc.

    For example, it seems inconsistent to say a ‘loving’ creator would give someone the experience of love, and then put in place a mechanism which strips that person of all the functions which allow them to have that love in the first place (I’m thinking dementia here, as an example). If it were true that such a being devised such a nasty plan, I’d feel rather angry and not entirely sure I would want to obey him or her anyway.

    There’s something slightly insulting about any attempt to justify this sort of stuff from a religious perspective.

  57. Faust.

    Could you explain why “A materialist taking as basic fact the existence of matter” is a caricature?

    Because it contrasts the theist with a “materialist” who believes in “matter”. This is not entirely false but then again caricatures are not entirely false, just simplistic and focusing on aspects of the caricaturee that make them look funniest.
    It is a caricature because
    (1) The existence of matter is not taken as a basic fact in any thick sense. What “matter” is is up for investigation, and in fact, we find it is not what we intuitively think it is at all.
    (2) The atheist’s world view does not revolve around matter. We do not generally consult the nature of matter when thinking about how to live, or what is important. God therefore holds a very different place in the theist’s worldview to matter in the atheists, which is why it is somewhat misleading to contrast the two.

  58. Tempted to suggest reading QoT. In brief:

    a. Unanswered Qs include: where does M/E come from? Why is it so fine-tuned for life? Why is reason so effective? Why do we have such a strong intuitions that Love and Morality and not epiphenomena?

    b. Dementia is just one more aspect of suffering and death, inevitable if we are to have freedom and life. It is horrible, but finite. Love is infinite. It really is “better to have loved and lost”.

  59. Nicholas

    we need to disentagle the idea of an “optional” belief…. This does not (of course) settle the question of whether God exists, but it settles the absurd idea that it doesn’t matter.

    It is optional because we can get along perfectly well without it. Properly “properly basic” beliefs, such as the fact that we exist, that things cause other things, etc, are literally indispensable.
    The view that God’s existence or non-existence does not matter is quite different from the view that belief in him is optional, in this sense. Let’s not confuse the two.

  60. My last post was of course in reply to Paul. I largely agree with Julian’s – though “over-simplistic” would I think be more accurate that “caricature”. Of course God turns out not to be what people thought either….

  61. Out of sequence, but I’m curious…

    If a LUC exists then (s)he is unlikely to be incompetent and will therefore have some communication with the people (s)he loves. So if (s)he exists it’s reasonable to suspect that at least one of the major religions has a substantial core of truth.

    But the LUC does not have some communication with (all) the people she loves, assuming that ‘the people she loves’ refers to humanity as a whole. The LUC does not have some communication with me, for example; why should I be left out? And in fact the claim that a LUC would have some communication with (all) the people she loves would make it seem quite unreasonable to suspect that only one of the major religions has a substantial core of truth, or that that core of truth was limited to religions. Why would a LUC limit such truth to one religion, or to religion as opposed to non-religion? Why would a LUC not make the communication universal? Chopping things up that way seems the opposite of loving, for a variety of reasons, including the exclusion of some from the communication and the bloodshed and misery caused by competing religions over the centuries.

  62. But not with Julian’s latest :-). On the Atheist worldview we can get along without belief in God, but not on the Christian worldview. So I’m afraid you’re begging the question (in the correct sense of the term)

  63. I have come late to this discussion, so I’m not going to try going back to the beginning, but just taking the two options that Nicholas provides:

    1. LUC ->Matter/Energy +(Love, Morality,Reason etc..)->Persons
    2. Matter/Energy ->Persons->(L, M, R etc..)

    Supposing that the LUC is a person, it’s strange that such a being should take such a round about way to create persons. And, with Paul, I wonder what the unanswered questions are in (2). With (1) we’ve got to make a big leap to the LUC, which I suspect is inconsistent with the amount of evil in the world and the particular way in which the LUC has decided to create persons. But with (2) I can’t see where the questions arise, and why we can’t just accept it as the way it is. After all, we’re here.

    Perhaps I’m just dense about these things, and I’ve heard Dawkins say that the Anthropic Principle really does capture something. If there is something ‘goldilocks’ about our existence, why does this matter? We’re here? So the universe must have the characteristics necessary for us being here. The constants are what they are. How does it help to say that there is a LUC that sets the constants in order for us to be here. Isn’t that (the portion in italics) a much bigger assumption than just taking things as they are?

    Besides that, I do have a question, arising from Jeremy’s review in the FT. Here’s the quote:

    Beale explains that Adam and Eve represent the first morally conscious human beings, not a couple brought into existence out of thin air. Whether this is an adequate defence of Genesis or not, it is at least consistent with the scientific story of homo sapiens’ evolution.

    I don’t see that this is possibly an adequate defence of Genesis. This assumes something that is almost impossibly unlikely, that there was a particular first morally conscious couple (that is, a man and a woman). I should have thought that moral consciousness was something that evolved within a group, at the very least, of conscious members of homo sapiens. I don’t think Genesis can be let off the hook this easily.

  64. Where does M/E come from?
    – Don’t know

    Why is it so fine-tuned for life?
    – Don’t know

    Why is reason so effective?
    – Helps us survive?

    Why do we have such a strong intuitions that Love and Morality and not epiphenomena?
    – I don’t share your intuition, and I don’t know if it really matters if they are epiphenomena. It doesn’t change the authority they hold over me (and I think the term is quite misleading in the context). If others do share your intuition, then perhaps it’s because of centuries of religious conditioning (classical and operant).

  65. Ophelia: of course God communicates with you. But he doesn’t force you to listen or respond. That is freedom – and love.

    Eric: Almost every fundamental truth about the universe seems “strange”. As for Adam & Eve: it would’t make any real difference if the set of first morally conscious human beings was >2. In Biblical language individuals can stand for groups. But most great breakthroughs occur first to one or two people.

  66. Nicholas: Actually, above when I asked if God was constrained by good and evil, I was citing the so-called Euthyphro question, not the problem of evil.
    The Euthyphro question, as you probably know, asks whether the good is good because God wills it to be good (thus, God, being omnipotent, could will murder to be good, as Abraham discovers) or whether God wills what is good in itself and thus, good and evil are prior to God’s will.

    Ralph: God’s omnipotence is tricky. Could an omnipotent God create a rock so heavy that She could not life it?

  67. spelling error: the last sentence should read: Could an omnipotent God create a rock so heavy that she could not lift it?

  68. Julian,

    Thank you for unpacking the statement.

    I think I understand better what your thinking is here though I’m still not sure that simply saying “materialists take the existence of matter as a basic fact” is much of a caricature. What “matter” is might be up for investigation, but “matter” is just the heuristic label that we give to the “thing” or “collection of things” that underly everything (It’s “things” all the way down!). So yes a thick(er) description would say something more like “materialists believe that underlying all existent things are other things that have certain qualities and attributes and relate to each other in various ways and we call these various fundamental entities `matter'” but really…how much farther have we gotten here other than to say that materialists believe that “things” are complicated? Saying theists believe in the existence of a divine creator could also be a “caricature” if the standard for non-caricature is “thick description.”

    As for 2), Ok fair enough. I think this is perhaps really what you were trying to get at. God is extemely important in a theistic worldview, however, in a materialist world view the mere fact that “matter” is the source of everything does not then have automatic implications for what we should value and how we should live. So “matter” is not the metaphorical “god” of materialists, even if it is the most fundamental “thing.” The theist would argue that the ABSENSE of God has huge implications for materialists (I think this is what Beale was getting at with the Tsunami and the beach), but the materialist does not (necessarily) think that the mere fact of of the existence of “matter” has any automatic implications for what we should value or what is important, and is also not concerned with the absence of God (or at least holds we can get along just fine without him or her).

  69. Amos: As we explain in QoT (Q15) Euthrypo is not a problem for Christianity, though it is for abstract theism.
    “so heavy that an omnipotent being could not lift it” is a term like “the largest prime”. It is a logical impossibility and refers to nothing.

  70. Well, Nicholas, now we are becoming facile. You say:

    Almost every fundamental truth about the universe seems “strange”.

    But this isn’t a fundamental truth about the universe. If it’s a truth at all, it’s a truth about God (or the LUC), and about why a LUC would create in such an incredibly wasteful and cruel way. And this is more than just strange. It’s fine to squeak out of the problem of explanation by saying that the LUC is self-existent by definition, but you can’t keep using this escape route. At some point what the LUC does has got to make sense, even if its being self-existent isn’t. And, as Darwin properly noted, I think, natural selection is a particularly odd way for an LUC to go about creating life (especially if the ‘L’ stands for something).

    As for Adam and Eve and the breakthrough to moral consciousness, my guess, since moral consciousness is still something of a problem for many if not most people, is that this is something that took place in a group or in a group of groups over a long period. The idea that there was a couple or a group to which the story in Genesis applies is really quite far fetched. It’s quite clearly an anti-myth, in which human beings learned to disparage themselves, and cringe impotently before the almighty (the LUC if you like), and ever since has fed the trope that we shouldn’t play god – which of course we do all the time to some good purpose. But suggesting that the story in some sense is compatible with the scientific account of the evolution of homo sapiens is surely straining at a gnat and swallowing a rather bigger bug.

  71. But, Nicolas, you affirmed above that God was not constrained by the laws of logic, so the problem of whether an omnipotent God could create a rock so heavy that he could not lift it remains.

  72. Nicholas,
    I don’t see the analogy between “the largest prime” and god creating a rock too heavy for her to lift. I hope you don’t have any more time lines with a beginning up your sleeve.

  73. My previous post should read “infinite time lines.”

  74. No, Amos, if you look, what Nicholas in fact says is that God is constrained only by the laws of logic.

  75. Eric: No, I called Nicholas on that and he corrected himself, affirming that God is not constrained by the laws of logic; only our understanding of God is constrained by said laws in Nicholas’s opinion.

  76. Nicholas,
    Here’s a reasonable analogy to
    “so heavy that an omnipotent being could not lift it”
    A weight lifter can lift 300 lbs. She puts 500 lbs. on the weight bar and is unable to lift it. Perfectly logical.

  77. Ophelia: of course God communicates with you. But he doesn’t force you to listen or respond. That is freedom – and love.

    Nicholas, oh come on. What does it mean to say God communicates with me when I am completely unaware of any such communication? Why is my experience and my testimony not to be trusted? How could your claim be falsified? What kind of communication is it that is entirely undetectable to the communicatee?

    I suppose it’s some special kind of goddy communication that one can’t detect unless one has ‘opened her heart’ or some such. But how is that distinguishable from confirmation bias and just plain wishful thinking?

    Does it worry you that there’s something a trifle…insulting, or presumptuous, about informing people that they have had an experience that they say they have not had?

    And what does it mean to say that is freedom and love, anyway? If parents sequestered themselves away from their children from the moment of the children’s birth so thoroughly that the children were entirely unaware of any communication from their parents at all, and grew up in a verminous orphanage – would that be freedom and love?

    And why is the claim that God does communicate with me despite my total lack of awareness of such communication but that he doesn’t force me to listen or respond and that that’s freedom and love, not just a way to respond to the fact that God doesn’t ‘communicate’ in the straightforward way that friends and relations do? Why is it not just a desperate cover story?

  78. Eric: Is your “point” that the universe may be complex and suprising where fundmental truths are strange but God can not be??

    Ralph: God is not exactly “constrained by logic” but whether a sequence of words signifies anything is. “God does not know the largest prime” is not a limit to God’s omniscience because the term “the largest prime” denotes nothing. Similarly “a rock so heavy that an omnipotent being cannot lift it” denotes nothing.

    Ophelia: Surely you have heard of Jesus of Nazareth?

    A really fundamental difficulty that a lot of atheists seem to have is that they don’t seriously consider the possibility that Christianity is true (shorthand, I know, but bear with me, this is only a blog). So people often argue: “C => X, not X, therefore not C” when either X is something that is not implied by C (usually C-philosophers have not been suggesting X for >>100 years, c/f Ralph) or “not X” turns out to be “A => not X” which begs the question.

    I’d hope that everyone on this blog would (at least on reflection) agree that if C is true then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a genuine communication from God.

  79. A really fundamental difficulty that a lot of atheists seem to have is that they don’t seriously consider the possibility that Christianity is true

    I never do consider the possibility that Christianity is true, because to be perfectly honest, much of it makes literally no sense to me. It would be like considering the possibility that roundsquareism were true.

    However, I do think it’s worth considering the possibility that theism is true. The bare bones of monotheism can at least be mentally grasped.

    I’d hope that everyone on this blog would (at least on reflection) agree that if C is true then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a genuine communication from God.

    If C is true…well, as I said, I don’t really get what I’d be supposing. But OK, I’ll try. Maybe if Christianity true, the “life death and resurrection” is the way God communicates to Christians. But surely not to non-Christians. Surely if there’s a god he’s smart enough to communicate in different ways depending on the “receiver.”

    How about the idea that God sends little moments of joy or illumination or something to atheists? If he exists, that is…(and I think not). Of course, we atheists don’t interpret these missives as being anything of the kind. But I think you could say they “get through” anyway if they have the right effect.

    I think atheists ought to like this picture. It makes non-belief cost free, even supposing there is a god. Which makes good sense, since non-belief is not a sin.

  80. It does seem extraordinary to be teaching philosophy at Southern Methodist University and not giving any serious consideration to the possibility of Christianity being true. It is, forgive me, completely ridiculous to compare it to “roundsquareism”. A great many people much smarter and better educated than you (or me) seriously believe in Christianity – no-one believes in roundsquareism.

    Do you seriously think there is some fundamental logical contradiction in Christianity which you have seen and has eluded almost everyone else? Even Dawkins does not imagine this. Have you published this earth-shattering insight??

    Why not read QoT – write a detailed critique of it, and see how we go from there.

  81. Nicholas, you are a shifty character! I objected that when you compared the two options, the LUC seems to have chosen a very strange way to create persons, namely, by way of natural selection, which is, as Darwin noted, wasteful and cruel. You responded by saying that ‘every fundamental truth about the universe seems strange.’ I pointed out that the LUC axiom was not a fundamental truth about the universe. So you reply by asking:

    Is your “point” that the universe may be complex and suprising where fundmental truths are strange but God can not be??

    See what I mean by shifty?!

    However, the presumption behind postulating an LUC is that this makes the existence of the universe more, and not less, intelligible, less, and not more, strange. But if you take your two options:

    1. LUC ->Matter/Energy +(Love, Morality,Reason etc..)->Persons
    2. Matter/Energy ->Persons->(L, M, R etc..)

    option 2. seems less strange than option 1. Indeed, natural selection seems triply strange, since, first, as Locke believed, (it at least seems that) design presupposes mind. That’s why creationists have such a deal of difficulty with evolution. But as if that weren’t strange enough, now we are supposed to think that a mind actually chose to create in a way that doesn’t presuppose a mind, and, in fact, seems to be a way of creating that is precisely the opposite of something a loving creator would choose. Now, surely, that’s a level of strangeness that we shouldn’t have expected, and could quite easily do without, since option 1. is quite intelligible on its own terms.

    But you will no doubt throw Jesus of Nazareth at me, as you have done with both Ophelia and Jean. Jesus of Nazareth, however, only makes sense as a communication, if the LUC makes sense. And since the amount of philosophy arguing the implausibility of the LUC is much richer now than it was in first century CE, and since the philosophers are much more educated in these matters than either you or me (if that move works for you it will work for me too!), the supposition of Jesus’ resurrection has more hurdles to jump before it can be thought to be a communication from God. In fact, given the state of the evidence – despite NT Wright’s weighty tome – it is much more reasonable to suppose that Jesus did not rise from the dead (in any of the many shifting senses of that word used by theologians) than to suppose that he did. (Hume’s argument is still very strong, I think.)

    You see, I used to believe all that stuff, and now am quite convinced that it cannot reasonably be held to be true. Indeed, the doctrine of the atonement, on which the whole meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death and supposed resurrection depends, is a very strong moral reason for holding it not to be true. This is the ‘fundamental logical contradiction in Christianity which … has eluded almost everyone else,’ because atonement theories depend on the idea that God has condemned everyone to an eternity of punishment, and yet has ‘lovingly’ chosen to save some. (Universalism is often suggested as a remedy, but was considered heretical for most of Christian history. And even taking universalism to be true, we still all deserve (according to atonement theory) to be punished eternally, and can only be saved by an event of, we are supposed to believe, infinite suffering – as only a god could do (see Anselm on that in Cur Deus Homo?).)

  82. I did proof-read it, but a mistake crept in. In the text immediately after the second blockquote, in the last sentence, ‘option 1.’ should read ‘option 2.’

  83. Eric: I thought you considered Evolution a strange way of creating humans. But in fact it seems to be the only way to create persons who are genuinely free to choose to love. It is sadly inevitable in an evolutionary world that there will be waste and cruelty. But infinite love is an overwhelmingly greater good than a finite amount of waste and cruelty.

    Some competent philosophers are Christian, others are atheist, others agnostic etc… All this shows that none of these views is contradictory.

    The point about atonement is not that God has condemned people, but that loving perfect union with God is non-trivial to achieve.

  84. This has just got to be wrong:

    … [evolution] seems to be the only way to create persons who are genuinely free to choose to love.

    That suggests that it is (logically) impossible for God to have created genuinely free beings in another way. (It also makes assumptions about freedom and love that could be questioned.) After all, God has always been assumed to have created angels. Preposterous or not, they are assumed to be free beings, since some, at least, freely chose to disobey God. This seems to presuppose that it would not be impossible to create free beings in a less wasteful way.

    Second. To suppose that

    infinite love is an overwhelmingly greater good than a finite amount of waste and cruelty

    is possibly one of the most morally callous things that I have ever seen in print. To quote D.Z. Phillips:

    Philosophizing about the problem of evil has become commonplace. Theories, theodicies and defences abound, all seeking either to render unintelligible, or to justify, God’s ways to human beings. Such writing should be done in fear: fear that in our philosophizings we will betray the evils that people have suffered, and, in that way, sin against them. Betrayal occurs every time explanations and justifications of evils are offered which are simplistic, insensitive, incredible or obscene. [The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (p. xi)]

    What you wrote seems to me simplistic, insensitive, indredible and obscene. I am left gasping for breath, wondering how such a wicked thing could possibly be said, and yet there it is on my screen, in black and white!!!

    It is because it is possible for Christians to believe such a thing that leads me, in the end, to repudiate it as the most arrogant and silly, at the same time as it is the most callous and cruel, nonsense. Theology, as a Jewish writer has said, has to make sense in the presence of burning children. You fell at the first hurdle, and not only is it callous and cruel, what you have said is also dangerous, since it has led Christians to justify cruelty to people for the sake of some higher good. (Finite waste and cruelty for an overwhelmingly greater good.) I can scarcely believe that you actually wrote those words, but to mean them is beyond telling terrible!

  85. Some remarks:

    – At least in some sense, much of our best science shows the universe (not our hubble volume, which “began” at the big bang) is eternal: the conservation laws are not of the form “E = const except …” This does not entail that any particular thing in the universe is such, however.

    – There was no singularity: singularity is a property of the equations that describe the early expansion, not the world itself.

    – Matter and energy are not interchangable: a semantic analysis of any equation in physics involving energy would tell you this, as first performed by Maxwell long before bad (at least in this respect) physics books involving relativity confused the issue. What Einstein’s famous equation actually says is that energy and mass are (sometimes).

    – The “fine tuning” thing is a nonstarter, if only because improbable events do happen. Moreover, “creating everything except itself …” is special pleading.

  86. Eric: resorting to insults is always a sign that you have run out of arguments. Of course blog posts are “shorthand” so simplistic in that sense. Read QoT and then we can have a useful discussion. In the meantime, just becasue you don’t believe something doesn’t mean it is irrational.

    Keith: sometimes you believe the equations (E=..) and sometimes you don’t?? Also the concept of an Ultimate Creator is not “special pleading”, and “improbable events happen” could “explain away” any inconvenient observation. Your beliefs are not wholly unreasonable (though I think they are mistaken) but you need to understand and accept that mine aren’t either. As Julian says, “overconfident atheists” should read QoT.

  87. Nicholas – I have a few questions for you based upon your comments so far:

    1) If you believe that the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental physical constants strongly implies intelligent design of our universe (which I don’t, by the way), then please demonstrate how the fine-tuning argument leads to the conclusion that this inscrutible designer is the Christian God in particular, as opposed to any number of other conceivable natural or supernatural designers.

    2) If you believe that God has communicated with you, then please explain what measures you have taken to rule out the possibility that this apparent communication was not merely a natural product of your own mind.

    3) Following on from the previous question. If we assume for the sake of argument that you have found some reliable way to rule out a natural mental explanation for the communication, then how can you be so sure that the communication came from the Christian God in particular (as opposed to some highly advanced alien life form, or from some evil demon that is trying to deceive you, for example)?

    4) If we assume for the sake of argument that the communication did actually come from some entity that believes itself to be God, then how can you be so sure that this entity is not itself being deceived by some evil demon into incorrectly believing that it is God?

    5) What evidence or argument would ever convince you that God probably doesn’t exist?

  88. Nick:
    Of course all these arguments are indicative rather than conclusive, and I’ll give shorthand versions (read QoT for longer ones).
    1. God is not incompetent, so one of the major religions is probably broadly true.
    2. Jesus of Nazareth is certainly not a product of my mind.
    3. (a) see (1) (b) “you shall know them by their fruits” (c) this is solipsistic stuff.
    4. same as 3.
    5. I don’t know. How can you prove the non-existence of someone you experience? Have you ever loved anyone you can no longer touch or see? You can almost never specify in advance what evidence would convince you of a counter-factual.

  89. It does seem extraordinary to be teaching philosophy at Southern Methodist University and not giving any serious consideration to the possibility of Christianity being true. It is, forgive me, completely ridiculous to compare it to “roundsquareism”. A great many people much smarter and better educated than you (or me) seriously believe in Christianity – no-one believes in roundsquareism.

    Do you seriously think there is some fundamental logical contradiction in Christianity which you have seen and has eluded almost everyone else? Even Dawkins does not imagine this. Have you published this earth-shattering insight??

    Why not read QoT – write a detailed critique of it, and see how we go from there.

    SMU is nominally Methodist. There’s no requirement to take Christianity seriously.

    Yes, I think Christianity is chock full of nonsense. Uh, I don’t think I’m the first person to have noticed this. Think Tolstoy and Thomas Jefferson, just to name some obvious critics. I do recall some pretty intense derision in The God Delusion.

    One example of nonsense–the idea of the trinity–that the very same individual is both father and son. How could I even momentarily suppose that’s true? What would I be supposing to be true? I haven’t the slightest idea.

    Other bits of Christian doctrine are not so much a logical mess as just wildly strange. Like the idea that by allowing himself to be crucified, Jesus saved someone. Or that by just believing that this was the case, I can be saved. Or the idea that there’s some deep sinfulness from which I need to be saved.

    I don’t take all this stuff seriously enough to be able to warrant spending my time attacking it. That will seem dogmatic to you, but it really isn’t reprehensible. Anyone can come along and demand attention be paid to their religious beliefs. It just can’t be a rational person’s duty to take the time to respond to all comers. There has to be an initial screening process–this is worth taking seriously, this isn’t.

  90. Thanks for answering my questions Nicholas. I would reply thus:

    1) That answer appears to beg the question, as you are assuming what you are attempting to prove by means of this argument (i.e. that God exists). Why could the intelligent designer implied by the fine-tuning argument not be a purely natural one?

    2) True but irrelevent. The existence of Jesus as a historical person (with or without any of the supernatural elements) does not preclude the possibility that your apparent communications were merely natural products of your mind.

    3) a) Begging the question again. b) logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent. God’s existence might possibly entail certain communications, but the converse is not true. c) Yes – so how do you rule it out?

    4) I don’t think that you have given a satisfactory answer to this.

    5) So, nothing would falsify your God theory then? If a theory cannot be falsified by any means, then how can you ever determine if it is true or not?

  91. Jean: You live in a country where 80% of adults, including your President and 90% of your legislators, say they are Christians. Yet you seem to have no idea what they believe (you obviously have no idea what the doctrine of the Trinity is) – and don’t want to take it seriously enough to find out. An odd kind of “philosopher”. Certainly no-one should not take your views on Christianity seriously until you find out what it actually teaches.

    1. I thought you were asking “why do you think the Ultimate Creator is the Christian God”. It is, of course, logically possible that this universe was created by aliens who themselves …. frankly this is teenage stuff and genuniely not worth taking seriously since no-one seriously believes it.
    2. Think about what communication in a person means.
    3. look up “you shall know them by their fruits”. And remember these are not knock-down arguments but short responses to your questions.
    4. When you understand (3) you will understand (4)
    5. Can we leave tired old tropes out of this. (a) I didn’t say nothing could falsify (b) Popper’s ideas only apply (to the extent that they do) to rather simple scientific questions. If you can tell me how to falsify the existence of quarks, electrons, love or other minds then I might re-open that discussion.

  92. Well, Nicholas. What I said might have been ad hominem, but not because I had run out of arguments. There are lots, at least when it comes to reasonable arguments regarding the existence of evil (vide infra). It was an absolutely overhwhelming sense of the offensiveness of what you said in the light of all the suffering that exists that simply left me, not speechless, obviously, but so deeply, personally, hurt, that I could not but take offence. (I think Phillips’ warning is a fair one, and you should take it to heart. Nor is the sense of offence, or remarking on it, necessarily purely ad hominem either.)

    For the truth is, you see, that your argument covers any finite amount of suffering, and that could be such a staggerlingly huge amount as to make your argument totally meaningless to a suffering finite being. To my knowledge no one has really been so callous as to suppose that there is not some second order, but yet not infinite goodness, that does not redeem the suffering of this world. To hold that all the suffering of this finite realm is redeemed by a suppositious infinite goodness is simply beyond the realm of reasonable argument.

    You have not given me one reason to read your book, not yet. It is true that blogs must be telegraphic (if that adjective makes any sense now), but they don’t need to be quite this simplistic. You can’t just say this. You have to give a reason for saying it, even a short one.

    Added to that, I cannot understand your frequent resort to the argument to the authority of numbers of believers (or educated thinkers). Until Darwin, no one got the development of life right; until Newton, everyone was wrong about motion. And as for the trinity, not even theologians agree. And, by the way, I think I know a way to falsify infinite love! This world is, I think, a standing falsification of that claim. But in a more mundane sense, I think it would not be hard to falsify the claim that ‘A loves B’, given sufficient knowledge of their relationship, and even in the face of A’s continuing insistence that he does. There are lots of B’s who have reasonably come to the conclusion that they are not loved by (their particular) A. As for quarks, not being a physicist, I can’t say, but I should have thought that physicists could think of results which would disprove the existence of them. But here I speak from ignorance.

  93. Nicholas –

    1) Whether anyone believes it or not has no direct bearing upon its truth or otherwise, but that’s by the by. However, let’s get to the crux of the matter here. Even if the fine-tuning argument is taken to be sound (which I don’t think that it is), it merely leads to the conclusion that our universe was created by some powerful and knowledeable (but not necessarily omnipotent and omniscient), but otherwise inscrutible designer. It is a huge and unjustified leap to conclude that this designer is necessarily the Christian God. So, I think that the fine-tuning argument does far less work for you than you seem to believe. If you think that you can justify the conclusion that the fine-tuning argument does entail the existence of God, then let’s please see this justification.

    2) I don’t understand what your answer means. However, why do you think that it is more plausible that your apparent communication (which I presume takes place inside your head i.e. it is not directly audible or visible to people or instruments around you) is from God and is not merely a natural product of your own mind? If you grant that people do sometimes experience such mental abberations, then how can you be so sure that yours don’t fit into this category?

    If God does exist, then you might expect such communications. However, the existence of these communications doesn’t entail the existence of God, as they might be much more plausibly explained as delusions.

    3) So, you agree that you can never know that any such communication, even if not a product of your own mind, actually comes from God?

    5) You are the one making the claim here (that God exists), so you tell me how you might falsify that theory. If you cannot formulate your theory in such a way that it makes testable predictions, then how have you determined that it is likely to be true? Furthermore, if any apparently failed prediction can be explained away by the introduction of some additional ad hoc element to your theory (such as theodicies), then it would seem that you have a theory can can never be falsified.

  94. Nick

    I’m afraid you are confused about the nature of the arguments here. Read my debate with Colin Howson. This is not about A entails B, it is about comparing two worldviews and assesing the likelihoods of different observations.

    Worldviews are not “theories that make testable predictions” in the sense that simple scientific hypotheses are. If you don’t understand Christianity you should try to learn about it before trying to make philosophical arguments about it.

    Point (3) is simple sollipsism – there is a sense in which you can never “know” whether any communication purporting to come from X has come from X. But it is not a very useful sense. If you want to make the trivial point that you can be sceptical about anything I of coure concede it – but that says nothnig whatever about the consistency of Christianity.

    I’d be delighted if I could convince you that Christianity was true, of course. But my more modest aim is to show that it is not irrational – even if pretty fully informed about modern science.

  95. Jean: You live in a country where 80% of adults, including your President and 90% of your legislators, say they are Christians. Yet you seem to have no idea what they believe (you obviously have no idea what the doctrine of the Trinity is) – and don’t want to take it seriously enough to find out. An odd kind of “philosopher”. Certainly no-one should not take your views on Christianity seriously until you find out what it actually teaches.

    All of your responses to my comments have included one ad hominem or another. You need to break the habit. The issue is not how I teach my philosophy classes, or the fact that I teach at SMU, or how much I have read. The issue is whether there’s really a coherent body of doctrine that one could suppose to be true, if one were interested in supposing that Christanity is true. I don’t know what it means to suppose that there’s one entity that’s both father and son. Please, don’t pretend that’s not a tenet of Christianity. We both know that it is.

  96. Probably the least misleading way of thinking about the Trinity which consists of three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is to consider a very loving and united family and then try to extrapolate this to an infinite degree. The classic formulations talk about “neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance” and it is never taught that the Father is the Son or the Son is the Father.

    The fundamental idea is that Love is at the heart of God, and Love doesn’t really make sense unless there is a beloved, but that perfect love leads to perfect unity. Of course this is difficult stuff and human language is inadequate – but in many ways it’s similar to quarks and the Standard Model. Read John Polkinghorne’s Quantum Physics and Theology, an Un-Expected Kinship to explore this further.

  97. But if Christianity is monotheistic, then this just won’t do The father must literally be the son. Separate things that are loving and united “to an infinite degree” are still separate things.

    But say that I go with your formulation, even though I think it’s polytheistic. And say I’m willing to suppose Christianity is true. I still don’t really know what I’m supposing. OK, so there’s this infinitely loving and united family, part of which created the universe, and part of which was born 2009 years ago, etc. etc. (By the way, why isn’t the mother part of the loving family? Why did she get left out, and the holy ghost get included?) So…what if? I have no idea, because I really can’t wrap my mind around that supposition.

    Look, if these things speak to you, I bear you no ill will. I’m not actually hostile to people who are religious. In fact, I am happy to rub shoulders with them and make common cause, when possible. I don’t think, though, that I am under any obligation to take seriously what you take seriously.

    I’m completely confident that there are many religious ideas you don’t take seriously–how about those 30 million “atmans” supposedly packed into ever cow? Are you really prepared to take Hindu ideas seriously?

    I doubt it. So you really shouldn’t expect Christian doctrine to be taken seriously by non-Christians.

  98. there is a sense in which you can never “know” whether any communication purporting to come from X has come from X. But it is not a very useful sense. If you want to make the trivial point that you can be sceptical about anything I of coure concede it

    Ah – then how do you know that which you asserted to me? – that

    of course God communicates with you. But he doesn’t force you to listen or respond. That is freedom – and love.

    I’m not even in receipt of any communication purporting to come from God. There are stories which believers purport to be communication from God, but the communication itself does not purport to come from God. When I read Matthew there is no emanation floating up from the page whispering ‘This is a communication from God.’

  99. Nicholas – I think that it is you who might be confused here.

    If you are “comparing two worldviews and assesing the likelihoods of different observations”, then what are you doing if not determining based upon the set of basic beliefs and hypotheses that make up your worldview whether particular observations should pertain or not? In order to do that, you need to make predictions about what one would expect to observe, and what one would not expect to observe, if one’ s worldview is true, and look to see if those predictions are met or not. One does that by looking both at individual components of one’s worldview, as well as the interelated whole.

    So, as the expert on Christianity here, why don’t you tell me what observations one would expect to observe if Christianity is true, and what you not expect to observe if it is true? Here are a few examples for starters:

    1) Due to God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, one would expect no more suffering to exist in the world than is absolutely necessary. Do you think that this prediction is met? I rather think not. The amount of suffering that exists in the world (both natural and man-made, human and animal), and has existed throughout all known history, would seem to be vastly more than this minimum.

    2) Some Christians believe that a merciful and compassionate God wants us all to be saved. If this is the case, then God would be expected to provide clear and unambiguous information about his message to all humans, as this is necessary for salvation. Has this prediction been met? Clearly not, as many humans have never heard this message, and others have chosen to reject it as the supporting evidence is ambiguous at best.

    3) God would be expected to create the type of universe that Paul thought we lived in. In other words, to quote Richard Carrier, “a universe with no evidence of such a vast age or of natural evolution, a universe that contained instead abundant evidence that it was created all at once just thousands of years ago. A universe that wasn’t so enormous and that had no other star systems or galaxies, but was instead a single cosmos of seven planetary bodies and a sphere full of star lights that all revolve around an Earth at the center of God’s creation–because that Earth is the center of God’s love and attention. A complete cosmos whose marvelously intricate motions had no other explanation than God’s will, rather than a solar system whose intricate motions are entirely the inevitable outcome of fixed and blind forces. A universe comprised of five basic elements, not over ninety elements, each in turn constructed from a dizzying array of subatomic particles. A universe governed by God’s law, not a thoroughly amoral physics. A universe inhabited by animals and spirits whose activity could be confirmed everywhere, and who lived in and descended from outer space–which was not a vacuum, but literally the ethereal heavens, the hospitable home of countless of God’s most marvelous creatures (both above and below the Moon)–a place Paul believed human beings could live and had actually visited without harm.”

    Is this the type of universe that we observe? Certainly not. Another failed prediction.

    Whilst it is possible to reconcile these failed observations with the Christian worldview, this is achieved only by introducing a plethora of totally ad-hoc (and unproven) elements in order to explain away the apparent failures. This can be done indefinitely, but it then becomes a worldview that is totally imprevious to observations of the world around us, as the basic beliefs and hypotheses that make up the worldview will be changed or added to until there is no longer a conflict.

    Moreover, the Christian worldview makes a number of claims. Firstly, God exists. Apart from merely saying, the universe exists therefore God exists, how would you attempt to prove this? This fine-tuning argument is one attempt that you alluded to, but I have shown why this is inadequate. You believe that you have received communications from God, but I have pointed out the problems with that idea. Of course, there are many other arguments, but they all suffer from serious flaws, as I’m sure you know. In fact, there failure is such that I don’t even think that they build a cumulative case.

    Secondly, and perhaps Christianity’s most important claim: faith in Jesus Christ procures eternal life. Where is your evidence that this is so? Can you point to a single proven case of this prediction coming true? Can you show a single believer in Jesus actually enjoying eternal life? I could go on and on.

    I’m afraid there is little chance of your convincing me that Christianity is true, as evidence and reason has convinced me that it is manifestly false. In my view it is just another false worldview, to add to the huge scrapheap of other false worldviews that humanity has believed in (and an infinite number of conceivable worldviews that would have as much or more claim to be true as Christianity does). I don’t know that I would go as far as to describe Christianity as irrational, but I think it is implausible, lacking in parsimony, and has little explanatory scope or power. Therefore I reject it.

  100. Jean: You might think that is what Christianity ought to teach but it simply isn’t. Of course if someone is happy to be ignorant about the values and beliefs of the majority of his/her fellow citzens and the people who govern him/her no-one can force her/him to study them. But it is strange then to try to debate them philosophically.

    Ophelia: the sense of “know” as “that there is no possible question a sceptic could ask for which there isn’t a knock-down answer” is, as I stated and most readers will know, not a very useful sense. Almost nothing that anyone knows comes into this category.

    Do you get “emanations floating up from the page” in other communications you receive. What on earth has this got to do with anything??

    There is an interesting and quite subtle distinction between a record of a communication from X and a communicaton from X but if you are prepared to agree that under a wide range of circumstances a Record of a C. from X is a C. from X (for example you are reading a record of a C. from me) then there are clearly entities which purport to be communications from God on the Christian worldview. To which, as I say, you are not forced to listen or respond.

  101. Jean writes:

    I’m completely confident that there are many religious ideas you don’t take seriously–how about those 30 million “atmans” supposedly packed into ever cow? Are you really prepared to take Hindu ideas seriously?

    Where did you get that one? Never heard of it and I have studied the subject. Atman relates to the human identity. The Trinity – if you miss one more question you’ll be out. Go back to being bored with religion

  102. 2) Some Christians believe that a merciful and compassionate God wants us all to be saved. If this is the case, then God would be expected to provide clear and unambiguous information about his message to all humans, as this is necessary for salvation. Has this prediction been met? Clearly not, as many humans have never heard this message, and others have chosen to reject it as the supporting evidence is ambiguous at best.

    This of course is the background of my question. (It’s also the subject of my contribution to Voices of Disbelief, Blackwell 2009.) A compassionate God would be expected to provide clear and unambiguous information about its message to all humans; I for one have had no such thing; the claim that ‘of course’ I have except that it was not clear and unambiguous because God ‘doesn’t force you to listen’ because ‘That is freedom – and love’ looks to me like pure evasion, and I would love to know how one could tell it’s not.

    Nicholas’s reply to my disbelief was

    I’d hope that everyone on this blog would (at least on reflection) agree that if C is true then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a genuine communication from God.

    Certainly not. That is because the best of my knowledge and understanding is that the stories of Jesus are stories put together decades after his death by people who never knew him. Even if C is true, that remains the best of my knowledge and understanding. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth can’t be a genuine communication from God because the communication failed.

  103. Jean: You might think that is what Christianity ought to teach but it simply isn’t. Of course if someone is happy to be ignorant about the values and beliefs of the majority of his/her fellow citzens and the people who govern him/her no-one can force her/him to study them. But it is strange then to try to debate them philosophically.

    Oh my god, Nicholas has simply gone back to calling me ignorant! Unbelievable! Methinks he needs to learn a thing or two from his loving God…

    Michael, Now, now. I’m afraid you’re letting Mr. Beale influence you too much. I may be bored with religion, but it’s not for lack of studying it.

