Friday, March 7, 2008

Deafening Silence

I must admit, fundamentally misguided though they might be, most of the Christians with whom I interact on this website (and more broadly in life) are pleasant people who genuinely believe the doctrines they preach. Even though individuals such as Pat Robertson—a loathsome creature if ever one existed—seem to dominate media coverage of Christian activism, my recent interlocutors have been hesitant to introduce the “fire and brimstone” rhetoric that alienates freethinkers and obliterates dialogue. I appreciate their open-mindedness and respect their deeply held convictions, however erroneous I believe those convictions to be. Nevertheless, a more antagonistic species of Christian does occasionally crawl about this site. These individuals accuse me of atheistic dogmatism—of being unwilling to consider any evidence that is contrary to my current viewpoint. These accusations are hurled despite the clear articulation of my single germane presupposition: I presuppose the centrality of evidence in the discovery of truth. And that is my only relevant presupposition. I presuppose neither a godless cosmos nor materialism nor naturalism nor ultimate meaninglessness. Rather, my atheism springs from every religion’s lack of evidence. If any religion boasted a good deal of evidence, I most likely would accept its veracity. In short, my atheism is neither dogmatic nor presuppositional because I could change my mind, given the right evidence. The question, then, is simple: What is “the right evidence”? To answer this, I shall begin with three things that could have happened (but did not), and then toss in several more that still might.

First, the Bible could have contained some brand new information about the natural order. I have harped on this before, primarily because I think The Argument from Mundanity is one of the strongest weapons in an atheist’s arsenal. After all, Christians claim that the creator of the universe directly inspired the Bible’s very words. Forget about Einstein and Hemingway; forget about Joyce and Sagan—this is the creator of the universe here. And yet, despite god’s omniscient authorship, the Bible wallows in pre-scientific primitivism and yawn-inducing mundanity. As Sam Harris observed, “[The Bible] does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.” There is nothing about the actual age or size of the universe. There is nothing about the germ theory of disease. Earth’s vast geography is shrunk down to claustrophobically local levels. It is not even clear from the Bible whether the creator of the universe is aware of Australia. If the Bible’s alleged omniscience had been manifest, that tome could have been meaningful evidence.

Second, worship of Yahweh as the singular creator deity could have arisen independently in numerous geographically isolated areas. Any delusional belief system, if designed cleverly enough, has the potential to “catch fire,” as it were, and spread pervasively throughout our species. Much less likely, however, would be for the same delusional belief system to arise independently in many different places. Imagine if, around 2000 BCE, worship of Yahweh had arisen, nearly simultaneously, in the Middle East, China, the Americas and central Africa. What would have been the odds of an identical god character—with distinctive quirks, commandments, preferences and fetishes—being invented by completely different populations? They seem infinitesimal. However, there is no evidence of Yahweh-worship arising independently; however spiritual they might previously have been, primitive populations begin to worship Yahweh specifically when believers in Yahweh arrive at their shores. Perhaps my favorite quote from Christopher Hitchens’ “god is not Great” touches on this. He writes, “One recalls the question that was asked by the Chinese when the first Christian missionaries made their appearance. If god has revealed himself, how is it that he has allowed so many centuries to elapse before informing the Chinese?” Whatever deities might have haunted Chinese history, none was distinguishably Yahweh.

Third, archaeological evidence could have substantiated the biblical narrative, but it does not. Because Christopher Hitchens’ scholarship and eloquence exceed my own, I simply shall quote him: “…much more extensive and objective work was undertaken, presented most notably by Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his colleague Neil Asher Silberman. These men regard the ‘Hebrew Bible’ or Pentateuch as beautiful, and the story of modern Israel as an all-around inspiration, in which respects I humbly beg to differ. But their conclusion is final, and the more creditable for asserting evidence over self-interest. There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert (let alone for the incredible four-decade length of time mentioned in the Pentateuch), and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date. No Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode either, even in passing, and Egypt was the garrison power in Canaan as well as the Nilotic region at all the material times. Indeed, much of the evidence is the other way. Archaeology does confirm the presence of Jewish communities in Palestine from many thousands of years ago (this can be deduced, among other things, from the absence of those pig bones in the middens and dumps), and it does show that there was a ‘kingdom of David,’ albeit rather a modest one, but all the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded.” Hear hear!

In the absence of the aforementioned evidence, what evidence, even now, might be sufficient? Yahweh, in an instant, could carve his name onto the Moon. Or, on a lark, god could rearrange the planets in our solar system. Presumably, given his omnipotence, god capriciously could swap Earth and Pluto yet still keep the solar system stable and Earth’s creatures alive. Or, perhaps everybody could wake up one morning and suddenly find themselves on the surface of Mars, with a gaseous formation overhead spelling out, “Yahweh did it.”

Perhaps god could endow some ministers with the ability to raise the dead. My metaphysical naturalism certainly would be shaken if I witnessed a preacher resurrect a corpse that, prior to resurrection, had been chopped into 16 pieces and burnt beyond recognition. That would be something. It also would be notable if, when people declared, “I am telling the truth, or let god strike me dead,” god obliged, zapping the liars. Metaphysical naturalists would have a difficult time explaining that one.

