Monday, August 11, 2008

Re: Excuses To Believe

In a recent essay, I offered some reasons to believe that theism (and more specifically Christianity) is rational. I did this not as a security blanket for Christian theists to cling to - in fact, I noted on more than one occasion that, thanks to revelation, Christians do not need the mentioned reasons as evidence - but with the hope against all hope that some well-mannered (and other not so well-mannered) atheists, who had been accusing theists of being irrational, might acknowledge that theism, while by no means compelling, is indeed a rational conclusion and foundation on which to live life. I received one noteworthy response to that essay and would like to make a few comments regarding it. Sadly, the back-and-forth arguing doesn't lead to productivity or fruitfulness, other than perhaps, to supporting the truth that theism is in fact the fruit of rational thought, for countering opposing arguments suggests, if nothing else, that one has attempted to reason through the issues. Though in the case of my opponent, I'm not sure he did.

Putting aside the images of cookies in this response, which seem, ironically from one claiming to be so rational, to serve no reasonable purpose (in fact, they suggest that filler space was needed to make the response appear witty, lengthy, and fruit-filled),
I'll begin by addressing sincerity. The author of the rebuttal acknowledges that I'm not out to trick anybody, but he thinks the Christian apologists I'm leaning on (John Frame, R.C. Sproul, Gordon Clark, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, James White, Louis Berkhof, Wayne Grudem, Vincent Cheung, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, Ligon Duncan, and many others) regarding the testimonies I lay forth are trying to fool the naive. What would possibly be their motive? They gain nothing financially; they serve humbly and are not striving for name-recognition or self-exaltation. They are the most trustworthy men I know, and their sincerity is unparalleled.

In fact, they remind me of the apostles, even Jesus Christ Himself. Consider the apostle Paul; one thing you will never do in reading from Acts (which introduces Paul and gives the historical accounts of his four missionary journeys) through Philemon (the last of Paul's 13 epistles) in the Bible, is think him to be trying to trick anybody. The 195 lashes on his back, the stonings, and multiple imprisonments testify to his sincerity. He wouldn't even accept money for his ministry, instead relying humbly on tent-making for survival. The same - to a greater extent - goes for Jesus. C.S. Lewis' argument is appropriate to revisit here. Was He a liar? Was He a lunatic? Or was He telling the truth - that He is Lord. Because His teachings are undeniably practical, we must address the question. The only rational conclusion, and the only reasonable conclusion, is that He is Lord.

And the statement that Jesus is Lord may very well answer the Hitchens' challengeanswer. My opponent also brings up Epicurus' argument against theism. Here's an interesting article on Christianity and Epicureanism. Like the Sagan dragon illustration, the premise is false. God has a good purpose for evil; He allows it for a time in order to bring glory to Jesus as the One who conquers it, and to bring condemnation to all the non-elect. Furthermore, I wonder if Epicurus had the trustworthiness of Paul? I wonder if he experienced the changed lifestyle? How does anyone know that Epicurus even lived? It is by faith, of course, reasonable faith in the historical evidence. Why, therefore, should Paul be less trustworthy than Epicurus? I am certain that there is far more manuscript evidence for the veracity of Paul's letters than for the writings of Epicurus. My opponent answers that final question indirectly with the second of his two-point summary of my twelve testimonies - presuppositions.

First, he pointed out one as uncertainty. In bringing up "the gaps," meaning the unknowns - and possibly unknowables - regarding matters of existence, the atheist criticizes the theist for throwing God into the gaps where material evidence is lacking; the theist criticizes the atheist in much the same way, suggesting that the atheist throws speculative natural explanation into those same gaps. Both views, as I've said before, rely on presuppositions - essentially, what you want to be true - which turns out to be the second of his two-point summary. The theist has no problem with this. We trust Paul over the likes of Epicurus. So why does the atheist have problems with presuppositions? By the way, since we're talking about Paul and presuppositions and Greek philosophers, you really must read this essay. Why does the atheist truth-suppressive speculation amount to superior reason and intellect, while the theist appeal to revelation is regarded as irrationality and delusion? The answer is moral. The theist has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The atheist cannot win; and there is everything to lose if they are wrong.