    Reference for the cow point:

    Lance Nelson, “Cows, Elephants, Dogs, and Other Lesser Embodiments of Atman: Reflections on Hindu Attitudes Toward Nonhuman Animals.” In A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. (very exhaustive book, full of good articles on religion and animals)

    Nelson reports what Hindus think partly based on extensive on-the-ground research. He writes: “Respondents in the holy city of Varanasi, where Brahmins can be found who faithfully perform go-puja (cow worship) confided: “We believe that 330 million Hindu gods live in every atom of the cow’s body.” (p. 180) [note: he says “we”]

    OK, it’s gods, not atman, and it’s 330 million in every atom. But I’d think there must be one atman per god. So in fact there are way more than 30 million atmans per cow (as I originally said). I underestimated.

    As to your claim that atman “relates to the human identity.” Note the title of the article.. Nelson says that atman is embodied “in plants as well as animals, not to speak of gods and other beings inhabiting other, ‘higher’ planes of existence.” (p. 182)

  104. “frankly this is teenage stuff and genuniely not worth taking seriously since no-one seriously believes it.”

    Can you tell me what proportion of the population need to believe in something for it to be taken seriously? If this is a valid argument then we can then apply the same standards to Christian belief and decide whether it is worth taking seriously.

    You’ll note, however, that surveys suggest between 10-25% of the UK population have had the experience of hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there at some point in their lives (e.g., Tien, 1991 – 1)

    A survey of 60,000 UK citizens found 50% believed in thought transference (telepathy) between two people, 25% believed in ghosts, 25% believed in reincarnation, 23% believed in horoscopes, 10% believe in Black Magic (Cox & Cowling, 1989 – 2). The same survey found 68% believed in God, but interestingly only 21% believed in the Devil (cake and eating it springs to mind!).

    Other surveys suggest 1 in 10 have held a belief they are being spied upon or are the victim of a conspiracy (see Freeman and Freeman, 2009, for a review – 3)

    The 2001 UK census results (4) suggests just over 50% state their religion as Christian, while a study commissioned by a Christian charity found 22% went to Church once a year (5). Behaviour is arguably a better indication of what people truly care about.


  105. Ophelia: you are still in effect saying “I assume Atheism – therefore Christianity is false”. And this “would be expected” trope is really a bit silly (can you give an example outside atheism where it is used with advantage?) Try, as an philosophical/intellectual excercise, to consider p(X|C) for a moment.

    If God provided the sort of “clear and unambiguous” communication you seem to demand (zapping all humans, incontrovertably stamped “SIGNED GOD”) then he would in effect be forcing people to believe. Jesus of Nazareth is quite clear and unambiguous enough: you have a simple choice and you are free to make it. The fact that hundreds of millions have chosen to accept this communication shows that it hasn’t “failed”. (We discuss universalism in QoT – John P is pretty much a universalist, I have an argument why in a sense it doesn’t matter)

    Jean: When I say you are ignorant of Christianity I don’t mean it as an insult. I am ignorant of (eg) the governance of SMU. What I find odd is for a philosopher to pontificate on a complex set of ideas that by their own admission they don’t take seriously and by their comments they clearly don’t understand.

    Also if I lived in a Hindu country I would take some time to try to understand Hinduism. If I worked as SMU I would try to understand how it worked. I am genuinely puzzled as to how you can do philosophy in such a highly “christian” country as the US and not try to understand christianity. But that’s your business, not mine.

  106. One thing that would probably help all of us understand Christianity and theology in general would be the presentation of the key ideas without obfuscation, constantly shifting goal-posts and appeals to dubious authority.

    If Timothy Keller’s ‘The Reason for God’ is an example of an attempt to define the Christian position in today’s world, then I am still waiting.

    (Jean, my last comment went into moderation. Probably because I put a few weblinks in it regarding the prevalence of unusual or irrational experiences and beliefs)

  107. Nicholas,

    You are committing ad hominem after ad hominem. It’s bad manners as well as bad philosophy. You make points, I reply to the points, then you start talking about what I teach, where I teach, what I supposedly know.

    Imagine me doing the same thing. What would it look like–just for purposes of illustration? Instead of responding to your points, I would point out that you are a management consultant. You have no philosophy degree, no theology degree. Essentially, you are Mr. Polkinghorne’s website manager, according to wikipedia.

    Now, I learned that about you the moment you came on this site, but I haven’t mentioned it…because that would be an ad hominem. I’d be discussing you instead of the issues. As I say, that’s bad philosophy as well as bad manners.

    And yet you have repeatedly done the equivalent. You’ve complained over and over again that I don’t know anything about Christianity, that I am woefully incurious about my fellow Americans, that as an SMU professor I ought to know about Methodism. It’s mostly been about me, not about my points.

    Now, I think the right response to an ad hominem is just to get back to the issues…basically to ignore it. I have done that again and again. But…finally…I give up. OK, let’s talk about me. I am actually pretty knowledgeable about Christianity having read many books and discussed Christian ideas with many Christians. I have taught philosophy of religion many times and I have written about religion pretty carefully and respectfully in a book.

    You supposed I wasn’t knowledgeable because I said the trinity was a near-unintelligble notion. Theologians have been struggling with the concept of the trinity since the very beginning of the doctrine. So it’s absurd to count my problems with it as evidence that I know nothing about Christianity.

    Anyhow, I’m tired of your absurdly presumptuous statements about what I have or haven’t tried to understand. I don’t know how things work in management consulting, but in philosophy people really do debate issues. If you can get the hang of that, do come back to TP and attempt another conversation.

  108. Nicholas, I don’t ‘demand’ anything, I simply don’t take words in a book to be a communication from God. I don’t see why I should, either – that is, I don’t see why it would be sensible or reasonable to do so.

    Jesus of Nazareth is quite clear and unambiguous enough:

    There is a book that contains sayings attributed to Jesus. There are other books that contain other sayings attributed to other people; some of them are considered gods or prophets or otherwise holy. I see no reason for me to take Jesus at face value. That’s not to ”assume” atheism, it’s just to refrain from assuming theism in this one place.

    The fact that hundreds of millions have chosen to accept this communication shows that it hasn’t “failed”.

    No it doesn’t. The communication has still failed me. I couldn’t believe it if I wanted to. You’re right that I don’t want to, but if I did I still couldn’t.

  109. “Jesus of Nazareth is quite clear and unambiguous enough…”

    And so was Moses, and Mohamed, and Buddha, and the authors of the Rig Veda, and Zoroaster, and Mani, and Lao Tzu, and the Ghost Dancers, and L. Ron Hubbard for that matter. And they all say completely different things. And in the end, in a universe 13 billion light-years across, on a planet 4.5 billion years old, in a body made up of elements spewed out of ancient supernovas, there’s really no reason to suppose that any of them actually had a clue about what it all means.

  110. “If God provided the sort of “clear and unambiguous” communication you seem to demand (zapping all humans, incontrovertably stamped “SIGNED GOD”) then he would in effect be forcing people to believe.”

    And then we’d have all sorts of riff-raff getting into heaven. The ones deserving of salvation are the truly virtuous who take a wild stab in the dark and just happen to get lucky!

  111. Ah, well, Jean, at least he didn’t ignore you! My last post zinged past him as though I were not here. (I know, he thinks I was abusive.) So I won’t address this to him. I still want to know the answer to the question that I asked there. How does infinite love become meaningful to a suffering finite being, if, in fact, any amount of finite suffering can be ‘redeemed’ (if that is the word) by infinite love? Or doesn’t it matter? I think it does. If Nicholas thinks the message is clear to millions of people, I think he has to explain how someone who is suffering – a child thrown into the fire at Auschwitz, say – can know this love. (And later, after death, doesn’t count; it’s theological Träumerei.) And just talking about Jesus obviously won’t do.

    To me that simply doesn’t compute, and I’d like to know how Nicholas computes it. It’s not even an argument, so far as I can tell, for he has so defined the problem of pain that there is no problem. Someone who knew the long history of this problem, including Job, for example, would recognise that more needs to be said than that infinite love takes care of everything.

    Nicholas keeps throwing Jesus of Nazareth at people, yet it is clear, from the accounts of Jesus in the gospels, that there are very different conceptions of what it means to be a communication from God.

    The gospel of John assumes that Jesus was the Word who was with God at the beginning (as in the wisdom tradition). Mark assumes that Jesus became son of God at the baptism. Matthew and Luke obviously think that the circumstances of his birth show him to have been divinely born. Paul, on the other hand, obviously thinks that Jesus became son of God at the resurrection. So the story is all over the place.

    Rather than being a clear communication, it is clearly garbled in transmission. Now, even if we were willing to grant Nicholas’ rather strange idea that a person can be a communication, and supposing that Jesus had made it very clear what the communication was about (and he doesn’t), it stands to reason that the message wouldn’t be so mixed up, prescinding from all the language about zapping someone and taking away from their freedom.

    A clear message would be one thing, but it’s quite clear that it isn’t that, and the early development of Christian doctrine is pretty good evidence that it wsn’t. Who is Jesus? No one really knows. Even though Nicea claims to clinch it with the clever word homoousion (instead of homoiousion) – how doctrine is decided with a vowel! – the question is still one for debate.

    No one knows what it means to speak of Jesus as the incarnation of God! No one! There are many different theologies of the incarnation, but none so obviously true that it will convince everyone. Most people who believe in the incarnation do so, not because they can understand it, but because it is part of the content of doctrine. It’s a form of words. So how could a message be received, unless, of course, you already know what message you would like to receive, and can turn Jesus into the favoured text. Any introductory text in Christian theology will make this very plain. I have an introduction to modern theology in which, I believe, fifteen different solutions are scouted. A message from God could surely be clearer than this without revoking someone’s freedom – and should be.

  112. Ah, Jakob, your post came in while I was busy with mine (always too long, I know!). But it is so poignant! Thank you!

  113. Eric, I don’t really know what has made NB want to talk about me, instead of my points. Maybe it’s because my points were so devastating incisive? Or maybe it’s just all the z’s in my last name. Who knows.

    As to the bewildering mess that constitutes Christian doctrine… indeed. You see that in Christian friendly authors (Bernhard Lohse–A Short History of Christan Doctrine) and less friendly authors (Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman). It is hardly an easy thing to “suppose Christianity is true”. Not only are there many versions, but each version is a an arcane mess. “Suppose there is a god…” is something that I can sort of do, with some effort. But “suppose Christianity is true…” Without even trying to be uncooperative, I really do find it difficult.

  114. Jean: I thought that NB’s comment about you working at SMU contained a veiled threat, which fortunately means nothing since, as you say, your university is only nominally Christian. That threat, the threat of denouncing your atheism to your Christian university, is very ugly. In any case, this whole thread has just proved what Jeremy says in his post above: that dialogue is not possible with everyone. And don’t tell me that there was a dialogue with NB. A dialogue involves being open to learn from the other.

  115. Jean:
    from a dictionary of advaita vedanta (advaita is the most philosophical of the orthodox schools of Hinduism):

    Though the word Atman is often used as a synonym of Brahman, it is more commonly used to indicate the individual self, the essential nature of jivatman (the individual person).

    The latter use is the one encountered in the vast majority of contexts. You’ll find much the same definition in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions Nice little article on the Trinity too.

  116. Ah, but Michael, Advaita Vedanta is non-dualistic (monistic), so that’s the only place for the Atman to go, that is, to refer to the individual self. It seems to have a more generous meaning in other forms of Hinduism. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Advaita Vendanta more atheistic than theistic?

    I meant to say, and forget the best line, in my response to Jakob: “I lack the gift of the jab!” (Gab, however, as everyone knows, I posess in too great a degree.)

    Jean: ‘Zeds’ or ‘Zees’?

  117. I’m sorry Jean, I didn’t mean to ignore all but the zeds (Ha!). Yes, of course, you were very incisive, I thought, and the best way to fend of incisiveness is to turn ad hominem. As to the mess that constitutes Christian doctrine (or any religious doctrine, I rather suspect – that’s what comes of trying to stop time in its tracks), you will get no argument from me. It’s interesting, as a Christian official, how to go about balancing the various ways that you just know people are going to interpret what you say (in church). It’s very threatening.

    The easiest thing is to say nothing new and to parrot the magic words which have an astonishly numbing effect, but I could never bring myself to do that, so I often lived dangerously. In the end, as my wife once said, we had more atheists in the congregation than Christians, and it was, in part at least, true. (But our parties were phenomenal – and the rector always got to make the ‘rum run’ to the Liquor Commission. It’s a government monopoly here.) But strangely, as Altizer and Hamilton showed, Christian atheism was a theological (perhaps ‘theological’ would be better) option. How’s that for the mess that constitutes Christian doctrine?

  118. To quote my source again–

    “There is a vigorous dispute beween Hindu Theists such as Ramanuja, who believe there are many atmans, one for each being, and the non-dualist (advaitin) theologians, who hold that the Self is quantitatively as well as qualitatively identical, there being only a single, universal atman.”

    So I guess the latter don’t go in for 330 million atmans…Still, I gather from this article that many do.

    The author’s a professor of theology at the University of San Diego and an expert on Advaita Vedanta (it says in the book).

    As to the z’s in my last name, that may have drawn undue attention to my comments…that’s “zeds” I guess!

  119. Atman, Brahman, Karma, Dharma, Moksha and a few more are core concepts which are not in a fundamental way disputed as to their base meaning. The meaning proffered by Lance Nelson is a surprising one but it may well be held by some. Hinduism is a very broad church. Anyway the thing about Atman it can realise its identity with Brahman which implies that it be the atman/self of a self-conscious being. The atman/Brahman concept is a twin one, intimately connected in Ramanuja and identical in Advaita.

    Ramanuja says that Brahman is qualified by its attributes, which include intelligence, knowledge, and blessedness. Brahman is the source of all reality, and is knowable by means of its attributes. Brahman is the source of the individual Self, and is qualified by Atman. Atman can attain Self-knowledge by attaining knowledge of Brahman. The appearance of any essential difference between Atman and Brahman is a result of nescience (i.e. ignorance, avidya). Atman is not essentially different from Brahman. Nescience (or false knowledge) regarding Atman can be sublated or corrected by true knowledge of Brahman. The released Atman is a Self which has freed itself from the false perception that it is essentially different from Brahman.

    By Alex Scott.

    I don’t know who he is or what his scholarly background is but it rings true to me and I have been reading in this area for a long time.

    It’s a pity that the focus was lost on the OP and the anthropic principle. Complexity is a fascinating study (aka Chaos). Panpsychism has a place in this too. Is the being of things and information convertible? Just by being things inform each other. Here is proto-consciousness without the need for infusion. Hindu theory has it that ‘creation’ is beginingless because beginnings are in time.

  120. Jean: you say you don’t take Christianity seriously (and ask – why should you?). You then make a whole series of statements about Christian doctrine which are manifestly untrue. You then complain that when I point out the problems in that I am making ad hominem attacks. Clearly we are talking past eachother – perhaps you should post on some other thread and it would make sense if I didn’t respond to yours. When a book of yours is launched by the President of the AAAS in the US and the President of the British Academy in the UK, let me know and I will post on a thread about yours.

    Eric: read what we have to say in QoT on the problem of pain. Both John and I have lost people we love dearly to agonzing cancers.

    Ophelia: If Christianity is true then it is perfectly reasonable to see the Bible as communication from God. If Atheism is true it is not. In symbols p(B|A) is low, p(B|C) is high. But if you are to claim some kind of refutation of C, then it is p(B|C) that is relevant. Please read my debate with Howson: he is a very good (though atheist) philosopher.

    Amos: I may be ignornant about SMU but I am not that ignorant :-).

  121. Nicholas: We’re all pretty minor league minds compared to you, but being such a genius and so inspired by your loving Creator, how have you managed to destroy the small quota of respect I had for the Christian religion in just two days of reading your posts? It may surprise you, but in the past in this blog I and the evil Jean tended to defend religion against the more militant atheists. Your brillant proselytism has convinced me that those militant atheists (whose names I will not mention) are basically correct in their evaluation of your loving creed.

  122. Wow! I didn’t know that! The AAAS and the British Academy! Wow!

  123. Perhaps you should post on some other thread and it would make sense if I didn’t respond to yours. When a book of yours is launched by the President of the AAAS in the US and the President of the British Academy in the UK, let me know and I will post on a thread about yours.

    No, the fact that you’ve insulted me over and over again in this thread is not a reason for ME to leave the thread. It’s a reason for you to stop. As an administrator of the blog, it really is my role to ask you to cut it out, if you’d like to be part of the conversation here.

  124. Aside from the sarcasm, Nicholas, I just don’t think pride has a place in this particular discussion. Your book may be lauched by the British Academy, and you may appear in Debrett, but reasons are what count. I have been with quite a few people when they died. Many of them died miserably. I thought I had taken their suffering into account too. I didn’t. Neither, I think, have you.

    But that is neither here nor there. The question has to do with the reasons you can give, and the arguments that respond to existing arguments in the field. Given what you have taken as a sufficient answer to the problem of pain here, I cannot think that you have adequately dealt with the question in your book. Your book is 160 pages long. You claim to answer 51 questions in it. By my reckoning that’s rougly 3 pages an answer, if the Foreward is not paginated with the rest of the book, and there is no index. Can’t be done, I’m afraid.

    Just a random selection from my library: Phillips’ book has 280 pages, plus 23 pages of front matter, including the intro. Weisberger’s book Suffering Belief has 242 pages. John Hick’s book Evil and the God of Love has 389 pages. James Crenshaw’s book, Defending God: Biblical Rsponses to the Problem of Evil, has 275 pages. (And it is a serious problem for the Bible, which shows more honesty and sensitivity than many Christians have shown later.) Leibniz’s Theodicy runs, in my English translation, to 448 pages. And of course, the books and papers on the problem are extensive. Dostoyevsky gives more space to it in The Brothers Karamazov than you could possibly give it in the short compass of your book. Even Hume’s Dialogues give the problem more space.

    Three pages just won’t do the trick, I’m afraid. The problem is far more serious than that, and it’s far more difficult to respond to than you seem to think. Your book is a short book of apologetics by two clever men, giving clever answers no doubt as befits your cleverness, but it can’t, as the launch says, reasonbly be thought to be an adequate response to Dawkins, or an important contribution on the questions answered. This is not possible. Good for you. If you like put up the pages on the problem of pain, I’ll read them. I’ve archived most of my theology books. I don’t want another introductory apologetics, no matter how clever. And that’s not meant as an insult. Life is limited, so I have to choose.

  125. Eric,

    How does infinite love become meaningful to a suffering finite being, if, in fact, any amount of finite suffering can be ‘redeemed’ (if that is the word) by infinite love?

    I hope you will not feel upset for Nicholas “neglecting” your post. After all, he is in the mimority and has so many posts to answer on this thread.

    But you have raised a very good point. I remember I myself have been lingering and struggling upon this point for pretty a long time. What I want to say is, suffering, death, how to live a good life…, all these questions are not what only Christianity is concerned with, but are all religions, all philosophies in this world are concerned with. And that is why we humans can have so many diversified ways and perspectives of viewing life and choosing different ways of life, and also why, we can have the opportunity to gather here (maybe we are of different nationalities) and argue about these questions.

    To understand the nature of suffering requires of a lot; it is rather psychological and spiritual experience, rather than sth. that can be made to understand through “explanation.” According to my personal experience, the book of “Job” might be very helpful to understand this question.

    Lastly, I only want to ask you one question: Have you ever thought about what this world will really become of if there is no suffering, and there is only bliss and happiness and eternity?

  126. Eric: we offer responses to questions, we don’t imagine that we have Answers. And I fully agree with you that the issues around suffering (and many others) are complex and substantial, and cannot be disposed of in short blog posts. Inevitably in a blog we talk in shorthand. And I think we need to be very cautious about pouncing on what someone has said with a move like “you have said X. X might imply Y. Y is dreadful. Therefore X is dreadful”.

    The fact that the world, from a Christian perspective, is one of finite suffering and infinite love does not mean that Christianity doesn’t take suffering really seriously: the suffering of God is at the heart of our faith. And I have never made the argument that the suffering doesn’t matter. But perhaps we can at least agree that, if the choice really were a binary one:(a world that has Suffering + Love) vs (a world that has No Suffering + No Love), then the former is preferable?

  127. Nicholas said “…the world, from a Christian perspective, is one of finite suffering and infinite love”

    Well, I can see plenty of evidence for finite suffering, but no good evidence for infinite love. As far as I can tell, love exists as a purely natural feature of humans, and possibly to a lesser extent of other animals too. So, it seems to me that you are making a pretty extraordinary metaphysical claim when you say that the world contains infinite love. I’m not even sure that I find the claim to be coherent at all but, at the very least it is not self-evidently true, and is most certainly contentious. Where is your extraordinary evidence to support this extraordinary claim?

    “But perhaps we can at least agree that, if the choice really were a binary one:(a world that has Suffering + Love) vs (a world that has No Suffering + No Love), then the former is preferable?”

    How about minimal suffering + love? Surely far less suffering than is actually present in the world + love would be a possible state of affairs for an all-powerful and all-loving god?

  128. Nicholas, you say:

    But perhaps we can at least agree that, if the choice really were a binary one:(a world that has Suffering + Love) vs (a world that has No Suffering + No Love), then the former is preferable?

    No, I don’t agree. I think you have to take into account the vast amount of unnecessary suffering that now exists, unnecessary if there actually were a God of love. You have to make an accounting, as it were, at least of all the suffering that animals and people suffer when they die.

    That, incidentally, is an indication that the process is wholly natural. Lack of pain while dying is not selected for, since it doesn’t matter from the point of view of natural selection. At that point the organism has either passed on its genes, or it is a loser in the game of selection. Either way, how much suffering is involved is clearly irrelevant to the process, so there are no pressures to see that dying is less painful or horrible.

    In order for a loving being to allow so much suffering, there has to be a reason for it. It has to accomplish something. Loving beings don’t do things without reasons, yet dying is often so massively painful and miserable when it need not be. There is no conceiveable reason for this, on the presupposition that a loving creator is responsible.

    Nor can I see, I’m afraid, why the idea of a suffering god helps out here. Article 1 of the 39 articles, by the way, says that God is without ‘body, parts or passions’, which would make suffering something of an oxymoron with respect to God. But if a loving god were to suffer, perhaps he/she would recognise how pointlessly terrible suffering is and reach out, and help and save.

    The reason the idea of a suffering god comes into play is because of the problem of suffering, not as a resolution of it. God is imagined to be afflicted in our afflictions, precisely because afflictions are so pointless. It’s a vain attempt to give suffering context and content. It fails, despite the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rather fatuous remark that no matter what the stage of human life or level of human experience, life can still be lived through in some form of trust and hope. (House of Lords, May, 2006) This is a belief held in the teeth of the evidence. As Nick says, for something like this to be even remotely plausible, we need some extraordinary kind of evidence. Apart from some such reasonable evidence – evidence that can be recognised and appropriated by those who suffer – it can’t just explain it for those who are hale and whole(and the mixed up traditions about Jesus, and what his life meant, simply cannot constitute reasonable evidence) – this kind of claim is to spit in the faces of the afflicted.

  129. Thank you Lucia, for your remarks. And, of course, you are right. Nicholas has been facing quite a lot of opposition here, and he has very gamely entered the lists. I appreciate the sensitive things you have said about suffering. I don’t think they really deal with it very well. While pure bliss might be somewhat cloying (see “The Makropoulos Case” by Bernard Williams), the usual ‘reward’ for doing well or believing correctly has been an imagined ‘beatific vision’ of God, a delight that will never cloy, and an intensity that will never fade, so, presumably someone had in mind that God could have done this from the start.

    Not having that advantage, what shall we say about evil? Well, that there is far more of it around than is necessary to make life interesting or challenging, and much of it that accomplishes nothing but destruction. Much as I would like to be able to say that such suffering has a purpose, I cannot find any reason to say so. What is accomplished by a kangaroo, say, dying slowly, all alone, of thirst, in a drought? (The example is Peter Singer’s, but we could dream up lots more.) I can’t find where to fit love into that.

    As for Job. I think that Job shows that the universe (and god) is far more indifferent to suffering than people might think. Herman Tønnessen, in a paper entitled “A Masterpiece of Existential Blasphemy,” argues convincingly that Job’s suffering is shown to be meaningless, and god is, as Tønnessen says, a cosmic cave dweller, a being of quite abhorrent primitivity. So far, I am not convinced, given the amount of suffering that exists, that the universe has anything else to offer.

  130. Nick: You have the problem I alluded to earlier. You assume atheism and then say A =>~X C=>X hence ~C. But all this shows is that A=>~C which we knew already. I say from a Christian POV we have a world with infinite love (because people who come into perfect loving union with God become caught up in God’s life which is eternal). Now I know you don’t agree C , but surely you can see that that C =>IL.

    You raise an interesting point about the quantity of suffering, which leads us to one of the few real theorems in this field. I guess we agree that some minimal level of suffering LMin is consistent with a Loving Ultimate Creator. You then argue that
    (1) L(Suffering)>>LMin
    (2) E (LUC) => L(Suffering)=LMin
    hence ~E(LUC)

    The trouble is that both (1) and (2) are highly problematic, and you have no real evidence for either. Love does not imply that you never allow the Person you Love to suffer (if you could have prevented it), only that you do not allow the P you L to S without a Sufficiently Good Reason. Suppose we concede (1) for the sake of the argument, the nearest you can have to (2) is:
    (2a) E (LUC) => ((L(S)>>LMin)=>E(SGR))
    Plantinga’s “noseeums” theorem is that even if we concede
    (3) no Human Knows (SGR).
    it does not follow that ~E(SGR) unless you have the absurd additional premise
    (4*) E(SGR) => HK(SGR)

    Eric: I hope you see the point. All the suffering in the world is caused by the laws of nature and (in some cases) human freewill. To reduce the suffering God either has to change the Laws of Nature or interfere with Freewill. But AFAIK no-one has ever produced an alternative set of LoN that would reduce suffering and would allow intelliegnt personal life to evolve: there is no evidence that such a set exists let alone that it would not have other deleterious consequences.

  131. Eric, very much enjoyed reading your comments. Powerful stuff, and somewhat knock-down I believe.

  132. Nicholas, you still don’t get it, do you? Even were we to assume that the amount of suffering in the world – not counting suffering at the end of life – is necessary for something, say, building strength of character, toughness, courage, patience, etc. (an incredibly large assumption), is consistent with the existence of an LUC, this does not account for suffering at the end of life, which serves no useful purpose of this kind, and no useful purpose of any kind that we can know (unless you take Hick’s eschatological verification seriously, which, I suggest, as a scientist, you cannot do).

    The fact that no one has ever produced an alternative set of laws of nature is irrelevant. We don’t need to do that. We’re not creating a world, just trying to understand the one we’re in. But, the assumption is that an LUC did create the world, and that the creation expresses his/her/its love. So, it’s up to him/her/it. Since the selective pressure of the environment is so creative in producing complex apparent design, it seems surprising to claim that with a few adjustments here or there the LUC could not possibly have reduced the amount of suffering at the end of life, since natural selection is so inherently wasteful and cruel, especially at that point. Though for a human, perhaps, this is almost inconceiveable, there is no obvious reason why an LUC could not (and free will is irrelevant at this point). (And it’s not up to us to explain how. This is the dog that didn’t bark, and the missing bark is not ours.) But, since he/she/it didn’t, evolutionary processes can reasonably be considered, given the evidence, to be merely natural processes, apparently creative, but not created. This is a reasonable conclusion, from the evidence that we have, without presupposing anything at all about ultimate things.

    But, more than that, the fact that your argument would very implausibly work for someone dying in misery, without that person already making the assumptions that you do, is a good sign that there is no love perceptible in and through the experience of misery, despite what the ABC suggests.

    By the way, in your ‘tricky logic’ you suggest that this theorem is absurd:

    (4) E(SGR) => HK(SGR)

    And, indeed, that is absurd, for there are lots of existent things that we do not know. However, since religious people so often accuse atheists of a kind of naturalistic reductionism, I think it would be fair to describe this as a kind of logical reductionism, and, in fact, is arguably the redutio ad absurdum of religion (something that Plantinga’s tricky logic always suggests to me. Like ad hominem attacks in argument, logical trickery in religious apologetics always seems to me a bit of evasive skullduggery.) For while the existence of a sufficiently good reason may not depend upon human knowledge of such a reason, believing in the existence of a loving reason does depend upon the experience of love.

    For instance, to take one example. It is said that Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to kiss dying patients in terrible pain (to whom she refused the comfort of effective analgesia), and say to them, “Jesus is kissing you.” I suggest that such patients had no reason to think that their pain was the loving gift of an LUC, and that we have every reason to think of (let’s call her Agnes, since MT in this context is offensive) Agnes’s counsel as an act of pure religious charlatanism. I believe your suggestions face the same challenge.

    As to the free will defence, I think AM Weisberger’s arguments in Suffering Belief are very convincing. It’s not as simple as quantum physics! And it simply does not count at the end of life. Just to clarify. Free will at the end of life – which the church is prepared to prevent suffering people from exercising – is important, but free will, as it occurs in arguments about the reason for human suffering, is not. Indeed, the refusal of the church to recognise the free will of those who are suffering intolerably at the end of life is the main reason I am no longer a Christian or a Christian priest.

  133. Michael,

    Back to the 330 million atmans…

    I got into looking at it this because I was writing a chapter of my animal book about various western and eastern ideas about animals. I was trying to get a grip on how Hinduism looks at animals, given the fact that they have the notion of rebirth. If a human can “come back’ as a dog, or start off as a dog, then what does that say about animals, and how they are like or different from humans?

    I looked at various sources and was disappointed to find clear discussion of this rare. Lance Nelson at least addresses the question, and says something very clear, and has impressive credentials…so I’ve gone with what he says.

    He says atman literally moves from body to body. But he also says that one wants “higher reincarnations.” It’s bad to come back as a dog. That’s because humans have potential for a spiritual life, and dogs don’t. But wait–the “atman” is the same! What I inferred is that atman is some sort of spiritual kernel, but not the entire mind. So the extra spiritual potential of a human exists despite “atman” being the same in animals and humans. So there is a sameness between humans and animals, atman-wise, but not overall. Comments welcome!

  134. Eric: Thanks for this.

    If the argument under discussion is of the form [LUC =>X, ~X, hence ~LUC] then the onus is on you to establish your premises. “There is no obvious reason why Z should not be the case” is not a good phliosophical argument for Z.

    The whole Hospice movement was pioneered by Christians so I’m a bit puzzled by your reference to the church denying people alagesia. There is considerable evidence that religious faith helps people bear pain and death. Of course death is sometimes angonizing – this is a pretty direct consequence of the laws of biology: without pain receptors we would not learn to avoid danger. Analgesia (natural and artificial), religious faith and various forms of meditation can reduce it.

  135. There have been reports that Mother Teresa did under-medicate patients, justifying this with something about the redemptive value of suffering. Perhaps that’s what Eric is referring to.

    As to explaining end of life suffering as being due to the laws of biology, that seems superficial. The laws of biology allow organisms to have all sorts of different constitutions. For example, humans and many other animals have endogenous painkillers that kick in at times of intense pain. It’s perfectly compatible with the laws of biology that there should be special endogeneous pain-killers that are triggered as the body breaks down and nears death. But evidently there aren’t, or they aren’t very effective.

    The thing is, it’s hard to see how such a thing could have evolved through natural selection. Having an easier death doesn’t confer reproductive fitness. But a loving, all powerful god could surely manage endowing us with such a thing. By an inference to the best explanation, it seems we’ve been engineered by blind forces, not by some sort of a caring father-figure.

  136. Thank you Jean. You explain things more succinctly than I do. Yes, Teresa of Calcutta – I actually have a letter from her – am I not privileged! – did not provide more than simple analgesics like aspirin. She did not relieve pain. Suffering was a spiritual value for her – though she herself went to the doctor in New York, I think. But I thought I had made this clear. The hospice movement and Dame Cecily Saunders, etc., are all familiar to me. I’m not sure why this is the response that Nicholas gives.

    However, it seems to me that the onus is on the believer in an LUC to show why, given the way the world is, we should believe in an LUC. It is silly to suggest that the LUC is subject to natural laws which are his own creation. And if they are not, if, indeed, there is no way to vary conditions so as to provide at least some convincing evidence for an LUC, then there is no reason to believe in one either.

    It’s a bit like the Euthyphro dilemma. Either morality is dependent on god or not. If it is not, then morality is something independent of god and we do not need god in order to be moral. Same thing with natural laws. The natural laws of the universe are either dependent on god or not. If they are, then god should be able to fiddle with the nobs until it looks as though someone loving is in control. If it doesn’t seem that way, then there is no evidence for an LUC. That seems clear to me. I mean, why call him/her/it an LUC unless he/she/it has such control?

    As for Christian end of life care. The ABC rejects the claim of some people, dying in uncontrollable pain and distress, to bring their struggles to an end by permitting them, when they so request, to receive assistance in dying. Since god didn’t fiddle with the nobs, and perhaps cannot, this seems the most loving thing to do. But the ABC seems to think, with Nicholas, that god is loving even when hateful things happen. Well, good luck Nicholas! Die as you like. I will choose. And, not waking up to some reward in the hereafter, you won’t know that all your suffering was for nothing, but I will have abbreviated mine.

    Hospice care is all very well, but when someone wants assistance in dying, it is immeasureless cruelty not to provide it. And talk about the ability of religious faith to reduce suffering, even if it is marginally true, is not an answer. The ABC is welcome to placebos. Why does he deny the real thing to others? So much for the LUC and its/her/his minions.

  137. Sorry, left out the ‘k’ in ‘knobs’

  138. I come late to the discussion, but I thank you all for such a stimulating read. Im guessing NBeale went into the habitual Christian amongst the lions mode without thinking about it, but all of you seem like pussycats to me.

    NBeale throw’s in a bit of stupid philomath LMC=<something and appeals to numbers, (80% , many well-educated people believe so there) etc etc.
    And lets not forget the very cunning- well there are so many belief systems so one of them must be right, and I pick my one.
    Which just means he cant prove a thing.
    And the god is talking to you, and maybe your not listening. Boy is that insulting.

    The monotheistic god thing is a failed attempt to unite humanity. It is really simple and a product of its time when people believed gods to be real.
    The logic went there is “god” if we all believed in the same god and its passed down wisdom/morality then we(humans) would all be united by that belief and we would all think and act the same. And it just extended it self out from attempting to unite one tribe to attempting to unite all people. And that is it.
    Slowly as time has passed this uniting of all people into a single belief system took on sinister aspects (wars about gods) the supposed uniting belief system became a nightmare that divided and subjucated people rather that uniting them, and suffering increased.
    But still people like NBeale cling to the notion of a single god and the idea of uniting under one belief idea.
    They are fooling themselves and no one else.
    And all the sophisticated quantum fiddling,convoluted high flown theological waffle in the world isnt going to change that.
    And the people who will suffer wont be those like NBeale, but those at the bottom of this pile of humanity. Those lesser mortals who have to find their way in the mindfield of a society NBeale and his ilk are perpetuating.

  139. Jean: It seems somewhat nonsensical to say “X is perfectly compatible with the laws of biology but X cannot arise through evolution.” As you say there are endogenous painkillers and it seems probable that they kick in to the maximum extent that is compatible with the laws of biology. There would be group selection advantages, and certainly there are common death situations (battle, childbirth) in our evolutionary past where such mechanisms would be helpful.

    Eric: the euthanasia debate is much more complicated that this. And as for the laws of nature, I don’t think you begin to appreciate how subtly interwoven they are (and we are only just beginning to see this scientifically). “Fiddling with the knobs” entirely misses the point.

  140. The euthanasia debate may be much more complicated than this, but many reasonable people now believe that there is no reason to refuse assistance in dying to those who have reached the point of intolerable suffering, where hastening dying is the only way in which to relieve such suffering. (And, if we’re allowed to play numbers games – though I tend to deprecate them – the numbers in Britain, Australia, and Canada show a clear majority in favour of a change in the law on this matter.)

    As a matter of British history, a proposed bill providing for assistance in dying, was given its first reading in the House of Lords in 1936. The main reason it was rejected is that, in the opinion of those who contributed to the debate, doctors did not need such interference. They knew when it was necessary to help someone out of life, and since it was a matter of medical practice, it should be left to the medical professionals. In the Lords debate of 2006, religious reasons predominated in the defeat of Lord Joffe’s bill. The Church of England had an entire section of its internet home page devoted to ways in which people could defeat the bill. Religious reasons apply only to religious believers, and should not be imposed on those who do not believe. The debate is indeed complicated, but most of the complications have to do with religious beliefs or smokescreens laid down by sedulous religious critics of assistance in dying.

    I believe nonetheless that this can be shown to be a reasonable position, and I believe also that anyone who refuses to grant such assistance to a suffering person who desires such assistance (under clearly assignable conditions) is unconscionably cruel. (It may be complicated, but claiming that it is complicated is largely just an excuse to delay change in the law. Shouldn’t take over seventy years. It’s not that complicated.) The religious person who does so – and it is almost always a religious person who does so – makes their claim that there is a loving god null and void, in my view. That’s all I will say on that. But I think the existence of such suffering at the end of life is clear evidence that there is no loving god.

    As to ‘fiddling the knobs’. If the universe is god’s creation, then he can fiddle the knobs. If he can’t (and I’m using ‘he’ for brevity), then the universe is not god’s creation, within the normal understanding given to that word in religious contexts. I’m quite prepared to accept a scientific judgment that you can’t fiddle the knobs. Fine. But I am not prepared to admit that, if that is in fact the case, and there is a creator, it makes sense to speak of the creator as either loving or ultimate; and if this creator is not loving or ultimate then it is not god in the traditional sense of this word. It would be no more than to speak of Spinza’s god, which comprised the order and harmony of the universe itself.

  141. Jean:
    Atman is a monistic concept which is twinned with Brahman so strictly there’s only one atman or one identity. Atman is more universal than soul which is sometimes used to translate it. Individuals have their own experience of personal identity which is where the concept of jivatman (jiva/individual atman/identity) comes into play. What transmigrates is essentially the knot of desires that the individual has. Obviously those desires and desserts are played out at a similar level at which they were established so it is regarded as rare for transmigration to go backward to a lower level of self-awareness. The case of an animal that has attained moksha (freedom) is also rare but one case is accepted by the devotees of Ramana Maharshi 1879 – 1950. By his grace the cow Lakshmi was liberated at her death i.e. did not have to suffer any further transmigration.
    There is a shrine commemorating her beneath which she is buried as is the case with self-realised human being i.e.realisation of unity of self (atman) and Brahman.