Let us also consider prayer as we weigh what good evidence would be. If prayer resulted in amputees’ missing limbs growing back, it would be hard to dispute prayer’s efficacy. As things stand, when people indulge in the folly of prayer, they almost always pray for things that might happen anyway. A husband prays that his wife gets that lucrative job. A mother prays that her son, who is trapped in a mine, gets out safely. Parents-to-be pray that they have a healthy son. Grandchildren pray that their grandmother beats her cancer. By contrast, few widows pray that their dead husbands reanimate and come back home. Even though god is supposed to be omnipotent, people have the good sense not to pray for things that are impossible; after all, the illusion of prayer’s usefulness must be maintained. And that is why amputees do not pray for limbs to grow back. It is also why, if they did pray, and their limbs did re-grow, there would be evidence value.

If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that, if god existed, the deity’s presence would be apparent—just as the sun is apparent; just as trees are apparent; just as insects are apparent. Nobody can disbelieve legitimately in the sun, trees or insects; they are apparent and their existence inarguable. The Christian god is much another matter. [Ignore silly claims that god’s obvious existence would create “Christian robots”; some individuals, myself included, never would worship the Old Testament’s blood-drenched ogre. Also, forget this piffle about discovering god in your heart through pious contemplation. Humbug.]

Walk onto the streets one day, perhaps during your lunch hour, and bellow the following skyward: “God! Prithee, show yourself to me! As your humble servant, I beg you: Please make yourself known!” I predict that, other than chuckles from amused onlookers, the silence shall be deafening. Make a show of it…if only to convince atheists such as me. If god existed, his existence would be apparent.

Wander your streets…your alleys. Now, as ever, god is nowhere to be found.

27 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

Oh you go were the evidence goes do you? No you dont because you have already decided what is evidence, and that it has to be locked in the only epistemology of empricalism. If science cant see it or prove it then every one is false. Thats not going where the evidence leads. You are by passing every other avenue of gaining knowledge and being dogmatic that evidence can only be interpreted by science.It seems you have set the rules.

12:16 AM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Richard,

Try that test I referenced in the essay. Try calling out for god to show himself. Make sure to have a video camera handy.

If he shows, post the video on YouTube and link it here.

JN

7:16 PM EST  
Blogger Lvka said...

"Deafening Silence"

Well, Enjoy The Silence, then! :-)

After all, Silence Must Be Heard ! ;-)

9:29 PM EST  
Blogger Richard said...

No you dont set the test up for God to bow to your knees, it seems again your wanting him to manifest himself how you want him to. His evidence is clearly seen, just you like to live in the reductionists world. A spirit being could come to you in spirit, but oh know thats not testable by science so must be false. proof is only what can be seen by the eyes.

Ten years ago I did call out and he did come to me. Its called religious experience...But that might not fit in your rule book.

11:28 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Of course personal experiences are insufficient. Why? Because people have had personal experiences with many different god characters, as well as aliens, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, demons and myriad other fantasy characters. Humans are an imaginative--and easily baffled--animal species.

The Bible could have demonstrated omniscience. It did not.

Worship of Yahweh could have arisen independently in the Middle East, China, the Americas and central Africa. It did not.

Archeology could have confirmed the Mosaic myths of the Bible. It did not.

With such a lousy track record, I think my demand for extraordinary evidence is reasonable. Get the camcorder, please.

12:10 AM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

Richard, why is religious belief the only belief that gets to be exempt from scientific evidence?

If I told you that I was abducted by extraterrestrials and that they experimented on me, I suspect that you would want more than just my word that it really happened.

Jolly also mentioned Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. There are many people who firmly believe in the existence of these creatures. But if there were really a species of primate like creatures living in the American Northwest and British Columbia, there would have to be enough of them to support a viable population. With all of the people who have gone looking for evidence of these creatures, it is reasonable to expect that they would have found bodies of these creatures or remains of animals they have eaten, among other things. But they haven't. Therefore, the evidence points to the likelihood that there are no primates living in the area. Same thing with Loch Ness. There couldn't be just one plesiosaur type creature living there for it to be true, there would have to be enough of them to maintain a viable population. Again, such large creatures could not exist without leaving evidence of their existence, be it dead bodies, more frequent sightings. The Loch has been sonared again and again, and nothing has turned up. So again, the evidence strongly points to the conclusion that there are no plesiosaurs in Loch Ness.

Yes, there are many religious believers who claimed that god revealed itself to them. But god never seems to reveal itself to people who have not heard of Christianity of the Bible. In other words, people who claim to have had an experience with god or Jesus already had heard of them. They grew up in environments where they were taught or at least heard that such experiences were possible. So, in times of crisis, some people manufacture in their own minds the experience that they are having some kind of interaction with god, because they have already been programmed to believe in that possibility.

People with intense religious faith believe that their god is the one true god, and that they have some divine mission to get the rest of their society to embrace the same faith and commitment. Get enough people to go along, and they can get legislatures to change laws that affect people of different religious faiths or none at all. Religious people make claims on the rest of us, and then they turn around and claim that the god they worship cannot be examined or tested by scientific means.

I'm sorry, but you're going to have to do much better than that. If you want to deny people the right to legally purchase birth control, saying that it's god's will just ain't gonna cut it.