Finally, it is true that people believe what they want to believe; after all, that's what presuppositions are all about. The 29 proofs for macroevolution can easily be interpreted as evidence for proving intelligent design. Why would you expect to find something else? God created far more amazing creatures and life forms than we see today, but sin has caused them extinction. It's a great testimony to science that we can learn anything about them at all, since we can't observe them. But sadly, most are looking at the evidence through the wrong glasses, hence the name of my blog - Biblical Glasses. When the Christian theist looks at my twelve testimonies: the universe, life, consciousness / reason, morality, the history of religion, theology, personal experience, history in general, apprehension of beauty, the church, the Bible, and Jesus Christ, he sees order and design and purpose - God in and over all of it. He wants to see it, because it's reasonable to see it. When an atheist looks at those same twelve testimonies, he sees blind and random chaos and is amazed that something with no mathematical chance of occurring has occurred. But he is the one who is delusional, having suppressed the truth by his wickedness. Only by God's gracious revelation can one's mind be renewed unto wisdom and understanding.

From a scientific and philosophical perspective, theism is rational. My opponent's "proof" for the rationality of atheistic evolution came in the form of an analogy - cigarette smoking. We could easily change the wording in this "proof for evolution," and therefore atheism, to be adequate "proof" for theism. The essay states, "There is no direct, laboratory test that can prove that smoking causes cancer." Yet we know that it does. The same can be said of God's existence. He's not the dragon in my garage. The article says, "No one has seen a quark, yet we can infer their existence by observing collisions between subatomic particles." The Bible says, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [Jesus], who is at the Father's side, has made Him known" (John 1:18). I appeal to revelation, the Word of God, the Person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, as reason enough for a rational faith.

P.S. - My opponent seemed interested in the German Science Magazine's study of the probability of the existence of God. While I don't have access to the actual article, you can read the entirety of David Robertson's The Dawkins' Letters, his response to Charles Dawkins' The God Delusion, here. Robertson quotes Dawkins saying, "'Even if God’s existence is never proved or disproved with certainty one way or the other, available evidence and reasoning may yield an estimate of probability far from 50%'. Really? Why such a confident assertion? Anyway science has moved on since you made that unqualified and unsupported assertion. The Times reported (Nov 20th 2006) that the actual figure was well over 50%. 'The mathematical probability of God’s existence is just over 62 per cent. So says a German science magazine. P.M. tried to settle the issue by using mathematical formulae devised to determine plausibility and probability. Researchers started with the hypothesis 'God exists', then tried to analyse the evidence in favour or against the hypothesis in five areas: creation, evolution, good, evil and religious experiences. The scientists applied the formulae to calculate how statistically probable different answers were to questions such as 'How probable is it that the evolution of life took place without God?', and 'How probable is it that God created the Universe?' Their conclusion will be cheering to many, although not, perhaps, Richard Dawkins.'"

13 comments:

PhillyChief said...

A presupposition which you think we share but we don't is the value of an appeal to authority. In essence, it means something is to be accepted unquestionably from a person of some believed authoritative and/or privileged position. In your primary example, you accept everything attributed to Paul because you believe he had his divine moment on the road to Damascus and summarily dismiss the words of Epicurus because he had no such experience. In contrast, an atheist doesn't care what experiences Paul or Epicurus may or may not had, and we're not even that concerned with whether they really existed or not, and that's because we actually care about the words attributed to them. THAT is the most important thing, and something that if you never wake up and comprehend for yourself, at least comprehend that this is a major point of distinction between you and an atheist. Darwin is revered for his theories, but his theories are not revered as sacred because they're his. Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and especially Christopher Hitchens are revered for things they've said but under no circumstances do we blindly accept everything they say. I personally object to various ideas of each, especially Hitchens when it comes to politics.

As I said in my post, if you're going to believe your god created everything unquestioningly, so be it. If you're going to believe unquestioningly that your bible is the word of that god, so be it. If you're going to accept completely the words of all ministers and apologists as true, so be it. If you're going to blindly accept any source which supports your belief while blindly casting aside anything which doesn't, then so be it, but in so doing you've completely proved my point. There's no reason in play here, this is just blindly going with any excuse which allows you to keep indulging in your belief. Of course you'll dismiss this assessment, but so be it.

