Monday, January 15, 2007

Debating Christians: A Notable Exchange

Recently, I had a rather interesting exchange with a Christian member of a popular atheist message board. What follows is his response to my essay “Modern Man, Primitive Beliefs,” followed by my reply, his response and, finally, my reply. I hope you find it worthwhile reading. Note that the Christian’s spelling, grammar and syntax have not been altered by me in any way.

Christian: Your stated "explanation" is apparently childhood indoctrination. This ignores converts, especially athiest converts. Incidentally, this particular Christian never really "got" Christianity and went agnostic for at least a decade. After that, a deist. Only recently has this Christian really become a Christian, and it is most certainly after long speculation and doubt.

Nihilist: Even so, Christianity was not introduced to you—for the very first time—when you were, say, a sophisticated and well-educated 25-year-old. As a child, Christian ideas, stories and myths were given time to soak into your mind. Thus, Christianity is infinitely more familiar to you than, say, the delusional beliefs of the Fang people of Cameroon. Familiarity breeds comfort, even with the strangest, most nonscientific of concepts.

Introduce a 25-year-old Harvard graduate to Christianity—for the very first time—and you will find somebody perplexed by its popularity as a belief system in the post-Enlightenment world.

Christian: The initlal spread of Christianity was almost exclusively to people who had never heard of it, most of whom were raised pagan. This seems a necessary assumption. Either it is a made-up cult (in which case only a handful could reasonably be instigators), or it is as Biblically accounted (in which case, the initial revelation was only to a bit more than five hundred). I suppose other options are possible, but I can't imagine them off-hand.

On education, there's an extremely clear case: Paul of Tarsus. I am assuming, on the combined evidence of his physical letters and the results of work attributed to him (both by others and claimed in said letters) founding the church corroborated in said letters, that Paul is at least not considered fictitious.

Could he have made it all up? Considering he got his start killing Christians, that's unlikely. Could his conversion story on the road to Damascus be false? Sure, but by what motive? He stood to gain nothing, and as a devout Jew he actually stood to lose respect, authority, security, and many other things we crave instinctively.

Nihilist: In ancient times of widespread credulousness and scientific ignorance, it surely was much easier to spread religious ideas around. People did not know about evolution, which effectively explains the question of how humans came to be. People did not know about many human physiological properties, such as brain death being irreversible. People did not know that, rather than Heaven being above, there actually are other planets, other solar systems, other galaxies and galaxy clusters, and, quite possibly, other universes. Around the time of Jesus, the Middle East and surrounding areas were crowded with "savior" figures, for example Apollonius of Tyana. Of course, Apollonius was not divine at all; but yet, he was a formidable "savior" before the rise of the Jesus craze.

My point is this: When you have a mass of ignorant, scientifically illiterate people, it is quite easy to perpetrate an enticing metaphysical fraud, whether deliberately or not. Jesus could have claimed divinity, sold his followers on this, and they, in good faith, could have disseminated that falsehood. I do not mean to imply that Christianity spread as a deliberate fiction meant to harm or swindle people. Rather, I think it could have been passed around innocently by the unsophisticated and the credulous. [Similar to how people inadvertently spread cold germs by not washing their hands.]

Of course, I give no credence at all to any "divine visions" leading to spiritual discoveries. Nowadays, when people have visions, we rightfully label them crazy. All those people who see UFOs, ghosts, demons, Big Foot, “Nessie,” etcetera are either delusional, liars, honestly mistaken or some combination thereof. It is not possible for Paul truly to have seen the risen Jesus, because Jesus had died and suffered brain death, which is irreversible. Dead corpses do not walk around now, and they did not do so two thousand years ago.

So, if Paul's account has any relationship to reality whatsoever, he either made the whole story up or had some sort of vivid delusion. Those are the only scientifically sound answers to be found, given, once again, the non-negotiability of brain death. I do not want to speculate on Paul's motives for lying, if he indeed was not simply delusional. Rather, I will say that lies, delusions or honest mistakes are much, much more probable than rotted corpses traipsing around like some George A. Romero picture.

This world operates according to natural principles. Rotting, lifeless carcasses do not wander. Virgin women (especially before modern science’s amazing advances) do not become impregnated and give birth. Snakes and donkeys do not speak in human tongues. Human beings do not live to be 900 (or more!) years old. People do not ascend bodily into outer space. [What the primitives falsely believed was Heaven.] The post-delusion writings of a scientifically illiterate individual cannot convince me to abandon my well-evidenced scientific grounding. I much sooner would attribute Paul of Tarsus’ life's work (or what is alleged of it) to hallucination, lies or time-period-attributable ignorance to natural phenomena.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see anything notable about this exchange at all. The atheist's logic is quite poor and his cliche's of Zombie Jesus sound more and more tired every time they are repeated. This is typical of the current zealot/atheist. Long on passion, short on actual knowledge of Christianity, history or any kind of actual understanding of what science can and cannot prove.

The Christian makes the mistake of debating from the text of bible, allowing the idiocy of the atheist to come bubbling out of his ass.

All in all quite uninteresting.

8:02 PM EDT  
Blogger Reg Golb said...

Was that the conclusion or did the Christian get a reply.

You still don't seem to understand that even if you don't believe in the supernatural, "if" it does exist, then all your proofs against God are worthless.

You said "Those are the only scientifically sound answers to be found", even by your own definition, science CANNOT answer the question of the supernatural, IF it exists.

8:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Reg Golb said...