10:49 AM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

Lvka, that's one of my favorite Enigma songs!

10:50 AM EST  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, there are many religious believers who claimed that god revealed itself to them. But god never seems to reveal itself to people who have not heard of Christianity of the Bible. In other words, people who claim to have had an experience with god or Jesus already had heard of them. They grew up in environments where they were taught or at least heard that such experiences were possible. So, in times of crisis, some people manufacture in their own minds the experience that they are having some kind of interaction with god, because they have already been programmed to believe in that possibility.

"Im afraid this is complete rubbish, maybe you might want to read other books than science. Many missionarys have gone to places where they are just waiting for the gospel to be confirmed and expanded. They know about Jesus already. Its strange no culture has been found not believeing in a one creator, maybe we were all preprogramed."

People with intense religious faith believe that their god is the one true god, and that they have some divine mission to get the rest of their society to embrace the same faith and commitment. Get enough people to go along, and they can get legislatures to change laws that affect people of different religious faiths or none at all. Religious people make claims on the rest of us, and then they turn around and claim that the god they worship cannot be examined or tested by scientific means.

" Get enough people to go along with atheism and then we have this them imposeing there empty reductionist philosophys on the world."

What ever you think about Faith, just because science cant get at it does not mean every one is wrong, maybe some are, maybe some are not. But you cant define the world by a dogmatic philosophy. Sorry wont cut it.

2:55 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Name one specific geographically isolated population—that never had been exposed to a single worshiper of Yahweh—that independently discovered the god of the Bible.

3:15 PM EST  
Blogger DoctorBoogaloo said...

Richard: You called out for God ten years ago and he showed up? I guess all those Jews in the boxcars headed for the Final Solution never had the right touch.

Maybe it's the timbre of your voice... a certain frequency that's channeled straight into God's earphones. (I don't suppose it was the drugs, eh mate?)

Ah, Richard... I love it when you said: You are by passing (sic) every other avenue of gaining knowledge and being dogmatic that evidence can only be interpreted by science.It seems you have set the rules.

Well, somebody has to set the rules. Otherwise, you'd be pissed off I was letting my unicorn take a dump on your lawn.

8:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

I won't spend any time here except to say two things. Skewer them as you please.

1) "As your humble servant." Well, you're not His humble servant. At least have the decency to admit it. Say something else, just don't lie.

2) I prayed that exact prayer for 2 years of my life, and I never saw a vision like I wanted, nor an angelic appearance or whatever. I did come to meet Jesus, though. It was spiritual, not physical. Heart, not eyes. Since then, all the questions I'd ever asked have been very satisfyingly answered, and most of the ones I've asked since then have been answered. I'm glad for that! I wasn't His servant before but I'm glad to be now.

Peace,
Rhology

9:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

well JN , It seems your a lover of the book "Sense and goodness without God". well it seems to be the book you follow. You seem to use the same arguments. It seems strange that some one who wants olny emperical evidence believs in multi-universes. Oh we can see that cant we ?, observation is the rule...is it?

As for "Was I on drugs" the answer is no.

As for the Jews, who said none of them found Christ? having a realationship is different than being set free from a prison camp.
God does not solve every bad thing that happens in this world. But Justice will in the end.

11:31 PM EDT  
Blogger Devin said...

"If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that, if god existed, the deity’s presence would be apparent"

Unfortunately, the Christian (and probably the Muslim, Hindu, etc.) will argue that God is apparent to them. I have had that very thing argued to me. They will claim that God is apparent to them, and to the other however many millions of Christians, and this suffices as evidence. After all, what more proof do you need than the obviousness of God to millions of people around the world?

I am an atheist, as well as a religious studies major, so you can imagine how interested I am in topics such as those raised. Unfortunately, I have realized just how futile it is to ask for proof from a religious person, or indeed to argue at all. It is upsetting that the majority of believers are not interested in discussing even the possibility that they are wrong.

And, lest some hard-headed believer claim that I am not open to the possibility that I am wrong, I will say now that, like the original poster, I could be convinced. However, it would take more than anything religion has offered in its thousands of years of existence.

5:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Devin,

First the Christians demand evidence that evidence is the best way to come to true beliefs. Atheism can't provide that.

Have you ever taken a look at the transcendental argument for God's existence?

7:10 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Rhology,

You have previously told me that your First Principle is basically this: The Bible is the inspired word of god and, therefore, the god referenced therein exists.

If this truly is your foundational principle, it makes no sense to appeal to ANY arguments to support god's existence. It's presupposed. Therefore, TAG should be irrelevant to you.

7:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

No, rather the 1st principle is that the God of the Bible exists and is not silent. TAG is based wholly off of that - the very reason why TAG is so cool and why it works, b/c this God actually created the world.

7:36 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Nevertheless, for somebody adhering to your First Principle, TAG is utterly superfluous. After all, TAG stands for "Transcendental argument for the existence of God." If you presuppose god's existence, you are simply "proving" what you've already accepted foundationally.

It would be like me crafting an argument to prove the utility of evidence. It's utterly superfluous, because evidence's utility is my presupposed foundation.

7:41 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

As a matter of fact, I would like to see that case.
My 1st principle is self-justifying and accounts for everything. Which is nice. Yours doesn't. But first I'd like to see how it's self-justifying.