Chip Crush said...

Once again, you misunderstand my position. I don't "accept unquestionably" the words of Paul. I have questioned and doubted him, and I have misinterpreted him. Sadly, there are many Christians - you must be thinking of them and categorizing me and perhaps all Christians with them - that do "blindly accept" what Paul says. On the contrary, I've wrestled with Paul and the theologians of the Reformation era, and the Greek philosophers and the 19th century Darwinists, and the modern day experts in many fields. I've weighed their claims, found some to be wanting, and held fast to the claims of others. But that process was a rational one; my faith is reasonable. That's been this whole point.

You make a worthy observation with your final remark, and if the blind are leading the blind, so be it. But what if a sighted person came to a group of blind men and suggested that they try to follow him? You can bet that many would be reluctant; most wouldn't dare leave their comfort zone. The majority would deny the possibility of a sighted man, for blindness is all they've every known. But occasionally, a blind person will risk what they deem to be their security, and by following the sighted person to safety and truth, realize that they were blind and standing on a precipice over a bottomless pit. Alas, this illustration can't apply to the atheist being the "sighted man," because there's no safety in falsehood. "Jesus said, 'If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (John 8:31-32).

I don't accept what anyone says because they say it. I accept what the trustworthy ones say because they speak the truth.

Chip Crush said...

More from the the other side:

the chaplain said...

Another excellent post, Philly.

Chip: I'm assuming that, as you wrestle with various theologians, your ultimate standard is the Bible. Is the final arbiter actually the biblical text itself or simply your interpretation of that text? How have you arrived at your interpretation? Does the RSV trump the KJV? Does the Greek text trump English translations of the New Testament? Does the Tanakh trump Christian translations of the Old Testament? Does Paul trump Luther or Calvin? If so, why; if not, why not?

August 11, 2008 11:22 PM

PhillyChief said...

"I don't accept what anyone says because they say it. I accept what the trustworthy ones say because they speak the truth."

See, that's exactly the same thing. You're accepting what someone says because you think they're trustworthy, not because you've actually studied what they said. Here's a test - can you acknowledge the wisdom or the facts of a statement without delving into a character study of the author? Let me give you an example. I always forget who said this, I think it's Socrates, but I'm not sure - "a fool tries to convince me with his words, a wise man convinces me with my own". Now despite knowing the author, I can recognize that's a profound statement. Were it to have come from Torquemada, Socrates, Hitler, or a bum on South Street wouldn't matter a shit to me. That phrase is brilliant.

Here's another test - say Craig or one of your apologists came out tomorrow as an atheist, a pedophile, a tax evader, whatever. Would you then throw his arguments in the trash bin? Would his words no longer be considered worthy because the man is no longer trustworthy? Imagine if they had proof Paul didn't write most of the letters attributed to him, would you then revere those letters less?

Your original post is evidence that when you were "wrestling" with various claims, you didn't take what anyone said into account as much as who said them, or else your comments about science wouldn't have been so uninformed. Of course I hope that you didn't stop with 19th century "Darwinists" and actually looked at 20th and 21st century evolutionary biologists, neurologists, physicists, theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, and some other modern eggheads but of course most of them are non-religious, so why bother reading what they have to say, right?

August 11, 2008 11:54 PM

John Evo said...

Chip, I'm sure it all "feels" like a rational process that you have been through. If you soaked in half of what PhillyChief has said, you'll realize it's not. If you compare your "rational" search for truth to how you would approach a search for information on how you would treat a disease that a loved one was dying from, you would quickly see the difference.

The fact is, deep inside you realize that we would not be here without the use of rational thought and reason. Therefore it's important to you to convince yourself that this same rational process has been used in assessing god's existence.

In fact, you believe because you have faith. Period. There is no true rational process that has led you to where you are. You obviously want to believe there was such a process. But that is just another "belief".

@ Philly - let me know...

August 12, 2008 2:13 AM

Chip Crush said...

The Chaplain asked, "Does Paul trump Luther or Calvin? If so, why; if not, why not?" Since Paul, Luther, and Calvin are in agreement, there is no trumping. But if they did clearly disagree on a particular issue, you are right to suggest that I'd side with Paul since the Bible is my "ultimate standard."

