Why don’t skeptics apply their standards of evidence to themselves?

We had a spirited debate on miracles in a previous thread. And during that debate, I noted how even in cases where all the evidence is against naturalistic explanations, skeptics simply cannot entertain a supernatural explanation instead. They just have to hold that there is a naturalistic one, despite the evidence.

The very definition of blind faith.

In reply, “Tom Joad” said:

To that, I would just say that you would expect there to be a natural explanation for unexpected events, or ‘miracles.’ In the absence of an obvious explanation, it would be a fantastically interesting process to find out what the actual cause was.

Since the comments in the previous thread have now closed automatically, let me pick up the conversation here.

Why is Tom applying such a different standard to himself as he’d apply to religious people? And why does this seem to happen so frequently with skeptics?

For example, skeptics often take issue with phenomena like “speaking in tongues” and “faith healings” and the like—which you’ll find in many happy-clappy churches, particularly in America.

They point out that these phenomena can be reproduced in non-religious settings, as well as in competing religious settings (Hinduism for example). Moreover, they can be thoroughly explained by neurology, and therefore a supernatural explanation is at best superfluous.

So they criticize Christians who believe that these events are “works of the Spirit” on two grounds: firstly, all the evidence points to a naturalistic explanation; secondly, the Christian’s supernaturalistic explanation is too exclusive to account for all the instances of this phenomenon.

Thus skeptics hold that it is irrational to favor a supernatural explanation over a natural one here.

But now compare this to Tom’s comments about miracles, and notice the double standard.

When it comes to a situation where the roles are reversed and all the evidence points to a supernatural explanation, while a naturalistic one is untenable, he seems to think that it is not only rational, but entirely reasonable to believe there still is a naturalistic explanation.

And he goes on to make some comments about the supposedly unreasonable nature of faith, inasmuch as if some particular miracle is discredited, “for 99% of Christians, this disproof of a supposed miracle would do nothing to dissuade their faith.” The implication, of course, being that a discredited miracle ought to give Christians occasion to reevaluate their faith.

But why? Notice again the double standard. Imagine if some element of evolution were discredited—indeed, this happens all the time as part of the scientific process. Does Tom think these occasions should cause him to reevaluate his belief in evolution? Are they likely to dissuade him from from that belief?

Of course not.

So why expect that of Christians? Since the faith of 99% of Christians doesn’t rest on some random miracle, but on a wide variety of evidences, it would be quite unreasonable to think that discrediting a random miracle would have any effect whatsoever on their faith.

Why do skeptics have such a hard time applying the same standards of evidence to themselves as they think are reasonable for Christians? I don’t know. Perhaps some skeptics could enlighten me in the comments.

88 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

     

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Unfortunately, your objection to my point is off the mark. I obviously
    expressed myself rather poorly.

     

    I would not and do not exclude the possibility
    of a supernatural explanation for any hypothetical ‘miracle’. I meant to infer
    that fact when I wrote it would be ‘interesting process to find out what the
    cause was.’ So no, there is no double-standard here.

     

    What I would do, however, is remain highly
    skeptical of any claims that the explanation IS supernatural (without excluding
    the possibility altogether). My default position is the expectation that unusual
    events have natural explanations, and that in the cases where no obvious
    explanation exists, that the cause is natural but not yet understood by the
    human mind. This is a function of my own experiences, as I am yet to encounter
    anything resembling a miracle, nor have I been presented any substantial
    evidence of a miracle occurring (putting aside the extremely long bow of drawing
    the supposed cause (God) and effect (the miracle)). None of that excludes the
    possibility of a supernatural explanation. It is, in fact, most likely the
    exact same as your own position, given the complete and necessary sparseness of
    miracles (if they were common, we ought to give them another name), and furthermore
    the generally consistent presence of natural explanations for usual and unusual
    events.

     

    You say ‘even
    in cases where all the evidence is against
    naturalistic explanations’. Name me one. And once you’ve named it, tell me what
    you are implying – if you mean that there are cases (miracles) with
    supernatural explanations, are you also implying that the Christian God is
    responsible for them? Surely you are, or the conversation is redundant. If you
    are – then YES, the burden of proof is yours. That was my original point. I
    might be startled by some unexplained event and profess no understanding of the
    cause. But that is a claim about the ABSENCE of knowledge.  If you, or certainly other Christians, want to
    fill that gap with ‘praise the Lord,’ then surely you have some vaguely
    rational basis for doing so – and not just your desire to validate your system
    of beliefs. (i.e., can you offer any specific evidence relating the two
    concepts??).