  142. I thought a big difference between Buddhism and Hinduism was that Buddhists get rid of atman (even though that is weird and puzzling). There’s rebirth, but not “transmigration,” whereas Hindus do think there’s something that goes from body to body. A “knot of desires” doesn’t sound like a something. Both religions have lots of schools, so no doubt I’m simplifying, but I thought this was in essence correct.

  143. Nicholas – it seems as if you have failed to grasp a number of important points, so I will explain them to you.

    Firstly, I didn’t say that the Christian worldview doesn’t imply the existence of infinite love. What I actually said was that I can see no evidence that infinite love actually exists in the world (insofar as this concept coheres at all), and you have failed to produce any evidence that it does. All you seem to be saying is that infinite love exists on Christianity. However, I am unaware of love existing in the world as anything other than a purely biological mechanism within humans. So, if you are unable to give any good evidence that infinite love actually exists in the world as we find it, then this becomes a failed prediction for the Christian worldview, which renders it less likely to be true. In other words:

    P1: If Christianity is true, then infinite love exists in the world
    P2: Infinite love doesn’t exist in the world
    C: Therefore, Christianity is not true

    Since you seem to accept P1 then, if you want to show that my argument is not sound, you must show that P2 is false. You cannot do this by simply saying that Christianity is true, and therefore infinite love must exist in the world, as this is just begging the question. You need to actually demonstrate that infinite love does exist in the world. I’m waiting (but not holding my breath).

    On the subject of suffering, all Plantinga’s theorem shows is that no human knows that there is not a sufficiently good reason for the amount of suffering present in the world. This is just a reworking of the tired old mystery argument i.e. it may be a mystery to us why God does or allows certain things, but he has his good reasons for it. However, this type of argument is really just the last resort for the person who is trying to explain away the fact that the world as we observe it is nothing like what would be expected on the Christian worldview.

    Yes, on the Christian worldview we cannot actually know the minimum amount of possible suffering that is compatible with the greatest possible good under God’s plan, but do you honestly think that it is what we observe around us? If one fewer Jew had been killed in the gas chambers, do you think that would have resulted in less overall good? If one fewer person had died in the Soviet Gulags, do you think the same? How about babies who are born with terrible health problems, suffer excruciating pain, and then die. Do you think that this is necessary for the greater good under God’s plan, as he has a good reason for it? What purpose could such suffering possibly have? Do you think that the millions of people who have died of horrible diseases needed to do so as this is required by God’s ultimate love? And how about the seemingly arbitrary nature of the suffering – with some good people suffering terribly, whilst some bad people don’t suffer at all? Do you really believe that God has a sufficiently good reason for all of this suffering?

    Furthermore, do you really think that an all-powerful and all-loving God could create no better world than one in which animals must kill each other horribly in order to survive; resources would be limited so that countless humans and animals would die of thirst or hunger; our bodies would be frail and prone to injury and disease; and natural disasters would kill and injure millions? This is exactly the type of world that we would expect on Naturalism – where the universe it totally indifferent to us. However, it is not at all the type of world that we would expect if it was created by a maximally good and powerful God.

    You say that “Love does not imply that you never allow the Person you Love to suffer (if you could have prevented it)”. However, if you love your child, would you allow them to walk into a road when a car is coming, knowing that they will get run down, or would you prevent them? Yes, you sometimes have to allow your child to suffer a little for their greater good (having a vaccination, for example), but do you not think that it would not be wholly disproportionate and utterly pointless to allow them to be run over and killed or terribly injured? Yet, this is analogous to what you think your God does when he allows countless children to die horribly in an earthquake or a flood, for example.

    How about if you were to see a young child being horribly tortured by somebody, and you were told that the torturer was a very good person and had sufficiently good reasons for torturing the child? Whilst it’s possible that this is true, would you not think it more plausible that the torturer was not actually good at all, and try to prevent the torture? By analogy, when you see all of the suffering in the world around you, do you not think it more plausible that an all-powerful and all-good God cannot exist (either he doesn’t exist at all, or he is not all-powerful and all-good)? In other worlds, which is the more plausible:

    1. An all-powerful and all-good God would create a world that contains vast amounts of suffering, but he has a sufficiently good reasons to allow all of this suffering, or
    2. God either doesn’t exist at all, or else is not both all-powerful and all-good?

    Stephen Law has actually created a thought experiment called ‘The God of Eth’, where he demonstrates that a maximally evil God is just as compatible with your logic as is a maximally good one (see:

    The Christian worldview is not a good explanation for the world around us because on that worldview:

    1. We would expect to observe far less suffering. See above.
    2. We would expect God to get his message to all of us in a way that is absolutely clear and unambiguous so that we might be saved. We might still choose to reject his message, but there would be no doubt about the fact that God exists and to the content of his message. As it is, God seems to be totally absent in the world (unlike the way things are supposed to have been in Biblical times), and the message has not been given in a way that is not open to doubt or interpretation. For example, the Bible is full of contradictions and things we know to be false or absurd (as well as showing God to be more of an evil tyrant than a loving father); messages that people say that they received from God are contradictory, more plausibly explained as delusion or lies, contain nothing but clichés and banalities, and don’t seem to be received at all by millions of people. A God that wants us to be saved would surely leave no doubt at all with regard to his existence and message.
    3. The vast age and size of the universe and the fact that it is almost entirely lethal to human life is not at all what we would expect if it was created solely for us.
    4. It proposes the existence of some unseen and unproven supernatural realm in order to explain the existence of the natural world. For example, you are unable to give any good proof for God’s existence, or for the assertion that faith in Jesus will procure eternal life.
    5. No good evidence has ever been produced for the existence of any miracle at any time in the recorded history of our world – never mind for the resurrection or the Virgin Birth in particular. These are much more plausibly explained as myths, hearsay, anecdote, lies, delusions etc. The lack of any good evidence for these supposed miracles is a further failed prediction for the Christian worldview.

    So, the Christian worldview lacks plausibility and parsimony, and has little explanatory scope and power. Therefore, it is not a good explanation for the world around us. Metaphysical Naturalism is a much better explanation, for example (see: Therefore, I reject the Christian worldview as a plausible explanation for the world.

    As a matter of interest, why do you believe that God created the universe at all? If Heaven exists, then why aren’t we all there already? Surely an omniscient and omnipotent God has no need for tests, as he must surely know what we will choose to do. Our supposed free will (which is looking increasingly untenable anyway, given the deterministic nature of the universe, with the possible exception of quantum indeterminacy that is out of our control anyway) can surely not render our actions beyond God’s knowledge? So, on the Christian worldview, God seems to have knowingly created millions of us who are going to fail his test, and therefore end up suffering for all eternity. That seems to me to be more the work of a supremely tyrant than a maximally loving father. So, given this, I am extremely happy in the knowledge that God almost certainly doesn’t exist.

  144. I have just discovered, and am still making my way through, this interesting, albeit long, discussion. However, I was intrigued by Nicholas Beale’s “meta-scientific” questions early on (23.02.09, 1.20pm). First, is it not strange how theist apologists like to confront their opponents with “why” questions (“Why is there something rather than nothing?”, and so on), whilst ducking equally pressing “how” questions? I for one would be most impressed if such an apologist would offer a clear and detailed explanation as to how an immaterial (and, according to some thinkers, non-complex) entity outside space-time operates to affect material objects within space-time.

    Second, some theists seem to regard laws of nature as analogous to laws promulgated by humans, i.e. as prescriptions of behaviour (except, of course, that human laws can be broken, whereas physical objects can do no other than move, react, interact, etc. as dictated by the laws of nature). This of course facilitates the theist’s positing of a divine law-giver, but the question still remains as to what kind of thing such a law of nature would be. How, for instance, is such a law instantiated in the world? If Beale is going rely on “meta-scientific” questions concerning laws of nature, I think he owes us an explanation of what he considers the ontological status of such laws to be. Then perhaps one could begin to consider whether his “meta-scientific” questions are in any way substantial.

  145. Nicholas – another problem with Plantinga’s “noseeums” theorum. Let’s face it, this theorum, which is just a version of the old mystery move (God has his reasons, which may be mysterious to us blah blah blah), has been introduced in an attempt to save the Christian worldview when its predictions do not fit with what we observe in the real world. If the observations did accord with what the Christian worldview predicts, then theologians wouldn’t have expended so much effort, and spilt so much ink, in trying to solve the ‘problem of evil’.

    However, the problem with Plantinga’s theorum, and the mystery move, is that it is entirely ad-hoc. That is, there is no evidence that it is actually true. It’s just been pulled out of a hat. But, when you introduce an additional element to a theory in order to explain away some failure in the original theory, the new element must be capable of being proved independently. You can’t just make up something up that saves the theory, but cannot be tested in any way. Furthermore, this new element should ideally make the original theory more, not less, testable.

    The reasons behind this are twofold. Firstly, we should aim to apply Occam’s Razor when constructing hypotheses to explain the observations (theoretical entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity when attempting to explain observations). Furthermore, we should not believe some assertion unless there is good reason to do so. The number of false beliefs always vastly outnumbers the true, so any ungrounded assertion will most likely be false. Therefore, if one arbitrary chooses a belief based upon blind faith rather than evidence and reason, then that belief will most likely be false. So, as a process for acquiring knowledge, blind faith is an unreliable one, as it is not truth-finding.

  146. michael reidy

    Jean wrote:

    I thought a big difference between Buddhism and Hinduism was that Buddhists get rid of atman (even though that is weird and puzzling). There’s rebirth, but not “transmigration,” whereas Hindus do think there’s something that goes from body to body. A “knot of desires” doesn’t sound like a something. Both religions have lots of schools, so no doubt I’m simplifying, but I thought this was in essence correct.

    The Buddhist anatman/annata (no atman) doctrine is very like Hume’s dismissal of personal identity – ‘whenever I look within all I find is a bundle of perceptions etc’. It’s complex but in fact they are denying what the atman theory doesn’t hold. Identity arises out of consciousness as such and not out of the particular elements of consciousness, memories, dreams, reflections, perceptions, sensations and the like. Atman or Pure Consciousness does not change and always remains the same. The material identity analogy is offered of clay and the various vessels of clay which are fundamentally clay with different names and forms. Very broad brush here. What is reincarnated is not an entity like atman which doesn’t change and which is in reality impersonal but the particular psychic pattern or the human clay taking different shapes according to the individual style of going on. It’s like an open ended drama playing itself out passing on from medium to medium.

    This is a doctrine not a scientific theory and therefore will have elements at its edges where mystery intervenes and logic departs. Naturalists belong on another beach.

  147. Nick: no time to respond in detail here to your long posts. If you read Questions of Truth you’d get a reasonable idea of how (some) christians respond to these kind of points.

    The notion of “would be expected on the Christian worldview” needs a bit of unpacking. AFAIK almost no Christians actually affirm any of these things – it looks like a straw man, and demolishing a straw man proves nothing (except about the arguer).

    The P1,P2 business is also quite helpful. Of course when I say “in the world” I include (in the Christian worldview) the state of eternal loving union with God for which (in this worldview) we are intended after our earthly life. It is clearly absurd to say that we have infinite love (even though we may seen glimpses of it) if we confine ourselves only to earthly life.

    But it’s worth noting that almost every fundamental scientific discovery would fail your P1,P2 test – if P2 is allowed to be “theory laden” in the way it is with you.

  148. Nbeale
    “…when I say “in the world” I include (in the Christian worldview) the state of eternal loving union with God for which (in this worldview) we are intended after our earthly life.”

    Of course you meant to preface this with ” It is my opinion that ” didnt you, but you were is a bit of a rush and left it out. That way you can leave out the Christian worldview palaver.
    An apology will be fine. Just dont forget to leave it out next time.

  149. Nicholas said: “The notion of “would be expected on the Christian worldview” needs a bit of unpacking. AFAIK almost no Christians actually affirm any of these things – it looks like a straw man, and demolishing a straw man proves nothing (except about the arguer).”

    I can neither confirm nor refute your assertion that almost no Christians actually affirm the things that I describe. However, even if what you say is true it is really neither here nor there, as this might be due to their ignorance of or refusal to acknowledge certain aspects of Christian doctrine and its implications, for example.

    When I say that some observation or other would be expected or not expected on the Christian worldview, I am starting from the definition of God that is generally accepted by orthodox theism (i.e. omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good, particular interest in humanity, uncreated creator of the universe etc.), and including specifically Christian doctrines from, for example, the Bible and Nicene Creed as applicable.

    From this definition of God, we may formulate the Evidential Problem of Evil. One version of it is as follows:

    1) There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

    2) An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

    3) (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. (Rowe 1979: 336)

    Another way of putting this is to say that, on the Christian worldview, we would not expect to observe certain instances of intense suffering – particularly when they arise from natural sources (e.g. earthquakes), are distributed in a way that seems to bear no relation to the moral quality of the lives of those suffering (e.g. innocent children suffering agonizing deaths), and apply to the suffering of animals now and before humans existed.

    Many Christians may not see this as a problem for their worldview, but that is due to their own ignorance, or their lack of honesty when evaluating the implications of their worldview. Even such Christian luminaries as Plantinga and Swinburne see the evidential problem of evil as a potentially serious threat, and devote much effort to attempting to counter it.

    Of course, many theodicies and defences have been attempted by theists in order to attempt to explain this away, but they all suffer from serious flaws. The appeal to the necessity of human free will, for example, can be criticised by noting that this would not apply to suffering caused by natural disasters; that the requisite libertarian free will is looking increasingly untenable in a deterministic universe (notwithstanding some quantum indeterminacy, which is out of our control anyway); why should the exercise of free will be worth the price of millions of deaths and untold suffering; and couldn’t God have given us a tendency to do only good, or have ameliorated any harmful effects of our free will?

    The idea that evil is necessary for moral perfection also has great problems. Firstly, a flood or tidal wave that kills thousands of children is hardly character building for those children. With respect to the people who survive, for example the parents of the children, instead of strengthening their character, the trauma may just as well crush them beyond recovery. Secondly, an all-powerful God could have provided opportunities for moral development without causing so much pain and suffering, including the killing of the innocent.

    You also mentioned the ‘noseeum’ defence i.e. just because we cannot see why there is so much suffering, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have sufficiently good reasons for it. By analogy, we have good reason for causing babies to suffer, even though their limited understanding would prevent them from knowing our reasons.

    Firstly, this is just another entirely ad hoc move. The assertion that God has his reasons has not been independently justified. Rather, it has just been made up out of whole cloth as a way to explain away a discrepancy between theory and observation. It might be true, but then again it might not, and since the number of false beliefs will always vastly outnumber the number of true ones an arbitrarily chosen unjustified belief such as this will almost certainly be false. Possible doesn’t mean probable.

    Secondly, there is no good reason to suppose that God would not be able to explain to all of us in a clear and unambiguous way what his reasons are for allowing such a vast quantity of suffering. However, God has not communicated this to me in such a clear and unambiguous way, for example, and I have not shut myself off from such a communication (and even the communications that are supposed to have come from God are confused and contradictory e.g. in the bible, Koran, and other personal revelation). More generally, we have the Argument from Divine Hiddenness, as formulated by John Schellenberg:

    1) If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such relationships–i.e., able to do so just by trying to.

    2) No one can be in a position to participate in such relationships without believing that God exists.

    3) If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists (from 1 and 2).

    4) It is not the case that all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists: there is nonresistant nonbelief; God is hidden.

    5) It is not the case that there is a perfectly loving God (from 3 and 4).

    6) If God exists, God is perfectly loving.

    7) It is not the case that God exists (from 5 and 6).

    Another way of putting this is to say that, on the Christian worldview, we would expect the evidence for God’s existence to be absolutely clear and unambiguous, so that no one with an open mind could possibly disbelieve in God. However, this is manifestly not the case.

    This argument poses a serious problem for the belief in the standard Christian God – whether many Christians realise this or not.

    Nicholas said: “Of course when I say “in the world” I include (in the Christian worldview) the state of eternal loving union with God for which (in this worldview) we are intended after our earthly life. It is clearly absurd to say that we have infinite love (even though we may seen glimpses of it) if we confine ourselves only to earthly life.”

    But, you have given me no good reason to suppose that this state of eternal loving union with God actually exists. Where is your evidence for this assertion, or do you just believe it on faith?

    More generally, you have so far given me no good reason or evidence that your God exists at all. Arguments such as the fine-tuning or cosmological argument have serious flaws, and can at best only infer the existence of some inscrutible universe creator, not the specific God that you believe in with all of his very particular characteristics (such as being perfectly good etc). Unless you can demonstrate that there is very good reason to suppose that your God actually exists, then the rest of your worldview is just pure ungrounded assertion.

    Yes, on your worldview we might expect that there would be a state of eternal loving union with God, that religious miracles would occur (such as the Resurrection), that God would communicate with us, that faith in Jesus would procure eternal life etc. However, you have so far been unable to demonstrate the likely truth of the most basic axiom of your worldview, the one upon which everything else turns i.e. that God exists.

    Moreover, your have not even been able to give good indirect evidence that your worldview is true. If you could demonstrate the existence of some of the extroadinary things that Christianity predicts, then you might be able to build a good inferential case. For example, if you could point to sufficiently good evidence of religious miracles – evidence that could not be denied such as faith In Jesus regrowing missing limbs, or Bibles being impervious to harm – then you might have something. Or perhaps if people who had received purported communications from God received information that could be known in no other possible way (startling new scientific discoveries, for example), instead of just cliches or banalities then again you might have the beginning of a case. Best of all, if you could point to people who had faith in Jesus enjoying eternal life, or coming back from the dead, then you would really be on to something (and not just old stories in the Bible, which do not constitute the requisite standard of evidence).

    However, your worldview is such that, by the judicious and retrospective addition of ad hoc elements, it is made to predict just what we see around us. It never makes some new and risky predictions that we might confirm or disconfirm. All that happens is that its predictive failures are explained away by adding new and totally ad hoc elements. And all of the supernatural elements of your worldview (God, afterlife etc.) must be believed by blind faith alone.

  150. Nick: Sorry this is too long to reply to in detail. Rowe’s premise (1) is in fact false, and certainly cannot be shown to be true. With Schellenberg both (1) and (2) are false.

    Tropes about “would be expected” and “requisite standard of evidence” just don’t get anywhere – you can always “refute” an assertion by “requiring” an exceptional level of rigor in the evidence. Historical evidence is certainly evidence, and the historical evidence for Jesus resurrection is extremely strong. Even you would (I suppose) concede that if Jesus’ resurrection happened broadly as described it would be strong confirmation of Christianity.

  151. Nicholas . You have failed to answer many of my points, as is your habit. However, you did say “Rowe’s premise (1) is in fact false, and certainly cannot be shown to be true”

    So, which is it, false or just not demonstrably true? If you contend that it is in fact false, then please prove this. If you cannot do so, then you must allow that it might in fact be true.

    Now, I am not asserting that this premise is definitely true. Rather, I think that we need to appeal to rationality and plausibility when attempting to determine its probability. For example, consider the case of a young child who is buried alive after an earthquake, suffers terribly for several hours, and then finally dies whilst crying out for her parents (who lie dead beside her). Based upon this, I would argue the following:

    P: There is no good state of affairs we know of that would morally justify an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being in permitting this to obtain

    Now this premise does not state that there could not exist some good state of affairs that would provide the necessary moral justification but, rather, the weaker claim that we do not know of such a good state of affairs. So, such a state of affairs is possible, and we might just not know about it (the ‘noseeum’ defence again).

    However, rationally, if we have no good evidence that there exists such a moral justification, then we should not believe it to be the case. As with any other belief, if it is taken on blind faith alone (i.e. it is not self-evidently true, and it has not been justified), then it is probably false, as the number of false beliefs will always vastly outnumber the number of true ones. So, if one chooses a belief in such an arbitrary ad hoc way, then it will probably be false. So, that brings me to:

    Q: There is probably no good state of affairs that would morally justify an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being in permitting this to obtain

    Of course, occurrences of apparently pointless, gratuitous and morally unjustifiable suffering occur in the world in a million different ways, and have done so throughout all history, so the proponent of the ‘noseeum’ defence must assert that every last one of them is somehow morally justified. So, we have an unjustified assertion for one suffering event (which is therefore improbable) that must be repeated a countless number of times.

    So, this doesn’t prove the factual claim made by Rowe, but it does nevertheless make it rational and plausible to suppose that:

    P1: There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

    You also said: “With Schellenberg both (1) and (2) are false.”

    Please demonstrate that this is so.

    “Tropes about “would be expected” and “requisite standard of evidence” just don’t get anywhere – you can always “refute” an assertion by “requiring” an exceptional level of rigor in the evidence.”

    I am only requiring a standard of evidence that is appropriate to your claims. To quote Richard Carrier (I would recommend you read the whole essay here –

    “Christianity quite clearly makes very extraordinary claims: that there is a disembodied, universally present being with magical powers; that this superbeing actually conjured and fabricated the present universe from nothing; that we have souls that survive the death of our bodies (or that our bodies will be rebuilt in the distant future by this invisible superbeing); and that this being possessed the body of Jesus two thousand years ago, who then performed supernatural deeds before miraculously rising from the grave to chat with his friends, and then flew up into outer space.”

    If you are going to make such extraordinary claims, then I’m afraid that you will have to produce some extraordinary supporting evidence. However, to quote Carrier again:

    “Not a single one of these claims has any proven general proposition to support it. We have never observed any evidence for any “disembodied being” or any person who was present “everywhere.” We have never observed anyone who had magical powers, or any evidence that such powers even exist in principle (at least, what stories we do have of such people are always too dubious to trust). We have no good evidence that we have souls or that anyone can or will resurrect our bodies. We have never confirmed that anyone was ever possessed by God. We have never observed anyone performing anything confirmed to be miraculous, much less rising from graves or any comparable ability. Supposed claims of psychic powers, astrological prediction, biblical prophecy, and so on, have all turned out to be unprovable or outright bunk.”

    Nicholas said “Historical evidence is certainly evidence, and the historical evidence for Jesus resurrection is extremely strong”

    Historical evidence certainly does count as evidence, but it is not the best, and may in many cases be very poor. In the case of the Resurrection, I’m afraid that the evidence is far too weak to justify such an extraordinary claim. I don’t have the time or the inclination to go into more details on this, but I would urge you to read the following essay:

    A point that I didn’t mention yesterday is that, considering you seem to have no good evidence to establish that God is perfectly good (even supposing that you could first establish that some kind of universe creating being exists at all), then why should you worship it and obey its supposed commands? You might do so out of prudence of course, in an attempt to appease it to save your own skin, but why else should you do so?

    After all, if God exists but is not perfectly good, then why is it a suitable object of worship? We don’t literally worship our parents, for example. And why should we obey its commands? If God is not perfectly good, then any particular one of his moral instructions may be good or bad, with no clear way to distinguish between the two. We only have God’s word for the fact that he is perfectly good but, of course, if he isn’t then he might be deceiving us. For all you know, God may reserve a special place in Hell for all those who unquestioningly obey his commands.

    The evidence from the Bible is certainly ambiguous. It’s a mixed bag, with some worthy moral teachings (but nothing much that hadn’t already been said in other cultures), and plenty of truly atrocious stuff. So, the evidence, such as it is, doesn’t point to a perfectly good God at all (of course, you might wheel out the ‘noseeum’ defence again, but I think we’ve had enough of that). Some people claim that they can correctly interpret the moral teachings of the Bible, but why should they need interpreting at all (as God would surely give them in a clear and unambiguos way), by what moral yardstick are they making such an interpretation, and why should we trust their judgment on these matters anyway?

    In terms of the Euthyphro dilemma (i.e. Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?), we would first need to establish the perfect goodness of God. Otherwise, there is no reason to suppose either that God would command what is moral, or that something is moral just because it is commanded by God.

    Under the circumstances, I think that it is more plausible to suppose that there is no universe creating being but, even if there is, that it is not perfectly good. Therefore, in terms of a good moral framework we’re on our own, and the religious have no right to presume to impose their morals upon the rest of us. Fortunately for us, a basic morality evolved in us due to the advantages that it conferred within a group environment, and much progress has since been made in terms of augmenting and refining this basic moral sense to come up with plausible secular moral theories.

  152. Nick: I really don’t have time to respond in detail here to your long and evidently heartfelt posts. Much of this is covered in Questions of Truth.

    You cannot show that a worldview is false by demanding that each part of it is proven conclusively to be true. Even in science, things just don’t work like that – let alone in philosophy. Outside mathematics, completely conclusive proof doesn’t exist, and even in mathematics not every true statement can be proven.

    But if you want to “prove” Christianity has serious logical problems of consistency you have to start with premises that Christians demonstrably accept. Asking them to demonstrate that they are false again misses the point.

    I’m afraid life is too short to read writings of a complete crank (which is how Carrier appears). If you can find 3 first-rate philosophers who take his writings seriously perhaps I’d reconsider.

  153. Eric MacDonald

    This is bizarre, Nicholas, especially since we are disucssing a question of truth. It is not possible to say, with any degree of reason, that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is strong. The evidence for his burial is not strong. In fact, having the body of a condemned criminal released for burial would have been exceedingly unusual.

    But the stories in the canonical gospels (and Paul) are incompatible, and show every sign of being later compositions. The fact that practically every account of the resurrection overlooks Matthew’s claim that the bodies of many saints arose and were seen by many is an indication of the fact that most Christians are embarrassed by such an outrageous fabrication. But if Matthew could freely embroider the story, that in itself is an indication that the resurrection stories do not constitute evidence.

    It is often said that the fact that the church grew so rapidly and the disciples were so ready to accept martyrdom constitutes some kind of proof that the resurrection must have taken place, since such dynamism and selflessness must have some historical anchor, but that’s like saying that Joseph Smith must have seen the golden plates because he gathered followers around him who were willing to die rather than give up their faith. In any case, the book When Prophecy Fails provides evidence that proselytising activity may well follow unrealised expectations.

    Besides, we have no solid evidence for the fate of the disciples, none, really – that they were 12, or 70 (both numbers suspiciously symbolic), or that they died as martyrs, or spread the gospel. Most of them disappear from the record, except for a few myths or legends (allowing that they really did exist, which is not by any means certain).

    The story of doubting Thomas, in John’s gospel, is so obviously a later fabrication, based on opposition to a Thomas tradition which denied the bodily resurrection, that in itself it raises questions as to the evidence available at that time. And there has been so much exegesis of the resurrection as an echatological (or end time spiritual) event, that it is hard to place the idea of resurrection in the context of everyday living and dying.

    But the bifiurcation of traditions is, I suggest, decisive. That Mark does not have a resurrection tradition, and Matthew and John place the appearances in Galilee, while Luke places them in Jerusalem, are clearly so incompatible as to make a nonsense of the whole. Then there are all the discrepancies about the events of Sunday morning, and the fanciful story about the fish BBQ, and the disciples wondering, and then deciding, that it was really Jesus, which is similar to the story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who only recognised Jesus ‘in the breaking of bread’, which is too obviously a later eucharistic meditation.

    It is, I am afraid, preposterous to call any of this strong evidence. As to conceding that the resurrection, if it happened, would be a strong confirmation of Christianity: this is even more preposterous. Christianity is a cultural construction which has been in the making for many centuries. To suppose that this is underwritten by the resurrection of someone from the dead nearly 2000 years ago – an extraordinary enough happening, to be sure – but not a confirming one, can only be done by someone who is already committed to the truth of Christianity. But there are so many discrepant forms of Christianity. Which one shall we say it confirms? Recall that the process of forming an orthodoxy was as much an imperial decision as a decision about the truth of various doctrines. I suggest that it is impossible to take the various strands of early Christian theology and decide, on its merits, which one is the truth (if any of them are).

    Take only one controversy, Arianism. Arius claimed that Jesus was not true god of true god, but that he was god in a diminished sense. Supposing the resurrection actually to have happened: can we now claim more? What could possibly take us from ὁμοιουσιον to ὁμοουσιον? What evidence could we have for either? What would it mean to say that one is right and the other wrong? And if there is no way of deciding this question, and despite reams of theology, there isn’t, I suggest, then it is not clear that the resurrection, having happened, can be a confirmation of anything. It’s only a confirmation if we can think of it as an eschatological event, but then it is already theologised, and so not a natural event at all, and not something for which we can provide evidence. That is, it is not an historical event, not something for which evidence, in any ordinary sense of that word, could be given.

  154. Eric: from your worldview as a disillusioned ex-priest what you say all looks “obvious” to you, but from my worldview it looks very different. The strangeness of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection seem to me (and Polkinghorne) to be strong evidence that they are not fabrications. I’m sure you accept that all these discrepencies would have been as clear to people in the 1st Century as they are now.

    The “which version” is a red herring – deciding between versions of Christianity can be done on other grounds.

  155. Nicholas: Do you believe that everything that Bible says happened necessarily happened? How about Noah and his Ark? Did that occur? How about Moses parting the Red Sea? Did that occur? How Josuah blowing his trumpet and walls of Jericho tumbling down? Did that occur? If not, what reason is there to believe that the miracle of the resurrection , narrated in contradictory form in different gospels, as Eric points out, really took place?

  156. Jesus never wrote a book or had any official position, he was executed , his followers forsook him and fled. Yet within a very short period his gospel was being proclaimed, 300 years later the empire that persecuted it embraced Christianity, 2000 years later he has over 1bn followers.

    “That the disciples had resurrection experiences I consider historically certain – what they were, I cannot say” (EP Sanders)

  157. Nicholas said: “You cannot show that a worldview is false by demanding that each part of it is proven conclusively to be true”

    But, if one can produce no good evidence for any of the major tenets of one’s worldview, and those tenets anyway infer a world very different from the one that we in fact observe, then there is no good reason to suppose that worldview to be true. It might be true, but possible doesn’t means probable. It’s all about the argument to the best explanation. I’m not asking for conclusive proof, but your level of proof never even seems to reach minimal plausibility.

    “But if you want to “prove” Christianity has serious logical problems of consistency you have to start with premises that Christians demonstrably accept. ”

    That is what I believe that I did. If you want to enlighten me by telling me what Christianity actually believes about its God, about Jesus and so on, then please feel free to do so.

    “I’m afraid life is too short to read writings of a complete crank (which is how Carrier appears). If you can find 3 first-rate philosophers who take his writings seriously perhaps I’d reconsider.”

    More Ad Hominum attacks? Is that the best you can do? So, rather than showing why his ideas are wrong, you will just label him a crank, and ignore his arguments (even his historical ones). After all, his arguments are not intrinsically ‘cranky’, as he espouses a form a metaphysical naturalism that is quite mainstream amongst atheist philosophers.

    I have to say that from this side of the fence, many religious philosophers appear distinctly cranky, but that doesn’t stop me from evaluating their ideas. Moreover, there seems to me to be something rather ironic about people who believe in a magical, all-powerful disembodied universe-creating being, an invisible realm populated by the souls of the dead (or their resurrected bodies), angels, virgin births, miracles and the like – all without any good supporting evidence whatsoever – labelling people who don’t as ‘cranks’.

    By the way, can you name 3 first-rate philosophers who take your ideas seriously (and I wouldn’t include Polkinghorne in this list, as he’s not a philosopher in the sense that you imply)? If not, then shouldn’t we equally just ignore your arguments?

    It may interest you to know that Carrier will be debating William Lane Craig on the Resurrection of Jesus later this month. It’s suprising that Craig would waste his time on such a ‘crank’, as some consider Craig to be one of the foremost Christian philosophers. You might disagree, but he is surely rather more noteworthy than you, and he can find the time to read and debate Carrier.

  158. Eric MacDonald

    Well, Nicholas, I did think you would dismiss my remarks in the way that you did. This is not exceptional, of course, since this is what you have been doing all along. Funny, though, that you have chosen an ad hominem argument, rather than a substantive one. Still, I find it hard to believe that you can take the gospels and consider that you have strong evidence, especially since we have scarcely any idea about the history of their formation, though form criticism has made a good stab at it. We know that the accounts are heavily edited, that there are frequent parallels and divergences. But we are not even sure who copied from whom. Mark is clearly the earliest gospel, at least of the canonical four, and the resurrection narrative was unknown to him. We do not know that the other gospels reflect any witness claims of the events purportedly described, and since they are so discrepant, it is hard to say, with any confidence, that they do. To suppose, also, that worldviews determine what will and will not count as evidence suggests a kind of relativism that on the face of it you do not hold, since you speak so confidently of evidence. If evidence works only within a world view, then Hindus have as much evidence for Hanuman’s leap from Ceylon to India as Christians have for the resurrection, which tends do depress the value of evidence.

    I spent many years as a priest, and I have, despite my negative words, not resigned my orders, but I have always discussed the evidence for the resurrection in the way that I did in my last post. I never thought of it as an historical event, never. It was never, for me, a confirmation of anything; it was a wholly eschatological event, and after spending years with the text, this seemed to me the only reasonable understanding of what others seemed, as you do, to take so literally. I have not, as you so rudely suggest, substituted world view for world view, as though world views were merely changes of intellectual clothing, and I have, on occasion, in this forum, as well as elsewhere, tried to preserve a small area for spiritual understanding, but your approach and attitude makes this very difficult. The questiojns that I raised in my last post are familiar aspects of contemporary NT exegesis and theology of the resurrection, which is, for many, a completely inner-Christian understanding of what is included in faith. I am surprised that you should think differently. Nothing that I said in my last post is written from the point of view of a disillusioned priest, and it was exceedingly unkind of you to suggest as much, but that unkindness is becoming such a hallmark of your comments, that no one else here will think it unusual.

  159. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas, you quote Sanders:

    “That the disciples had resurrection experiences I consider historically certain – what they were, I cannot say.”

    Precisely. But that’s why the resurrection cannot count as evidence, for we cannot say what those experiences were. What is a ‘resurrection experience’? This is precisely the kind of thing which I tried to explain in my last post when I suggested that my understanding of the resurrection as an entirely inner-Christian understanding of faith experience is a fairly strong feature of contemporary theology. Indeed, the Thomas story suggests that resurrection experiences are available to those who have not seen and yet believe. There are too many other indications in the text that we are dealing with experiences and not events to allow us to say, without strong qualification, that we have evidence for more than experiences, experiences that may well have been interpreted later by the disciples, or their followers, as eschatological experiences of the risen Christ. But we have no idea what those experiences included or what they imply.

    One other point. The tendency of failed expectations and disappointment leading to energetic proselytising is the subject of the book mentioned earlier, When Prophecy Fails, and does not need extraordinary events actually to have happened. Failure of extraordinary expectations will do just as well, and might, indeed, in a state of fevered excitement, lead to precisely the kinds of experiences to which Sanders refers so ambiguously.

  160. Here’s an interesting blog post that I think might have some relevence to the discussion going on here –

  161. Eric MacDonald

    Thank you Nick. Blackford’s article is a very germane contribution at this point, though it seems as though Nicholas may have cut his losses and left. Of course, he might be busy.

    I’d just like to add that I could never be a true ‘faith-head’ of the kind that Blackford describes. Though finding great value in Christian forms of life, and finding within the Christian belief system, no matter how uncomfortably situated it sometimes seemed, as a purely human creation, mind you, something that aimed at, and in limited ways achieved, a nourshing of human flourishing, it never seemed to make sense to argue in the way that Nicholas does. No doubt he would say, as a consequence, that I was never really a Christian anyway. Well, that’s up to him, but I think he has to face the fact that there are many, like Jack Spong, John Robinson, or Paul Tillich, Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering, Graham Shaw, Maurice Wiles, Dennis Nineham, James Barr, Gordon Kaufmann, even John Macquarrie, and Rowan Williams on saner days, whose understanding of faith was quite liberal as to explicit commitment to metaphysical claims, and that ‘faith-headedness’ was considered anomalous behaviour amongst all but fundamentalist theologians.

    I could quite happily have continued acting as a priest in the church, had it not seemed that this trend was reversing itself, but more particularly, because in the light of Darwin, belief in a creator god, even in Cupitt’s non-realist sense of belief, seemed to me to be too accepting of suffering. The church’s refusal to permit people who requested help in dying to receive such help is, it seems to me, one real consequence of such a belief, and, in my view, a morally intolerable consequence. Therefore, I have ceased to act as a priest. However, I may say this, if I wish, as a way of repudiating the kind of nonsense that Nicholas has been expressing here, but I deny him the right to speak sneeringly of me as a disillusioned ex-priest, when it serves his rhetorical purposes. I retired as an Archdeacon, and am still a canon of the local cathedral. This may show the laxness of discipline within the Anglican Church, but it does not give Nicholas the right to sneer instead of attempting to answer arguments made in good faith.

  162. but it does not give Nicholas the right to sneer instead of attempting to answer arguments made in good faith.

    No, and nothing else gives him that right either. I’ve been downright shocked by Nicholas’s refusal to engage arguments and questions and his resort to insult or credential-flashing instead.

  163. I was recording a radio discussion with Julian Baggini – hence absence. I was not sneering – we all have worldviews and we all interpret evidence through them. Things which seem “obvious” to you are not obvious to people with another perspective, and vice versa. FWIW I knew John Robinson and he would not have agreed with you about the gospels (vide his “Can we Trust the New Testament”).

    We all have limits on our time – and can’t be expected to read everything that someone posts on a blog. Three 1st rate philosophers who take my ideas seriously: would Onora O’Neill, John Lucas and Richard Swinburne do?

  164. Eric MacDonald

    I thought you might have been away, and, I’m afraid to say, given other things that you have said here, that the words ‘disillusioned ex-priest’ come across as a sneer.

    Of course you don’t have to answer everything, Nicholas, but it was you who chose to be a participant here, and I think you have some responsibility, in response to some of the things that have been said in response to your remarks, to offer a reasonable attempt at a response that is as full as you can make it.

    For example, you think the evidence for the resurrection is very strong, strong enough to say that, because it happened, it proves Christianity to be true. This is an enormous claim. I’m not sure you are aware of just how fantastic a claim it is, but surely you owe us an explanation as to how it does this. Your quote from Sanders just doesn’t do this. In fact, it opens up all the exegetical questions that I have raised. So, if this is the kind of support you think is available for your claim, it just won’t do.