Phillychief said that my statement, "I don't accept what anyone says because they say it. I accept what the trustworthy ones say because they speak the truth." was "exactly the same thing. You're accepting what someone says because you think they're trustworthy, not because you've actually studied what they said." By no means! The point there is that those who speak the truth prove that what they say is the truth by their trustworthiness. I don't easily trust a liar to tell me the truth, even though liars are capable of speaking the truth. I am more likely to trust a truthful person, because they are truthful and trustworthy. It appears, especially from your first "test," that you have a problem with the idea of trust. Here's another "wise saying":

Feed a cold and starve a fever. - C. Morley (1939)

Now I have no idea who Morley is. I know nothing about his character, and like you, I don't care. But I have tried his wisdom and found it to be effective. Therefore, his words are trustworthy. The same goes for the apostle Paul. I have tried his wisdom and found it to be effective for a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, his words are trustworthy. And it just so happens that his character further supports his trustworthy words.

Your next test is a good one, one that, since we need to further consider the idea of trust, might be better applied to politics. Take Jesse Jackson. He claims to be a Christian, and he holds the title of reverend, but his character has proven to be questionable, and many of his statements are plainly ridiculous. That doesn't mean he can't speak the truth. But do you "trust" him? Would you vote for him if he ran for office? Why or why not? He may be trustworthy in some areas, but I find him to be untrustworthy on the whole. We ought to apply the same tests to the presidential candidates.

One more example. Many people view the Book of Proverbs to be a conglomerate of wise sayings. I happen to believe, through testing, that they are flawless principles foundational for living well. But their author was far from a role model in terms of his character. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines and worshiped idols (literally). His character doesn't necessarily make his words untrustworthy, but I wouldn't want to be like him. This example represents one of the greatest truths of the Bible, that there are no perfect humans, other than Jesus. God speaks truth through dirty shepherds, arrogant kings, foul-mouthed advisors, pagan whores, and little children.

Evo - nice of you to join us again!

You said, "If you compare your "rational" search for truth to how you would approach a search for information on how you would treat a disease that a loved one was dying from, you would quickly see the difference."

Not at all! I have had a loved one die from a rare disease, and believe me, I searched reasonable and rationally and as quickly I as could for info on the various treatments available. But I've searched the Bible and wrestled with its claims, as well as with the claims of secularists and others mentioned previously. Through the testing I've mentioned, I've come to a different conclusion than you.

My guess is that you have not poured 3 years into studying the Bible - not a cursory glance, not a brief scan, but a thorough perusal - to taste and see that Lord is good. It may be surprising to you, but I wasn't raised a Christian. I did blindly believe in God from age 12-17 or so, but from age 18 until this very day, I haven't blindly accepted bunk as truth; I search for truth. And I find it in Christian theism.

You close with this statement, "In fact, you believe because you have faith. Period." If that's not redundant, I don't know what is. I believe because I believe. No! I believe because it's true. On the other hand, for the atheist, it's true because you believe it. And we're back to the point I've been trying - albeit poorly - to make from the beginning. Our presuppositions are too well-established to overcome to engage in productive dialogue; therefore, should you desire to chat further, visit my blog. I won't be returning here.

Brian Daniel said...

Philly was questioning your lack of response to Epicurus, yet you put a pretty substantial link to that issue in your previous response - did he completely miss that? Philly doesn't care at all who said something, yet he previously talked about the importance of having "critical thinkers" examine and analyze evidence - now that's no longer important? "A bum from South Street" is just as good as anyone else as long as his words have meaning and are profound?

One of the biggest complaints from the opposition to Ben Stein's movie was "You can't trust him - he has ulterior motives - he tricked his interviewees". Apparently, that shouldn't really matter at all - it's the words that matter.

Spanish Inquisitor was all over the place and would take more time to address several flaws.

Not sure if they are going to come over to your blog, and apparently you are a typical Christian for not coming back to theirs (so is he a typical atheist for not coming to your Christian blog?)

PhillyChief said...