TAG is in many ways a beatdown of all rival worldviews, but it's also an explication of how God grounds intelligibility and reality. But you're right, it's not like Aquinas' 5 ways in that regard.

Peace,
Rhology

7:49 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

The biggest mistake in our first blogalogue was my attempt to prove evidence's utility; it brought me to a precipice from which I nearly fell. Stupidly, I was neglecting to recognize what a First Principle is.

A First Principle is a foundational principle--presupposed and stated without further justification.

That is why I will not try to prove evidence's utility. It is also why TAG, for somebody with your First Principle, is completely superfluous.

By the way, your FP might encompass a complete worldview, from which all further answers flow. However, I could make a similar argument with the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish--if I was meticulous in how I defined It. That would not make ECC any more real.

8:02 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Rhology,

I have five questions, which I hope you might answer.

1. Were your parents Christian (practicing or non-practicing...Protestant or Catholic)? Also, were you raised in a city in which Christians were predominant?

2. During the period when you were an atheist, did you behave in a negative manner (i.e., did you hang around with a bad crowd, become isolated from your loved ones, indulge in self-destructive behaviors)?

3. Where do you stand on the imminence of Jesus' return to Earth? Shall he return in your lifetime? Your children's lifetime?

4. We have discussed Pascal's Wager previously. If you had to hazard a guess, what do you think the eternal fate will be of those who embrace Jesus and his teachings (with as much enthusiasm and sincerity as they can manufacture) after looking at the Wager and deciding to hedge their bets? Do you imagine Yahweh would view such people as craven...or rational?

5. There are some six billion humans on planet Earth at the moment. If you had to hazard a guess, what percentage do you expect will be consigned to hell? Related, imagine an infant born in a remote tribe in South America. The infant dies after six weeks. Projection vis-à-vis eternal fate?

10:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Hey JN,

My FP is self-justifying, so the question ends there. Yours creates an infinite regress. Logic still applies to FP, you know. Or maybe it doesn't, in your thinking. In that case, I'll take comfort in the fact that my FP does not end in an impossibility and yours does, but you're OK with that b/c you've insulated your mind from caring about it. That is called wishful thinking in less charitable circles.
The Catfish argument dies the same death as the Flying Spaghetti Monster - either the ECC doesn't hold up under scrutiny and displays a fatal internal inconsistency, or it ends up looking exactly like the God of the Bible, thus weighing in favor of the God of the Bible.
I and others dealt with this argument here anyway. It's a loser - sell your stock.

As for your questions:

1) Practicing but not all that serious until I was 15 yrs old. Semi-lib Methodists.

2) I was raised right and had social barriers against going all out bad, but I did have bad behavior. Dirty mouth, dirty thoughts, porn, selfish, sarcastic.

3) I have no idea. I know He will return, but I don't know when. Sorry. ;-)
I have a nagging suspicion that Matt 24:14 has a great deal to do with this question, but I'm not sure.

4) Saving faith in Christ is about trusting Him to forgive you of your sins and purify you from the evil you've drawn around yourself, and to give you as an undeserved gift, eternal life.
Yet such does not happen w/o the Spirit moving in their heart. God is not mocked - He knows every person's thoughts better than the person does, so the direct answer to your Q is no.
And P'sW is only a good argument for provoking thought towards the eternal things, not for any one worldview...

5) The majority of people who have attained a certain age will end up in Hell.
I am unsure about what happens to infants as the Bible does not speak directly to the issue. I hope they go to Heaven, as my wife and I lost a beloved child to miscarriage, but I don't know. That's part of faith - I trust in God's goodness and wisdom even though I don't know the outcome.


May I ask you a few?

1) What is your understanding of how the Bible teaches that a person can be saved?
2) From what must he be saved?
3) When you look at your future, how you will die and lose everything (as I saw 14 yrs ago), does it trouble you to know this?
4) What of the bad things you've done? Is there no greater Justice by which evil actions will be punished? Is that satisfying to you?

Peace,
Rhology

8:46 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Rhology,

This response will be in three parts: addressing the First Principle issue and its peripherals, answering your questions, and then responding briefly to your answers.


As far as I can tell, for a First Principle to be legitimate, it must pass two tests. First, its truth must be essentially obvious—not merely obvious to the individual in question, but also to the vast majority of humankind. Second, it cannot be self-annihilating. An example of a self-annihilating First Principle would be, “The only way humans can approximate truth is through mathematics.” Such a statement, far from being self-subsisting, is self-annihilating because it, itself, cannot be reached by way of mathematics. My First Principle, that being the utility of evidence in humans’ quest for truth, passes both tests. First, “evidence” merely means “the relevant facts” in the context of any disputed matter. Nearly everybody would agree that “the relevant facts” are critical when one is trying to approximate truth. So, test one is good. And, because I can marshal “relevant facts” to support the utility of evidence in the quest for truth, my First Principle clearly does not annihilate itself. Hence, I am 100% comfortable with my metaphysical foundation.