I agree with your statement, Christian argue using scripture, atheist argue using science. Neither will change the others view with that argument. The Christian can, however, make a superb case for the existance of Jesus and we could progress from there.

8:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's a waste of time proving the existence of Jesus. Even if we could prove it (which is very difficult to do) his existence isn't really the issue, it's whether or not he's God. And believing that is the step of faith.

It's much more fun, and quite easy using logic and science to prove that atheism is just as huge a leap of FAITH as Christianity or Hinduism or Witchcraft. These atheists shriek about how science backs their position, but that is utter foolishness. Atheists hate it when you use their precious science (which they distort to their own ends just like some TV preacher distorts the bible to wring money from old women) to prove that they are basically extremist religious freaks who have taken a completely irrational leap of faith to arrive at their current "belief" that there is no God. They are fanatics. The intellectual equivalents of sucide bombers.

8:22 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Atheism posits NO nonscience; Christianity is built upon nonscience. Moreover, assuming the non-existence of God is precisely analogous to assuming the non-existence of invisible garden banshees.

8:27 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...


I've deleted your comments because they were full of personal insults and school-yard name calling.

If you want to have a discussion on this website, you will be polite and civil.

Otherwise, buzz off.

6:49 PM EDT  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...


RE: "Even if we could prove it (which is very difficult to do) his existence isn't really the issue, it's whether or not he's God. And believing that is the step of faith."

I actually agree with you that religion is about faith. Now, if only the religious world would accept that it is faith that something is true, and discontinue their attempts to evidence a god.

10:10 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jolly, you and your mentor set the tone for the discussion on this website. Your blogs are incredibly arrogant and insulting.

Don't tell me the little note at the beginning of this one about the Christian's spelling and grammer wasn't TOTALLY snide and derogatory.

Your mentor, Dawkins, has pioneered the tone of these discussions, making his rude and disparaging remarks so public that "South Park" made a point of mocking him for it.

So you can delete my posts because you think I was rude and insulting, but you still didn't actually respond to any of my points (why is that...?).

Having read your other blogs and comments, apparently u can dish it out but u can't take it.

And if you didn't want opposing viewpoints to visit, read your work and comment, maybe you shouldn't post them to boards where people outside your tiny circle of like-minds might find it interesting and worthy of response.

You want civil discussion, be respectful to other beliefs and other believers, because, as I PROVED to you, you are just as faith-based a person in your atheism as any Christian is in their faith. Your posts are incredibly condescending. U deserved my tone. Suck it up, NYC.

Left Coast out...

1:42 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I did not reply to your points because I did not want to wade through the schoolyard taunts to find them. When you fill your posts with personal insults, it is very hard to maintain interest in reading them.

I will respond to your arguments if you restate them in a civil and polite tone. For example, you may say, "Atheism is bankrupt." But, when you say, "Atheism is bankrupt, you moron," you leave the realm of the civil. This has nothing to do with differing viewpoints and everything to do with civility.

Recognize that I have a full-time job and cannot respond instantly.

6:43 PM EDT  
Blogger angelsdepart said...

Debating Christians always leaves me with a large headache. They are trying to prove things with thier faith. They think that if they believe in something, really really really really really really believe, that it will be true. You cannot debate facts against faith. Even if it were possible to PROVE beyond a shadow of a doubt to a Christian that thier God is not real they would still believe because they would consider it a test of thier faith. That is a fact kids!

5:18 PM EDT  
Blogger Lui said...

"Atheists are the intellectual equivalents of suicide bombers"? For what? For refusing to go along with the whole scam? For not believing in things that have zero evidence in their favour? For this they're "extremist freaks"? What sort of a screwed-up, totalitarian mentality do you have, that you think that we're somehow automatically obliged to respect religion just because people believe in it? Do you imagine that we should be automatically obliged to respect astrology?

You sounded quite upset and emotional while spewing your hate filled diatribe. It's always amazing to see how frantic people can get when someone points out something that should be utterly obvious: that religion is complete, utter bunk.

6:18 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I deleted another troll post because he violated my ground rules, calling my readership "stupid."

Let's not feed the trolls anymore.

3:24 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am heartened by this site and by you. I'm noticing an increasing number of younger people who are rational thinkers.

May your influence extend wide and far.

4:44 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

One of the things that strikes me as bizarre about a lot of these Bible Belt Christians is that they always spout the Republican mantra of freedom and limited government, and yet their vision of God is an absolutist tyrant who requires your unquestioning obedience and adulation.

I remember a scene in Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" which describes some district party meeting somewhere. The speaker makes the obligatory praiseful remarks to Stalin and everyone in the room starts applauding. The applause goes on and on, because no one is brave enough to be the first to stop applauding. Finally, as the story tells, after some minutes go by, some brave man stops clapping, and the rest of the assembled party members cease clapping.

According to the story in "Gulag," the man is then arrested, interrogated, and is sentenced to some bogus crime. Then the interrogator says to him, "Never be the first one to stop clapping."

11:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH MY GOSH... comparing the spread of Christianity to the accidental spread of cold germs... WOW... that is hill-air-ious!

2:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Lui said...

"comparing the spread of Christianity to the accidental spread of cold germs... WOW... that is hill-air-ious!"

But of course you wouldn't find it hilarious as an anology for the spread of other faiths, which teach people to worship "false gods".

4:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Lui said...

I meant to say analogy, not "anology".

10:03 PM EDT  
Blogger J.L. Hinman said...

Debate Me

10:23 AM EST  

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