    There is a
    detailed chronology of science’s ability to fill the gaps in areas of knowledge
    that we previously plugged with ‘God’ (or at the very least, the ‘supernatural’).
    I live in Tanzania at the moment – while 35% of Tanzanians are Christians, some
    I have met still vaguely attribute thunderstorms to God, as lightening itself
    is completely outside the bounds the of local understanding of science. This is
    simply a demonstration that they have an absence of knowledge regarding the
    climate.

    And what I would certainly not do is what some
    Christians do – which is to ASSUME that the cause of a miracle is God (assuming
    the miracle was a positive one) and then use it to validate a belief in God.
    Even if it only adds 1% to that whole belief (as you seem to be saying) it is
    still a part of your belief’s foundation that has the potential to come
    crashing down (as you acknowledge). It seems to me that this is the true double
    standard, because if I was exposed to an ACTUAL miracle with ACTUAL evidence
    that your God was responsible, then I would be quite compelled to change my
    beliefs, yet you explicitly reject the reverse of this standard when applied to
    yourself. Strange. And if you are not prepared to attribute miracles to God, or
    you are not prepared to offer the slightest spec of evidence beyond ‘I have a
    hunch,’ then we’re both wasting our time talking about it.  

     

    But you also say ‘it would be quite unreasonable to think that
    discrediting a random miracle would have any effect whatsoever on their faith.’
    If this is true, then surely the argument is moot, because ‘random miracles’
    have no sway over your faith (which begs the question why you attribute them to
    God in the first place), and are therefore irrelevant to any apologetics
    process. If I could demonstrate that all the Saints in history performed not
    miracles but random science experiments, it would be meaningless if my
    intention was to persuade you from your misguided beliefs. With respect to ‘miracles’
    within the Christian community, there is probably some overlap between ‘statistically
    improbable’ and ‘an act of God.’ An additional problem you have is the road
    that other Christians have paved for you, including the pastor in Australia who
    wholeheartedly professed that being cured of cancer without treatment was a
    miracle (ostensibly, quite compelling) but was then found to be lying about the
    whole thing.

     

    I have a feeling that in this case you
    are arguing for the sake of arguing. Fine, but to other Christians who think
    that miracles exist and that God is responsible for them, I’d invite you to
    first think long and hard about the basis for that claim, and if you stand by
    it, to reflect on exactly how obscene your God is that he elects to perform
    miracles, in hiding, for a chosen few, and allows so much suffering to go on without
    lifting a finger.

  2. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    In fact… the more I think about it, the more ridiculous your title seems. Your position is the definition of having your cake, and eating it too. Atheists need to free their minds and accept the possibility of the supernatural, but you aren’t prepared to put any weight on the meaning of the supernatural whatsoever! It won’t sway your beliefs, but it should sway mine?? Why!?

  3. Guest25819
    Guest25819 says:

    Tom, generally, you do not infer anything when writing or speaking, you imply. The reader or listener may infer something other than what you intended to imply, though.

  4. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Tom…

    I would not and do not exclude the possibility
    of a supernatural explanation for any hypothetical ‘miracle’.

    I’m glad to hear it. Are you familiar with Craig Keener’s new book on miracles? He documents a large number of verified cases. I think if you’re going to take a position of skepticism about miracles, you should do your due diligence and read Keener’s book first.

    If you, or certainly other Christians, want to
    fill that gap with ‘praise the Lord,’ then surely you have some vaguely rational basis for doing so – and not just your desire to validate your system of beliefs. (i.e., can you offer any specific evidence relating the two concepts??).

    If I have a worldview which accounts for miracles very comfortably, why should I need to give additional evidence that miracles support my worldview when that is already obvious?

    Sure, miracles could support some other supernaturalistic worldview as well. But I have arguments for why I believe my worldview is correct and those ones are not.

    Moreover, it just seems churlish to concede, say, that when someone prays to Jesus and is healed, a miracle has indeed occurred—but then demand evidence that it supports Christianity as opposed to some other religion.

    Btw, I can’t speak for other Christians, but for my own part I don’t use miracles to support my belief in Christianity. I use my belief in Christianity to explain miracles.

    But you also say ‘it would be quite unreasonable to think that discrediting a random miracle would have any effect whatsoever on their faith.’
    If this is true, then surely the argument is moot, because ‘random miracles’ have no sway over your faith (which begs the question why you attribute them to God in the first place), and are therefore irrelevant to any apologetics
    process.

    I don’t get what you’re saying here.

    If I explain a miracle by recourse to my belief in God, because that seems the most reasonable explanation at the time, I don’t lose anything when my explanation is shown to be false due to unforeseen circumstances (fabrication, previously-unknown DNA sequences, etc).