You assert that the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish could not be proved via the Transcendental Argument, but I disagree. Surely, you do not think every jot and tittle of Yahweh’s nature/character is absolutely essential for TAG to be sound. Rather, you certainly must believe Yahweh possesses some specific set of characteristics that makes TAG work for him but not for competing gods—in other words, there must be particular ways in which Yahweh differs from other gods, and those differences make TAG work. All I would need to do is infuse the Catfish with precisely the characteristics you deem essential for TAG’s soundness (whatever those characteristics might be). Then, I would further endow the Catfish with sundry variables—none of which would affect the essential attributes—to ensure its uniqueness from Yahweh. Then, I would employ TAG to “prove” ECC. Much like Anselm's ontological argument, this is mere philosophical prestidigitation. You might as well say, “Abracadabra.”


1) What is your understanding of how the Bible teaches that a person can be saved?

It seems as though the contemporary consensus view is that individuals are saved through “saving faith” in Jesus, i.e., accepting him as one’s savior and submitting to his lordship. The Bible is not clear on this, though. Paul made overtures in the direction of predestination, which takes our fate largely out of our hands. Matt 16:27 promises rewards due to good works; in Mark 10:17-21, one of the key factors appears to be generosity, if not an ascetic life. There is no single, unmuddled answer.


2) From what must he be saved?

The Christian threat of eternal torture.


3) When you look at your future, how you will die and lose everything (as I saw 14 yrs ago), does it trouble you to know this?

My answer here owes a debt to Mark Twain. My future annihilation does not trouble me in the slightest. Prior to October 11, 1982, I was dead for many, many years. I was dead during the age of the dinosaurs. I was dead during the time of Genghis Khan. I was dead during World War One and World War Two. And, I can say with absolute certitude, my deadness did not inconvenience me in the slightest. Because I am so familiar with being dead, I do not fear my return to it.


4) What of the bad things you've done? Is there no greater Justice by which evil actions will be punished? Is that satisfying to you?

I believe the cosmos is fundamentally unjust. Consider Josef Fritzl, the incestuous monster who repeatedly raped his daughter, whom he confined for many years. He is an old man now; no conceivable punishment could expiate his deeds. It is upsetting, but utterly characteristic of the cosmos. What about Cyclone Nargis? The death toll could be well over 100,000. That is justice? What about the earthquake in China? About 10,000 people have been killed. That is justice? Chalk it up to a cosmos in which prey are carefully camouflaged to avoid predators, and those same predators are evolutionarily adapted to devour their prey.


1) Practicing but not all that serious until I was 15 yrs old. Semi-lib Methodists.

I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s observation…made after he remarked upon the infinitude of possible religious beliefs.

“So, considering this range of alternatives, one thing that comes to my mind is how striking it is that when someone has a religious-conversion experience, it is almost always to the religion or one of the religions that are mainly believed in his or her community. Because there are so many other possibilities. For example, it’s very rare in the West that someone has a religious-conversion experience in which the principal deity has the head of an elephant and is painted blue. That is quite rare. But in India there is a blue, elephant-headed god that has many devotees. And seeing depictions of this god there is not so rare. How is it that the apparition of elephant gods is restricted to Indians and doesn't happen except in places where there is a strong Indian tradition? How is it that apparitions of the Virgin Mary are common in the West but rarely occur in places in the East where there isn’t a strong Christian tradition? Why don’t the details of the religious belief cross over the cultural barriers? It is hard to explain unless the details are entirely determined by the local culture and have nothing to do with something that is externally valid.”


3) I have no idea. I know He will return, but I don't know when. Sorry. ;-)
I have a nagging suspicion that Matt 24:14 has a great deal to do with this question, but I'm not sure.


Do you believe in the Wandering Jew? If not, how do you possibly explain Matt. 16:27-28?


4) Saving faith in Christ is about trusting Him to forgive you of your sins and purify you from the evil you've drawn around yourself, and to give you as an undeserved gift, eternal life.
Yet such does not happen w/o the Spirit moving in their heart. God is not mocked - He knows every person's thoughts better than the person does, so the direct answer to your Q is no.
And P'sW is only a good argument for provoking thought towards the eternal things, not for any one worldview...


It would seem then, if your answer is to be taken at face value, that some people essentially are damned from conception. Consider individuals such as H.L. Mencken (and perhaps myself) who, as Pascal might say, are “so made that they cannot believe.” I am constitutionally incapable of making a leap of faith; I require evidence. Inasmuch as, according to you, god made me (and my constitution), my consignment to hell was settled at conception. By this standard, I am the faulty toy, whom the toymaker will punish for my faults.


5) The majority of people who have attained a certain age will end up in Hell.

Well, I must say, such results seem to betray incompetence on the part of god, if the deity truly is omniscient, omnipotent, loving and just. Is god indifferent to the suffering of his children…made in his image? Could he not do better than this?

And just think: The deity could have put a massive crucifix in Earth orbit. Perhaps it could have been mentioned in ancient holy books, but only discovered when our modern telescopes were invented and space missions undertaken. There it would be—for all to see and hypothesize about. Alternatively, the deity could have carved the Ten Commandments into the Moon—nice and large. Imagine the surprise and bafflement of scientists decades ago if, when they first glimpsed into their telescopes, they spotted the Ten Commandments on the lunar surface.

What extraordinary evidences one can imagine…. So awesome! So convincing! And how meager is the evidence one actually finds.