    As for John Robinson – I didn’t know him, but I did speak at length with his widow Ruth at a conference – he obviously made some tactical retreats after Honest to God, as did Harvey Cox, who was his reflection in America, and in fact it was said, laughingly, that when he was a bishop he sounded more like an Oxford don, but when he became a don, he began to sound more like a bishop. But Ruth Robinson, in later life, certainly ran far ahead of him, and whether she considered herself a Christian or not, she had taken her leave of orthodox theology long ago. Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament was surely a sport of sorts, so out of keeping with current and later NT scholarship. He dated the whole thing before the year 70, which is simply a quixotic position. Perhaps, though, it was in his nature to be a renegade (in its proper etymological sense), whichever way his denials led him.

    Of your philosophers, I am not familiar with O’Neill. I think Lucas, if you mean J.R. Lucas, is a fine philosopher, and Richard Swinburne is not. In my view, no one has written much more nonsense about god than Swinburne. His treatment of the problem of pain is laughable and in parts deeply offensive. A bit like Plantinga, someone who has achieved enormous stature, and one wonders why. I ask the same sorts of questions, I’m afraid, though you do not mention him, about Alister McGrath, who is now, I believe, in course of delivering the Gifford Lectures. But his scholarship is shoddy, and he is also given to dealing out rather acerbic and indiscriminate offence.

  165. Eric: really wasn’t intended as a sneer, but an attempt to describe the worldview from which you see things. Please provide suitable substiture…

    Surely you would accept that if the resurrection happened (broadly as described by Christianity) then it does prove the Christianity is true?

    Also, by the standards of any normal historical event of that period the resurrection is extremely well-attested: at least four separate authors. (Can you think of a comparable non-royal or non-military event that has more testimony? I can’t). The only reason that people don’t believe it is because it is an extraordinary claim and they won’t apply normal historical standards.

    In fact it all hinges on the prior probability that you assign to the worldviews. If you think that Christianity is quite likely to be true then the resurrection is strong confirmatory evidence. But if you think Christianity is almost certain to be false then the other conceivable explanations for the evidence of the resurrection may look more compelling, from that PoV. After all, J Ceasar may not have invaded Britain, he could have merely been writing propaganda.

    Onora is President of the British Academy so we must I think allow that she is considered a first-rate philosopher by her professional peers. I’m glad you like John. Swinburne is also an FBA – as is Keith Ward (what do you think of him?)

  166. michael reidy

    A Canon eh. Bad mind that I have I suspected that you might be unfrocked and that your name in religion would be Eric the Apostate. You are not very well lashed down though. There was a canon from Trim in Ireland Furlong by name whom the vestrymen had great difficulty in removing. He it seems had doubts about the Incarnation. Ireland – rebarbative backwater.

  167. Eric MacDonald

    All right, Nicholas, we’ll drop the sneer allegation. It felt like one, is all. But I don’t have a particular world view, to be quite frank. I don’t think of my world view as closed, in the sense that, if there were some credible evidence, I would reject Christian or other religious claims.

    However, I cannot see how you can consider that, as you put it:

    by the standards of any normal historical event of that period the resurrection is extremely well-attested: at least four separate authors.

    This is really an astonishing claim (even before we come to the claim that, if the resurrection is well attested, it proves Christianity to be true). First of all, four separate authors, in this case, does not indicate four independent attestations of the event (if it can be thought of as an event).

    First, Mark is acknowledged, by most textual scholars, to be without a resurrection narrative. The narrative that now exists was a later addition. So, that’s one attestation gone.

    Second, it is not at all clear that the other three evangelists can be considered to be independent, in the sense in which independent attestation is considered in historical studies. Since there was obviously a lot of shared borrowing, from Mark, and from Q, in Matthew and Luke, and other sources as well, it’s hard to know whether we are dealing with independent attestations, or whether we have a unitary tradition that began with one group of Christians, who conveyed it, in varying ways, to others. If you see something, and I see it, and then we talk about it together, then our evidence is no longer independent. That’s why witnesses in court are asked not to read accounts of the trial, or speak about their evidence with others.

    Third, John’s gospel, which has an extremely intricate (one might almost say fanciful) story from the Last Supper until the resurrection – especially the scene in the garden, where the soldiers are said to have fallen down in awe of Jesus, when he said ‘I am He’ – and the immense quantity of spices for the burial – and other quite unbelieveable features, such as the famous race of Peter and John to the tomb, but yet more unbelieveable to read what they did when they got there:

    Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. -John 20:8-9

    Notice that, they went in, and believed, but they did not understand the scripture – that is prophecy – this is, as Dominic Crossan says, prophecy fulfilled rather than history remembered – that he must rise from the dead. This is an extraordinarily strange thing to say. They are believing something they do not yet understand. What is this experience? Is this the resurrection?

    And, of course, if you are considering Paul to be one of the four authors, his recitation of the resurrection story is quite obviously creedal, and has undergone considerable development, but notice that Paul adds that, as to one untimely born, the risen Christ appeared also to him. So he was vouchsafed a resurrection experience as well, which makes identifying that experience very difficult.

    No wonder Sanders says that he is sure that these people had a resurrection experience, only he’s not sure what that is. And so long as we don’t know what it is, and it’s unlikely we’re going to unravel that at this distance in time, we can’t say that it is historically attested by anyone, since we don’t know what ‘it’ is. All that is attested is that these people had an experience (which they experienced variously, as hard physical body, a wraith like being which can pass through walls, or can disappear in the breaking of the bread, or appear as a mysterious figure on the seashore). This is not convincing evidence for something that, as you say, is to carry the entire weight of what is called (in a general way) Christianity, but which is, in fact, a bewildering variety of conflicting beliefs.

    I agree that, if there were demonstrably independent attestations, and could be shown to be coherently thought to refer to an identifiable event, then the resurrection (as the event so described) is probably better attested than many events in ancient history. But as it is presented to us in the texts it simply does not have the same coherence with reality that other recorded events have. It has an air of unreality, as my quote from John’s gospel suggests, to my mind.

    But I do not know that I could agree with your statement that

    if the resurrection happened (broadly as described by Christianity) then it does prove the Christianity is true?

    And the reason I say that is because it is not clear what the resurrection means in the context of the NT text. It is, I think, as an American scholar (whose name escapes me for the moment) says, an attempt to describe an eschatological event. It is not like the raising of Lazarus, of whom we hear so little. Instead, it is an anticipation of the end times, but what that would be, I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

    I do apologise for the length of my reply.

  168. I think it’s a bit strange to talk as if people come at these things with pre-set world views, and then everything falls out one way or another. So Eric has the “disillusioned priest” world-view, and that’s that.

    Having talked to Eric a lot over a long period, I think it’s fair to say that he came to his current world view from an initial position of openness. For heaven’s sake, he became a priest. He then read a lot, thought a lot, experienced a lot, and as a result came to his current state of mind. In short, the world-view is nothing fixed or a priori.

    As to the truth about the historical Jesus, I have found Bart Ehrman a good guide. See for example, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of a New Millenium. Here’s another person who started out with openness (he was an evangelical at first) and then gradually lost belief as a result of thought and scholarship. There’s no discounting his views as due to the fact that he’s got some fixed, skeptical world-view. If I started out a believer like Ehrman, this book (and others) might also do a lot to reduce certainty or change my mind.

    I am told by my friends who teach religious studies that this is a common pattern. Christian students come into classes about the New Testament, and are enraged to discover that things are not simple at all. It is common that students go through religious crises. At the very least, they find out that Christianity really is a matter of faith, not evidence.

  169. Nicholas said: “Also, by the standards of any normal historical event of that period the resurrection is extremely well-attested: at least four separate authors.”

    Here are some problems with the standard of the historical evidence for the resurrection. For means of comparison, I will conrast the historical evidence for the resurrection against that for Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

    1) There is no physical-historical necessity for this event to have happened. In the case of Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the history of Rome could not have proceeded as it did if Caesar had not physically moved an army into Italy. By contrast, all that is needed to explain the rise of Christianity is a belief that the resurrection happened. An actual resurrection would have added nothing that would not have been caused merely by the belief alone.

    2) There is lots of physical evidence for the crossing of the Rubicon – including inscriptions and coins produced soon after the Republican Civil War that refer to the Rubicon crossing. By contrast, there is no physical evidence of any kind in the case of the resurrection. No documents, no inscriptions commissioned by the resurrected Jesus or by witnesses (and the Shroud of Turin is a proven Medieval fake).

    3) There is contemporaneous unbiased or counterbiased corroboration of the crossing of the Rubicon. That is, there are sources who would know if the story was true or not and for whom there is no plausible reasons to be credulous or to lie about the account, as well as sources who would be biased against the event taking place (Caesar’s enemies, friends, and neutral observers).

    By contrast, there are no hostile or even neutral records of Jesus’ resurrection until more than a century after the event is supposed to have taken place. This is half a century after the Christians starting spreading their story, and long after any relevent facts could be checked.

    4) There are credible critical accounts of the crossing of the Rubicon by known scholars in antiquity. In fact, it appears in almost every history of the age, by the most reliable and prominent sources (e.g. Suetonius, Appian, Plutarch etc.). These scholars have been shown to be reliable when reporting on other matters. They quote and cite sources and witnesses (both hostile andfriendly), have a wide reading of related documents, and are often prepared to critically examine claims that are contested.

    By contrast, no historian mentions the resurrection until two or three centurues afterwards, and then only Christian historians who relate it uncritically. Others just repeated what Christians told them. The Christians who tell of the resurrection within 100 years of the event are overtly biased, do not cite sources, are not widely read, and do not critically examine competing claims.

    5) There is an eyewitness acount of the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar himself. By contrast, we have nothing written by Jesus himself, andwe do not even know for certain the name of the author of any accounts of the resurrection (as the names of the 4 Evangelists were assigned decades after the Gospels were written. Furthermore, Paul did not actually witness the resurrection, since he only encountered Jesus in a vision.

    So, overall the resurrection is not a historically well-attested event, and the evidence that does exist is not of a very high standard. This is quite unlike the case with Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon.

    So, that is why the evidence for the resurrection is not of the extraordinary type that would be required to support the extraordinary claim of the resurrection.

    As the evidence of the resurrection is so poor, it could only be used to support the type of event that is a completely unextraordinary event, as the general proposition that such an event would happen is quite ordinary. For example, if I say to you that I own a cat, then you probably wouldn’t require too much evidence to support such a claim, as owning cats is a very ordinary type of thing. However, if I say to you that I can make myself invisible by rubbing yoghurt on myself, then you should require an extrordinary type of evidence to support this, as the general proposition that people can make themselves invisible by rubbing yoghurt on themselves is a very extraordinary one. So, any particular proposition of that type requires the general proposition to be supported.

    Similary, the general claim that people can come back from the dead is an extraordinary one. It is one for which we have no evidence at all, and that would fly in the face of much contrary evidence. So, the particular proposition that a man called Jesus came back from the dead requires an extraordinary type of evidence. The historical evidence in the Bible simply does not come close to meeting that requirement.

    Nicholas Said: “In fact it all hinges on the prior probability that you assign to the worldviews. If you think that Christianity is quite likely to be true then the resurrection is strong confirmatory evidence”

    The problem is that when you examine the main claims of the Christian worldview, each turns out to have a low prior probability – so they are not mutually supporting. We have no good evidence that the supernatural exists in general, we have no experience in general of universe-creating superbeings with magical powers, we have no good reason to suppose that minds can exist without bodies, we do not meet people who have been resurrected, or who are now in a place called Heaven etc. In fact, you have to take almost all of this on faith in the Christian worldview, which is why faith is made into such a virtue. However, as a result of the necessity of faith, the prior probability of the Christian worldview has to be low. If you think that the prior probability of any of the main tenets of the Christian worldview is not low, then please demonstrate why this is so.

    “Three 1st rate philosophers who take my ideas seriously: would Onora O’Neill, John Lucas and Richard Swinburne do?”

    And do these philosophers actually cite your work in their academic papers and books, or are you merely making the weaker claim that some of their ideas are in accord with yours, andso they are happy to encourage you?

  170. Eric: I never said that these were completely independent attestations. Where do these occur in the rest of ancient history? You are seeking to apply a “standard of proof” that is completely different from that applied elsewhere.

    The strangeness of the resurrection, which seems to you evidence that the accounts were invented, seems to me (and Polkinghorne, and many others) to be evidence that they were not. People knew all about conflict of evidence in the 1st Century.

    Jean: I completely agree with you that people modify their worldviews: some go from Christianity to Atheism and others vice-versa, etc.. etc… But the point is that we all have worldviews, they colour the way we evaluate experience and evidence. What is “obvious” or “laughable” is usually a function of worldview, rather than simply a matter of the propositions in question.

  171. Eric MacDonald

    I’m sorry, I meant to say something about Keith Ward. I have several of his books, and have read all of them! The following quotation from his Ethics and Christianity has always disturbed me:

    … Jesus, whom the ‘agapeists’ select as their supreme example of total devotion to others, would … seem to be, on their own assumptions, deluded, arrogant and intolerant. His reported utterances about God and life-after-death must, such agapeists say, be false; his alleged claims to supreme authority and knowledge of God are not signs of undue humility; and his remarks about the Pharisees are not expressions of unbounded tolerance. If one grants the existence of God and the unique status of Jesus in relation to him, these characteristics of his reproted life become quite natural and appropriate [my italics] … (p. 28)

    This (the portion in italics, given what has just come before) has always struck me as such a wicked thing to have said, that I have always found Professor Ward’s writings very difficult to read, because there are things like this said in all of them. I think particularly of his book: God: A Guide for the Perplexed. I disagreed with him so strongly throughout this book that I wondered how it was that he had managed to publish so many. I am sure he will be amused when you tell him. But to describe Jesus accurately as arrrogant and intolerant, and then to say that if his relationship to God is as Christians hold it to be, then arrogance and intolerance is something we should expect of him, is very disquieting.

    It is worth remarking here that Jesus’ alleged sayings about the Pharisees are largely responsible for the negative perception that Christians have of Jews and Judaism. (This is something that I observed, to my own chagrin, in my own, and others’ preaching, and it is difficult to avoid, too.) It should not be lightly said that, given Jesus’ unique relationship with God, this intolerance is natural and appropriate. I feel myself feeling the old sense of horror at having actually read these words in a Christian text!

  172. Nick: no time to respond in full to your post.

    I don’t think you quite get the concepts of prior probabilty and worldview. Reading my debate with Colin Howson (in Prospect) might help.

    FWIW Onora chaired the launch of my book at the Royal Society last night, John came up from Somerset to be there and Swinburne came down from Oxford and asked the first question. We had good discussions afterwards, but since it’s only just come out it’s a bit early for them to cite it :-).

  173. In fact it all hinges on the prior probability that you assign to the worldviews. If you think that Christianity is quite likely to be true then the resurrection is strong confirmatory evidence. But if you think Christianity is almost certain to be false then the other conceivable explanations for the evidence of the resurrection may look more compelling, from that PoV. After all, J Ceasar may not have invaded Britain, he could have merely been writing propaganda.

    I don’t think “worldviews” enter into these things in such a simple way. People’s ideas about religious truth don’t fully determine what they consider good or bad evidence. This is very clear if you talk to bible scholars. (I’ve known a fair number…) The religious orientation of the scholar does not tell you a lot about how they sift evidence, what they consider compelling evidence for what, etc. People can have a faith in the basic Jewish or Christian story-line, but not think it’s attested by historical evidence.

    Basically, they compartmentalize. Their religious faith is tucked into one part of their brain. In another part, they maintain the highest historical and scientific standards. I think smart non-believers can do that too. In one part of the mind, they are skeptics about miracles. So they think there was no resurrection, no virgin birth, etc. etc. But in another part, they’re willing to look at the evidence dispassionately and decide what it does and doesn’t at least seem to show.

    So–the worldview thing really ought to just be put to the side. An atheist and a Christian ought to be able to have a conversation about the evidence without just attributing distorting thoughts to one another.

  174. Jean: I disagree. An atheist and a Christian cannot dialogue about evidence. What is evidence for a Christian is nonsense (not to use a stronger word) for an atheist. Now, an atheist and a Christian can dialogue about many other things besides evidence:
    ethics, commitment, faith, love (as a human phenomenon), the meaning of life, what it means to belong to a community of ideas.

  175. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas, this is beyond belief! You say that I am holding the resurrection to a wholly different standard of proof.

    Let’s see. Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Okay, what did people see? Probably a man on a horse crossing a river at a ford.Simple enough. Doesn’t take much to show that that is what he did, or to describe it either.

    Jesus rose from the dead. What does that mean? Is it, as Sanders says – and you quoted him – like this?

    That the disciples had resurrection experiences I consider historically certain – what they were, I cannot say.

    What shall we take from this? If someone was a witness to this ‘event’, what did they see? They had experiences, but “what they were, [we] cannot say.” If we can’t say, then we can’t know, and if we can’t know, then there is no proof.

    Now, to my aged brain, this seems like pretty good evidence that we don’t have enough evidence.

    Did they have a spiritual experience, as Paul apparently did? Or did they get to touch his body and watch him eat food? Or was it case of now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t? We don’t know, as Sanders admits. It’s a big jump – it’s an enormous jump – from this to the claim that the resurrection happened.

    Now, if saying that this amounts to proof of the resurrection, and this is the quality of most of our evidence about the ancient world, then we’d better take another look at the ancient world, because there is enough room for a coach and four to drive through this evidence!

    And, by the way, telling me that John Polkinghorne and many others agree with you that we have enough evidence here to support the whole superstructure of Christianity, does not overcome this problem with the evidence. This is not a question of authority or numbers or the eminence of those who agree with you. To make a claim like this takes much clearer evidence than this. We at least have to know what the evidence is evidence for.

    Take a look at the claims that are made about the apparition of the Virgin at Medugorje. Entirely independent traditions have developed, and no one really knows what happened, though millions have flocked to the site as though something of unbelieveable importance happened there, but no one knows what it was. This just won’t do. To make the kind of claim that you have made, that the occurrence of this event means that Christianity is true, it must be better than this. And this has got nothing to do with world views. It doesn’t mean that I have come to this with an ardently sceptical mind. I have always thought this, except, perhaps, when I was a kid, and it was nice to find my suspicions confirmed by so many exegetes.

  176. Amos, I just think that’s not the way it is. I say this based on pretty in depth conversations with bible scholars. The field of bible studies is not rent between believers and non-believers. People of different faiths can actually talk about the historical record, sift it, agree on it, debate about it, etc. It’s not at all true that all Christians think this record is terribly full, and not at all true that all non-believers think it’s so very sketchy. In the end, they obviously do have some profound disagreements, but it doesn’t have to be about history and evidence. So I think Nicholas is quite wrong to say that beliefs about the probabilities of these events (the resurrection, e.g.) determine how a person will look at the existing evidence.

  177. Eric: you’re confusing the nature of the event with the level of historical evidence. Everyone accepts that the Resurrection (if it happened) is a different kind of event from a man crossing a river on a horse. And I agree that there are historical events – esp involving battles/emporers that are better attested.

    But consider, for example, the life of Socrates. There are AFAIK only 3 sources, Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes (and very few early MSS of these). The Socrates that Aristophanes depicts in the Clouds is a comic parody and Xenophon seems rather confused as well. I think the only record we have of the trial is Plato’s who is obviously “biased”. That is the nature of most of the historical record I’m afraid.

  178. Correct, Jean. However, you’re talking about Christians as Biblical scholars, not as apologists for Christianity. I’ve seen interesting discussions online about the historical Jesus, about the contradictions between the gospels, etc., from Christian Biblical scholars. The Jesus Seminar is especially interesting, but there they consider evidence about Jesus as historians, not as apologists as does Beale. An atheist or Jewish historian with evidence about the historical Jesus (if he actually existed, which is a matter of debate) is welcome in such discussions. Such Biblical historians study Jesus as one could Epictetus, that is, a figure from ancient history about whom little is known, who wrote nothing, but whose sayings were written down (with the inevitable distortion) by a follower (in the case of Epictetus) or by followers in the case of Jesus.

  179. In case you’ve never read about the Jesus Seminar

  180. They are the lunatic fringe of biblical “scholarship”. Read Tom Wright if you want to see what christian bible scholars actually think.

  181. Amos, Right, except that I wouldn’t agree that all biblical historians believe Jesus is comparable to Epictetus. Some are genuine Christians, believing in the supernatural and miracles etc. But they do abide by basic standards of historical scholarship, etc. and may or may not think the historical record is full or decisive. I think you could easily have a Christian here disputing Nicholas’s fairly rosy picture of the evidence for the resurrection and the rest of Christian doctrine.

    But yes, if you have two people dead set on using historical evidence to convert each other, whether to belief or non-belief, then there are bound to be a lot of feathers flying, and not a lot of agreement on the historic record. (see above :-))

    Nicholas–I’m looking forward to hearing that radio debate. Hope it will be over at your website, where you reveal that you think I’m male. Have you figured out that I am not yet?

  182. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, hey, come on. If something like the truth of a major religion depended on the existence of Socrates, then the level of proof required, if it depended on Socrates having done something remarkable, would be very very high indeed. If you take Xenophon’s Socrates and Plato’s Socrates you have two completely different men. Well, so we know that Plato’s Socrates is probably an idealisation. Was he more bumbling, like Xenophon’s Socrates or Aristophanes’? We don’t know. But it doesn’t matter, because not a great deal hangs on it, and Plato’s Socrates is so fascinating, and says such interesting things. So, of course, the Socrates that most people recognise is Plato’s, and that’s been so for thousands of years. But, if something really important depended upon it, we don’t have enough to go on. It’s as simple as that.

    But you’re still making a fundamental error. (In fact, it seems as though you didn’t even read my post – which I can understand, since it was longish – but you simply cruise past every argument I make, and come out with your NT Wright imitation.) You think we know what the resurrection was, what kind of an event it was, and we don’t. So, even if the evidence proved that there was an event that came to be called the resurrection, this doesn’t mean that the resurrection, as most Christians understand that term, ever happened.This also seems pretty straightforward to me.

    And besides, remember, claiming that the resurrection happened is an extraordinary claim. It demands extraordinary evidence. I think Hume is still right on this, and I can’t think why you would think otherwise. You can’t simply say, “Well, historians write about the actions of some men on the basis of only one witness.” Of course they do, because often that’s all that we have, and often there’s no reason to distrust the evidence that we have either, because it’s usually about an unremarkable event that fits in with other unremarkable events, and nothing particularly important hangs on it. But you can’t say that about the resurrection. First, you don’t know what it is. Second, you don’t know that you have independent witnesses. Third, there’s much too much OT symoblism around. Fourth, too much depends on its being true, and too many people have vested interests in its being true.

    But I’ll give you this, there’s probably as much evidence for the resurrection as there is that the angel Gabriel dictated the Qu’ran to Mohammed.

  183. Eric MacDonald

    I cannot believe your claim that Tom Wright is the touchstone for biblical scholarship. He’s an example of an evangelical scholar who has so many axes to grind that he should open up a blacksmith’s shop! Nicholas, for shame! Even you know that scholarship is a cooperative business. No one scholar gets all the prizes, and, in my opinion, NT Wright least of all. But it does rather underline my ‘NT Wright imitation’ in my last post!

  184. michael reidy

    World view whether open, closed or peek-a-boo does come into it. What is data for you depends on your world view. The supposedly natural patterns that the data falls into depends on your world view. Continuity in perception tends to confirm your world view. Do railway lines meet at the horizon or seem to get closer as they are further away from you? Look and see. If they were represented otherwise in a painting would it not seem a glaring error? Prior to general literacy or even limited literacy ‘historical’ material would have been organised according to certain patterns which would have mnemonic value. All this is well known but the curious thing is that there is often a kernal of actual reality in those ancient documents. Schliemann, the mad amateur, went digging on the basis of internal evidence from the Odyssey and discovered Troy.

    The Bible like other scriptures is a different matter; it speaks to people. They read and some sort of living presence engages them. Not everybody though, it depends on your world view.

  185. Eric MacDonald

    I think Nicholas has decamped to pastures new. However, Michael, to say that what is data for ‘me’ (for any ‘me’, of course), depends on world view is a bit of metatheory. There are people around, like NT Wright, for example, who hold the belief that we assess things from the point of view of world views that are, in a sense, hermetically sealed off from each other. So, as Wright says, the Enlightenment world view is in deep trouble, and may, in fact, be shown to be a fraud.

    Now, that’s an interesting way to describe something (I can give chapter and verse if you like), because he also think this means that there is an opening, now, for a different kind of world view which accepts a different kind of evidence, and then he goes on to describe the resurrection in terms of Jesus having been raised ‘in a new physicality.’ Indeed, for him, this new physicality is in a sense the first anticipation of the age to come.

    My question is this. Even if his world view allows him to speak of a new physicality, what could this possibly mean, and how could we possibly know, based on NT ‘evidence’. He thinks the NT is evidence, afer all, and he wants to make a claim that this is evidence for something he calls a new physicality. In what sense can we allow, situated as we are, the consideration of this as evidence? Quite aside from Nicholas’ dancing around all the textual difficulties, as though we had ordinary historical evidence to deal with, doesn’t the hypothesis of a new physicality need rather more than ordinary historical evidence?

    Wright thinks that this is the only sensible conclusion, given the evidence; anything else, he suggests, is purely fanciful. But the point that he misses is that we don’t need to deal with the evidence. Since it really does live up to the expectations that we have for evidence, we can just think of it as the kind of story weaving that we know about from other sources, the stories of the Olympian gods, or the stories of Marian apparitions. We don’t need to do anything with it at all. We can easily igore it, and generations of exegetes since the 19th century have done just that, interpreting the evidence as a way of expressing something of religious significance, even though they were not sure what it was, but it had something to do with the end times, whatever that meant, and something to do with personal transformation right now. So, yes, some sort of living presence, but the presence of a new physicality?

    No, it won’t do. It’s best for religions to stay out of the confirmation business, and stick with the stories. Santa Claus is exciting for children, and stories of death and resurrection are exciting for adults for very different reasons. But I don’t understand how data becomes something else for me and for Wright. We’re both looking at the same things, only he manages to be more fanciful about it, because it’s important for him that it be somehow continuous with the kinds of confirmations with which he is familiar in science. And he can’t make it work that way. If it hadn’t been for the Enlightenment, which he pretends to disparage, he wouldn’t be making the claims that he is making. If he has a new world view, he should be content with it, but it won’t work for anyone unless they are willing to suspend their commitment to ordinary types of verification, such as are used successfully in science. He apparently wants to smash the scientific world view and then use it. But he can’t have it both ways.

  186. michael reidy

    It hinges on ‘evidence’. You’ve read I suppose James’s Varieties. Religious experience because subjective may not meet the strict criteria of evidence for science but someone who has had ‘similar’ experience may accept it particularly if there is alteration in behaviour and attitudes. That is what counts for ordinary folk, historical criticism and textual analysis does not impinge on their world view.

  187. Nicholas said: “I don’t think you quite get the concepts of prior probabilty and worldview. Reading my debate with Colin Howson (in Prospect) might help.”

    I’m afraid that I didn’t find your debate with Howson to be particularly enlightening.

    However, since you have so far failed to rebut most of my arguments at all (and the rebuttals that you have provided are rarely better than merely asserting that I am wrong, or that I don’t understand, or just suggesting that I read QoT), and have provided little positive evidence or reason to support your own case, it doesn’t seem to be worth my while to deconstruct your arguments from that debate.

    Rather, I shall point you in the direction of an online debate that covers many of the points that we have discussed, but in a more formal format. I would suggest that you pay particular attention to Carrier’s arguments BAN and BANBE in his opening statement, which together form a dumbed-down Bayesian argument for [Carrier] Naturalism (CN). BAN aims to establish a high prior probability for CN being true given nothing more than the relevent background knowledge, even before we start to look at specific evidence for or against CN. However, his argument BANBE only assumes an equal prior probability for CN and Basic Theism (BT).

    I would also recommend that you look at the argument ARJ, which covers the resurrection.

    Please see here:

  188. Nicholas. Just an idea – why don’t you put 2 or 3 of the questions and answers from QoT on to your website, so that we can see some of your arguments? I am not inclined to buy QoT, as I imagine that it will just be a rehash of the sort of Christian apologetics that I’ve read a hundred times before, and already discounted, but this would be a chance for you to entice me and any other doubters 😉

  189. Eric MacDonald

    Well, Michael, of course I know that textual analysis and historical criticism won’t change the mind of someone who believes him/herself to have had a life-changing experience, but Nicholas wants to claim the support of just the kinds of things that won’t budge ordinary people. And just to emphasise that we’re not dealing with a different level of proof, he adduces events in ancient history and their attestation as a comparison.

    But if, for example, a question arose as to some supernatural act done by, say, Augustus Caesar, the standard of evidence would change immediately, and whether or not he did that thing would probably not be establishable on the basis of witness statements, no matter how many. In the same way, I daresay, Nicholas wouldn’t be convinced by witness statements and traditions regarding the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje. But what Nicholas and NT Wright want to say is that ordinary standards of evidence are sufficient for an event that they can only describe (if it is describeable at all) in very tentative ways (as in Wright’s ‘a new kind of physicality’).

    What kinds of evidence would be necessary to prove this? It’s not clear, and it is unintelligible to me why Nicholas cannot see that he has a problem here. As for Nicholas’ experiences – this has nothing to do with that. If faith is a transformative experience for him, well, then, so it is. But this is not evidence for the truth of anything except the experience, and Nicholas is claiming far more.

  190. Eric MacDonald

    Well, Nick (and Nicholas, if you’re still listening), it seems that Professor Howson quite literally demolishes Nicholas. In fact, I cannot think of one thing that it left standing.

    It also shows another thing: that Nicholas’ arguing style – haughty and impolite – is an enduring charateristic of the man. I don’t know what other readers thought, but I do not think Nicholas did a better job of making his case in that exchange of letters than he has done in this exchange of notes, and he has been consistently rude and inattentive. Nicholas, time to rethink the argument, I believe. I hope TPM will put up links to the Baggini interview when it is available.

  191. Eric – Yes I agree. By the way, I found your comments to be very interesting.

  192. I’m v busy so limiting my comments here to 1/day.

    Jean: apologies – corrected.

    Eric: I don’t think you get the point about worldviews. One of the most serious problems with the “Enlightenment” is that they didn’t understand that they were putting forward a worldview with lots of myth and metaphor, and thought it was Objective Truth. The brutal excesses in France, Germany, Russia & China decisively refute the idea that “Enlightenment” leads inevitably to good outcomes.

    This leads us on to Evidence. If X is an observation and T1 and T2 are two theories then if p(X|T1)>p(X|T2) this means that X is evidence for T1 vs T2. However if the prior probability of T2 is >> that of T2 then the evidence may not be sufficient to convince you of T1. But it is still Evidence.

    Nick: I don’t have time to read cranks like Carrier. Also my publishers wouldn’t much like it if I gave bits of the book away. Why not take Julian’s advice (or Bill Phillips’s) and read the book – currently #1 bestseller on Religion on :-).

    Eric (“haughty & impolite”): Colin doesn’t seem to think so – we co-authored an article on what we agree on which should come out in Prospect soon.

    I’ll try to look in tomorrow.

  193. Nicholas said “I don’t have time to read cranks like Carrier. Also my publishers wouldn’t much like it if I gave bits of the book away. Why not take Julian’s advice (or Bill Phillips’s) and read the book – currently #1 bestseller on Religion on :-).”

    I’m afraid I’ve seen nothing here that would tempt me to buy it.

  194. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, I get the point about worldviews alright, and have been trying to slog through Charles Taylor’s description of the immanent and transcendent frames and CWSs and all the rest of the impedimenta that go along with it, and strangely, I find the whole picture unconvincing. I understand how the immanent frame, as he calls it, makes transcendent beliefs difficult, or, should I say, makes supernatural beliefs difficult. I do not think that the transcendent is limited to the supernatural, and I also tend to think that all supernatural beliefs cannot be known, reliably, to be true.

    But I do not see that we are dealing with two world views here, except insofar as there was once a time when the world was enchanted as it no longer is. But I don’t think we can say, without a lot more than I’ve seen in Taylor, that a genuine re-enchantment of the world is a possibility, and that’s because you’re stuck with evidential requirements which, try as you might, you really can’t get yourself around.

    It’s fine to say the kinds of things that you do in your exchange with Professor Howson (how nice that he does not find you pushy and inattentive), but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to say something like this, for instance.

    The Incarnation (the ultimate loving communication) has at least high probability given Red, and clearly, given the Incarnation, the Resurrection is virtually certain.

    First off the claim that ‘the incaration = the ultimate loving communication’ or that ‘Jesus = the incarnation’ are completely baseless assumptions, even if we could understand them. But to the extent that we can there is no evidence for either, and nothing upon which to base a probability (a term upon which you see to place a great deal of reliance). But then to go on to add insult to injury with the claim that ‘given the incarantion, the Resurrectiion is virtually certain’ is so preposterous a presupposition that I don’t know how you could possibly say it. Too much logic and science and not enough theology, I’m afraid.

    If this is an example of something that works in a particular world view, then I think we need to say that, not only is it a different world view, but you’re in a different world; or you are, as Professor Howson suggests, speaking a different language.

    He says that in connexion with your very strange and cold way of dealing with the problem of pain, which I will not reargue with you. But I will take issue with your claim about the Enlightenment.

    The brutal excesses in France, Germany, Russia & China [you say] decisively refute the idea that “Enlightenment” leads inevitably to good outcomes.

    Both true and not true. It is trivially true that Enlightenment will not by some form of historical necessity lead to good outcomes. That would be to expect too much, because, as we know, when political ideologies get involved, we are no longer dealing just with Enlightenment ideals, and all kinds of things get thrown into the pot, not all of them, indeed, perhaps, very few of them, would have been endorsed by the ideas or priorities of the Enlightenment .

    Intuitively, however, the Enlightenment is mainly about basing our beliefs and policies on the best evidence available, and dispensing with authority as a guide to truth. When people forget this, and are stirred up by passions that bring destruction in their wake, the fault is not with Enlightenment principles of sound belief and practice, but with inadequate understanding, mass movements of peoples, and a tendency to revert to authoritarianism, and, might I add, religious or quasi-religious modes of believing.

    I suppose some of the worst excesses of the church over the ages might be attributed to the same sources. Unfortunately, some of those excesses were in fact endorsed by the church’s best thinkers, like Augustine and Aquinas, and applied by an established authoritarian regime which still claims to represent Christ on earth, so that’s not so easily excusable.

    Has Enlightenment thinking always gone right? No, of course not, but this doesn’t mean that it has been, as Taylor says, for example, refuted. It just means that mistakes can be made. But the Terror, Nazism (and fascism generally), Stalinism, Maoism or Pol Potism, cannot be charged to the Enlightenment account, without oversimplifying history.

    Very few Enlightenment philosophes were as unaware as you would have them be, of myth and metaphor in the thought of the 18th century, nor should anyone forget the extent to which the old authoritarian regimes maintained their hold on things, despite the brutality and insensitivity that hold implied thoughout that period. To suppose that the outcome of that very unjust disposition of things was going to end well, is to live in dreamland. The same goes for the Russia of the Czars and the Russian Orthodox Church. It was a decrepit, unjust system, and the outcome was sadly predictable, given the First World War, and the existence of a political and economic theory which grew out of what is arguably a romantic reaction to the Enlightenment in the mind of Karl Marx.

    I don’t think we can get rid of Enlightenment presuppositions in the simplistic way that you seem to think, as evidencee by some of your comments here, and in your exchange with Professor Howson.

    (I do not understand, by the way, what point you wanted to make about evidence, or how it is related to our discussion. I apologise for my cheap shot about haughtiness and impoliteness. I had meant to say haughty and inattentive, so I’ll just abbreviate it to the last, since you are particularly inattentive to what your interlocutors have to say.)

  195. Michael Fugate

    It would be nice if Mr. Beale had as much respect for other religions as he demands for Christianity. I wandered onto this site for the Plantinga/Dennett commentary and found the current debate fascinating. I am a ecologist/evolutionary biologist interested in native landscapes and, of course, people like Mr. Beale who try to inject their religious beliefs into science. My explorations of indigenous peoples and their relationships to animals and plants gave me a whole new perspective on the relationship of science and religion. The practice of living sustainably for millenia depends on knowledge of the ecosystem and belief that humans are part of that same system. For the most part, the Europeans colonizing the Americas had very little respect for indigenous knowledge and they erased that knowledge by separating these peoples from their languages and cultures. Christianity has little relationship to time and space and no ecological or evolutionary component. Also because its tenets are written in stone and presumably unchangeable, it can’t coevolve with science and, unlike the living religions practiced by indigenous peoples, it is effectively dead. How can a religion go two thousand years without any new revelations and remain relevant? I have much more respect for the religions of the Cahuilla and Payomkowishum (Luiseno) who lived where I do now than I do for Christianity.

  196. “superstitious lucubrations of illiterate goatherds”

    AC Grayling has a way with words!

  197. Eric MacDonald

    Thanks, Jean, for linking Grayling’s review. And such a review! As you say,

    AC Grayling has a way with words!

    Indeed he does! But not only a way with words. He has a way of taking something, turning it inside out, and showing that, even though it was carried into the Royal Society premises, all puffed up with vanity, it was, after all, only an empty bag. And, given the lameness – I’m sorry, Nicholas, it really does have to be said – of Nicholas’ participation here on Talking Philosophy, and without having had what Grayling calls “the painful experience of wading through this book,” it seems clear that Grayling’s dismissal is more than amply justified.

    Having surrounded himself with a pantheon of ‘great minds’ – Polkinghorne (John from Somerset), Swinburne (from Oxford), Onora O’Neill (President of the British Academy – but not (note) of the Royal Society) – and wrapping the cloak of science and the grandeur of the Royal Society itself over his shady business, Nicholas now, as we have here seen evidence in such abundance, pretends to greatness himself. It is significant that he spoke, at one point, of ‘my book’ – to which Polkinghorne’s name is no doubt attached for its sales value – but the really sad part is, as Grayling suggests, that many people will be duped, both by this, but also by the association with the Royal Society, however undeserved, to buy something which is, in the end, another round of cheap apologetics.

    The really interestingly new thing, after having argued pointlessly with Nicholas about the problem of pain for a couple of days, is that it is worse than he made it seem. The whole of creation – mark that! – not just beings with free will, but the whole creation! – is given it’s freedom “to be and to make itself.” As Grayling says: “Heroic stuff.” But really it is the old old story of Original Sin, and how sin actually corrupted all creation, which has been, as Paul says, groaning in labour pains until now, waiting for “adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8.23) What disreputable fare! For shame Nicholas! And doubly so for Polkinghorne, for lending his name to this charade!