A link isn't a response, nor is considering the trustworthiness of Epicurus. There was also avoidance of the Euthyphro question. Either can be addressed, here or at my blog, if Chip so chooses, but I would expect such answers to be in his own words. Absently providing a link or a biblical passage is not an answer, for it exhibits no evidence that you actually comprehend the question or the answer cited yourself.

Your analogy to Ben Stein is a false one Brian. First, concerning the movie, if there was any meat on the bone then his ulterior motives wouldn't matter. The objections to the movie are based largely on their being no meat. Second, taking words out of context is the objection to the quotes he used, Brian. As a defender of your bible, I'm sure you can appreciate the need to read a passage in context rather than pull it out to serve whatever point you have. That's been a classic apologetic argument against criticism of certain parts of the bible, so it's highly hypocritical to condemn that behavior when it's against you but them condone it when it suits you. If Ben's message can't be delivered without deception, then that should set off your vaunted trustworthiness alarms, no?

As far as venue, I think a question should be answered where it was asked, unless the answer will be one too big for a comment section and require and entire blog post, in which case a link would suffice.

Chip Crush said...

The quick response (if you read my answer) is a quote from myself in my own words. Is that allowed?

"Like the Sagan dragon illustration, the premise (of Epicurus) is false. God has a good purpose for evil; He allows it for a time in order to bring glory to Jesus as the One who conquers it, and to bring condemnation to all the non-elect."

PhillyChief said...

Then he's not omni-benevolent.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

(so is he a typical atheist for not coming to your Christian blog?)

I'm here, Brian, waiting with bated breath your explanation as to how my comment was "all over the place". I only made three short points, and one was an educated guess. I can't imagine why it would take a lot of effort to refute them.

the chaplain said...

Chip said: God has a good purpose for evil; He allows it for a time in order to bring glory to Jesus as the One who conquers it, and to bring condemnation to all the non-elect.

This is the being you choose to worship? He's nothing more than a vainglorious monster. Who else would allow people who were predestined to be non-elected - and therefore had absolutely no choice in the matter - to be born simply so they could suffer eternal torment? What purpose does that serve except to feed this insecure god's garganutan ego?

This is the god you worship and adore as a loving god? Do you truly love him, or does your fear of his wrath persuade you that what you feel is awe, not horror? This god is evil and I genuinely pity you for being unable to see that. Your petty god is only worthy of scorn.

Brian Daniel said...

I think a link is fine, but I guess "in your own words" is an indication of the integrity, shall I say even the trustworthiness of your response? Still, it's not who spoke the words, but the words themselves that matter, so why isn't a link just fine? Oh well, I guess you can issue a little summary of the article (although I did enjoy the article in its entirety).

I think the Ben Stein analogy was fine. Granted, the actual subject material was criticized, fair enough, but a lot of it centered on how it was acquired. Maybe that's not an Issue for Philly but that was a big problem for other people. As for the information being taken out of context, I'm not really sure that was the problem (although that was a claim). The issue was the person interviewed claimed they didn't know what they were really being interviewed for - would that have changed their responses? Why so? Does what they say about a certain topic change depending on who they are talking to? Is there a trustworthiness issue there? Probably not for Philly.

PhillyChief said...

Brian,

No, it's not an issue of saying different things to different people, it's just highly unusual, and fits the pattern of deception and unprofessional behavior throughout the production. They used music they didn't have rights to, they blatantly ripped off animation from XVIVO, staged crowd scenes, and so on. The whole thing is simply vulgar. Once again I'll say, if Ben's message can't be delivered without deception, then that should set off your vaunted trustworthiness alarms.

But see, there's a very revealing thing you wrote - "As for the information being taken out of context, I'm not really sure that was the problem". I never checked, did you? I'm willing to bet you haven't read anything by the people misrepresented in the movie, and I'll dare say you've hardly cracked open a science book, yet you feel confident in your opinions about this movie, the claims, and science.

Anyway, this is all too silly for me. You two enjoy yourselves at the pool. I don't think we have anything more to say, do we? Don't feel obligated to respond to anything I asked earlier, Chip. No worries.

See ya

PhillyChief said...

Sorry, I forgot, I don't care for participating in moderated discussions, either. Feel free to email me if you're dying to say something to me, otherwise, adios.

Chip Crush said...

You're the one who set the terms! Or were those just words? It must not matter who said them....