8:16 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Sorry it took me so long...
OK.

So are you saying that it is impossible to produce evidence that evidence is highly, even most highly, utile?


Also, you said:
An example of a self-annihilating First Principle would be, "The only way humans can approximate truth is through mathematics."

How is another example of a self-annihilating First Principle not the following?
"The only way humans can approximate truth is through evidence."

After all, such a statement, far from being self-subsisting, is self-annihilating because it, itself, cannot be reached by way of evidence.
I think you've got trouble here.

First, "evidence" merely means "the relevant facts" in the context of any disputed matter.

What's your evidence for that assertion?
Yes, I'm 100% serious.

Nearly everybody would agree that "the relevant facts" are critical when one is trying to approximate truth.

What is your evidence for that?


Moving on...
Then, I would further endow the Catfish with sundry variables—none of which would affect the essential attributes—to ensure its uniqueness from Yahweh.

1) Which we then test using the same test.
2) Notice that atheism is already thrown out. So your worldview is a non-viable option.
3) And you said you'd grant that all the essential characteristics of YHWH. Brilliant! I'm more than happy to take all of this cake and eat it too. You've given away the farm.


Matt 16:27 promises rewards due to good works; in Mark 10:17-21, one of the key factors appears to be generosity, if not an ascetic life. There is no single, unmuddled answer.

You'd be right if all there were to hermeneutics were to take isolated texts and throw them up as proofs for what we are to believe.
Here's a beautiful example. You said: believe Yahweh possesses some specific set of characteristics that makes TAG work for him
That looks like an imperative phrase! You said "believe such and such". OK, I will, thanks. I'll tell all my atheist friends that the Jolly Nihilist told me to believe that.
Is that valid reasoning or not? Why not?


(2) From what must he be saved?) The Christian threat of eternal torture.

Close. From his sin and its penalty.

My future annihilation does not trouble me in the slightest.

I don't believe you, but whatever.

I believe the cosmos is fundamentally unjust.

As if you know what just/unjust are beyond I like/I don't like. But we've been there before.
This is another example that you DO care about these overarching principles you imply you deny in other places. You are a mess of inconsistency.


it’s very rare in the West that someone has a religious-conversion experience in which the principal deity has the head of an elephant and is painted blue.

That's to be expected, since
1) said deity is not deity at all
2) and is therefore unable to exercise divine-equivalent power to convict towards conversion
3) and few Americans would find such a 'deity' appealing, so the Devil probably tends toward much more accessible temptations, like plasma TVs, Las Vegas, Internet porn, and booze.


But in India there is a blue, elephant-headed god that has many devotees.

Accessibility, consistency, culture. These are powerful tools, and the Devil is no dummy.


How is it that apparitions of the Virgin Mary are common in the West but rarely occur in places in the East where there isn’t a strong Christian tradition?

B/c such apparitions are not truly appearances of the Virgin Mary. The VM is a dead saint, in heaven. I'd expect to see her no more than any other believer who has died.


If not, how do you possibly explain Matt. 16:27-28?

No.
2 possibilities:
1) The Gk word "generation" from "This generation" has an alternate meaning in its semantic range, which is "race". ie, the Jewish people will not pass away until...
2) (My preference) The very next occurrence in the Gospel account is Christ's Transfiguration, which fulfills that very thing.

Really, you can ask questions about the Bible, but drawing some kind of internal conflict or something is evidently not your forté.


if your answer is to be taken at face value, that some people essentially are damned from conception.

God ordains all that comes to pass; nothing is a surprise to Him.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that there is no choice at all in any matter. What is the argument for that?

H.L. Mencken (and perhaps myself) who, as Pascal might say, are “so made that they cannot believe.” I

We ALL are made so as not to believe. No one seeks God, no one does good, according to Romans 3. It is God's grace acting on us that enables ANYone to be saved; perhaps your time has come, perhaps not.

I require evidence.

Selectively, it would appear; you don't apparently require evidence that you require evidence, nor that evidence is the best way to arrive at truth.
You're just engaging in special pleading - you criticise me for believing in TGOTB w/o evidence (as you allege) but do the same thing, just on another topic. I don't see why such hypocrisy should merit any consideration from someone seriously thinking over these issues.

I am the faulty toy, whom the toymaker will punish for my faults.

Which is why you should repent of your sin and ask God to forgive you. He will. But only in this lifetime.

Is god indifferent to the suffering of his children…made in his image? Could he not do better than this?

No, He is not indifferent.
You who vociferously deny any way to make a moral judgment would now make YET ANOTHER moral judgment, this time against God? You still can't keep your grubby little hands outta the cookie jar. One would think you never learn.

The deity could have put a massive crucifix in Earth orbit.

Or He could have sent a guy to rise from the dead or something else crazy like that.
It's like you said - you're made not to believe. now you're going back on what you previously said. Which JN are you? How can I know?


Peace,
Rhology

11:40 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

So are you saying that it is impossible to produce evidence that evidence is highly, even most highly, utile?

Um…no. I said precisely the opposite in the post to which you are ostensibly responding. I earlier declared, “I can marshal ‘relevant facts’ to support the utility of evidence.” That means I can employ evidence to support evidence’s utility.