  198. Just so you know…I found the link at Nicholas Beale’s blog, so it wasn’t slimy of me to put it here. He calls the review “hilarious.” I certainly thought so, but also found it eye-opening. AC does seem to go too far when he calls the book “self-published.” The stuff about the Royal Society was interstiong. I enjoyed the use of the word “heroic,” and all other rhetorical flourishes.

  199. Eric MacDonald

    Ah, you see, I didn’t check on the publisher, so I didn’t know, and, as you may have noticed, did not comment. No, I’ve just checked. It was published by Wesminster/John Knox, the Presbyterian group in the US. Grayling may have thought it a vanity press – there are so many about nowadays; it may not be well known in the UK.

  200. Michael Fugate

    I wonder how the book differs from the q and a on John Polkinghorne’s website. The whole thing reminds me of the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent from Darwinism” list here in the states.

  201. Eric: You don’t get the point of “given Red” Colin is a very good philosopher and an expert on Bayesan reasoning. We are considering the likelihoods under two hypotheses: Red (which is that there exists a Loving Ultimate Creator) and Green (essentially Atheism).

    Grayling (and you) are very wide of the mark about the RS. We’re beginning to get the videos and the transcripts, some should go up onto the website later this evening. There was another FRS with us on the Panel (would have been two but one was ill) about 50 FRSs and FBAs in the audience, including a Nobel Laureate and 3 Vice-Presidents of the Royal Society. This was a very productive and sensible discussion, and as you will see from Onora’s opening remarks she certainly thought it was worthwhile.

    So Grayling is right and these major scientists and philosophers are being “duped” into being involved in a “scandal” or ….

    Jean: I’m glad we agree that Grayling has a certain way with words. Pity he doesn’t check his facts or raise any philosophical arguments in this piece, but he knows his audience.

  202. Eric and Jean – I notice that Nicholas say that Grayling “…completely fails to engage with any of our arguments – just calling them names…”.

    Does that remind you of someone who we’ve been talking to lately? 😉

  203. Michael Fugate

    Mr. Beale comments that Mr. Grayling doesn’t get ‘Dual Aspect Monism’ – which seems to be mean “he doesn’t agree with me so he must be wrong”.
    Can someone tell me how DAM is really different from dualism? If matter is not all there is, then doesn’t there have to be two things?

    Here is John Polkinghorne on DAM from an Crosscurrents interview:

    Dual aspect monism” is an attempt to wrestle with the persistent unsolved problem of how mind and matter relate to each other. It differs from classical dualism, which maintains that there are two sorts of substance: mind and matter. Its problem was how they relate to each other. I’m sure that we’re not simply matter, and I’m sure that reality is more than just ideas. None of the classical solutions seem to correspond to our experience. Dual aspect monism tries to take seriously both our mental experience and our material experience. It says that they’re related to each other in a very deep and complementary way, that there is only one stuff in the world. Dual aspect monism seeks to avoid devaluing or subordinating one side or the other. Sometimes it might seem a little like a subtle form of materialism, but I don’t think it is, because it doesn’t treat the mental as being just an epiphenomenon of the material.

  204. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, Nicholas, no, how could you say such a thing? On what grounds do you say that

    You don’t get the point of “given Red”?

    I get the point quite well. I understood that you were talking about Bayesian probabilities, given atheism or a LUC. Despite your undue pride, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, you know! What did I say that indicated that I did not? Here is what I said in response to your argument:

    First off the claim that ‘the incaration = the ultimate loving communication’ or that ‘Jesus = the incarnation’ are completely baseless assumptions, even if we could understand them. But to the extent that we can there is no evidence for either, and nothing upon which to base a probability (a term upon which you see to place a great deal of reliance) [and a clause is obviously missing here, though it’s already been said, namely: there is nothing to get a probability calculation going]. But then to go on to add insult to injury with the claim that ‘given the incarnation, the Resurrectiion is virtually certain’ is so preposterous a presupposition that I don’t know how you could possibly say it.

    You talk about the probability of something given something else, but you don’t know what that something else is. And the assumption that there is a Loving Ultimate Creator (which, as I have already suggested seems completely contradictory to the reality that we know, lowering the probability of its existence, given the world that we have, to near zero), cannot give you any basis for calculating probabilities of there being a loving communication of the kind that Christianity claims to have existed, especially (and here again you want to overawe with names) given the fact, as Colin points out – and whether he is a good philosopher or not has nothing to do with this argument now – unless you wanted to say that he knows and I don’t (which is a bit of a non sequitur) – which you really should try to show – that Jesus seems in so many instances anything but loving.

    But even supposing, per impossibile, that he was a truly loving, kind and tolerant individual, you still have no idea what it means to say that Jesus is incarnate, something that has been argued about from the year dot, and still is not settled, as The Myth of God Incarnate should have taught you. So you have nothing on which to base a probability calculation, absolutely nothing. The statement:

    Given the incarnation, the Resurrectiion is virtually certain,

    is completely baseless, especially since we cannot actually describe what we mean by either the incarnation or the resurrection, or what kinds of probabilities there might be if we could.

    It really is a bit galling that you should suggest, given the venue of your book launch, and all the bright lights that were there to coax it on its way, that you should hold AC Grayling to be wide of the mark about the Royal Society. He said that he didn’t think that the Royal Society should be party to such a patently crude religious hoax, and I agree with him, regardless of the distinguished company that was there. I can’t see why you should think this makes the launch of your book an appropriate thing for the Royal Society to appear to underwrite, and given your inability to respond to simple arguments, it is a bit rich to think that your book can possibly contain anything of the remotest interest to luminaries such as you list. And if it does, then it really does lead me to quake for the future of the Royal Society. I still think it is a scandal of major proportions, and the presence of so many distinguished people is some cause for concern for the cause of reason in England.

    Since you seem so unable to respond to argument, you may take it that ours is finished. There really is no point trying to argue with you, since, to crib your own words, you simply fail to engage with any of my arguments, not one, in exchanges that have been going on now for several days. That you should have published a book of arguments is a major scandal, and that someone should have been complicit in helping you to do it is quite beyond comprehension.

    There, now I feel better!

  205. Michael, This sort of property dualism is not so exotic, and often embraced by philosophers of mind for reasons having nothing to do with religion. You could be a property dualist about all sorts of features of the world, not just the mental. For example, you might say that a painting is entirely composed of matter, but that it’s aesthetic properties are real, and irreducible to any physical properties. Same goes for moral properties–you could say they are real, but not reducible to physical properties. Likewise with mental properties, like the property of experiencing consciousness sensations. Things get very subtle here, as you might want to be a dualist about mental and physical properties, insisting they’re different, but also say there’s a dependence of mental properties on physical properties. As I recall Grayling is not happy about how P&B talk about these things. Indeed, the passage you quote vacillates a lot. “we’re not simply matter” but ‘there is only one stuff in the world.” Not the clearest expression of property dualism.

  206. Eric MacDonald

    Good short description of property dualism, Jean. But Plantinga’s argument wouldn’t work at all on this basis, would it? You’d have to have an ontological dualism to get the distance between brain states and beliefs or ideas, otherwise, on property dualism, there is no reason to think that there is a disjunction between mental ‘events’ and brain states tracking the world. But if mental events are aspects of brain states (physical events), there would be a fairly strict one-to-one correspondence between them, and Plantinga couldn’t get his argument started.

  207. Eric, I think Plantinga does not assume substance dualism in that talk. He says beliefs are brain states with two sets of properties, neurophysiological properties and content properties (a belief is a belief that p). The basic idea is that natural selection cares about these neurophysiological properties. It has to wire you up so that you do adaptive things. But it doesn’t care whether your belief contents match the world.

    He was trying to argue for a very strong thesis, that each adaptive belief has just a half a chance of being true. You can see how a person could have adaptive brain states that were actually false beliefs, but I don’t see what he said to support the idea that a well-adapted organism could be that extremely unreliable.

    I’m not sure if we were supposed to persuaded of the extreme unreliableness of our belief system simply because of the nature of content and how it relates to physical properties. I suspect not, since he allowed that the relationship could be this or that (he listed 3 possibilities) and he’d still be right. My verdict is…not enough argumentation in this talk to support what is antecedently a very implausible idea.

  208. Eric: The claims I make are standard within what I would describe as mainstream Christianity (eg Roman Catholic, Orthodox and most of the Evangelicals and Pentecostals). I know of course that there are theologians who have very different views and many of them are in universities. I cannot speak for all shades of Red – no more can Colin speak for all types of atheism (or Martin Rees for all Astronomers, let alone all scientists!). In discussing hypotheses we have to start with reasonably well-formed ones. But going on about “completely baseless” etc.. is not reasonable.

    Clearly you and Grayling, have different views on how the Royal Society and the British Academy should conduct themselves from their elected leadership. Ah well.

    I don’t mind Grayling not agreeing with me, but It would be nice if he actually engaged with our arguments and didn’t misrepresent and conceal facts. For example on Anthropic fine tuning, either he doesn’t understand the issues or Martin Rees and Eric Priest and practically every other leading astronomer don’t. Go figure.

    If Grayling can’t see the difference between Dual Aspect Monism and classical Dualism (which holds that there are two distinct substances he should perhaps take a course from Jean). From my PoV the most fundamental point is that living systems are not deterministic so the laws of physics do not determine the behaviour of the active information. Of course the details are complex and poorly understood, we have very little idea how the brain works. We don’t even know how many types of neuron there are, and until recently it was supposed (by most people) that the glial cells did almost nothing.

  209. Eric MacDonald

    I said that our argument is over, Nicholas, and I should probably leave it at that. AC Grayling can look after himself, so I shan’t try to justify his point of view, except in so far as I have already agreed with that point of view. And to that extent I still do.

    However, you have offered what purports to be an argument. I don’t want to quote it all but you take some standard subset of Christian beliefs, shared by Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Pentecostal (whew! that was a mouthful!), and you think these beliefs are well-formed enough on which to base a calculation of probabilities, and then you say, quite confidently, that (now this is cute, I’ll give you that):

    going on about “completely baseless” etc.. is not reasonable.

    Now, I don’t know what well-formed religious beliefs look like, but despite your one assumption, that you think is adequate, brief, and comprehensive, of speaking of God as a Loving Ultimate Creator, and allowing that it is for the moment, I cannot find another well-formed assumption in the lot.

    An LUC would provide a loving communication. So this makes the Incarnation probable. On what is this confident prediction based? Why doesn’t this make a dictation – now, get this, a dictation, in words, word for word – by the angel Gabriel, to Mohammed, as the ulitmate communication of the LUC to human beings, just as probable? I know, we can’t give much content to this process of dictation, other than the words, but we can’t give much content, either, to the notion of incarnation, aside from the word. Now, I think you owe me an answer to that question before you go on about me “going on about ‘completely baseless’.” I just don’t see any basis here, and I would like you to explain to me just how you come up with your calculation.

    As for Dual Aspect Monism, or as Jean says, property dualism, this, while enjoying some popularity in cognitive science is, you have to admit, a minority view, and in Dennett’s terms, actually amounts to giving up the task of trying to understand consciousness. There is no evident connexion between brain states and mind states, and there is still the problem of mind states having any causal efficacy with bodies, so mind states become, as Searle I think suggested, ‘nomological danglers’. In other words, it doesn’t help us to understand how mind states and brain states are related. Even if one physical state is simultaneously describeable as a brain state and a mind state, it does not show the relation between the two, nor does it really do a very good job of explaining human freedom, if that’s what you’re after.

    Now, I don’t think you have given me one reasonable response to my questions or objections, though I may have missed one, so, if you plan to respond to this, please explain mainly how you are going to decide between the Qu’ran and Jesus, because this is a really important decision for you!

  210. Michael Fugate

    Thank you for your reply. It reminds me a bit of emergent properties; we cannot predict the actions of organisms completely on the actions of cells or populations on the basis of organisms. Am I on the right track?
    Admittedly, our knowledge of the brain is incomplete, but we know how individual nerve pathways function and nothing nonmaterial is needed to explain them. I can’t see how you can get the mental to not be ultimately dependent on the material. I know of no evidence that mind can be separated from body.
    Nicholas, are you trying to say every leading astronomer buys into the anthropic principle? That is certainly not my understanding.

  211. Michael, I would recommend David Chalmers’ book The Conscious Mind. All the different non-reductive accounts of the mind are covered in it, with all possible ways the mind could depend on the brain explored. Emergentism is one kind of non-reductive view, but there are lots of others, all very subtly different from one another, and with tricky supporting arguments. Chalmers argues for “naturalistic dualism”–which he views as perfectly scientific…and by the way, without any religious motivations at all.

  212. Eric: I don’t find it at all hard to choose between Mohamed and Jesus and nor, I suspect, do most people in the western world. It would not be politic to write more in a public blog. Even Dawkins would, I’m sure, rather be a Christian.

    Without Dual Aspect Monism or something very similar you can’t really begin to understand consciousness. Start by thinking about (say) Bach’s Mass in B Minor. That is obviously not a physical object, or a brain state. As for Dennett – he wrote a book in 1991 called Consciousness Explained. No-one but a charlatan would claim, even in 2009, that Conciousness has been explained. As noted earlier, despite the hype, we know remarkably little about how the brain really works (eg no-one knows how many types of neuron there are) and it is far too early to formulate a detailed theory of consciousness. It is clearly something to do with active information. The one thing we do know is that the brain is not deterministic.

    Michael: Yes I think so. Even if the brain were as well understood as a piano (it isn’t remotely): music is “dependent” on the physical instrument(s) in various senses, but this does not mean that you can identify music with a particular physical state. Also our knowledge of “matter” (whatever that means) is entirely dependent on mental states. So: mind depends on matter; matter depends on mind.

    In QoT Appendix A we say: “But pretty well every competent physicist who has looked into this finds these coincidences remarkable”… “pretty well all atheists with a scientific background who have seriously considered the matter are driven to accept … [that] “This fine-tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but there are such a vast number of other universes that it is not unlikely that at least one of them is anthropic.” . Martin Rees reviewed this for us, so I’m highly confident that these statements are accurate.

  213. NBeale: Of course most people in the west would choose Christianity over Islam; most people in Arab countries would choose Islam; and most people in India would choose Hinduism. I would choose Judaism. That is, as a default position, most people would choose the religion that they were brought up in. Now, unless you’re willing to affirm that people in the west are wiser or more intelligent than those in other lands (something I would not affirm), you still haven’t given one reason for choosing Jesus over Mohammed or over Buddha.

  214. Without Dual Aspect Monism or something very similar you can’t really begin to understand consciousness. Start by thinking about (say) Bach’s Mass in B Minor. That is obviously not a physical object, or a brain state.

    Are the following physical objects or brain states? (to the organism that’s doing the activity, not as they are conceived by others)
    -a digger wasp’s nest provisioning behavior
    -the song of the chaffinch
    -a chimp’s ability to fish for termites
    -my ability to stick shift

    No need to assume that any or all of these are performed consciously.

  215. Eric MacDonald

    Well, Nicholas, of course you would choose Christianity over Islam. That’s easy. But you didn’t bother to answer my question. Why would you think one answer more probable than the other? You still haven’t given any basis for your probability calculation, and it was about this that you said I wasn’t being reasonable! So, probability?

    And, just in case you should take this tack, talking about Jesus’ perfection as opposed to Mohammed’s lack of perfection – is that the impolitic thing you had in mind? – doesn’t really wash, since Colin Howson has already given you enough reason to hold that Jesus’ supposed perfection is not a sound basis of probability. Jesus was a man, a human being, and shares an inevitable moral ambiguity with all the rest of us.

    Another point that needs to be made. If you are restraining yourself because anything you say might be interpreted as a criticism of Islam, perhaps you should come out and say that you do not think that freedom of speech, either here or in any other venue, is something you are prepared to defend. Indeed, I find disturbing your readiness to avoid offence, in an area where clarity and forthrightness are more than ever needed now.

    As for ‘dual aspect monism,’ I have to say that Dennett’s ‘multiple drafts’ theory of consciousness makes more sense of a lot of the evidence than a strict property dualism does. One of the things that makes complex music so delightful is the different tonal resonances of the instruments. (I think, for example of some of Frans Brüggen’s dlightful recorder solos on original instruments.) It’s hard to think of this in terms of either/or mental contents, and makes a lot more sense to think, as Dennett does, of a contantly shifting field of awareness, as attention focuses and refocuses on different ‘contents’ (different ‘drafts’) succeeding one another in dizzying succession.

    Consciousness is, you might say, the same kind of illusion that the self is. We think of ourselves as selves with a determinateness that is belied as soon as, with Hume, we look into ourselves. Same with the perceptual field, or contents of consciousness. As research shows, we do not actually take in the fine details all at once (playing Kim’s game takes a lot of practice), though we can shift our focus from one detail to another. But this shows how nebulous consciousness itself is. In fact, it’s really hard to give any sense to the idea of ‘nomological danglers’, because consciousness itself does not seem, in some ways, to behave in a strictly law like way.

    I’d be awfully cautious, if I were you, given your mode of argumentation, before I would speak carelessly of charlatanism. While perhaps not the last word, I suspect Dennett’s multiple drafts theory is closer to the first word on understanding consciousness than a rather unsatisfactory property dualism (which doesn’t have a lot of takers, actually). I understand why a Christian might want to maintain some semblance of dualism, even of a rather thin variety, but preference doesn’t cash in in terms of plausibility.

  216. Amos: the majority of people who “choose” Islam over Christianity live in countries where the penalty for apostasy is very severe – often death. And even in other countries, a Muslim who chooses Christianity runs very severe risks. It is pretty clear to me (at least) which of Jesus or Mohammed is more like the manifestation of a Loving Ultimate Creator.

    Windy: It seems clear that “abilities”, “behaviours” and “songs” are not brain states (nor are “numbers”, “colours” etc..) It is pretty clear that these are all properties of the bodies of the animals in question (assuming for the present that two birds cannot have the same song – this is one of the fatal objections to the idea that ideas are material objects) though obviously not just of the brains.

    Eric: it would be nice if we had complete freedom of speech, even in a public blog. Alas, we don’t.

    I’m glad you appreciate complex music. Perhaps you will agree then that, although the qualities of the instruments on which the music is played certainly makes a difference, the music is not “the instrument states”?

    I don’t deny that Dennet’s ideas may have some merit. It is just ridiculous for him to suggest that he (or anyone else) has “explained” consciousness. A book called Consciousness Explored might well be worth reading. If someone were to write a book called “All Cancers Cured” we would know that they were not to be taken seriously as a doctor.

  217. Eric MacDonald

    Oh dear, do you really think we are that limited in our ability to express ourselves freely.

    Well, let me put it mildly then, and see if someone deletes my message. I believe, on the record, that Mohammed was a bit of a free-booter, running a protection racket, and used a slapdash version of Judaism and Christianity reconsidered to do it. He did not hesitate to kill his opponents, even those with whom he made agreements, whom he slaughtered genocidally. The Qu’ran is one of the most violent ‘holy books’ on record, and takes particular delight in imagining the fate of unbelievers, which is presented in graphic detail. Islam is deeply anti-Semitic (anti-Judaic), and shows an overweening tendency to strut proudly about as though it possessed a final, perfect revelation from God. It is, perhaps, one of the most distasteful religions currently existing. I acknowledge that many Muslims do not recognise the horrors of Islamic beliefs, because they have only learned small bits of them, as Christians have only learned small bits of their religion. But, at the moment, Islam is perhaps the most threatening force in the whole world. I put the probability that the Qu’ran is the revelation of a god at zero.

    However, I also put Christianity’s claim that Jesus is the communication of a loving creator at zero as well. Given the universe as we know it, and the unrestricted expression of the laws of nature, and the suffering and indignity consequent upon that, given Jesus’ moral ambiguity, and the absurd, or otherwise unintelligible claims made about him, as well as the completely irrational belief that the resurrection stories are sufficient to establish the claim that someone did actually die, with all the confirmation needed for that, and was seen again in the flesh (as John’s gospel admits or does not admit – since Jesus appeared in a locked room without opening the door), the probability that this Jesus was in fact the loving communication of the creator seems fairly comfortable at zero as well.

    Christianity is deeply anti-Semitic at its core, and the NT shows so much evidence of that that, after the Holocaust, it is astonishing to me that anyone can read it and call it a revelation of a God. I find it deeply offensive to think that that is what it is. This does not let Judaism off, either, with a harmless slap on the wrist, for there are such troubling aspects of the Jewish scriptures, that it makes no sense to speak of them as, in any reasonable sense, divine revelation. The god of the Jewish scriptures, as of the Christian OT, is as Dawkins describes him (and I need not go into detail regarding that rather humourous but decisively dismissive description). (I need not point out that it was not all that long ago that the penalty for heresy was death, not only in Catholic Europe, but in Presbyterian Scotland.)

    As for Dennett’s title – I’m sorry, I simply cannot forbear! – I should not have thought it nearly so ridiculous as someone giving a book of Christian apologetics the title, Questions of Truth. Dennett’s title is certainly daring, but then it proposes a quite daring solution to the problem of consciousness, one which, I suspect, may be closer to the truth than either of us can know just now.

    Music, of course, is not instrument states, which would scarcely make sense, nor brain states simpliciter, but neither is it some determinate content of something called consciousness. Rather, it seems, as Hume recognised, to be a swiftly shifting, shimmering, ‘something’, that varies, with amazing celerity, with the constantly shifting attentional focus of an equally de-centred, and changing self. One of the interesting things about Dennett’s theory is that he assumes, from the start, that our understanding of consciousness, like our understanding the rest of the world, will probably be unintuitive, and that it will take a stretch of the imagination even to understand what is being said. I’m not sure I have understood, but I wouldn’t give it too little credence.

  218. Beale: As usual, you’re avoiding answering my main point. Leaving Islam may be punished as apostasy, but the growth of Islam in the last few years (it’s the world’s fastest growing religion) can hardly be explained by fear of being punished for apostasy. However, my point was that people, in default mode, tend to revert to the religion that they were raised in, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism (in my case), Hinduism or Buddhism. Actually, Christianty may be the exception, since many ex-Christians would prefer to become Buddhists than return to Christianity. That people revert to their childhood faith is simply habit: it has nothing to do with truth. People raised in the U.S. prefer baseball and American football, while those raised in Latin America prefer football-football: habit. Similarly, those raised in Israel prefer Judaism; those raised in India prefer Hinduism; those raised in Tibet prefer Buddhism. I had always thought that the role of philosophy is to get people to examine their mental habits through critical thinking, while you seem to believe that the role of philosophy is to defend habits of thought. Look at Eric, who was courageous enough to leave behind a life as a priest and think creatively. Can you take the dare that Eric presents?

  219. It seems clear that “abilities”, “behaviours” and “songs” are not brain states (nor are “numbers”, “colours” etc..) It is pretty clear that these are all properties of the bodies of the animals in question

    OK, so that would seem to indicate that your original dichotomy between “physical objects or brain states” and non-material mind events was too narrow?

    And it seems very loaded to say that such a lengthy and complex piece of music is a good place to start. It’s like the argument that something as complex as the eye “obviously” could not evolve by gradual mutation and selection.

    Perhaps you will agree then that, although the qualities of the instruments on which the music is played certainly makes a difference, the music is not “the instrument states”?

    Depends*. If you had a machine that could put the instruments through exactly the same sequence of physical states as a human orchestra, the same sounds would emanate from them, wouldn’t they? You would experience the same music (let’s say that the machine was playing behind a screen).

    *because of the ambiguity in the word music: sometimes it refers to the whole experience, sometimes just to the sequence of sounds (otherwise you’d have to claim that a recording of music is not music)

  220. Eric: Just because you find a belief offensive doesn’t make it false, and calling something widely believed by highly rational people “completely irrational” seems odd, to say the least.

    The idea that “Christianity is deeply anti-Semitic at its core” is also quite untrue. Jesus, Paul and almost all the early disciples were Jews. Of course there have been anti-semitic distortions of Christianity (no Christian has ever claimed to be “without sin”) but it “scientific” atheist regimes that have been by far the worst exterminators.

    Amos: high fertility and death to apostates account for much of the growth of Islam, I’m afraid. I think the role of philosophy is to clarify thinking, it certainly doesn’t have to be destructive. Some religions are very local, others (esp Christianity) are widely dispersed, with rapid growth in S Korea (it’s now the dominant religion) and China where there is no “default” mode.

    Windy: I’m simply making the point that, if (say) The Mass in B Minor exists, then it is surely not a physical object. From which I infer that not everything that exists is physical.

    (BTW you could never have a machine such as you suggest. The bodies of the musicians have a fundamental effect on the sound – esp if they are singers 🙂 – and indeed on the musical experience. But I don’t think this really matters to the argument. I’d accept that a CD of the Mass in B Minor played on the same HiFi under identical conditions would give the same sounds. But this would be a playing of a CD-instance of a CD-type of a recording of a performance of the Mass in B Minor – not the Mass in B Minor itself.

  221. Michael Fugate

    Nicholas, Just because you find a belief attractive doesn’t make it true. You need to step back and consider how other religions look to you. Does belief in Zeus or Thor seem irrational to you?

    During the first millenium, Muslim Spain was much more “civilized” than Christian Europe. It is not so much the religion, but the peoples who are practicing it. You might take a look at “Constantine’s Sword” for Catholic’s view of anti-semitism in Christianity.

  222. Eric MacDonald

    I knew, Nicholas, that I should have left our ‘dialogue’ alone, when I said it was finished some time ago. My response to you was one of frustration. You have never, once, to my certain knowledge, responded clearly to anything that I have said. But though my reponse was one of frustration, I do not really see that I have exaggerated all that much.

    The fact that Jesus and Paul were Jews has absolutely nothing to do with whether Christianity is anti-semitic or not. Indeed, the gospel Jesus is pictured as disturbingly prejudiced against his own people, and his own people are caricatured as eagerly plotting to kill him. This is most evident in John, of course, but is not absent in the others.

    Indeed, in the gospel myth, Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour of his people, not recognised or rejected, in the end found worthy of death by his own people. And so the myth has gone on for centuries, about Jews, the Christ killers, and the church, the new Israel, a myth still signified by calling the Jewish scriptures the old covenant, and the Christian scriptures the new.

    Is this a distortion of Christianity? Is Paul’s anti-Jewish letter to the Romans a distortion of Christianity? (Oh yes, I know, he does seem to hold out some hope for them, believing that it may be God’s purpose that the Jews may be lost, so that so many others may be saved, so that, in the end, the Jews may come to know, as you do, for example, the grace of Christ. It’s not compelling.)

    There are many books I’d like to suggest to you about these things. Daniel Goldhagen’s book, A Moral Reckoning, is a pretty scorching look at Christian anti-semitism, and it’s got a nice catalogue of NT anti-semitisms too. But for a very sobering look at Christianity and the Holocaust, I recommend highly Alice and Roy Eckardt’s book, Long Night’s Journey into Day. One remark that sticks in my mind is this one: “We contend that in comparison with certain other sufferings, Jesus’ agony and death become relatively nondecisive.” (134) I think so too. Rosemary Radford-Ruether’s book, Faith and Fratricide is a good scholarly look at the same territory. You may disagree with all of them, but you cannot say, in all conscience, that the claims they all make in their various ways, consist only in distortion. And Carroll’s doorstopper is not to be lightly dismissed either (though I think it would have been better had he left out the personal reminiscences).

    As for rationality – well, what can I say? There are many rational Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Parsees, Jains, Jews, Sikhs, as well as Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Methodists, Unitarians, Dutch Reformed, Lutherans, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Plato or Aristotle, who were familiar with none of these religions, were rational too, as were Lucretius, Democritus, Cicero, Seneca – well, you don’t want me to go on with this list, do you? – but you get my point. All these rational people: some of them must be wrong!

    And there are so many different reasons for belief. Some probably believe what they do from habit, because it is comforting, because they would offend their loved ones if they said no, because, well, like Rumpole’s father, they’re too old to begin anew, or because it’s important for the kids, or expected by their community, or politically savvy, and some may believe because they believe what they believe might even be true – well, here we have the beginning of another long list.

    Rationality has got to do with giving reasons. You have given some reasons for believing what you do. I don’t think they’re good enough. Nor do I think it likely that any of the religions, sects or denominations listed, will have reasons that are much worse, and some, like some Buddhists, perhaps, may do even better, for they make fewer assumptions about gods or the wills of gods – much gentler territory for rational folks, fewer hills of evidence to climb.

    I have heard many people speak for Christianity, and some for Judaism, and other religions. (Perhaps one of the most gracious, in my experience, was the Hindu professor of a small college in Ujjain, who welcomed Christians to his home with honour, though some of the Christians, on that occasion, did not respond with equal dignity.) Some speak of their faith with grace and dignity, with a generosity of spirit for those who disagree, or cannot believe. I am sorry that I have not found that to be the case with you, and the Christianity you apparently believe in, seems – pardon me, I really do not mean to be abusive – particularly repellent and rebarbative.

  223. Michael: you can never consider all possible alternative beliefs. AFAIK no-one seriously believes in Odin or Thor. I don’t deny that it is possible that Christian belief may be mistaken, but it is certainly not a Delusion.

    Eric: “The fact that Jesus and Paul were Jews has absolutely nothing to do with whether Christianity is anti-semitic or not”. What??? absolutely nothing? I agree of course that there have been anti-semitic understandings of Christianity (there have been anti-semitic understandings of of Evolution as well) but these have been mis-understandings.

    Rational people can certainly be wrong. But if you say “completely irrational” when you mean “I disagree with them” then I’m afraid whatever you are doing is not talking philosophy.

    Off to Harvard for a few days but will try to visit when I’m back.

  224. I haven’t been following this thread lately, but do want to say it strikes me as very decent of Nicholas to keep coming back. I very much doubt he’s doing it to sell books or to save our souls, but because he honesty wants to talk. I hope the thread’s going to end before long, and on a not horrendously cacophonous note.

  225. I’m simply making the point that, if (say) The Mass in B Minor exists, then it is surely not a physical object. From which I infer that not everything that exists is physical.

    But you have not inferred that the Mass could not possibly be a vast collection and sequence of physical states in instruments, bodies and brains. You already admitted that there are things like instinctive behaviors, that are not physical objects but are “properties of the bodies of animals”.

  226. Eric MacDonald

    Thank you Jean. You are quite right, Nicholas has been decent to keep coming back, and I do not want to end this in a bad way either, so I shall moderate my speech!

    I think this really should end, and I really should say no more. However, I can’t help notice that Nicholas has resorted to the ‘no true Scotsman’ defence, in his last note.

    Christianity is as Christianity does, however. It has supported slavery, the burning of heretics, the persecution of the Jews, the use of torture, the subordination of women, the labelling of gay and lesbian persons as defective, and various other unlovely things in its long history. Inconsistent with some aspects of Christianity, all these things can be easily justified by others.

    That Jesus and Paul were Jews, I repeat, has nothing whatever to do with whether or not we can call Christianity anti-semitic. It was, and, in many respects, sadly, still is, and Jesus and Paul were it seems, as a matter of historical fact, still Jews. But more than that, the fact that Christianity must inevitably imply that the Church is the new Israel (this is one of the central aspects of the Christian myth) makes it very difficult to see how it can ever claim not to be, at its heart, anti-semitic, though important strides of interfaith understanding have been made, I acknowledge.

    Nicholas, I know you will disagree, so you need not tell me. Thank you for participating in this discussion. As I have said, and I do not wish to say it slightingly to you personally, I find much of Christianity a very unstable mix of the good and the bad. In that way it is like most religions, and certainly, because of the Enlightenment and the Church’s loss of power, Christianity has, in the last few centuries attempted to make up for many of the shortcomings of its history, and has contributed significantly to the betterment of the human condition.

    I do think, on the other hand, that there are now disturbing signs that Christianity is putting its old clothes back on, and has become more directive about belief than it has been for some time. The direction in which the Anglican Communion has headed in the last decade or so is a sign of this. The years after WW II were days of rediscovery for the church, as it began to establish new, more generous traditions, at the same time that it reassessed its theology and its ecumenical relations within Christianity and between religions.

    I found it troubling, Nicholas, that you could (on one occasion in our discussion) list a small number of contemporary Christian sects, like Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and so on, as places where the truth about Christianity is to be found. I see it as a sign of the gradual closing of the Christian mind. The heart will, I fear, follow. Voltaire’s work will have to be done again.

    Nevertheless, I would not want, despite these concerns, which made our discussion bracing at times, to deny I am grateful for the opportunity to explore these concerns more fully. So, if we do not part as fellow believers, perhaps we can part (though the web is a strange marketplace in which to meet) as those who respect each other despite the chasm of disagreement that yawns between us. My written language tends to be much more hard-edged than I am, and I am sure we could probably sit down and discuss these things with some sense of human fellowship, if not divine.

  227. I am glad I stumbled onto this blog and I have learned much from Jean and Eric. I will definitely read some Chalmers and Dennett on mind; it is something I have long neglected in my biological training. I am not sure I learned much from Nicholas, except nothing could possibly make him question his belief in Christianity. He was very good at dismissing without engaging with any argument presented. I am convinced the “anthropic principle” is still “god-of-the-gaps”. Organisms appear “designed” when we look at the finished product without all of the fits and starts preceding them – so does the universe. I am also convinced all of the currently popular religions will suffer the same fate as all of the previously popular religions – extinction. Nicholas is welcome to have his beliefs, but they are beliefs and he has only faith on which to base them. Rational and intelligent people believed in Thor, Zeus and thousands of gods of which we have and have not heard. That we currently think of these gods as mythical only strengthens the argument the current ones are as well. Much of what we think true today will most like be thought silly 500 years in the future.

  228. Eric MacDonald

    Michael. Do you think humanity has got that long?

  229. Michael Fugate

    We humans are very adaptable and have a remarkable ability to shape the environment to meet our needs (this may or may not improve long-term survival). Also, given our large population size, we are harboring huge amounts of genetic variation. Even if the climate changes dramatically and selection from emerging diseases increases, it is likely some humans will develop immunity. In comparison to other species, we are still relatively young. The mean lifespan of fossil mammals is ~1 million years, but the mode is about half that. Homo sapiens is ~0.2 million years old.

    I do worry about the ignorance and arrogance of many leaders and the tendency to seek technological instead of ecological solutions. I think we have much to learn from studying ecosystems and lost too much when we systematically destroyed indigenous cultures.

    All said, I am basically an optimist and I figure we have another 200,000 years left in us.

  230. Windy: The problem I think is that, whereas a given performance of The Mass in B Minor could perhaps be the sequence you outline (though it is far from clear to me that a sequence is a material object) this is not the same thing as The Mass in B Minor. As far as I can see, the only “physical object” that might possibly be M.I.B.M. would be the set of all such instantiations of any aspect of the M.I.B.M. and this would imply that the M.I.B.M. changed every time a new CD was pressed or an old one was destroyed, which raises a host of severe problems.

    Eric: Thank you for your kind words. As you suspect, I don’t agree with your unkind ones. You can’t judge a religion by the worst excesses of its adherents. If you substituted “Science” or “Humanity” for “Christianity” you would I think see the point. AFAIK pretty well all religions supported slavery – only Christianity got it abolished.

    Michael: everyone has beliefs. Almost no beliefs can be proven conclusively – one thing that can be proven conclusively is that there are true beliefs that cannot be proven conclusively. The motto (Polyani) is “how I can commit myself to what I believe to be true, knowing that it may be false”.

    I struggle to identify many major religions that have gone extinct: the big 4 have been around for 1-4 millennia: they have displaced (and sometimes absorbed) many local cults. And from “some formerly followed religions were false” you cannot infer that “all currently-followed religion are false”. As you can easily see if you substitute “science” for “religion”

  231. Eric MacDonald

    I just checked back, and, lo and behold, the discussion goes on. Well, I shan’t continue it much further. But Nicholas keeps opening up new avenues of discussion. By the way, Nicholas, I was not deliberately, or at least not maliciously, unkind.

    Regarding judging a religion by its worst excesses. Since Christianity bears so many of its worst excesses on its face: genocide in the OT, cruel punishments, the subordination of women (N and OT), control of thought (see Gerd Lüdemann’s Intolerance and the Gospel), etc., Christianity is at least partly identifiable by its excesses.

    That’s the first point. Second is this. Science, though it has been used for heinous purposes, does not, in itself, prescribe them. Humanity is, of course, a general term, inclusive of everything that humans have done, so is not a fair comparison. Christianity has prescribed, as science does not, behaviour which can justly be called violent and immoral, and humanity (as a general term for the class of all human beings) itself does not, in itself, prescribe anything. I think only about the RC Church in Brazil, and the act of compassion towards a little girl, and the girl’s mother and doctors excommunicated because of it. That’s excess, and Cardinal Re thinks we judge harshly to condemn it. It reminds me of Pat Condell’s remark (I never heard of him before two or three days ago), that religions claim moral authority and often do not even display moral awareness!

    Regarding slavery. I would be the last to deny the role of Wilberforce and the evangelicals who fought the evils of slavery, and finally got their view enshrined in law. However, it is at least arguable that it took the 18th century Enlightenment to awaken Christian conscience. And remember, please, that the first abolition of slavery in modern times was declared by the revolutionary Convention in France in 1794. Though the role of Christians was, in the end, decisive, it took more than Christianity itself to change people’s minds.

    By the way, arguing about the existence of the Mass in B Minor is a bit like arguing about the existence of numbers. If all the scores, recordings and memories of the B Minor Mass were to be destroyed, and all that was left were references in books about its performance at such a time and place, would it exist?

  232. “Christianity got slavery abolished.” That’s news! In the US, southern slave owners were good Christians who used the bible to defend the practice. I’ve read quite a lot of literature on American slavery, and nothing that credits Christianity with ending it.

  233. Eric MacDonald

    Well, of course, many Christians did become involved in the movement for abolition, and in some measure it became, at least in Britain, a Christian crusade, though there were still many Christians who continued to justify slavery by quoting the Bible. Peter Gay has an interesting comment on this, however. He says, in his second volume on the Enlightenment, The Science of Freedom (p. 421):

    While some abolitionists were later to complain that enlightened men of the eighteenth century had failed to make abolition into a crusade, they underestimated the radicalism of the philosophes’ writings for their time, and the persistence, the sheer strength of traditional opinion.