How is another example of a self-annihilating First Principle not the following?
"The only way humans can approximate truth is through evidence."

After all, such a statement, far from being self-subsisting, is self-annihilating because it, itself, cannot be reached by way of evidence.
I think you've got trouble here.


The self-annihilating mathematics example I provided can be characterized as such because mathematics cannot appeal to itself to demonstrate mathematics being the sole path to knowledge. By contrast, one certainly CAN appeal to evidence—which is merely to say “relevant facts”—to demonstrate the utility of evidence in humans’ quest for truth. Also, I never said the only way humans can approximate truth is through evidence; I merely recognize it to be by far our best, most reliable path. Really, Rhology, none of these issues is nearly as abstruse as you pretend.


What's your evidence for that assertion?
Yes, I'm 100% serious.


Words have meanings, and I here have articulated the meaning of “evidence.” If you wish to take that combination of letters and alternately define it, then go ahead. However, the concept is what it is, and the concept is that to which I appeal.


What is your evidence for that?

The agreement to which I referred is manifest by the fact that all people—all over the world—make use of relevant facts every day in order to grasp truth. You, too, constantly marshal relevant facts. Suppose you are driving, notice the brake lights have illuminated on the car in front of you and, in response, you slow your own vehicle. Guess what? You have just utilized a relevant fact (brake lights) to reach a larger truth (the car in front is slowing)! You have employed evidence!


1) Which we then test using the same test.
2) Notice that atheism is already thrown out. So your worldview is a non-viable option.
3) And you said you'd grant that all the essential characteristics of YHWH. Brilliant! I'm more than happy to take all of this cake and eat it too. You've given away the farm.


The discussion about TAG and its possible usefulness in proving the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish was purely for argument’s sake. I meant to show—and, indeed, DID show—that your preferred argument can “prove” the Catfish just as easily as it can “prove” Yahweh. I simply have to define the Catfish meticulously. That a conjured creature, such as the Catfish, can be proved with a TAG variant illustrates the argument’s fatuousness. As noted, like the ontological argument, TAG is philosophical prestidigitation.


You'd be right if all there were to hermeneutics were to take isolated texts and throw them up as proofs for what we are to believe.
Here's a beautiful example. You said: believe Yahweh possesses some specific set of characteristics that makes TAG work for him
That looks like an imperative phrase! You said "believe such and such". OK, I will, thanks. I'll tell all my atheist friends that the Jolly Nihilist told me to believe that.
Is that valid reasoning or not? Why not?


Knowing that you boast intimate familiarity with the Bible, if you truly believe that the text presents one—and only one—path to “salvation,” then you have deluded yourself. There are many verses that talk about aiding the poor and righteousness being essential: Matt 16:27, Matt 19:16-21, Mark 10:17-25, Luke 18:18-22, Luke 19:8-9. These are not disjointed, thrown-together fragments. If one were inclined, one could craft a decent argument with these verses.


I don't believe you, but whatever.

Come on…do you think I am so invested in the outcome of an internet tête-à-tête that I would lie in order to win a “point”? As I wrote, I was dead during the age of the dinosaurs, and my deadness was no inconvenience at all. Non-existence is hardly fearful.


As if you know what just/unjust are beyond I like/I don't like. But we've been there before.
This is another example that you DO care about these overarching principles you imply you deny in other places. You are a mess of inconsistency.


Not at all. The notion of justice, at its root, and when applied to people, means that an individual’s behavior should influence how he is treated. In the cosmos, that which befalls people often has no relationship to how those people have behaved. Cyclones exterminate nurses AND serial killers. Earthquakes destroy hospitals AND crack houses. Because the cosmos pays no mind to humans—let alone individual behavior—justice is incompatible with the cosmos. And that was my point.


That's to be expected, since
1) said deity is not deity at all
2) and is therefore unable to exercise divine-equivalent power to convict towards conversion
3) and few Americans would find such a 'deity' appealing, so the Devil probably tends toward much more accessible temptations, like plasma TVs, Las Vegas, Internet porn, and booze.


1. A deity is nothing more than a god or goddess. Therefore, this objection is flatly wrong. A god or goddess character could have the head of an elephant and be painted blue.

2. I recognize you, personally, do not believe in such a god, but let us take a break, however fleeting, from your dogma. Essentially every religion on the planet boasts devotees who arrived at that religion through a “conversion experience,” in which the convert claims to have interacted with a deity. There are Christian conversion stories, Hindu conversion stories and so forth. The point is, Christian conversion experiences are lumped in Christian regions, whereas Hindu conversion experiences are lumped in Hindu regions. This is curious.


Accessibility, consistency, culture. These are powerful tools, and the Devil is no dummy.

And, as I repeat, and as was Sagan’s point, Christian conversion experiences are lumped in Christian regions, whereas Hindu conversion experiences are lumped in Hindu regions. If Christianity were something other than an elaborate fairy tale, then brushes with Yahweh would be equally common in Hindu territories as in Christian territories. In actuality, these fantasies are little more than cultural belches.


B/c such apparitions are not truly appearances of the Virgin Mary. The VM is a dead saint, in heaven. I'd expect to see her no more than any other believer who has died.