    This is not to say that there was no Christian contribution to the discussion. Samuel Johnson (a Christian), for example, was a fierce opponent of slavery; in fact he thought the American colonists were hypocrites, yelping about liberty, while at the same time being ‘drivers of negroes.’ But the fact that there was a discussion at all was not due to the influence of Christianity, though, as in other matters, Christians have been quick to find support for newfound values in their scriptures. Johnson, it may be noted, did not use Christian arguments for the view that slavery should be abolished. In fact, he says clearly:

    The sum of the argument is this: – No man is by nature the property of another.

    Boswell did not agree with Johnson, and argued as follows:

    To abolish a status, which in all ages God has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom its saves from massacre … and introduces them to a much happier state of life. … To abolish that trade would be to ‘- shut the gates of mercy on mankind.’ (Life of Johnson, Oxford, p. 878; quote from Gray’s Elegy)

    It is noteworthy that this was written in 1777, well into the eighteenth century, which shows how strong the traditional (Christian) view still was at that time.

    And, lest someone quote Paul at me, his ‘neither slave nor free’ declaration did not prevent him from sending a slave back to his ‘owner’, or telling slaves to remain in the state in which they were when they were converted (‘called’), and then jumbled the whole thing up by calling slaves free and free men slaves:

    For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. (1 Corinthians 7.22)

    How’s that for a fine balance? (Sorry to go on at such length, but it seemed important at the time!)

  234. I have before me the book King Leopold’s Ghost by
    Adam Hochschild about the Congo Free State, established supposedly to civilize and bring the benefits of Christianity to the benighted people of Africa in the year 1885. The good Christian king Leopold of Belgium used the native African people of the Congo as slave labor (literally) to harvest rubber.
    Now, Hochschild does point out that Muslims and believers in native-African religions also used slavery in the Congo. The story of the Congo is narrated in Joseph Conrad’s excellent short novel, The Heart of Darkness.

  235. amos, don’t forget the part about chopping off the hands of the slaves who didn’t work hard enough.

  236. Wow, this has to be the longest debate on this blog to date (?) Even longer than when the holocaust deniers turned up… (and that was long)

  237. Eric MacDonald

    Thank you, Amos, for the reference to Hochschild’s book. 1885! Well, so much for Christian leadership in the fight against slavery! Of course, Nicholas might argue that Beligian acts and attitudes were excesses. The only problem is that there are so many of them!

    One thing that I think is decisive. Even though Christians did join the mounting opposition to slavery – Quakers having founded the first anti-slavery society – it still took nearly a hundred years before women were given the vote: Denmark (1909), Britain (1918), the US (1920), Canada (1917). Someone has argued that the abolition of slavery was the beginning of the women’s movement. Strange, isn’t it, that Christians didn’t notice that women were still oppressed, and that the Bible underwrites their equality, if, indeed, they were first in the movement to abolish slavery?

    Christians tend to jump on moral bandwagons a few decades after they have begun to roll. It’s hermeneutics, you see. First, they oppose; then, they are neutral (some Christians on this side, some on the other); and then, if the trend is strong enough, it is found to be in scripture, after all. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church takes longer. It’s infallibility, you see. They not only have to find it in scripture, which is hard enough. They have to find ways of twisting the words of someone who said things plainly within living memory. That takes more time.

    You’re right, Paul, this has gone on a bit.

  238. What Ophelia says about chopping off hands is confirmed by the above mentioned book. The figures of those killed during King Leopold’s philanthropic attempt to bring civilization and Christianity to the Congo run as high as 10 million Congolese.

  239. Nicholas,
    I think most of what we understand about science will be totally different 500 years from now. Look at what has happened in the past 200 years. The difference between science and religion is that acceptance of a new scientific idea rarely requires blood to be shed.

  240. I believe this is the longest-running thread to date, much longer than when the H-deniers visited. I keep expecting the whole site to crash, but apparently it’s not a problem.

  241. I agree this is getting a bit off the topic of the thread. But FWIW:

    a. Eric: First you say (1) “C is as C does” hence (2) C should be judged by the worst excesses of what people who claim to be C’s do. Then you distinguish this from S and H on the ground that (3) “C prescribes but S and H do not”. Why is (3) relevant to (1)?

    b. All religions (AFAIK) supported slavery but the abolitionists were pretty well all Christians. The fact that many of the anti-abolitionists were Christians as well is not really relevant. All As are B doesn’t mean that all Bs are A.

    c. The point about what would happen to the Mass in B Minor if all record of it were abolished is interesting. Theists would say it still exists in the mind of God. But I still don’t see how materialists can give a reasonable account of which material object or set of material objects is the Mass in B Minor.

    d. Michael: Eppur si muove. Science refines but does not very often overthrow. Of course since religion engages with people’s deepest values, and often society’s, most wars “require” religious “justifications” and passions are often aroused.

  242. Beale: You say that all religions supported slavery.
    Jews stopped having slaves, as far as I know, long before Christians did. All the abolitionists were not Christians: some were atheists, some were agnostics, some were Marxists, some were Deists, some were pantheists (Thoreau, for example).

  243. “Christianity got slavery abolished” is what you said. You don’t get to say that just because most abolitionists were Christian. The US was a mostly Christian country at the time of the civil war. Of course most abolitionists were Christian. So were most defenders of slavery. You could only say “Christianity got slavery abolished” if the Christian church stood solidly on the side of abolition, which it didn’t. And if the case against slavery was made in Christian terms, which it wasn’t. I don’t have a problem with crediting Christianity with some moral advances, but ending slavery isn’t something it can claim credit for.

  244. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas, I think it is important to give reasons for believing what I do. I happen to think that’s important for anyone. Some time ago, you suggested that being offended at something does not mean that it is false. In other words, being offended is not a reason for believing.

    Actually, I happen to think that it may be an indication that something is wrong and worth further study. However, saying that Christianity got slavery abolished isn’t. In order to make good this claim, you mist show, not only that many Christians became involved in the abolitionist cause, but that the reasons that slavery came to be thought immoral were Christian ones.

    Now, it is entirely possible for Christians, after the fact, to find reasons in their scriptures or traditions for doing something which has come to seem to Christians and others the right thing to do. I adduce the struggle for gay rights. Slowly but surely the consensus amongst Christians has shifted, and equally slowly, Christians have come to regard apparently anti-homosexual texts in the Bible as marginal to this question. The Bible was concerned with acts and relationships quite different from those referred to in the contemporary struggle for gay rights. But the origin of the struggle to acknowledge the rights of homosexually oriented people does not lie in Christianity.

    This is what I wanted to show, regarding slavery, by quoting very Lockean sounding reasons from Johnson, and very Christian sounding reasons from Boswell, the first to show that Johnson’s reasons for opposing slavery were not Christian, and, second, that Boswell’s reasons for maintaining slavery were. After reading Enlightenment authors fairly extensively, I have been unable to find the origin of the anti-slavery movement in Christianity as such, though I have acknowledged, as Jean does, that, since most people in Europe and the Americas were Christian at the time, Christians played a large part in the movement to abolish slavery. I hope you can see that these are two very different things.

    As for my arguments about Christianity and its excesses. I did say that Christianity is as Christianity does, but I also said at the same time that these excesses were consistent with some aspects of Christianity, though they might be seen (on reflection) to be opposed by others. I then pointed out what I meant, by pointing out that Christianity in fact bears its worst excesses on its face. The Christian scriptures are an acknowledged source of things like the oppression of women, the exclusion of homosexuals, the maintenance of slavery, the control of thought, the persecution of the Jews. All of these things can be found and justified by the Christian scriptures themselves. This is important, since Christians take their scriptures to be the word of God.

    I did not say, as you say that I did, that Christianity should be judged by its worst excesses. What I did say is that Christianity’s worst excesses, because of its relation to a document which is taken to be God’s word, is reasonably thought to be the fons et origo of those excesses. Christianity can be thought, not only to sanction, but to require some of the things which we now take to be inhuman and cruel.

    The contrast with science lies in science not having a holy book. No particular action is demanded by scientific knowledge. Science has discovered things that allow us to kill millions of people with one bang. There are now some religious people who are threatening to do just that, but there is nothing in science itself which prescribes it. I could, if I was strong enough, smother you with a pillow, as may have been ordered by Richard III to be done to Edward IV’s sons in the Tower, but we could scarcely blame the pillow manufacturer, or the existence of pillows in general, for the harm that may be done with pillows. I grant that science has been used to improve the killing power and effectiveness of weapons of war, but there is nothing in science itself which demands this. You cannot give me a scientific reason to make a better bomb, but I can give you a religious reason to use it.

    A last point. You seem to think that the only alternative to religious belief is some form of materialism. This is a mistake. Atheism denies that there is a transcendent realm of supernatural entities. It does not, however, imply that all that is left is matter, however, in the end, the ultimate constituents of the universe are described. One thing that we do know, however, is that there are minds, however in the end minds are described. Physics, biology and chemistry are making significant strides in the direction of an explanation of the first question (the ultimate constituents of the universe), and cognitive science, psychology and philosophy are increasing our knowledge of the second. But neither of these disciplines or webs of disciplines seems to require God as an explanatory hypothesis. In fact, assuming God for the purposes of explanation is to give up the search. I assume that the existence of the B Minor Mass has much to do with the physical properties of certain instruments and pieces of paper, and the cognitive properties of human minds. It does not seem to me that the hypothesis of God’s existence helps much at all, except in so far as Bach wrote the piece for people who believed in God, but that is an entirely historical question that can be resolved by historians studying the period, using their own methods of discovering and interpreting evidence.

  245. Eric:
    The consensus seems to be that Quakers initiated the anti-slavery movement and were at the forefront of the struggle in Britain and the New World. Non-Conformist and Evangelical Christians were very active also. I don’t think that you are denying this but your objection perhaps is that they were not following specifically Christian principles in opposing slavery. From their point of view that is questionable as they did not distinguish between a true interpretation of Christian principles and a sound guide to action.

    Jews and slavery: A summery of Farber’s book seems to indicate that they were no better or worse than the average citizen i.e. they were not involved in large scale trading

  246. The sentence in question is “Christianity got slavery abolished.” Really, this is a sentence worthy of a public relations firm. If you were being paid large sums to make Christianity look good, maybe you’d try it out, but otherwise who would bother?

    It doesn’t make it true to point out that the tiny Quaker denomination was involved in abolitionism. Yes, and Quakers should be proud of that. But members of other denominations can’t be. Christians were on all sides of the debate. Plus, the arguments Quakers were making were partly just absorbed from the culture of the time, and not specifically Christian arguments.

  247. Also, Quakers can’t simply be taken as coterminous with Christianity; they were widely considered (by Christians) to be at the very least heterodox.

    Also, if ‘Christianity got slavery abolished,’ what took it so long? If it was Christianity that did it, why did it take more than 18 centuries?

    Also, what, specifically, is it in Christianity that got slavery abolished? What statement or exhortation by Jesus or Paul got slavery abolished?

  248. Eric MacDonald

    Yes, Michael, I know that (although I’m not sure I’d take Wikipedia as establishing a consensus). In fact, I did say that Quakers founded the first anti-slavery society, and Quakers were, at the time, certainly Christian, although held to be somewhat more than just heterodox. Now, it is not clear that Quakers consider themselves to be Christian at all, though some of them may. In many ways the Society of Friends more resembles humanism than religion, at least the local Quakers that I have known.

    Nevertheless, Ophelia’s and Jean’s questions remain. If anti-slavery is Christian, Christianity took a long time to recognise the fact! And, besides, many Christians, as Jean points out, were not abolitionists. It was, in a way, similar to the present intra-Christian dispute about homosexuality. A few Christians thought slavery was wrong. Quakers took the lead. But the philosophes seem to have got there before them. And given the proponderance of evidence in the New Testament (I still think that is a frightfully anti-Jewish title, and I cringe when I use it), I would say there is much more in support of slavery than equality. Jesus, for example, constantly uses the example of slaves in his parables. They are a staple of his stories, and not one word of condemnation. Paul speaks about there being no man, nor woman, no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek – in Christ, of course. But this didn’t seem to have anything to do with society, because slaves should remain slaves, Paul says, even if they have the chance to be free.

    So, no, anti-slavery is not Christian, but some Christians took it up as a cause, much like some Christians take up the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as a cause. Who knows? In a hundred years Nicholas’ doppelganger may be saying, ‘Well, obviously Christianity pioneered the liberation of gay and lesbian people.’ And, you know what? Some did.

  249. Jean: William Wilberforce (eg) was an evangelical Anglican – not a Quaker. He explicitly based his anti-slavery views on his Christian faith (as did AFAIK almost all the others). And FWIW in those days all Quakers considered themselves Christians. Christians were on both sides of the debate – AFAIK all the other religions that were involved were only on one side. I do not claim that almost all Christians were abolitionists, but that almost all abolitionists were Christians.

    Ophelia: little things like “love your neighbour”.. “what you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do to me” .. “there is neither slave nor free”. Why did it take so long? Perhaps because people were used to it, and they thought that the whole of the economy would collapse if slavery were abolished. This may have been true in the Roman world.

    Eric: People have misinterpreted the Bible in the ways you describe – they have also misinterpreted science to “justify” all kinds of horrors. Are you saying that “holy books should be judged by the worst excesses of their misinterpretation, but nothing else should”? If so, you will certainly be against holy books – but why should they alone be (mis)judged in this way? Why should we not consider the balance of positive and negative, and compare them to other similar systems? It seems more philosophically valid, than to set up an arbitrary standard by which they are guaranteed to “fail”.

    I agree of course that not all atheists are materialists – but nowadays almost all are.

  250. Eric MacDonald

    I’m sorry Nicholas, but this is bizarre! What is a “misinterpretation.” When does something become a misinterpretation? For nearly two millennia Christianity has interpreted itself in an anti-Jewish way. For nearly two millennia Christianity has interpreted itself in an anti-homosexual way (and this isn’t a done deal yet). For nearly two millennia Christianity has interpreted itself in a patriarchal way (and this isn’t a done deal yet either). For nearly two millennia Christianity defended and helped to maintain structures of injustice and cruelty that read like a Nazi handbook. For nearly two millennia Christianity interpreted itself as the sole way to truth and salvation, and held it to be it’s God given responsibility to control thought and punish heretics. It is simply bizarre to call normal aspects of Christianity maintained over centuries excesses and misinterpretations. That Christianity has, in the last two centuries, attempted to shed this heritage, and that people like you should now adopt a posture of righteous indignation that anyone should think that any of these outrages was ever a part of real Christianity is so derisory and deceptive that it leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.

    Paul did not advocate the liberation of slaves. Jesus did not condemn slavery. It is nowhere condemned in the Christian or in the Jewish scriptures. And even the letter to Philemon is written in hope, not as a matter of command. It is bizarre to make the claim that anything in Christianity demands or requires the abolition of slavery. After Christians had stopped killing each other, they began to recognise, as did any sensible person, that tolerance was probably best, though it took a long time for this to sink in.

    One of the first rectors of the parish of which I was also the rector wrote long letters to the government (in the 1830s, if memory serves!) complaining about the disestablishment of the church, railing against the rights of Baptists and Presbyterians to build churches (which until then had been forbidden), and complaining that free church clerics should be deemed worthy to solemnise matrimony. Imagine! In my part of the world this is something that still needs to be lived down. It is part of the tribal memory, if you like, of Baptists and others.

    I have spent a lifetime trying to defend Christianity against many accusations, but I have never yet told people that these troubling misdoings were merely misinterpretations. And anyone who has recently witnessed the actions of the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil, supported by the Vatican, with respect to the deliberate torment of a little girl, cannot really think that the Church’s offences against morality are yet at an end! Is that just a misinterpretation?! I’m sorry, Nicholas, but your prejudice in favour of Christianity is simply mind numbing!

  251. I think the truth is just the opposite of what Nicholas says. In the US, the moral argument against slavery was mixed, with Christian ideas certainly one element, but not the dominant thing. Mainly, the abolitionist argument involved the religion-free thinking of the revolution and the bill of rights. Slavery was an offense against rights, equality, basic human dignity, etc. On the other hand, the moral argument in defense of slavery really was centrally Christian. There was no religion but Christianity in the south. The main moral defenses of slavery had to do with slavery’s being accepted in the bible, the failure of Jesus to condemn it, the story about Ham, and the idea that slavery had benefited Africans by giving them a chance for Christian salvation. It is quite the whitewash to portray Christianity as the force that brought slavery to an end.

  252. Ophelia: little things like “love your neighbour”.. “what you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do to me” .. “there is neither slave nor free”.

    So generic altruistic advice translates directly to opposing slavery? No, that won’t do. Slavery could be (and was) simply defined as irrelevant to altruism (and vice versa). People (including Christians) are very good at defining certain actions as morally acceptable within whatever moral code they claim to live by. There is nothing even remarkable about people talking about mercy and kindness while doing nasty things to the servants or the stepchild or the workers or that incompetent waiter. The fact that Jesus said ‘love thy neighbour’ can’t possibly be straighforwardly read as forbidding slavery. (Slaves aren’t my neighbour! See how easy that is?)

    And as Eric had just pointed out, ‘neither slave nor free’ did not refer to this world. As I’m sure you know.

    Why did it take so long? Perhaps because people were used to it, and they thought that the whole of the economy would collapse if slavery were abolished. This may have been true in the Roman world.

    So the Christian churches were silent about slavery for 18 centuries because they didn’t want to damage the economy? If you say so – but then you can’t really claim that Christianity was exceptionally opposed to slavery.

  253. Extraordinary denial of the self confessed motivation of the early activistis in the abolition movement. Perhaps it was the spirit of Voltaire resting upon them did they but know it.

  254. Extraordinary denial of the self confessed motivation of the early activistis in the abolition movement.

    Not at all. The claim was that “Christianity got slavery abolished.” Slavery finally “got abolished” in the US, so the whole crew of American abolitionists is relevant to assessing the claim, as are the defenders of slavery, who were Christians making explicitly Christian arguments. Nobody’s denying that Christians were involved in abolition. It just doesn’t add up to “Christianity got slavery abolished.” That just ain’t true!

  255. In the U.S. at least the Union Army abolished slavery, not Christianity. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, says Mao Tse Tung, who abolished slavery in China himself. There’s a story about Ulysses Grant, the Union general who finally beat the South. Someone complained to Lincoln that Grant drank constantly. Lincoln asked what brand of whisky Grant was drinking, because he wanted to recommend it to his other generals, who won fewer victories than Grant. So whisky and the Gatling gun abolished slavery in the U.S., not Christianity.

  256. What is going on here is an attempt to retroactively deny any kudos to Non-Conformists and Evangelicals. This reversion to precision and away from the ordinary acceptation of the meaning of ‘Christianity abolished slavery’ arises from such revisionism. The common understanding of such a phrase outside of legal documents is that people inspired by Christian principles started a movement, managed to persuade others that slavery was a scandal in the biblical sense and that their reading of the Bible was due to blindness to the core message. As the movement picked up disparate elements came on board but it is arguable that the main activists and propagandists were of the aforementioned stock.

    Legally of course it was an Act of Congress that abolished slavery. That is the strict truth.

  257. “Christianity got slavery abolished” means far more than “some Christians were involved in the abolitionist cause.” Sure, that’s true, and kudos to them. But lots of non-Christians and especially lots of non-Christian ideas were involved. And most important, Christianity was a very powerful reactionary force in the south on the side of slavery. You put all of those facts together, and you do not get “Christianity got slavery abolished.” I’m going to ignore all further defense of this sentence until someone can point to one serious scholar who credits Christianity with the end of slavery. Rules of the game: it has to be a well-regarded historian, not an apologist for Christianity.

  258. ‘Reversion to precision’ nothing – this is a lengthy and detailed argument; precision is of the essence. It’s absurd to pretend that mere casual approximation will do as well in this context as it might in a chat over dinner.

    The claim was, to quote: “pretty well all religions supported slavery – only Christianity got it abolished.”

    That would mean Christianity as such got slavery abolished, which would mean that all of Christianity, Christianity as an institution, got slavery abolished. Since there is no such thing as Christianity as an institution, and saying that ‘all of Christianity did X’ borders on the meaningless, the claim is imprecise in itself. It seems fair however to read it as saying at least that most Christian churches explicitly and energetically opposed slavery and as a result got it abolished – and that would be absolute nonsense. Abolitionism was a radical, fringe position in the US; Garrison (whom I admire enormously, Christianity and all) was considered a wild and dangerous fanatic by the mainstream churches. Many abolitionists were Christians, but the vast majority of Christians were not abolitionists.

  259. Merlijn de Smit

    There’s a problem with the whiggish kind of history in which Christianity is seen as the midwife of everything nice and good – human rights, modern science, the survival of Greek philosophy in the early middle ages, etc. The problem being of course that such an apology for Christianity often turns into an apology for the current condition of the world. I’m not accusing Nicholas Beale of holding such a view – but the emphasis on Christianity in abolitionism is often part of it. Rodney Stark is a good example.

    The current condition of the world is of course one which needs to be overcome. If as Stark has suggested Christianity lies at the basis of “freedom, capitalism, and western success”, I’m not sure if I would want anything to do with it. Or in John the Baptist’s words, I would “wait for another”.

    My problem is precisely a theological one. The event at the heart of the Christian narrative – that of God becoming man, that man being crucified, and then the resurrection – is a scandalous one. It mocked most of the conventional religious views of the day. As well as it should. When Christianity itself gets conventionalized, makes its peace with the Emperor, etc. – that scandal tends to fade. It would be truer to its nature if the Sermon on the Mount, the image of the cross and the resurrection were to be raised against the political, economic and indeed religious sensibilities of our times (as the liberation theologists do).

    I agree pretty much with Ophelia in that it was usually the marginalized, heterodox currents within Christianity that stood with progressive or revolutionary politics in their times – sometimes rather less (John van Leyden’s communist “Kingdom of God” in Muenster 1534), sometimes more (the Diggers, the Christian abolitionists) admirably. Any attempts to credit Christianity as such with this or that innovation (for better or worse) does it, I believe, a disservice.

    Christianity itself has gone through its fall from grace, it’s slaying of Abel, and all that. Called “Christendom”. The great thing about secularization is precisely that it may liberate Christianity from its infatuation with power.

  260. Interesting comment, but it’s worth emphasizing that Christian churches in the south were solidly pro-slavery. The morality of slavery was largely defended in explicitly religious term. So while of course I admire the progressive Christian abolitionist, his brethren in the south were using Christianity for very nefarious purposes, and you can’t really say they were abusing the good book. For example, they pointed out that Jesus did not stand up against slavery, and that is the truth. It doesn’t seem remotely possible to paint Christianity as a whole as playing some heroic role in this historical period.

  261. Michael Fugate

    As this conversation winds along, I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s speech “On Vietnam” in which he discusses the attempt to marginalize him over opposition to the war. He extensively relied on Thich Nhat Hahn for background. Which leads me to Thich Nhat Hahn and Daniel Berrigan’s book “The Raft is Not the Shore”. We need to spend more time worrying about where we want to go rather than worrying about the vehicle we use to get there.

  262. There is a world outside the US. I have made it clear at an early stage that my claim is not “all Christians were anti-slavery” but “almost all anti-slavery campaigners were Christians”. Certainly William Wilberforce and his associates, who got slavery abolished in the British Empire, were very explicit in their Christian motivations.

    Moving back to the topic of the thread, you may be interested to know that:

    a. Julian and I had a debate on radio broadcast on Sat. If you are interested you can listen to it here.

    b. We have a lecture and discussion at the Royal Institution on the evening of 1 April chaired by the immensely distinguished philosopher Stewart Sutherland FBA, so if you’d like to debate these issues personally do come. Details (though I don’t think the Chairman will be up he has just accepted today) are here.

  263. Nicholas, Many of us have made lots of seemingly solid arguments why “Christianity finally abolished slavery” can’t be established just using the evidence you keep adducing. We know there’s a world outside the US, but slavery came to an end in the US, after years of American abolitionism and a huge war. So it’s pertinent to ask what forces were rallied for and against slavery in the US.

    But enough. Thanks for the link. I look forward to listening.

  264. Merlijn de Smit

    Jean: I agree. The gospel is both too concrete (“love your neighbour”) and too abstract (“Kingdom of God”) to support a specific position such as universal human rights, human equality, etc. as a support for abolitionism. Which I don’t mean as a criticism of the gospel – to the contrary. But the fact remains that neither Christ nor Paul provided a political program for the reform or overthrow of the existing order. Which does not mean Christianity cannot provide a framework for such – but it is all too clear that, historically, Christianity has been channelling and framing worldly power and provided rationales for oppression, mass murder, genocide and indeed slavery ever since the time of Constantine. Still does, in many ways. I’m leaning more and more to a Marxist interpretation of religion in which religion is both the framework of alienation, oppression, etc. as well as (potentially) a protest against that framework, the “opium of the people” as well as “the heart of a heartless world”. I think such an understanding of religion would be possible within Christianity as well.

  265. It’s a curious thing that no Christian now thinks that slavery is permissible and offers biblical rationalisation for it. In a religion that is by no means monolithic and united on absolutely all issues this unanimity requires explanation. Atheist lawyers are stating that Jesus never ruled on slavery. He didn’t have to because his standards were much higher than that. ‘If you would be perfect sell all your goods and give to the poor’ he said to the rich young man. The ascetic standards demanded of his true followers did not run to slaves. His followers he said were like yeast, a spoonful was enough to activate a couple of loaves. Such were the early activists who continued against opposition to insist on an interpretation of the New Testament which was neither profitable nor popular. In this sense true Christianity healed itself and the larger society even when that larger society was nominally Christian.

  266. The god character in the Old Testament had nothing whatever against buying people for money, provided they were forcibly circumcised after you bought them.

    Genesis 17
    For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised.

    Of course, Christians would say that in our Judeo-Christian heritage, these passages are very firmly in the Judeo-part….

    Some Christians did help to abolish slavery (in certain countries).

    As always, it is the 1% of Christians who give the other 99% a good name…..

    As for Questions of Truth, the arguments about the resurrection are really, really bad.

    Sorry, really, really, really bad. I have just reevaluated them and found a ‘really’ was missing.

    Page 87 of the book manages to produce 2 of the silliest arguments for the resurrection.

    Even according to the New Testament, the disciples are alleged to have waited 6 weeks before going public, yet Polkinghorne’s book claims Christianity could have been refuted if the Romans had produced a decayed corpse of Jesus.

    Even though it was unthinkable to touch corpses and though Jewish law said corpses could not be identified after 3 days.

    And then Polkinghorne’s book goes on to claim that the disciples gave their lives for their beliefs in the resurrection.

    Although not one Christian was ever charged with preaching a resurrection, and Galatians 6:12 says that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision, not resurrection, and that Christian leaders avoided persecution by compromising their beliefs.

    And this book is supposed to be great Christian thinking?

    Early Christian converts scoffed at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    Paul writes to them to tell them that the resurrected Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’.

    He tells them that ‘You do NOT plant the body that will be, but just a seed…. and God gives it a body’.

    He would have looked at the corpse of Jesus and said it was just a seed, from which the ‘life-giving spirit’ had emerged.

    Paul knew exactly what happened to corpses. He was not an idiot.

    2 Corinthians 5

    ‘Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.’

    The earthly body is destroyed.

    Not saved, not rescued – it is destroyed.

    ‘Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.’

    Paul likens our present body to a set of clothes, which will be removed from us when we die.

    We will then be clothed in a heavenly body, and live in that.

    The present body is discarded, just like we discard old clothes when we get new ones.

    ‘For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.’

    There are TWO dwellings. An earthly one and a heavenly dwelling.

    Jesus dwelt in his earthly body. After the resurrection, he moved to a heavenly dwelling.

    But this totally contradicts the Gospel stories, where Jesus did NOT move from one body to another.

    Paul thinks we are burdened by our present body.

    So we are not going to get it brought back to life. It is a burden.

    ‘Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’

    Paul tells the Corinthians they know this is true, because they have the Spirit inside them. It is a deposit of what is to come. It is a guarantee that they will get a non-flesh-and-blood spiritual body to live in after they have shed their earthly body.

    All this is in my resurrectiondebate blogspot.

    There were no early Christian stories of corpses rising. They were all invented later.

  267. Eric MacDonald

    Martijn Smit, it seems, is our resident Kierkegaard.

    The event at the heart of the Christian narrative – that of God becoming man, that man being crucified, and then the resurrection – is a scandalous one. It mocked most of the conventional religious views of the day.

    I don’t buy it. This is well-known Christian apologetics. First off, it wasn’t really a scandal. Commerce between the gods and earth was quite normal fare at the time Christianity hit the newstands. Many of the emeperors were held to be gods after their deaths, some before them. And many other traditions have incarnate gods, or certainly gods who have taken human form.

    Paul was perhaps the first to use the idea of scandal to commend Christian faith. The crucifixion was a stumbling block to Jews and foolish to Gentiles. And then be bids us not to think at all, that the wisdom of God is higher than human wisdom, and God’s weakness greater than human strengh, a thought that still encourages know-nothing blind faith.

    But there is no real scandal here. This is a Christian understanding of the crucifixion. If it were a scandal Christianity would never have been successful. Christianity offered people divine power, in very much the same way that the pagan mysteries did, through a process of theosis by means of which one became oneself divine.

    Certainly there were Christian expressions that could later be read in a more general way, but very few are original. ‘Love your neighbour’ comes from L:eviticus, and if Christians say that ‘neighbour’ was given a special spin by the story of the Good Samaritan, we can answer by saying that ‘neighbour’ was given a special spin by the books of Ruth and Jonah.

    The idea of the Kingdom of God is not too abstract, although much ink has been spilled trying to tell us what it means, but it certainly does not have any easy reference to this world, not because it is abstract, but because it assumes conditions that will only come into being with the dawn of a new messianic age, an age which will dawn with pestilence and war. Nicholas has claimed ‘what you do to one of the least of these, my brethren’ as a general command to do good, but ‘my brethren’ (ton adelpon mou) here undoubtedly refers to Jesus’ followers, not generally to people in need.

    It’s nice that, under the pressure of growing secular moral consensus, Christians could reread their scriptures in such a way as to extend their moral concern to slaves and other unfortunates, but it is an unwarrantable exaggeration to suggest that, in itself, Christian morals require the abolition of slavery.

    As I have already shown, Paul hopelessly confuses the categories of slavery and freedom, by calling slaves free in Christ, and free men slaves of Christ. 1 Peter takes it further and suggests, using Jesus as the model of one who accepted suffering without resistance, says, explicitly to slaves, that, “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (4.12)

    Quite apart from these considerations, or from the fact that Christians were the best organised NGO at the time (although still with governmental ties), and therefore able to organise more quickly and effectively against slavery, once Christian consciences had been pricked by the growth of independent moral discourse, it is, I think, clear that religion’s interference in the public sphere is now a danger to the moral achievements that have been made since the beginning of the Enlightenment, and it is now time for Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths, to begin to understand themselves as minority cultural interests that must be exercised in ways consistent with reasonable morality.

    There is no room any longer for the so called ‘scandal of the coss’ (if that is what it is). This is a relicious construct which has no meaning outside of the circle of those who believe it to be somehow reveletory. If Christians want to challenge the way things are, then they must do it in other ways that do not drag in irrelevant imaginings and fantasies that are a product of a long dead civilisation and its priorities. The heart of a heartless world might just be freedom and justice.

  268. BEALE
    Also, by the standards of any normal historical event of that period the resurrection is extremely well-attested: at least four separate authors.

    What a total joke! What utter stupidity comes from the mouths of Christians!

    If I can find 4 Scientologists who say something happened, will Beale accept it?

    If I can find 4 Muslim Hadith which say the same thing about Muhammad, will Beale accept it?

    Beale’s argument – 4 Christians say it is true, so that is overwhelming evidence.

    What a total waste of time the guy is!

  269. BEALE
    Read Tom Wright if you want to see what christian bible scholars actually think.

    On page 368 of ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’, the Bishop of Durham, NT Wright claims Paul used a metaphor of putting one house on top of another to describe how the earthly body would be transformed into the resurrected body.

    And that the new ‘house’ came from Heaven, but was made of the material in the old ‘house’, but transformed in some manner.

    Presumably in the way you transform your old clothes by having ‘a new and larger suit of clothes to be put on over the existing ones’.

    I am not joking. This is what one of the world’s top Christian scholars says , in all seriousness.

    Who transforms their house by putting a new house on top of the old one, somehow using the material of the old one to make the new one, although the material of the new house has come from another place?

    Who wears two jackets, and claims he has changed his old jacket by putting ‘a new and larger’ jacket over the top of his old jacket?

    Let us assume that Paul’s metaphors were designed not to be nonsense.

    You take off old clothes. You put on new clothes.

    You leave one house. You move to another house.

    Clearly Paul is teaching that Jesus left his old body behind and moved to a new body.

    This is so obvious that Wright has to claim that Paul said we put one house on top of another house , and when we get new clothes, we just put them on top of the old ones.

  270. Merlijn de Smit

    It’s Merlijn, not Martijn. I alternatingly am wildly enthusiastic about Kierkegaard or want to throw his books at the wall (his individualism, notably, is something I find hard to square with my general understanding of Christianity, religion, etc. even if it would fit me personally just fine). It’s true that dying and rising Gods were not uncommon in the ancient world (Dionysos, Osiris, etc.) but they were, I would say, in Judaism. Supposing now that Isaiah’s prophecies about the “suffering servant” have little to do with the Messiah. Rabbi Akiba’s candidate Messiah was Simon Bar-Kochba and I assume this was in line with general expectations of the Messiah during those times.

    And in the pagan world, the dying and rising Gods are relegated to mythology, not in the middle of historical time, and not involving a Palestinian wandering teacher executed by the Roman authorities as a common criminal. It is precisely the very humbling death of Jesus here that is “scandalous”. (I am not sure where to put the apotheosis of emperors here. I am doubtful whether the theosis of emperors was ever taken as a literal event by Romans, rather than as a symbol of the cohesion and strength of the Roman state).

    Agreed about continuity between the Old and New Testaments regarding “love thy neighbour”. One of the things I dislike about Paul is his very dualistic understanding of “love” and “the law”, with Christians identifying Judaism especially with the latter, which is highly inaccurate to say the least. Disagreed about the abstractness of the Kingdom of God. Whereas it may well be that for both Jesus and Paul the Kingdom of God was closely identified with the imminent Messianic age, later Christian understandings are quite a different matter (the communion of believers foreshadowing the return of Christ etc.).

    Whether there is any room for the “scandal of the cross” outside of the circle to whom it is revelatory is not really my concern. The cross is the primary religious symbol for Christians, and I made my point in the context of a certain line of apologetics being, in my opinion, bad for Christianity. Meanings drawn from that symbol are highly relevant for the positioning of Christians within the current world.

  271. Eric MacDonald

    I’m sorry – Merlijn. I am surprised, though, that you should consider Jesus an historical figure. Even if, as there may have been, there was a person at the centre of all the myth making surrounding him, the figure of the dying and rising messiah is almost certainly a purely mythical figure. Given the number of gospels that there were, sifted down to four by a growingly powerful institution determined to anchor the myths in history, and to support a growing power that could only be guaranteed by means of controlling the message, it seems very unlikely that any of them (gospels, I mean) have historical credibility. Ingenious, no doubt, but what else could be done with a messianic pretender? They were all bound to fail. So what you (and of course others) call the ‘scandal of the cross’ was a stroke of genius. Doesn’t give it historical credibility, though.

  272. Merlijn de Smit

    Hmmm, as far as I know the number of synoptic gospels was pretty much clear from the start, though, with most of the competing gnostic texts being collections of sayings (Thomas) or longer purely theological treatises; and John sort of in between. I’m not insensitive to mythological motives in the gospel narrative: to a big extent I hold it precisely to be “true myth”, a highly symbolical series of events in concrete historical time (and the word of God to be the events rather than the text). So as a matter of faith it is of supreme importance for me to hold the events, by and large, to have literally occurred: the object of religion is the Jesus of the gospels and not the “historical Jesus”. As for the latter, I’m sometimes sympathetic to whatwasit Bultmann who held historical Jesus research to be simply irrelevant to religion. Though I’m not quite ready to take that position.

  273. Eric MacDonald

    Well, as far as your take on the myth, it can be, as Bultmann said, just a myth, and every thing can go on a before, because what counts is the kerygmatic proclamation of the church, reluctant as you may be to take this option. We meet Jesus in the preaching of the church.

    However, Nicholas, with whom we have been debating here, is not able to take this tack. He has nailed his colours to the mast, and the resurrection is an historical event from start to finish, and ordinary historical evidence is enough substantiate this.

    Despite NT Wright, this is a lost cause, and Christians should bite the bullet. I’m not sure that the competing documents were as nicely rounded of as the three synoptics plus John as a gnostic outrider (I still think it is gnositicism through and through), but it is hard to tell at this historical distance what relationship Philip, and Thomas and Mary Magdalene and now Judas might have had to the processes behind the others. The early critics were not above deception. Dominic Crossan certainly puts a lot of weight behing the passion gospel of Peter, and claims to trace it to an early source. I’m not sure we have enought to reconstruct the original relationship and priority of the diverse of gospels that we have. The fact that Arianism was so strong suggests that we may in fact have the whole thing backward.

    Just don’t rely on any of them for historical confirmation. There isn’t any – not one independent contemporary confirmation. That’s got to be a bit worrying. There’s no reason to think that Jesus was buried in some formal way. Most bodies on crosses were left for carrion birds, and if not were disposed of without ceremony at the dump, with strict rules not to touch them. Opportunities for friends or family to take recieve the body of the deceased for very rare events, and not likely in this case.The chance of Jesus having been buried in a tomb, supposing there was anything genuine attached loosely to the legends is, I should say, pretty long odds. Besides, if all that counts is the kerygmatic Jesus, what does it matter? That’s pure myth in any case.

    As for ‘true myth’, I’ve become thouroughly sceptical of this idea. It sounds very nice when Tillich tells you how broken myth still serves a religious function. Counldn’t find it myself. There is just something just a little bit dodgy about scads of documents for the first to the third or fourth centuries claiming to recount something that actually took place. And we can’t simply dismiss them as gnostic, because it’s quite hard to place gnosticism’s relation to the coming great church, though in the end, it was dismissed, Did this guarantee a true tradition. I’m not so sure.