Even so, Sagan’s observation remains true. The nature of these “encounters with the divine,” such as specious Virgin Mary sightings, tends to be largely determined by the culture and geography of the deluded “witness.” Generally, in Christian territories, people experience Christian delusions; in Hindu territories, people experience Hindu delusions. Again, this is little more than geographically dependent cultural flatulence—the inevitable belch resulting from pervasive inculcation.


No.
2 possibilities:
1) The Gk word "generation" from "This generation" has an alternate meaning in its semantic range, which is "race". ie, the Jewish people will not pass away until...
2) (My preference) The very next occurrence in the Gospel account is Christ's Transfiguration, which fulfills that very thing.

Really, you can ask questions about the Bible, but drawing some kind of internal conflict or something is evidently not your forté.


Your dully snide final comment aside, you have only demonstrated your talent for confecting “outs” to try to obscure a failed prophecy.

The following passage (Matt 24:25-35), which has the same gist, does not reference the transfiguration:

See, I have told you beforehand.

“Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.


The explicitness of these passages illuminates why first-century Christians believed Jesus’ return was imminent—as in, before they tasted of death. The prophecy was failed and no effort of yours, however strenuous, can obscure it.


We ALL are made so as not to believe. No one seeks God, no one does good, according to Romans 3. It is God's grace acting on us that enables ANYone to be saved; perhaps your time has come, perhaps not.

You seem to have misapprehended my comment. The point is, no miraculous injection of faith is going to budge me from my naturalistic ground. I require evidence. If my constitution is such that faith is unpersuasive—and my constitution, indeed, is this way—then who to blame but god, whom you believe crafted my constitution? You declare man must have “saving faith,” but my constitution reviles faith as foolish. If god authored my constitution, then god damned me from conception.


Selectively, it would appear; you don't apparently require evidence that you require evidence, nor that evidence is the best way to arrive at truth.
You're just engaging in special pleading - you criticise me for believing in TGOTB w/o evidence (as you allege) but do the same thing, just on another topic. I don't see why such hypocrisy should merit any consideration from someone seriously thinking over these issues.


I must say, I like the masturbatory implication that you (in contrast to me) are deeply thinking over these issues. You…who, in your First Principle, seek to start the race at the finish line by presupposing, more or less, the entirety of Christianity. You are attempting to pour 50 gallons of water into a teaspoon. Conversely, I merely presuppose the utility of relevant facts (evidence) in the approximation of truth. My metaphysical foundation—which is self-subsisting, by the way—could lead me to naturalism or supernaturalism…Yahweh or Baal…Christianity or Hinduism. It is an axiom from which to argue. Your FP…if it could be called such…has no use for argumentation: Your desired conclusion has been neatly gift-wrapped.


Which is why you should repent of your sin and ask God to forgive you. He will. But only in this lifetime.

No, thanks….I would rather not fall at the feet of your cosmic dictator today. I have no appetite for servility, nor am I solipsistic enough to imagine a creator of the universe would care a whit about my species, me personally or my piddling “sins.” In any event, a toymaker who knowingly makes faulty toys has little justification for begrudging the faults.


No, He is not indifferent.
You who vociferously deny any way to make a moral judgment would now make YET ANOTHER moral judgment, this time against God? You still can't keep your grubby little hands outta the cookie jar. One would think you never learn.


Another bullet point, another woeful misapprehension….

Whether I would characterize Yahweh as moral or immoral is irrelevant. What actually has relevance is that you define Yahweh as being omniscient, omnipotent, loving and just. Furthermore, you claim god is not indifferent to the suffering of his children. Given all this, god easily could ensure each human ends up in heaven—or, at least, out of hell. And, yet, you believe most humans shall be damned. Again, I ask, given god’s abilities (as you have defined them) and given god’s love (as you have affirmed it): This is the best god can do? His idolatrous fetish for free will is crippling enough to undo all his loving intentions? Pitiful.


Or He could have sent a guy to rise from the dead or something else crazy like that.
It's like you said - you're made not to believe. now you're going back on what you previously said. Which JN are you? How can I know?


I am distinctly unimpressed, mostly because it seems all god’s alleged activities occurred in primitive times, when the only witnesses would be semi-stupefied peasants who believed illness was the handiwork of malevolent forces, imagined inclement weather was portentous and possessed no idea of the vastness of Earth—let alone the magnificence of the cosmos.

I shall not partake of faith’s fantastical follies. Inasmuch as Christianity is devoid of actual evidence, I, indeed, “am so made that I cannot believe.” Thank you for presenting the opportunity not to deny this but to state it clearly.


Peace.

8:11 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

By the way, Rhology, although I am always happy to read a response you might wish to offer, I fear we are veering dangerously close to postmortem equine flagellation.

8:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Hey JN,

I can see the horse's intestines. Yuck.

Peace,
Rhology

12:26 PM EDT  
Blogger Sharp said...

"The Bible could have demonstrated omniscience. It did not."

Are you sure? Ever check out the concept of "prophecy" and try to verify the calendar distance between the writing of, and occurrence of events? It would require some actual research, but if it was important to look for evidence of omniscience, maybe it would be worth it.

"Name one specific geographically isolated population—that never had been exposed to a single worshiper of Yahweh—that independently discovered the god of the Bible."

Um, the Jews.

3:47 AM EDT  

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