  274. Merlijn de Smit

    I must confess that I jumped in on the abolitionism question and neglected to read a lot of the earlier discussion until now – you make a lot of interesting points. I think some version of the resurrection is essential to the Christian narrative, but not as a simple historical event. There’s the difficulty (as you mentioned earlier) that Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener, the disciples to Emmaus don’t recognize him at first, John’s account seems polemical, etc. To the extent the disciples encountered Jesus after his death, they didn’t encounter him obviously as Jesus, wounds and all. I’m getting more sympathetic to overly eschatological views on the resurrection: the disciples getting glimpses of an event that is not part of historical time and in a way “still to come”.

    In any event I think defending belief in the resurrection as somehow rational is pointless.

    I have unfortunately not yet read the Gnostic texts with any seriousness. It’s very high on my list as my other reading has taken me into that direction. Pity that so much we know about the Gnostic groups comes from the pens of their enemies. I’m sure the Carpocratians, for instance, were about more than just wild parties.

  275. Eric MacDonald

    Well, thank you, Merlijn (how do you pronouce that, by the way?). I agree with your assessment. It makes no sense to me to speak of the resurrection as somehow rationally understandable. I no longer function as a priest, for several reasons, but the idea of resurrection was never amongst them. It seemed to me a non-starter. If it is mythic, as I think, then it is not in any sense compelling except as the focus of a way of life, which can, in fact, remain untethered to historical time. This, I think, was always Bultmann’s point about the kerygmatic Jesus.

    My problem, not to put too fine a point on it. is the fact that it is almost impossible to get a mythic understanding of Jesus, or any other religious belief, understood by most ordinary people, who do not want belief to be grounded in the human person, but, somehow, in historical time, and in historical time as it intersects with eternity (if the latter idea even makes sense). I believe that this is what the gnostics discovered, and it was in fact they who seem to have discovered also the idea of human equality, which would have made history since the first century very different, but would not have meshed together with the idea of empire very well. So, the gnostics had to go, just like the Brethren of the Free Spirit, and other antinomian movements. The gnostic texts bear closer reading, I think, than I have been able to give them, but I’m told they’re worth it.

    It is for these reasons, despite the early participation of the Quakers, and later the evangelicals, in the abolition movement, that it seems counter-intuitive to suppose that ‘Christianity got slavery abolished.’ Certainly, Christian organisation helped spur the movement on, but it wasn’t Christian ideas that got it going in the first place. The Quakers, though, as heterodox Christians, may be related, through historical connexions that run straight through from 14th and 15th century antinomian movements, to similar but more disciplined movements towards free thought amongst the philosophes of the late 17th to the 18th centuries. Bayle springs immediately to mind, and Spinoza. It would be foolish to deny their religious connexions, but it would be foolish also to claim them for normative Christianity (or Judaism) of that or any other time.

  276. a. Jean/Eric. I think we can agree that if “Christianity got slavery abolished” means “almost all Christians worked from the start to abolish slavery and succeeded” it is false, and if it means “almost all of those who worked from the start to abolish slavery and succeeded” it is true. I certainly intended it in the latter sense.

    b. Steven: I see what people mean who marvel that I engage with you! I don’t say “4 people say X it must be true” I say “by the standards of any normal historical event of that period X is extremely well-attested if 4 separate authors attest it”. Clearly there are events that are better attested, but a great many worse. Sorry no time to deal with the rest of your long posts – you do seem absurdly literal-minded.

    c. Eric/Steven: If there is no Loving Ultimate Creator then indeed the resurrection is deeply implausible. But please try not to allow your commitment to your worldview blind you to the possibility that other worldviews may be valid.

    d. Merlijn: thank you for these helpful and insightful comments (of course I don’t wholly agree, but who cares). But the “inconsistencies” in the testimony about the resurrection are, in my view, strong grounds for believing that these stories were not made up by the disciples. They knew all about the problems of conflicting evidence, and no-one who was making up stories would have left so many holes (incl. having two women as witnesses which was completely unacceptable).

    I’m very busy but will try to look in over the weekend. Anyone who is serious about wanting to debate these issues and is able to get to London on the evening of April 1 can come to the Royal Institution for this.

  277. BEALE
    I don’t say “4 people say X it must be true” I say “by the standards of any normal historical event of that period X is extremely well-attested if 4 separate authors attest it”.

    I think this statement by Beale says it all, as does his inability to engage with the logical, well-reasoned, Biblical arguments I put forward which showed that Paul’s concept of a resurrection had nothing to do with bodies leaving tombs.

    Beale has no answer…..

    No answer to the undisputed fact that even early Christian converts scoffed at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses, while still beleiving that their god was still alive.

    It is very interesting that Christianity is supposed to be relevant to modern people, yet Beale is the first to claim it is ancient history, as soon as the question is ‘What evidence is there?’

    It could be a slogan – ‘Christianity – Ancient history or what?’

  278. I feel like I’ve made the same points ten times about why it makes no sense to say Christian got slavery abolished, and they’ve all been ignored. So–I am officially done with this discussion. Nicholas, I did enjoy the radio broadcast. You and Julian had a remarkably civilized discussion.

  279. Eric MacDonald

    Oh dear, Nicholas, how on earth can you say: “They knew all about the problems of conflicting evidence, and no-one who was making up stories would have left so many holes (incl. having two women as witnesses which was completely unacceptable)”?! We don’t know this at all. We don’t know that the evangelists had crib notes of what the others had written about the resurrection, or whether they discussed it beforehand and disagreed. The fact that women were chosen (and I mean chosen) as witnesses may mean that the resurrection stories are gnostic through and through, may mean, not must mean. And believing that there is an LUC does not in the slightest increase the probability that these stories are true, because we have no a priori idea what an LUC might do. These things have been said, with variations, above.

    As for the actions of the early church, increasingly looking like a power in the empire: they had the texts they had; they clearly sifted through those texts and chose ones which consisted as well with each other as possible, and no doubt because they had become accepted texts in what came to be patriarchal sees, or some such. No doubt, they were aware of the conflicts between the stories, but they were, in some sense, stuck with what they had. So, they made the best of a bad job.

    But, after 2000 years to repeat the old saw that these conflicts are what we would expect from eye witnesses is no more than to say that we don’t know, so let’s make a virtue of our ignorance. As for the evidence being sufficient for historians of the period, we are not here dealing with an ordinary event. As Hume pointed out, for extraordinary events the evidence must be more than just extraordinary. And since none of the people who were there at the time could be considered disinterested bystanders, we need even more than extraordinary evidence, evidence that would prove to you that someone excecuted in, say, Tehran, died, and was buried, and was seen to be dead and buried by many witnesses, and then was seen walking around town a few days later. You would, I assume, want more than a record of conflicting witness from eye-witnesses, in such a case, especially if those witnesses wanted to claim that the man was really the last imam, or whatever it is that Shia Muslims are waiting for. I don’t know why you should expect so much less for the resurrection of Jesus.

    Besides, as Merlijn and I have both said, it is really much more likely that the disciples were speaking of the eschatological Jesus, the end-times figure who was expected to return soon. It was that Jesus, raised already to the right hand of God on high, who is being reported in the resurrection stories. That understanding would much more satisfactorily explain the conflicts, and the astonishing ability of Jesus’ risen body to pass through locked doors, disappear at will, and be unrecognisable to his closest friends.

  280. Steven: if you want to be taken seriously you should avoid:
    1. Placing silly “headlines” on links to a serious philosophical discussion (in the newhumanist blog)
    2. Placing 3 long speils in a blog and when I answer one of them complaining that I “have no answer” to your others.
    3. Quoting disjointed snippets of scripture like some deranged fundamentalist. The snippets you quote simply don’t mean what you think they mean. And at the minimum, they don’t carry the meaning you suggest in the worldview that Polkinghorne and I (and probably most mainstream Christians) hold. So it is certainly not contradictory of us to hold the positions we do.
    4. Claiming people “have no arguments” and are “a total waste of time”.
    Until then I fear you will have to be content with being ignored – at least by me.

    b. Jean: I think we both agree that it would have been accurate if I had said “the people who got Slavery abolished were mostly Christians” – my “Christianity got slavery abolished” was meant to be shorthand for this, but there are plenty of other possible interpretations of this which “make no sense” in the sense that they are false. I apologise for imprecise language (but this is after all a blog!)

    c. Eric: (1) OK, how about “If the evangelists had been coordinating in making up stories they would not have left so many holes”? Possibly Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote quite independently but very few scholars think this.
    (2) Do you really think the likelihood of the resurrection is the same whether or not a Loving Ultimate Creator exists? Can’t we at least agree that if there is a LUC then the Resurrection is possible, whereas if materialism is true then the resurrection is effectively impossible? And perhaps you might even accept that if there is a LUC revealed in Jesus of Nazareth then the Resurrection is highly likely?

    The problem with “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is that, when you try to make that precise, it becomes explicit that is means “extraordinary wrt a particular worldview”.

  281. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas. Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels with other sources, one common to them both, one peculiar to Matthew, one peculiar to Luke, and a large part of Mark. Mark, so far as we know, did not have other sources, certainly not Matthew or Luke. What other sources they may have had access to is not known. Dominic Crossan thinks that much of the passion account is dependent of the gospel of Peter. I do not have the expertise to assess that judgement. But it would be seriously misleading to speak of the three synoptic authors (whoever they were) as coordinating with each other, as though there was a process of consultation. We do not even know, for example, how much of the tradition about these things was oral, how much was left up to individual creativity, or, most importantly, whether any of it came from eye witnesses, and whether eye witnesses are dependable or not. There’s simply not enough to go on to make a reasonable guess as to what reality, if any, lies behind the gospel narratives as we have them. One certainly would expect, in the process of oral transmission – which must be assumed, since there is no evidence that the disciples, supposing this is in any respect historical, could read – that many creative flourishes would be added in the process of transmission. Studies of oral cultures have shown enormous variation between difference instances of the ‘same’ poem of song.

    As for what we could reasonably expect, based on the assumption of the existence of a LUC. I’m sorry, Nicholas. I’m a hard case. I don’t think there is any basis here for making any calculation of probabilities, and the idea of resurrection, since it was not so uncommon, is a bit dodgy as an idea. I would have expected an LUC to come up with something startlingly original and pretty well substantiated, if the LUC really wanted to do some straightforward communication. But, if the LUC’s nature is to ‘keep ’em guessing’, I suppose a virginal conception and a resurrection will do as well as anything else.

    As to an LUC revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Having spent a lifetime with this story, I have to say, in the end, after Tillich and Bultmann and Cupitt and Graham Shaw (invaluable books on rhetoric of the Pauline corpus, the gospel of Mark, and, in God in Our Hands, more generally in the Bible and tradition), and so many others, that I find it very hard to see a revelation in Jesus. Hell is the thing that really undoes it for me, that and gnashing of teeth, calling down fire on people who didn’t respond to him with belief, and things like that. In the end, there are good things in Jesus. Most of them come from the OT. But there are such bad things in the story that it simply makes no sense to think of it as the revelation of anything, except perhaps for some very devoted people in the first century empire (not really sure where they were written or by whom – that’s what makes it such a problem for history, I think). I am awfully sorry to be such a hard case.

    As for extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence – no, I don’t buy the particular world view theory. It’s either evidence or it’s not. You can’t make a world view plausible by claiming to believe it. You have to have a reason for world views too.

  282. Merlijn de Smit

    Hmmm, Frank Tipler argued that a universal resurrection is pretty much a certainty and happily combined it with a very hardboiled, reductionist materialism. I’m sure he’d have no problem with the resurrection of Christ (don’t know whether he treats it because I’ve stayed away from his stuff lately).
    BTW, Eric, it’s pronounced as “MARE-line” though I tend to accept “Merlin” from anglophones.

  283. Eric: To your comments about the problems of oral transmission, I would like to add the problems found in copying manuscripts, that is, errors in the copying process, the human tendency to touch up things,
    words or even sentences left out by oversight, etc.

  284. So Beale slags off Grayling for declining to ‘debate’ ie paying 8 pound for the pleasure of having Polkinghorne and Beale lecture at him for 90 minutes…

    And when Beale is offered an opportunity to debate, he claims he is going to just ignore what I say.

    He has no answer. He has no arguments, other than name-dropping.

    He got a smacking, by my well-reasoned, logical exegesis of what Paul actually claimed.

    It is a fact that early Christian converts simply scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    Unable to deal with such a smacking, Beale cries ‘foul’ and runs away.

  285. Eric MacDonald

    Andrew Sullivan, in a recent Times article, says this (available here):

    What one yearns for is a resuscitation of a via media in American religious life – the role that the established Protestant churches once played. Or at least an understanding that religion must absorb and explain the new facts of modernity: the deepening of the Darwinian consensus in the sciences, the irrefutable scriptural scholarship that makes biblical literalism intellectually contemptible, the shifting shape of family life, the new reality of openly gay people, the fact of gender equality in the secular world. It seems to me that American Christianity, despite so many resources, has ignored its intellectual responsibility. And atheists, if this continues much longer, will continue to pick up that slack.

    With due respect, this seems to me what is happening here. Nicholas, in my view, has chosen an intellectually irresponsible way to argue for Christianity. Indeed, he wants to suggest that there is nothing about the facts of modernity that need explaining in religious terms, and that religion can subsist in a world view which is somehow tangential to the world view of modern science, while it claims all the benefits of the scientific language of evidence, confirmation, etc. What people like Tillich or Gordon Kaufmann, Schubert Ogden, Maurice Wiles, etc. tried to do was to reinterpret Christianity in ways that made it somehow consistent with modernity, although Wiles is quite up front with the acknowledgement that religion, so understood, is less “religious” when you do that, less personally satisfying. But Nicholas wants to have his science and a kind of orthodox emotionalism at the same time.

    I don’t think this will work. In fact, I’ve never believed that it could work, and I am now more convinced than ever that it won’t. The more Christians attempt to create a parallel world, with the swaying mindlessness of ignorant congregations feeling the spirit, the more irrelevant it will become to the human project. The desperate insistence that the religious are still saying something important can be seen in some of Nicholas’ urgency that we should at least be able to agree that … – and here follows something that is completely at variance with beliefs with which anyone who has read a bit of history and understands a smidgen of science, can easily concur.

    One gets the same sense from Ken Miller or Francis Collins, leading biologists who, despite all the apparent contradictions between their religious views and biological findings, seem to manage to keep both enterprises afloat. But it is the religious side that is attenuated and increasingly imperilled.There however, it is, a romantic primitivism which cannot really be affected by or evolve with the real world of scientific discovery and social change. That, apparently, is why it needs an anchor in the remote past, something that will hook it onto the world in such a way that nothing will ever be able to shake its intelligibility or call any of its beliefs into question.

    That’s why this particular thread can go on for ever, because, despite Nicholas’ scientific expertise, he belongs to a religious world which has been scarcely touched by science, though it has to make its peace with it. That is quite different to the older religious project, which was to understand the modern world in religious terms. The project may have been doomed from the start. That is for others to say. But, so far as I can tell, Nicholas doesn’t have a project at all, aside from protecting religion from the depredations of science, and, after providing us with a few scientific sky hooks for religion, trying to assure us that science has nothing of substance to tell us about the world view of religion. I do not see a way forward for religion here.

  286. N.Beale:
    The thing is though that you would be logically correct saying ‘Christians ended slavery’. The proposition ‘Some Christians ended slavery’ is neither contrary nor contradictory to this. ‘Bankers were greedy’ is true even if you can show me that a minority gave their bonuses to the poor and even now are wearing sackcloth and ashes and are members of the Sect of the Flagellants.

    So why do some folk whinny and baulk at such a minor logical fence? Perhaps it’s due to an unwavering belief that Evangelicals and Non-Conformists are wrong about everything and this has always been the case or the sense that Christianity is a massive monolithic dark force that must be resisted at all costs. In short there is an unreasoning animus against Christianity that requires that the historical record be expunged or limited when it incontrovertibly shows Christians to have done some good.

    However being challenged is good for one. It made me look more carefully into the historical record. Looking through the Ency.Britannica and tracing the names and connections of the chief activists, easy to do on cd, the picture that emerges is overwhelmingly supportive of the conventional view. Take Harriet Beecher Stowe for example. So many clergymen, she must have been worn out starching stock collars. I’ve never read any of Uncle Tom’s Cabin but who can deny that it was a powerful piece of agit prop.

  287. Eric MacDonald

    Michael, Nicholas made a suggestion which was untrue. He later modified that suggestion so that it was merely about political action. The first statement, “Christianity got slavery abolished,” suggested, and still suggests, that in some way slavery was against the very principles of Christian morality. This is so far from the truth that it is hard to get further away and still be in the same moral universe.

    However, once the Enlightenment philosophes and philosophers had had their say, with Locke and Hobbes on principles of equality, Grotius and Montesquieu on law, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Smith and Hume on morals, the whole idea of slavery became less and less palatable. Clearly, some of these men were Christians, but they were, as it were, starting again from first principles, and their moral philosophy can be stated without the intervention of Christian ideas.

    So, yes, Christians underwent important changes during the 18th century, and some of them came out of the 18th century looking quite humane and quite unlike Christians of former ages. It was, I believe, Enlightenment which got slavery abolished, not Christianity, though many Christians had become enlightened during this period.

    Of course, Christians were bound to be in forefront. It could not have been different, since most people at that time were still Christians, but we were discussing the reasonableness of the claim that the abolition of slavery came about because of inner-Christian beliefs and values. I don’t think it did. If those values were Christian, why did the church support slavery for so long, even to the extent that some slaves in the Bahamas or Jamaica (I believe) were branded with the brand SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), the SPG having inherited a slave-owning estate?

    Christians may have ended slavery, since they were the only ones with numbers and organisation and presence in parliament to make it happen; but Christians did not end slavery, in the sense that Christian principles did it. That is simply not credible in the face of centuries of slave-owning by Christian people.

  288. Steven: I don’t have to debate with every childish allegation you make. Are you even capable of “well-reasoned logical exegesis of what Paul actually claimed”? Can you, for example, read Greek? You apparently can’t read the Ri website which explains what a “Talking Point” event is. AFAIK no leading scientist of philosopher takes your writings seriously. Grayling on the other hand cannot claim that QoT is in that category. It is not “name dropping” to point this out.

    Eric: sorry I can’t respond to all your posts. Just a few observations: (a) “most people at that time were Christians” – What? No Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians ??
    (b) Like many atheists who claim to be scientific you seem to have little idea of how science actually works. “It’s either evidence or it’s not” – it really isn’t that simple. All scientific observations are contingent on interpreted theory and mostly dependent on extremely complex theory-laden apparatus. In addition what is “extraordinary” depends almost entirely on your worldview.
    (c) I made a statement that could be interpreted in various ways (like most statements). You and Jean pointed out that one interpretation was false, though I have been very clear about the interpretation that I meant, and this one is true.

  289. Beale is now resorting to abuse.

    He thinks an outpouring of Christian love will solve everything, but Christian love to a sceptic is like water off a duck’s bath.

    He has no answer. He has no arguments, other than name-dropping, and abuse.

    He got a smacking, by my well-reasoned, logical exegesis of what Paul actually claimed.

    Unable to deal with such a smacking, Beale resorts to abuse.

  290. Oh dear, Nicholas. Here we are back again. When I said that, at the time that slavery came to be abolished, most people were Christians, I meant, of course, in that part of the world where the question of slavery was asked and answered in favour of abolition. So, inevitably, Christians would have to carry to ball, because the non-believing part of the population was too small to have significant influence on government. But, as I have also tried to stress, it was in that part of the world that enlightened thinking began to be taken seriously, almost all of which, if not anti-Christian, rejected any form of religious orthodoxy or the religious control of thought.

    As to the way that science works. Of course, I know that science takes place wtihin a theory laden context. Seeing, as Kant showed, takes place within a theory laden context. However, it would be wrong to suppose, because the outcome of science is queerer than we supposed, that what is extraordinary, or what may be taken to be extraordinary evidence depends almost entirely on your worldview. This is, in fact, something that even you accept, since you think it is important that Christian belief somehow be consistent with what we know on the basis of science, and that we can give fairly straightforward kinds of evidence to establish Christian claims.

    But you can’t simply jump back and forth between worldviews in the way that you suggest without becoming radically relativist, and then, of course, anything can be believed. So, in the end, it does come down to evidence, and it either is or it isn’t. You’ve spent nearly a month now trying to convince me that there is sufficient evidence (of this kind – it’s either evidence or it isn’t) to support belief in the resurrection. I am still not convinced, but I assume that we are talking about the same world.

    Now, I may not be a scientist, and if you started throwing equations at me, I’d probably be like Diderot when he was challenged with an equation said to prove the existence of God. I might not turn away in high dudgeon, but I would probably not be able to understand the equations themselves. Well and good. But this doesn’t mean I don’t understand how science works, and nothing that I have said is quite obviously wrong in the way that you suggest, so, you can be as patronising as you like, but I think we are still in the same realm of discourse.

    It is true that you reinterpreted your statement that “Christianity got slavery abolished” in a way that makes it very likely true, that most of those who campaigned for abolition were Christians. But that is really a statement so obvious that it’s hard to know why you suggested it, if you did not think it put Christianity up there in the realm of the angels – which it doesn’t. And this has been my point, and it continues to be.

    Enlightened Christians, enlightened by the kind of thinking which morphed, finally, into the scientific enterprise, but also included morality, politics, economics, and other large scale human projects in its scope, did finally get the point, which 1800 years of Christianity had not done, that the Bible is wrong, and slavery is a moral evil, that the powers that be are not of God, and that the church was wrong to endorse slavery in the way that Bible and tradition, with every few exceptions, do. Kudos to those who got it. But it was not Christianity as such, but Christianity coupled with a good dose of free-thinking, that did it.

  291. Eric:

    Just a small point. In 1657 George Fox founder of the Quaker Movement wrote a letter expressing doubt about the slave trade in the New World. The Enlightenment is generally reckoned to date from the mid 17th.C at the earliest to the beginning of the 18th. So G.F. the son of a cobbler is at least ahead of the main posse of philosophes. Were the Quakers not the first to ban slave owners from their community?

    Acquaint yourself with the actual thought of the philosophe. I knew Voltaire for an Anti-Semite but his thoughts on race are equally retrograde. David Hume was an unabashed racist. Kant agrees with him.

  292. Michael,
    Nicholas has tried to claim that Christianity is closer to the truth than other religions and Christians are better people than those practicing other religions or no religion. His attempts at evidence have been the resurrection and it witnesses and the abolition of slavery. Neither of these is very convincing.
    If you look at any political, sociological, scientific or philosophical issue, you will find Christians on all sides. We have pro- and anti-war, pro- and anti-abortion, pro- and anti-death penalty, pro- and anti-gay marriage, pro- and anti-evolution, etc. Christians as a whole are no better or worse than any other group of people. Just because some opposed slavery doesn’t mean Christianity gets the credit – plenty of other Christians were for slavery.
    Good and bad is found in members of any group and unless Nicholas can provide solid evidence for his claims then others will reject them.

  293. Michael Fugate–Exactly. I have no trouble giving Christianity credit where credit is due, but can’t take this attempt to rewrite history seriously. Beware the person who isn’t simply seeking truth in all these matters, but is essentially a cheerleader for one particular team.

  294. Michael Fugate:
    A vague, amorphous cloud of enlightened intelligence animating the normally rebarbative Quakers and Non-Conformists seems to be the preferred thesis. Who might these illuminati be? No names seem to be forthcoming merely a general atmosphere of benevolence and magnanimity.

    Would Locke be in that cloud of unknowing? No because he invested £600 in the Royal African Society and his considered view on slavery was that it was morally right when unjust aggressors were defeated. The Natural Right to make a buck was his guiding principle here.

    Edmund Burke represented Bristol the great slave port. He maintained that he had the right to act according to his own lights in Parliament and while he was active in pursuing defalcation in India missed the chance to promote the nascent anti-slavery movement.

    A fascinating piece of Blackheath (London) local history:

  295. Michael Reidy. You miss the point entirely. The point is not that Locke justified slavery under certain circumstances. The point is that he felt the need to justify it. And recall, please, that George Fox, although he spoke against slavery after a fashion, did so mainly on the Pauline basis that we are all slaves of God or Jesus Christ, if, indeed, we have chosen the way of salvation, and that equality is conditional upon this. So, equality, for Fox, was to a certain extent contingent upon belief, though no doubt capacity for belief encouraged him to believe that slaves, just like other men and women, would gladly receive the Christian message and live redeemed lives, so deserving of the equality accorded to them through belief in Christ.

    And George Fox’s revaluation of Christianity took place in a milieu in which the moral boundaries were constanly shifting under the influence of increasing freedom of thought which was transforming the map of Western Christendom at the time.

    I certainly don’t want to demote Fox from a place of importance in what became a strong minority position against slavery. But Fox himself assured the governor of Barbados that all he and the Quaker missionaries wanted to do was to make sure that negroes obeyed their masters and mistresses and acted in all ways so that their masters and mistresses would treat them with kindness. At the root of this was the conviction that only the acceptance of Christ as the way to salvation was sufficient to make the slave equal to the master.

    It would be foolish to claim – and I have not done so – that Christians had nothing to do with the abolition movement. This is demonstrably untrue. But it would also be hazardous to claim – and this I have stressed – that the foundation of the abolition movement lay in Christian beliefs as such. It is possible to take Paul’s fairly cynical view of the free being slaves of Christ, and slaves being freemen in Christ, as indicating a distorted kind of equality. And Fox, indeed, does this. That this took place in a social context in which slavery was something that needed justification (and Hobbes and Locke both tried, unsuccessfully, on their own terms, to justify it) meant that, in time, as the argument was made with more and more clarity, Fox’s view would be seen as in some sense a marker of things to come. But it would not have come about, in my view, without the (more secular) Enlightenment. There simply was not enough in Christianity to drive the abolition movement. That’s why it occurred to a marginal group like the Quakers.

    As I have said, kudos to those who were first, and it was the Quakers, too, who founded the first anti-slavery society. Good for them. But the foundation of this lay more and more in Enlightenment free-thought. It could not find its foundation, in my view, in Christianity itself, for Fox’s interpretation itself still depends upon the idea that, in some sense, since we are all slaves of God, we are equal with each other, that slavery is sin, because it submits man to man instead of man to God. There are perhaps seeds of this in Paul, but it took the manure of scepticism and reason to permit them to germinate and flourish.

    My last point has to do with racism, which was largely endemic at the time in Europe, and, as you say, the philosophes were not immune. It still is deeply embedded in the traditions of most ‘racial’ or cultural groups. But racism itself has nothing to do, as such, with slavery. It is possible to oppose slavery with all one’s strength, and still think other races are inferior. Still a common failing.

  296. Steven: If you were to provide a “well-reasoned, logical exegesis of what Paul actually claimed.” I would be happy to try to identify at least the first error (if there is one). You haven’t yet, and I don’t know if you even understand the language in which Paul was writing. Do you?

    Eric: So we agree that the people who got slavery abolished were Christians (rather than Muslims, Hindus etc…) but your point is that they were influenced in this by Enlightenment ideas – which may or may not be true but is a debatable 2nd order-effect. Certainly the relationship between Christianity and the Enlightenment is complex and debatable. Wilberforce and his Clapham Sect were Evangelical Anglicans and they certainly claimed to be acting in accordance with their Christian principles. Is there any evidence that they were particularly influenced by the “Enlightenment” compared to other British thinkers?

    Your point about relativism is understandable (and understood) but mistaken. There are scientific and philosophical disciplines that allow you to do this (eg Bayes Theorem) but it is not straightforward. However it is essential for clarity of thought.

  297. Beale continues to avoid and evade the facts.

    It is a fact that Christian converts in Corinth scoffed at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    It is a fact that Paul tells them Jesus became a spirit.

    It is a fact that Paul trashes the idea that resurrected beings are made from the dust that corpses dissolve into.

    It is a fact that Paul thinks the earthly body is destroyed, not saved. ‘ For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands’

    Paul had no conception of corpses being rescued from tombs. He never states anything like ‘resurrection of the flesh’

    These are facts, hence Beale’s reluctance to address them.

  298. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas, I’m prepared to let most of this go at this point. Of course, the relationship between Enlightenment and Christianity is very complex, and Enlightenment is probably, I should think, in good measure, due to the breakdown of the unity of the Latin Christendom. Scepticism and questioning of foundations (as with Descrates) were doubtless part of the fallout from this.

    Obviously, the lines of influence and descent are never going to be entirely clear. However, Christianity all by itself didn’t seem able to come to the conclusion that slavery should be abolished, so it seems clear that other ingredients were necessary to bring about this result, and there’s probably no way that we can answer this question to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Regarding Bayes’ theorem. Sure, I understand that Bayes’ theorem gives us the opportunity to venture all sorts of hypotheses, and to make calculations of probabilities on the basis of them, as you have been doing all along with your ideas of the LUC, Jesus and the Resurrection. (However, as Professor Howson said, in response to you, he didn’t think the there was enough to go on to get the probabilities up and running.) But I do not see how this gives us a multiplicity of world views, as you suggest. Indeed, by calculating the probability of something’s being an historical event based on some condition, say the existence of an LUC, or the existence of someone described as Jesus is described, you are effectively bringing world-views together, not jumping back and forth between world-views.

    I should have thought, on the whole, that religion can only lose by this, because, if we are talking historical facts here, it is hard to know how we could possibly give this the mythical dimension that religions depend on, what Charles Taylor speaks of as fullness. Historical facts are historical facts, and thinking of religiously significant occurrences as historical tends, I think, to empty them of depth. That’s why Tillich’s idea of broken myths always seemed preferable to – what is essentially a fundamentalist attempt to – historicise events that have to have a kind of symbolic richness to function in a religious context.

    However, I’m not a dab hand a Bayesian probability, and I may have got things back to front, which you will doubtless tell me, since you seem good enough to continue to follow the discussion.

  299. For anyone interested, the mother of all debates on the existence of God: Russell vs. Copleston

  300. Steven: It seems clear from your telling silence on this point that you do not understand the language in which the NT is written (ie Greek). You give just one quote (2 Cor 5) so let me try to explain v briefly. This is referring to the “General Resurrection” (ie what happens to “our earthly bodies”) and not to Jesus’ Resurrection (it also has important resonances to the Tabernacle and the Temple). In the previous Chapter Paul makes it very clear that (in his view) the Resurrection of Jesus is an historical event and closely connected to the body.

    Eric: Not quite. The point is that the hypotheses you compare in Bayes Theorem may be completely incompatible (they often are) but provided you can agree that X occurs and can estimate the likelihoods of X on the two hypotheses “p(X|H1) and p(X|H2)” you can have some rational dialogue about the probabilities of the hypotheses/worldviews without having decided which is “right” or subsumed both into a super-view.

  301. Beale is correct that 2 Corinthians 5 is about a general resurrection.

    But Paul assumes that the resurrection of Jesus was a model for the resurrection of believers.

    Hence his two Adam’s typology ‘The first man Adam became a created being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’

    The typology is clear. Just as Christians shared the nature of the first Adam , they will share the nature of the second Adam and become a life-giving spirit.

    It is obvious that Paul thinks the general resurrection will be modelled on Jesus resurrection.

    After all, the Christian converts he was writing to were scoffing at the idea of their god raising corpses.

    So they had not been converted to Christianity by tales of corpses rising. Converts do not scoff at what converted them.

    You give just one quote (2 Cor 5) so let me try to explain v briefly.

    As Beale is now just plain lying, I will repeat my exegesis of above, where I produced lots of quotes….

    2 Corinthians 5

    ‘Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.’

    The earthly body is destroyed.

    Not saved, not rescued – it is destroyed.

    ‘Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.’

    Paul likens our present body to a set of clothes, which will be removed from us when we die.

    We will then be clothed in a heavenly body, and live in that.

    The present body is discarded, just like we discard old clothes when we get new ones.

    ‘For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.’

    There are TWO dwellings. An earthly one and a heavenly dwelling.

    Jesus dwelt in his earthly body. After the resurrection, he moved to a heavenly dwelling.

    But this totally contradicts the Gospel stories, where Jesus did NOT move from one body to another.

    Paul thinks we are burdened by our present body.

    So we are not going to get it brought back to life. It is a burden.

    ‘Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’

    Paul tells the Corinthians they know this is true, because they have the Spirit inside them. It is a deposit of what is to come. It is a guarantee that they will get a non-flesh-and-blood spiritual body to live in after they have shed their earthly body.

    And, of course, contrary to Beale, the previous chapter , 2 Corinthians 4, has not one single solitary word about resurrection of the flesh of Jesus, corpses rising, empty tombs, transformed flesh or anything remotely like that.

    Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

    What is seen is temporary…..

    And yet Beale claims Paul believed the body of Jesus seen on earth was never destroyed and was made eternal.

    Just how clearly does Paul have to write before Beale will accept that Paul did not believe that the flesh of Jesus never saw destruction?

    Just how more clearly can Paul write than saying that what we see around us is temporary, so the earthly body of Jesus could not have resurrected to eternal life, because it was one of those temporary things.

  302. Nbeale: ” you can never consider all possible alternative beliefs. AFAIK no-one seriously believes in Odin or Thor. ”
    The same could be said for Abrahamic religions.

    Nbeale: “I don’t deny that it is possible that Christian belief may be mistaken, but it is certainly not a Delusion.”
    Of course its a delusion, if its not true then you are imagining it.

    All this blogs posts goes to prove you cannot debate a deluded thiest. They cherry pick what they want to believe in the “Holy Book”. I really cannot take a scientest seriously if he “believes”.

  303. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas, you say that we can consider two different scenarios, depending on the probability of X on hyptheses 1 and 2. As you put it:

    … the likelihoods of X on the two hypotheses “p(X|H1) and p(X|H2)”

    Now, this is not different to what I was saying, and I understand that. We can calculate the probabilities (if we have something firm enough to hang a probability on), but this wòn`t give us two world views. It will, perhaps, give us the probability of opposing world views. You still couldn`t function with a relativity here, where p would be true in WV1 and false in WV2, so that, in true post-modern fashion, you could choose to believe p or not, depending on which world view you want to take out for a spin. This is what I thought you meant. Indeed, it seems to me that you may have said it.

    But let`s put that aside for a moment, and consider this. Since we share the same world, the probabilities, if they are reasonably founded, would hold for both of us. If we calculated the probabilities very differently, we would want to know why, and whether the reasons given for either side were more or less plausible, otherwise, we have let worldviews roam free. So you could well pull a hoax with, say, Theology, by writing up something in good mathematical language, which really showed nothing at all, except that the readers are afraid of equations. At some point the superview must come into the question, because you can`t suspend yourself between two conclusions forever.

    The question, I suppose, is, how do we establish these probabilities? I noticed, in your exchange with Prof Howson, how different your assessments were of the various probabilities, and there seems to be no rule governing how we come up with the numbers, except, of course, where we are dealing with, say, measured epidemiological results. How can we calculate the probability of the existence of the LUC given the existence of the world as we know it? Howson puts it very low, at zero, as I recall, and I would tend to put it there too. But you seem to think better of the world than Professor Howson. How are these disagreements resolved?

    So, let’s take the existence of Jesus, described as he is in the canonical gospels. What is the probability that he is the communication of the LUC, on the hypothesis that the LUC exists? I don’t know how you would settle on a reasonable number, and it seems to me that it would depend a lot on belief commitments already made. Lots of people can read about Jesus and conclude that he does not sound like a communication from a god. How do you overcome that, so that it makes sense to enter this as a plausible hypothesis? I still don’t get it.

  304. Steven: I’m afraid you really don’t understand the language Paul is writing in. And in any case you really can’t argue “P says A is like/a model for B; P says B has property X, therefore P thinks A has property X.” Especially when P is obviously using metaphorical language. Does anyone else think this is the right forum to discuss Steven’s biblical exegesis?

    Ian: Please!! People really do believe Christianity, Judaism and Islam. And can you not understand the distinction between a mistake and a delusion?

    Eric: I’m afraid you haven’t grasped the point of Bayesian statistics. The point is that the likelihoods of X depend on the hypothesis/worldview. This is why we write p(X|H1) “the probability of X given H1”. Consider this simple example. Suppose a coin is either fair or double-headed. We toss it 4 times and get heads (call this observation X). The likelihood of this, if the coin is fair, is 1/16 so p(X|Fair)=1/16, but p(X|Double-Headed) is 1. Of course in this simple case you can look at the coin and see which it is, but in more complex situations this may not be possible.

    On the LUC business the argument goes roughly as follows:
    1. If there is a LUC then the LUC, being loving, is highly likely to have genuinely communicated to people.
    2. Being an UC, the LUC is unlikely to be incompetent.
    3. Therefore, if there is an LUC, at least one of the major religions is likely to be genuinely communicated by the LUC.

    This is not a “knock down proof” – such things hardly exist in religion and are very rare in philosophy.

  305. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, yes, Nicholas, I did understand that. But I guess my point is that the numbers here, unlike the coin case, are such wild guesses, that it is not only not a ‘knock down proof’ – it doesn’t amount to a proof at all.

    The conclusion:

    Therefore, if there is an LUC, at least one of the major religions is likely to be genuinely communicated by the LUC,

    doesn’t seem to me very probable at all. Take 2, for example:

    Being an UC, the LUC is unlikely to be incompetent.

    Even if that’s a reasonable probability, given assumption 1, the likelihood of us being incompetent is very high, I should have thought. And, given the choices from amongst major religions, well, I’d have thought, offhand, that, though not a major religion, Bahai has a greater probability of being right, since it is sycretistic, and tries at least to take what they think is best from various traditions. That seems to me far more likely to hit on the truth, given 1 and 2 and the additional premise that human beings are fairly likely to be incompetent, and therefore likely to misunderstand whatever communication comes to them from an unreachable, uncheckable source. I mean, consider how long it has taken to get science up and running. And all major religions are early, and were, as Hitchens so impolitely says, vouchsafed to unlettered peasants, by and large.

  306. I see Beale is unable to name a single thing that I got wrong.

    It is a fact that Christian converts in Corinth scoffed at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    It is a fact that Paul tells them Jesus became a spirit.

    It is a fact that Paul trashes the idea that resurrected beings are made from the dust that corpses dissolve into.

    It is a fact that Paul thinks the earthly body is destroyed, not saved. ‘ For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands’

    Paul had no conception of corpses being rescued from tombs. He never states anything like ‘resurrection of the flesh’

    These are facts, hence Beale’s inability to address them.

    He is like the knight in the Monty Python films, defiant to the end, after being torn to pieces.

  307. Michael Fugate

    Nicholas, how does one determine the probabilities of H1 (LUC exists) and H2 (LUC doesn’t exist) and X (LUC communicated through a major religion)? We can assume p(X|H2) = 0. But what about p(X|H1)?
    If LUC does exist why doesn’t LUC communicate to everyone?
    Why hasn’t communication between LUC and Christians been deemed important enough to update the religion in 1900 years? between LUC and Muslims in 1400 years?
    If I didn’t hear from my parents in 5 years, would I likely think they loved me? Especially if I was writing or telephoning on a regular basis.
    When people claim LUC talks to them, do we believe them? Should we believe them? Oral Roberts claimed a 300m tall Jesus told him to build a medical school. Should I have sent him money?
    Why did LUC’s surrogate show up in Palestine 2000 years ago? Why not Australia or California or China?

  308. Michael Fugate wrote:

    If I didn’t hear from my parents in 5 years, would I likely think they loved me? Especially if I was writing or telephoning on a regular basis.
    When people claim LUC talks to them, do we believe them? Should we believe them? Oral Roberts claimed a 300m tall Jesus told him to build a medical school. Should I have sent him money?
    Why did LUC’s surrogate show up in Palestine 2000 years ago? Why not Australia or California or China?

    Michael Fugate:
    How did you manage to escape knowing so little about Christianity? When you engage with people on a serious forum you ought to acquaint yourself with the basics. If you feel that it is all too preposterous a waste of time maintain a dignified distance from the folly or couch your objections in a way which respects the sincerely held beliefs of others.

  309. Eric MacDonald

    Oh, hey, Michael Reidy….

    If you feel that it is all too preposterous a waste of time [to] maintain a dignified distance from the folly or couch your objections in a way which respects the sincerely held beliefs of others.

    Did you really mean that? Quite aside from Michael Fugate’s rather dismissive remarks about communication from an LUC? I don’t know a lot about Muslim misogyny, but I condemn it nevertheless. I don’t really care which Suras of the Qu’ran prescribe this kind of beastly behaviour, and I have no intention of keeping a respectful distance. And I think the idea that an angel dictated the Qu’ran to be preposterous. The sincerely held beliefs of others often should be ridiculed.

    Besides, Michael Fugate is right. If someone claims a communication from a Loving Ultimate Creator, there should be plain signs that it is such a communication. (And, I’m afraid, the resurrection is not convincing, from several angles. Many people – most people? – find it beyond the range of reasonable belief. Why would a LUC choose something so suspect as a way of communicating?) And why only one?

    If there were a LUC, one would really expect, since it/s/he is loving and ultimate, it/s/he could have made it clear to more than one group of people, only once. Communications can be broadcast, after all. A LUC would see to it. This is what used to be known, in Christian theology, as the ‘scandal of particularity.’ Perhaps it’s out of fashion now. But it’s a real theological problem, and, as Michael Fugate suggests, it really does raise some issues for people who believe in special revelations.

  310. Oh, please – who died and made Michael Reidy the boss of how people talk here? And after week after week of Nicholas Beale giving subject-changing answers to every single question, Reidy jumps on someone who asks some probing questions? And who made him the boss anyway? And what is this crap about having to ‘couch [our] objections in a way which respects the sincerely held beliefs of others’? Why can’t we couch them in a way which respects our beliefs? Why can’t we in fact couch them in any way we want to short of outright rudeness or lying? And who made Reidy the boss anyway? Who even asked him? How pompous can you get. ‘Serious forum’ forsooth. Have a Bronx cheer.

  311. And another thing, Michael Reidy – if it’s a matter of ‘couch[ing] your objections in a way which respects the sincerely held beliefs of others,’ then you score very badly; you have repeatedly speculated on the motives of the atheists here for disputing Nicholas Beale’s account of the role of Xianity in ending slavery – in other words you have taken it for granted that we were all lying or blinded by bias. In what sense does that ‘respect the sincerely held beliefs of others’? – given that you don’t know that our apparent beliefs are not sincerely held.

    Here for example:

    So why do some folk whinny and baulk at such a minor logical fence? Perhaps it’s due to an unwavering belief that Evangelicals and Non-Conformists are wrong about everything and this has always been the case or the sense that Christianity is a massive monolithic dark force that must be resisted at all costs. In short there is an unreasoning animus against Christianity that requires that the historical record be expunged or limited when it incontrovertibly shows Christians to have done some good.

    It simply couldn’t be that we know something about the subject and we genuinely, sincerely disagree with Beale’s historiography. Well where’s the respect in that? And on a serious forum, too.

  312. MR–You’re starting to sound like Nicholas Beale. The same thing happened a couple of hundred comments back. I spoke plainly about some of the obvious problems with supposing (just for a moment) that Christianity is true (eg, how do you suppose one thing is both father and son?), and was roundly accused of total ignorance about the religion. This seems to just be tactical. If you make a good point, the apologist plays the “igorance card”. Now MF has made some perfectly good points about this business about a communicative god, and he gets dismissed for his ignorance. What’s the problem? He asked (among other things) why Jesus showed up in the middle east not Australia or California or China. What, do the smart people think he actually showed up in Australia or California or China? Exactly how did MF go wrong?

  313. Which part(s) of Christianity don’t I understand? What basics am I missing? I should know the religion pretty well as I spent a good part of my life immersed in it. Please tell me where I have gone astray. Please tell me what is true Christian belief. My point is not too make fun of Christianity (my entire family is Christian), but to understand how people can claim a LUC, but believe a book written at least 2000 years ago is the final word. For instance, if Christians decide that slavery is wrong, why can’t the Bible be rewritten or amended to make that correction. We do it in science and in law all of the time. If you have a relationship with someone, then the relationship has to evolve based on constant communication. I am baffled that someone who is trying to defend Christianity can only be dismissive and not utter a single word in defense of their position.

  314. Now that I think about it, Michael, are you insinuating that I was mocking Christianity because I mentioned Oral Roberts? He was a very popular figure when I was younger – much of my extended family contributed money to his ministry. His prayer tower and university were quite something; I went there for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference while in high school. His son has disgraced the place, but Roberts made claims about talking to God and many people seriously believed him. I used him as an example because I think it is relevant to understanding a relationship with LUC.

  315. Jean wrote:

    He asked (among other things) why Jesus showed up in the middle east not Australia or California or China. What, do the smart people think he actually showed up in Australia or California or China? Exactly how did MF go wrong?

    Jean and Michael,
    Because of the Chosen People and the linkage of prophecies about the Messiah to specific places in Israel, the tribe of David and so forth. This is so very basic it’s hard to see how anyone could not know it and regard themselves as participating usefully in a discussion.

    The Trinity is a doctrine, a matter of revelation and not a matter that can be understood on the basis of our knowledge and understanding of human relationships. If the terms of human relationship are used they are done so in an analogical sense. This is a more difficult area than the aforementioned.

    Michael Fugate:
    About the slavery question have a look at
    Christianity though not a monolithic entity yet has a sense of itself as an amorphous version of the Chosen People linked in an agonistic relationship with God. Like the Israelites of yore they go astray and require prophets to put them right, to convert them. Re slavery it was ironic and appropriate that those prophets came from marginalised Christian groups. George Fox was on to this scandal when the Enlightenment was still a pup. Some Enlightenment figures but by no means all took public positions; Diderot, Bayle, Condorcet are amongst them, but the activists were devout Christians for the most part.

    Personally I would be regarded as a heretic so this is my interpretation of the Christian position as I understand it.

  316. Because of the Chosen People and the linkage of prophecies about the Messiah to specific places in Israel, the tribe of David and so forth. This is so very basic it’s hard to see how anyone could not know it and regard themselves as participating usefully in a discussion.

    MR, In your haste to find ignorance in critics, maybe you’re not seeing the force of MF’s comment. The underlying question is why one group of people (in the middle east) was favored. It doesn’t help to say it started getting favored long before Jesus. Why was it favored? Why did the poor Australians have no chance of salvation for so many centuries? Couldn’t an all good, all powerful being do much better than this?

    The Trinity is a doctrine, a matter of revelation and not a matter that can be understood on the basis of our knowledge and understanding of human relationships. If the terms of human relationship are used they are done so in an analogical sense. This is a more difficult area than the aforementioned.

    That sounds reasonable, but I brought up the trinity hundreds of comments up because NB said it was reprehensible that atheists never stop an entertain the possibility that Christian doctrine is true. In response, I said that would be very tricky, since it’s not clear what Christian doctrine really says. To wit: the trinity. If only the faithful, to whom it’s been revealed, can grasp it, then why should I be expected to be capable of supposing Christian doctrine is true? I have not received any revelations. I honestly have no idea what I’d be supposing, if I supposed the trinity was a reality.

    I wonder if this thread will still be going by the time of the rapture. OK, it’s a joke. Nobody take offense.

  317. Ophelia Benson:
    A few stripes from the scourge of the Mullahs is good for my circulation. It produces a mild tingling effect.

  318. Jean:
    That’s a different and ancillary question – why Chosen in the first instance? According to Deuteronomy ‘ You are a people holy to the Lord your God, the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession’ (7.6) In other words that’s the why.

    Some rabbis thought that the Torah was offered to other nations first, but only the Jews would accept it. “Slavery, wandering and Jeremiah, is that your best price?”

  319. That’s the story line, but the question is whether this all makes sense as a sequence of events under the control of an all good, all powerful god. On the face of it, it’s all very unfair. The Jews get chosen, not the Australians, and because of that, later on, Christian salvation is possible first for Jews, and only much, much later for Australians. Why not make covenants with lots of peoples all at the same time, and then send along lots of messiahs, so salvation is available on a more equitable basis? That sounds much more fair, and not so difficult for an omnipotent being.

    Look, I realize all this is silly. If the Christian story is a matter of faith and revelation, then so be it. Then the story is the story, and that’s the way it is. But if apologists are going to try to get heathens to believe it, on rational grounds, then these kinds of questions are perfectly good.

  320. Eric MacDonald

    Oh my, Michael, if you’re trying to justify why just one people can be considered the vehicle for God’s revelation, this won’t do.

    Some rabbis thought that the Torah was offered to other nations first, but only the Jews would accept it. “Slavery, wandering and Jeremiah, is that your best price?”

    It’s a cute comment, no doubt, but it doesn’t explain the scandal of particularity, since other people’s believed that they had received revelations too. That’s the trouble with the idea of revelation, even buttressed with over-stretched arguments about the resurrection of Jesus: there’s no way to show whether it is a revelation or not. This is a simple epistemological point. You show me some evidence that this or that is a revelation, and that it can be easily and usefully applied to purported revelations to show which is true or false, and we’ll start the process of sifting through claimed revelations the next day.

    But one thing that doens’t work is someone saying they were chosen. How do you show that?

    Consider this. The rabbi you speak of suggests that the price is high, wandering and persecution, etc. Augustine said that wandering and persecution were condign punishment for killing Christ. Christians have a way of visiting the sins of the fathers onto unlimited generations of descendents. Can you show me, with your revelation tester, who was right? Is wandering and persecution cost or punishment?

  321. I’m trying my best to read through all of the comments (or at least the last 50), but until then I’d like to put in just a quick thought: there’s nothing about the idea of a god that requires comprehensibility as a prerequisite for its existence. Just because we don’t understand a god doesn’t mean that a god doesn’t exist. It may very well exist and still be mind-numbingly inconsistent, moody, fickle, or generally incomprehensible. I think this is important, since so many people object to the idea of a god by saying, “Well, why’d he/she do X? Why not do Y?” or “If a god really existed, X wouldn’t have happened, or Y would have happened,” etc.
    Comprehensibility is not a prerequisite of existence. (But, of course, mystery can never justify the unjustifiable either, so let’s not mistake my point.)

  322. Jeremy Stangroom

    Steven Carr

    Please don’t ever say on here that people are lying (your message March 24th, 2009 at 5:58 am).

    That’s absolutely non-negotiable.


  323. I apologise for saying Beale was lying when he wrote ‘You give just one quote’

  324. Steven: the main thing you have got wrong is that you don’t understand the language in which Paul was writing. Secondly, your “argument” is fallacious: from “A is like B” and “P(A)” you cannot deduce “P(B)” If anyone else on this thread thinks I should respond to your attempts at biblical exegesis I will take one more referenced quote and explain why you are mistaken. But this is a philosophy blog, not cod-exegesis.

    Eric: The fact that something “doesn’t seem very probable” on your worldview says nothing about whether it is probable given the worldview under consideration. We need to understand p(X|H1) and p(X|H2). If p(Y|H1) is (say) 90% and p(Y=>X|H1) is (say) 90% then p(X|H1) is 81%. The value of p(Y=>X|H2) is irrelevant, it could be 0%.

    MF&Jean: a. All personal encounters are particular. And if there is to be an incarnation it has to happen at a particular time and a particular place. However it is open to anybody to benefit from this. And no-one suggests that Jesus is the only communication from God.
    b. The idea that Christianity is unchanged for 1900 years is an odd one. It is obviously empirically false. And AFAIK no mainstream Christian holds this view: Roman Catholics least of all. Christians believe we are in continual loving communication with God.

    Jean: Quarks are a “strange” 🙂 idea as well, and probably only physicists can really understand it, or why it is true. But the basic idea of the Trinity (like quarks) is not hard to get. It is (roughly) that the Loving Ultimate Creator is a community of perfect love, where the wills of the three Persons (a technical term, not to be confused with persons in the ordinary sense) are in perfect loving alignment. It may or may not be true, but it really isn’t incoherent if you understand it.

    WMT: Darwin famously compared us trying to understand God to a dog trying to understand Newton. Planginga makes a similar point with his noseums. But a Loving God will communicate to the extent that is appropriate.

  325. Jean, Eric,
    You might remember early on in this discussion I disagreed with N.Beale about the antropic principle as an argument for the existence of God. In fact I do not think that there are any strict knock down compelling arguments for the existence of God. This is a respectable religious position shared by Christians and non-Christians. Says H.D.Lewis (Philosophy of Religion) “If the arguments are not strictly successful they do, none the less, direct our thoughts in the right way and point to something of the utmost importance for our understanding of God”. The Vedas are regarded by Hindus as self-validating and not of human origin. There is no discussion of rational arguments for the existence of Brahman.

    So looking for good reasons for believing the God of the Bible or the Koran or Brahman etc is not going to take you very far. I’ve quoted this before but it’s true – “For those who do not believe no proof is possible, for those who believe no proof is necessary”. (Pascal)

    Though I understand the positions that are taken by apologists I can’t in good faith offer myself as an upholder of the rational justification path. I bow out.

    By the way the ‘best price’ quip is a jest of my own. Obviously they got it wholesale, no one but an idiot pays the retail price.

  326. Eric MacDonald

    Nicholas. I still don’t understand. Worldviews are not things you can pop in and out of. That’s presumably why Charles Taylor wrote his BIG book about the secular age. I can understand, say, Aquinas trying to do the calculations from his point of view, and, fine, a god might look pretty well a dead cert in that world view. But once you’ve turned the corner and you’re daling with a scientific world view, how do you up the probability of something like a god without popping out of the scientific world view? And does that make a lot of sense? It doesn’t to me.

    Now, I know that Bernard d’Espagnat has run off to the bank with Templeton money, because he suggests that, to quote the BBC report:

    quantum physics shows us that reality is ultimately “veiled” from us.

    Which is to say … what, exactly? Perhaps that he has an experience of the numinous when he looks at the equations.

    As I say, I can understand that, because he’s trying to understand the world that we have in religious terms. But to stand outside this worldview and suggest that you can calculate probabilities in another one just doesn’t make sense to me. What is a worldview? And how do you calculate the probabilities of something happening in that worldview in relation to another one? That’s where you’ve got me quite muddled. And yet you say this is necessary for clarity of thought.

    You have been trying to calculate the probabilities of Jesus, a real live human being living (or having lived) in this world, somehow continuous now with the world he lived in, being a communication of a god, a LUC. Now, the LUC is not a part of this world. As Wittgenstein and Phillips have pointed out, God, with a cap ‘G’, is not an existent amongst other existents, he/s/he is, in some sense, Being itself (Tillich).

    So far so good. Is this a worldview? But how do we calculate the probabilities of this Being communicating with us in time and space? I don’t get it. What would constitute a well-formed message from a LUC? Since, as Michael Reidy so nicely points out from the redoubtable HD Lewis (perhaps the first philosopher I read on philosophy of religion), arguments only point, how do we manage to get inside the worldview in which we can speak about Being in probabilistic terms? I don’t get it. And tne nice symbolism doesn’t do it for me.

  327. BEALE
    Steven: the main thing you have got wrong is that you don’t understand the language in which Paul was writing.

    SO Beale cannot produce one example of one thing I got wrong.

    Not one single solitary thing,

    How can you discuss with somebody who never makes any actual points or arguments? It is like talking to a brick wall. You need something coming back for a dialogue….

    And after telling people to read Wright’s book, written in English, Beale now claims that people have to learn Greek before they can understand the Bible (which is true in many way, but I have people to do the heavy Greek translating for me)

  328. The basic idea of the Trinity (like quarks) is not hard to get. It is (roughly) that the Loving Ultimate Creator is a community of perfect love, where the wills of the three Persons (a technical term, not to be confused with persons in the ordinary sense) are in perfect loving alignment. It may or may not be true, but it really isn’t incoherent if you understand it.

    Actually, I think that is very hard to get. And no, it’s not for failure to understand. Many Christians have said that it is only through faith or revelation that the trinity can be grasped. The outsider, like me, cannot possibly “get it.” But I will leave the debate to Christians. I hope you disparage your fellow Christians who see the trinity as a mystery as much as you disparage outsiders like me. We are all apparently very dumb not to see the impeccable logic of a community that’s one, yet part of which is eternal father and part of which is created son.

  329. Eric MacDonald

    I agree, Jean – not that you should leave this to the Christians, but that the idea of the trinity is hard to get. Nicholas has been playing this game all along, as though all that he is saying is the plainest common sense. It isn’t. The trinity has always been a problem for Christianity. Indeed, since most churches insist on the orthodox formularies, and will not allow a change from the language of father, son and holy spirit, it’s even more of a problem.

    Some have tried to replace this language with the language of creator, redeemer and sanctifier, but that comes too close to the heresy of modalism for comfort. Modalism or Sabelianism is the heresy which holds that God appears in different ways, as the creator, as the redeemer and as the sanctifying spirit, but is still one in his essence. Trinitarianism is the doctrine that God is essentially three in one, which is a mathematical impossibility.

    So it is, by definition, a mystery. How could it be anything else? And all Nicholas’ talk about a loving fellowship doesn’t solve the problem at the heart of it, that this is an internal distinction within a being which is, as the Athanasian Creed makes clear, one, so that, though there are a distinguishable father, son and spirit, all of these are at the same time identical with each other. Maybe Nicholas can do it with an equation.

    We are supposed to believe that this is possible for God, but no one should be so casual about it as to suggest that it’s easy to get. And Nicholas’ throw away reference to quarks is, as usual, just a diversionary tactic. It is getting a bit tiresome, really. Steven is right, I think. But, really, have you ever had a satisfactory conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness?

  330. Michael R: I think we all agree that there are no “knock-down” arguments for the existence of God (or against for that matter).

    Eric: clearly you cannot step out of a worldview entirely. But you can make a real effort, by thought and dialogue, to try to get some idea of how things might look to someone with a different worldview. It’s not so much a case of “calculating” likelihoods as getting some sense of their magnitude.

    Steven: You made a fallacious argument from a poorly-understood quotation, written in a language you don’t understand. I have explained the fallacy. The level at which you have to understand something if you want to argue with experts is much higher than if you want to learn from them. Does anyone else think I should go further into these points of exegesis here?

    Jean: I don’t say anyone can fully understand the Trinity – we don’t fully understand anything certainly not physics. The fact that something is a mystery doesn’t mean that you can’t get the basic idea. (BTW FWIW the Son is eternal not created which would be a nonsense – you may know “in the beginning was the Word”) It is not at all “dumb” not to believe in it but it is slightly odd to suppose that there is a basic logical flaw in something that is so widely believed by really intelligent well-informed people.

  331. Eric, I’m no expert about the trinity, but have read enough to know that the trinity is a huge issue for believing Christians. It’s been struggled over for 2000 years, with many saying it’s not possible to understand it with “unaided reason.” So yes, it comes off as some strange game when Nicholas tell me it’s “not hard” (his words) and makes it seem as if my problem with it is due to my failure to understand. IChristians threw my ancestors into the fire, back in Spain during the inquisition. I sure hope they didn’t first force them to say the trinity makes good logical sense.

  332. Oh, ugh. More patronizing guff about arguing with ‘experts,’ more retreating in order to jump better, and yet another iteration of the ‘many many clever people believe it’ non-argument. What a spectacle.

  333. Eric MacDonald

    I’d like to jump in here on Nicholas’ remarks about Steven’s take on the resurrection. It’s not so easy as Nicholas thinks to revise Paul. Paul was, in no particular, so far as we know, familiar with the gospels. Jesus, for him, does not seem to be, in any respect, an historical personage. Paul never quotes Jesus. He does not speak of Jesus’ miracles.

    Paul knows Jesus only as a supernatural figure, a life-giving spirit. He does not seem to believe in the resurrection as an historical fact, for he continues to think of resurrection as something, as Steven says, that is going to happen to all of us by the transformation of our bodies. He can scarcely think otherwise of Jesus. The fact that he adds himself as the last one to whom the risen Christ appears, as to one untimely born, completely subverts whatever chronology the gospels possess in speaking of the risen Jesus.

    It seems to me quite clear that Jesus is, for Paul, risen, ascended and glorified. As such, the man Jesus is simply obliterated. He is not so much a man as a god, a supernatural being. How that fits in with Judaism is a difficult question to answer, I think. In fact, it sounds very much like a syncretistic attempt to combine Greek ideas of deity with Jewish expectations. (The account of Paul in Athens in Acts is strong confirmation for this.) But if Nicholas wants to continue to make rather exaggerated NT Wrightian claims about the resurrection, he needs to be explicit about the exegesis he has in mind in his rebuff to Steven. Saying that Steven can’t read Greek is not enough. And saying that this is a matter for experts is really hitting below the belt. It is, as Ophelia says, a non-argument.

    As for this claim:

    It is not at all “dumb” not to believe in it but it is slightly odd to suppose that there is a basic logical flaw in something that is so widely believed by really intelligent well-informed people.

    This is a non-starter. All sorts of really intelligent, well-informed people, have believed all manner of outré things without skipping a beat. And, besides, it is possible – must be, I would say – to believe in the trinity and hold it to be a mystery, without thereby thinking that the logical or mathematical conundrum that it poses is resolved. Call anything a mystery, and you can go on believing it, and thinking that you’re clever and well-informed to boot. People still do it with the problem of evil. Most people deal with the trinity in the same way. Ignore it, and the problem just disappears!

    As for the question of worldviews, did I just read a concession that the point I have been trying to make is valid? After all, trying “to get some idea of how things might look to someone with a different worldview”, seems a long way, Nicholas, from what you were claiming earlier.

  334. ‘Paul knows Jesus only as a supernatural figure, a life-giving spirit. He does not seem to believe in the resurrection as an historical fact, for he continues to think of resurrection as something, as Steven says, that is going to happen to all of us by the transformation of our bodies.’

    No, the destruction of our earthly bodies, and our being given a new spiritual body (sic) by God (sic).

    Paul, of course, has no idea of exactly what a spiritual body is.

    He had no experiences to draw upon, so has to restort to such vagueness as ‘this perishaibility will put on imperishability’.

    Not one person in history ever named himself as seeing Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Simon of Cyrene, Barrabas,Rufus, Alexander,Joanna, Salome.

    Not one person in history ever named himself as meeting a named person he claimed saw Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Simon of Cyrene, Barrabas,Rufus, Alexander.

    The Gospel of Mark is anonymous and has such absurdities as the Romans allowing a convicted criminal to be set free each year at Passover.

    And this convicted criminal, being set free, is called ‘Son of the Father’ while the real ‘Son of the Father’ is on his way to being killed, although innocent.

    Meanwhile, Simon Peter protests then Jesus says people have to carry their cross, and then Simon of Cyrene literally picks up the cross and carries it. (unlike the other Simon who deserts Jesus…)..

    Just how much does the author have to signal that this is myth?

    It is just a myth as John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress’ with its people called Mr. Worldly Wiseman , Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality….

    Not even Christians like Paul, or the authors of Hebrews, James, Jude, 1,2,3 John show any knowledge of these Gospel characters.

    They just don’t exist in church history until anonymous authors start writing about them.

  335. Eric MacDonald

    Well, Steven, I don’t want to argue the point indefinitely (even though you seem quite happily argumentative), but Paul says very clearly that he is telling us a mystery, and that we will all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, and our perishable bodies must put on imperishability, and our mortal bodies immortality. (1 Cor 15.51-54) To me this sounds like transformation. But nothing of any importance hangs on the minutiae of exegesis here, because it’s not going to happen anyway. But when he says that we will all be raised incorruptible, surely he is thinking of the ‘we’ here as in some sense continuous, so that what was once perishable and mortal is now imperishable and immortal. But nothing particularly important hangs on this, since it is, after all, as you say, myth.

  336. ‘We’ will be changed , but Paul , once again, avoids saying bodies will be changed.

    The word is ‘alasso’ , which can mean ‘changed’, but is used more often for EX-changed.

    For example, it is in Hebrews 1 , where the world is compared to worn out garments, and is exchanged. Garments are exchanged, not changed. You throw away the old garments and get new garments.

    The verb ‘allaso’ is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to mean exchanged. For example, Exodus 13:13 (changing animals) , Leviticus 27:10, 27:27 and 27:33 , talking about substitions.

    Or even Acts 6:14, where old customs are going to be exchanged for new customs.

    So Paul’s use here is quite consistent with the view that Paul believes we will exchange one body for another at the resurrection, in the way that we change clothes or change houses.

    That is certainly ‘continuous’, as it is the same ‘we’, but the ‘dwellings’ are not continuous.

  337. ERIC
    our perishable bodies must put on imperishability, and our mortal bodies immortality. (1 Cor 15.51-54)

    I can’t find the Greek word for ‘bodies’ in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54.

    You must be using a misleading English translation which has Paul talking about bodies by the very simple mechanism of putting in the word ‘body’ where it is missing from the Greek.

  338. Yes, Steven, if we’re going to nit pick here, allasso can mean exchange, but it also means change simpliciter, a meaning which is preferred, according to Arndt and Gingrich, at 1 Cor 15.51f. And if the mortal, Phtharton, is to be clothed (endusetai) with the immortal (aphtharsion), then it seems to me to imply, as the translators have put it, that there is a continuous something that is first mortal which is then clothed with the immortal. What is mortal is the body, and it (the mortal) is to be clothed with immortality, that is, the mortal body itself will put on immortality. We don’t need the word itself to make this assumption. Besides, the history of Christian doctrine about the resurrection of the body hangs on this passage, so it strikes me that earlier interpreters of this passage were likely to have got it right.

    And, besides, exactly what point did you want to make here? You are trying to hitch this up to the idea of resurrection. The resurrection appearances are said to have been bodily. So, if you want to make the connexion, hadn’t you better hang on to the idea of body, at least?

    You’re being far too literal. I’m sure Paul wasn’t that literal about it. There is nothing even in Acts 6.14 to force the meaning exchange on us. Katalusei refers to the place (topon), not to the customs. I don’t think we’ll carry this particular thread any further, do you?

  339. ‘a continuous something’?

    Paul does say what will be clothed – ‘we’ will be clothed.

    Paul never says our bodies will be clothed.

    We are wearing one set of clothes and will wear another.

    The earthly body is destroyed, and God gives us a new, heavenly body, not made of earthly materials.

    ‘far too literal’? Perhaps Paul meant his metaphors to make sense, and did not think that you transformed a corpse by putting new clothes on it.

    No wonder Paul regarded the Christian converts as fools for wondering how on earth corpses could come back from the dead.

    You don’t dress a corpse in new clothes and say it is alive. That is foolish.

  340. ERIC
    What is mortal is the body, and it (the mortal) is to be clothed with immortality, that is, the mortal body itself will put on immortality.

    Paul trashes the idea that resurrected bodies are made out of the dust that corpses dissolve into

    ‘If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body…. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God….’

    Paul knew perfectly well what happened to corpses.

    The Christian converts in Corinth also knew what happened to corpses and wondered how there could be a resurrection when the dead body was still there. ( A god of course no longer needed a body, so they had no problem with Jesus being resurrected)

    For Paul, the Corinthians were as foolish as people wondering how a chef could make omelettes when they could see broken egg-shells.

  341. Eric MacDonald

    I’m sorry, Steven. Now I know why even Nicholas had a problem.

  342. There is no need to apologise.

    Not everybody has studied these things as closely as I have.

  343. Eric MacDonald

    I wasn’t apolgising Steven. I was saying that nit picking is not for me, and I was unwilling to continue that particular conversation. You want to do close reading of the NT, go ahead. There’s no future in it. As it happens, I think you’re wrong. So does most of the Christian tradition. And it makes no real difference anyway! (Last comment on this particular thread.)

  344. Why is it ‘wrong’ to find out what the earliest Christians believed?

    Their beliefs were false, but historically important.

    There’s no ‘future’ in it?

    Is there any future in history, or is it all bunk, as Henry Ford said?

    And the Christian tradition did not like what Paul said , so forged a letter in Paul’s name , called 3 Corinthians, making Paul say all the things he did not say in 1 and 2 Corinthians, and made him talk about resurrection of the flesh.

  345. Eric MacDonald

    Steven, this really is the last. Did Paul think that the spiritual body was distinct from the physical body? Yes, of course. Did he think that it was somehow continuous with it? Yes, of course, otherwise he wouldn’t have thought of the living being caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Did Paul talk about the resurrection of the flesh? Of course not, because he knew, as you and I do, that bodies rot. But as to the minute details… no, I don’t think it really matters. But the clever thing that you try to do with Greek doesn’t work, I’m afraid.

    With reference to the NT and forgery – 2 Thessalonians is a forgery, which made its way into the NT. It lyingly characterises 1 Thessalonians as a forgery! A good reason not to believe everything that you read.

    But this really must be the end. The wide assortment of beliefs that can be ascribed to the earliest Christians is so large that is impossible to come to any definite conclusions about their beliefs. The absolute earliest Christians, if Jesus really did exist, and Jesus was a Jew (and we don’t know whether either are true), were probably a small sect of Jewish followers of Jesus, but what the Ebionites really believed is hidden in the mists of the past, since their writings, if any, were suppressed by later Christians, who thought of ‘Christianity’ as a largely Gentile pursuit, which explains the large swathes of anti-Judaism in the NT.

    But this is not what this particular discussion was about, and, as you may have gathered, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference – not because history is unimportant, but because it is not at all clear that this is part of history. But, as I say, this really is the last on this topic.

  346. Eric: on one point we are in complete agreement. I was warned – I now see why!

    Jean: Please be fair. I said it was “not hard to get the basic idea

  347. Eric MacDonald

    Ah, Nicholas, its very satisfying to have agreed about one thing, at least!!

  348. Nicholas, OK, I agree, I didn’t quote you fully.

  349. This exchange continues at such a rate that I can’t keep up, and I apologize for my comments always seeming to be (and actually being) totally unrelated to the last dozen or so, but I would like to continue to address the issue of communication and comprehension of “divine” truth (I’m responding to Nicholas Beale’s comment “[A] Loving God will communicate to the extent that is appropriate,” although all are welcome to pitch in).
    You say that a loving god (or, as it’s been called here, a LUC) will communicate to the extent that is appropriate. I don’t find this to be bothersome as long as the “loving god” is actually a loving god (and “loving” in a way very similar to our comprehension and use of the term “loving”). But how do we know the LUC is actually loving? Well, perhaps it told us. Perhaps YHWH did reveal himself to Moses and say as much, and then came in the flesh to say as much again and demonstrate it by dying for the atonement of our sins (among other things). But, again, how do we know he’s loving? We can take his word on it, but there’s no guarantee he’s telling the truth. We can’t verify this information. For all we know, the being we refer to as the LUC is actually a lesser and very mischievous god whose only joy is deceiving us lower creatures, or a demon powerful enough to create his own universe which he may manipulate as he pleases… The possibilities are endless really, but none of them lead us to an easy way of determining the truth, and this is even assuming the (huge!) “fact” that this god has actually communicated to us.
    But an even more basic question should be addressed: how do we know this god actually communicated to us? How can we verify that YHWH actually spoke the words attributed to him in the Bible? How can we know that Jesus of Nazareth truly said and did the sayings and doing attributed to him in the New Testament? We can attest to the reliability of the pentateuch books or the gospels, but even if their authors are shown to be of the utmost integrity in their reporting the facts, there’s still no proof – no guarantee – that they are telling the truth. There may be reasons for believing that they might be, but those reasons only show the possibility of their telling the truth – they don’t guarantee it.
    Without a reliable way of verifying the claims made by religions (and I apologize for dealing almost exclusively with the Judeo-Christian tradition, but I think it represents the issue quite well), it comes down to being an issue almost completely of faith and/or personal experience. Faith isn’t bad, but there must be reasons for faith, and when faith has to cover over such huge issues as these, the reasons for faith must be remarkably convincing. And, as of yet, I have not encountered any reasons convincing enough to overcome my disbelief (and it’s not for lack of trying – I’ve read page after page of Lewis, Chesterton, Sproul, Geisler, McDowell, Sire, Habermas, and more). Personal experience also has its place, but not as the cornerstone of one’s entire system of belief; hallucinations, delusions, and just plain mistaken perception are too likely to occur for me to base my entire philosophical framework on a feeling or event I experienced that can neither be objectively evaluated or consistently recreated. When there are multiple explanations of equal plausibility for an event, without a way to determine which explanation is in fact true (or without a way to recreate the circumstance(s) for the sake of experimentation), it seems unreasonable to draw any firm conclusion at all, let alone one that has such far-reaching consequences.

  350. Eric MacDonald

    WMT. My guess is that most people have stopped watching this thread, which is perhaps the longest on record! You certainly won’t get any argument from me about revelations from a god or gods. There is nothing intrinsic about any purported revelations that are convincing, and Nicholas Beale’s attempt to suggest that the story of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead are both of them together sufficient to show (or incline us to the belief) that Jesus is – and because Jesus is that the Bible is – the revelation of a loving creator (LUC) is, I think a non-starter. It uses proability calulations for the purpose of obfuscation. So far as I can tell there is no basis for making guesses as to the probability of their being a god, given either the story of Jesus, or the story of the resurrection, or both of them together.

    I don’t think this is in the slightest convincing, and could only be convincing to someone who has made up his mind on other grounds. Believers like Beale look for supporting reasons for believing what they do. They don’t start off by saying something like: If God is loving and all powerful, then this is what you would expect, and these are some of the features that any reasonably well-formed communication from God would have. It exactly the reverse of that. You start off with belief in a particular god (though your detail is scanty), and then you look around in the tradition around that particular god and try to find something that looks plausibly like a communication. Then you put it all in Bayesian terms, and come up with numbers. It doesn’t sound convincing to me, but clearly Beale finds it useful for apologetics. But the only person it is going to please is someone who’s already there, and just needs a bit of ammo to defend his own take on the world and god.

    The probability of there being a god, and that that god has communicated with us, is, I should say, zero, unless we’re willing to entertain the idea of a malevolent god. Now, there, it seems, we have evidence enough. But of course no one really wants to believe in this kind of god. There’s simply no future in it. That makes atheism the rational choice, to my mind.

  351. ERIC
    Believers like Beale look for supporting reasons for believing what they do. They don’t start off by saying something like: If God is loving and all powerful, then this is what you would expect, and these are some of the features that any reasonably well-formed communication from God would have.

    In fact, it is part of Beale’s apologetic for the resurrection (based on NT Wright) that absolutely nobody expected Jesus to do what he did, and that the resurrection defied all expectations of how Yahweh would send a Messiah.

    So all these expectations of what a loving god would or would not do are ad hoc rationalisations….

  352. Eric MacDonald

    Seven, precisely, just what I said.

  353. Eric MacDonald

    Sorry, ‘Seven’ should have been ‘Stephen’.

  354. WMT. There are almost never “proofs” in the sense of “guarantees” in life. It is always possible to ask skeptical questions. The human condition is that we “commit to what we believe to be true, knowing that it might be false”.

    We can’t simply say “the Bible is broadly reliable, therefore there is a LUC” – but we can say if there is a LUC and if the LUC is revealed in Jesus then it is likely that the Bible is broadly reliable. All knowledge, even in science, works pretty much like this: we build instruments on the basis of theories which give us observations which refine the theories etc…

    Science also teaches us (as if we didn’t know already) that the world is full of surprises. It sounds contradictory to say: “I expected Kasparov to make a brilliant move, but Kasparov’s brilliant move was unexpected” but it isn’t really if you think about it.

  355. I think what Nicholas is saying is that there is no evidence for the existence of Arimathea, Joseph of Arimathea, Judas, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, the Angel Moroni, Joanna , Salome, Nicodemus , Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Martha, Judas,Thomas etc etc

    Does one Christian of the first century name himself as ever having seeing any of them?

    As soon as there is a public church , in Acts 2, with the possibility of public records, almost the entire cast of Gospel characters disappear from Acts and early church letters as though they had never been.

    I assume they went to wherever the Angel Moroni went to when Joseph Smith went public with his claims.

    And the Gospels are full of the same sorts of frauds and lies as the Koran and the Book of Mormon are, as my article shows to all except the most deluded….

  356. Can anyone deduce the “I think…” from what I said????

    The deranged anti-evolutionists point to “gaps in the fossil record” as evidence against evolution, but to say “X is only mentioned in N surviving 1st C document therefore there is ‘no evidence’ that they existed” is even sillier. Socrates is only mentioned by 3 surviving contemporary authors, and the accounts in Xenophon and Aristophanes are completely different from Plato.

  357. Nicholas Beale:

    Science can neither establish the existence or the non-existence of a LUC. Hence Theism and Atheism are equally “non-scientific”.

    There we go again. Science can also neither prove nor disprove the existence of fairies, demons, Indra, Varun, Thor, Mithra, Freja, or Zeus. Therefore, belief in them is exactly as “scientific” or “non-scientific” as your pert version of theism.

    You know, Mr Beale, there is often a little exercise mathematicians do when they come across arguments which lead to strong or unexpected results. They apply the same arguments to related but patently false (or at least more unlikely) statements, and check why the arguments don’t work there. Often enough, this exercise helps in pointing out the error in the original argument. I fail to take seriously any philosophers who cannot do this simple exercise with their own arguments.

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