    Even though miracles obviously suit as evidence for Christianity if they are true, they don’t serve as evidence against Christianity if they turn out to be false.

    reflect on exactly how obscene your God is that he elects to perform miracles, in hiding, for a chosen few, and allows so much suffering to go on without lifting a finger.

    I’m curious why you think this makes God obscene. What’s your rationale for that? Do you think God has an obligation to reveal himself to everyone through miracles? And what is the relationship you seem to draw between God’s supposed hiddeness and human suffering?

    Atheists need to free their minds and accept the possibility of the supernatural, but you aren’t prepared to put any weight on the meaning of the supernatural whatsoever! It won’t sway your beliefs, but it should sway mine?? Why!?

    I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re getting at here. In what sense am I unwilling to put any weight on the “meaning” of the supernatural? Why do you think supernatural events won’t sway my beliefs—or, more pertinently, why do you think supernatural events would do anything except confirm my beliefs?

  5. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Hello again Bnonn!

    I think you are correct that these issues are similar. As you point out, if the theory of Evolution as we understand it had a setback, then it would have to be re-evaluated. And it would depend on the severity of the setback as to how severe the implications were upon Evolution as a whole. Today evolution is so well evidenced, and by so much evidence that it is unlikely that any data could significantly bring the theory into doubt. It is still possible, though, however unlikely.

    You start out your post by bringing up cases where all the evidence is against natural explanations, and then point out that a person – no matter their bias – should follow the evidence. However, what if I told you that the score or so people in my biology department had observed the abiogenesis of a simple living cell in the laboratory and so the matter is settled, abiogenesis is proven? The evidence in this isolated case is all FOR abiogenesis, and so you should accept it.

    p

  6. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Thanks Guest
    – good catch.

    Bnonn – I’ll
    look into the book – agree that it lends more credibility to my argument if I
    go through that process. Although it’s worth keeping in mind what I think Peanut
    is hinting at – I would be far more compelled to believe in miracles if I was
    actually exposed to one. Further – I think this discussion draws a blank if I
    find myself, after reading that book, simply to be less credulous than you. Lastly,
    I tentatively suspect that while the strength of the documented evidence might
    be persuasive with regards to ‘lots of unexplained things have happened,’ the
    leap to ‘this is God’s work’ takes much more documentation, which is my
    original point, and one you continue to sidestep.

    ‘If
    I have a worldview which accounts for miracles very comfortably, why should I
    need to give additional evidence that miracles support my worldview when that
    is already obvious?’

    Obvious to
    you, but that seems like circular logic to me. And you needn’t give evidence,
    certainly not for your own benefit – but if you want to make a persuasive argument
    to connect God and His miracles, you need to give evidence to do that. You are essentially saying ‘sure, I believe in God, and the bible says there will be
    miracles, so I believe (at least accept) that too – the evidence connecting
    these beliefs is irrelevant (?)’ Again, I’ll repeat it – Christians, including
    the previous blogger, think that miracles support their argument for the
    existence and nature of God. If you want to make that argument in reverse, that’s
    fine, but it does nothing to address the point I am making. Many Christians do
    this:

    See or hear
    of something unusual;

    Claim it to
    be a miracle;

    Praise the
    Lord and thank him for performing the miracle.

    As far as I
    can tell, we agree that this sequence has some gaping holes in it. Perhaps what
    you concede is that, without the overarching cosmological arguments (etc etc), this
    pattern of attributing miracles to God is illogical and irrational. So, in and
    of itself, the argument for miracles is unhelpful?

    ‘Moreover,
    it just seems churlish to concede, say, that when someone prays to Jesus and is
    healed, a miracle has indeed occurred—but then demand evidence that it supports
    Christianity as opposed to some other religion.’

    Sure – well I
    don’t concede that. But for the sake of the hypothetical, if I did make that
    argument, I wouldn’t be concerned with other religions, I would simply be
    asking for the evidence that it supports the Christian faith. I can’t really
    see why you object to non-Christians asking for the basis for claiming a
    miracle to be the work of God. For any rational person seeking faith, that
    avoidance of evidence in support of the argument amongst the Christian
    community is a nail in the coffin.

    ‘Btw,
    I can’t speak for other Christians, but for my own part I don’t use miracles to
    support my belief in Christianity. I use my belief in Christianity to explain
    miracles.’

    Sure, it
    sounds nice, and it’s more sophisticated, but also obtuse – you are conceding
    that miracles neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. In that case,
    you are at odds with many Christians, and the point of miracles, for you, is
    void. Perhaps my comments are wasted on you.

    I’m curious why you think this makes God obscene.
    What’s your rationale for that? Do you think God has an obligation to reveal
    himself to everyone through miracles? And what is the relationship you seem to
    draw between God’s supposed hiddeness and human suffering?

    Well, obviously
    in a real sense I don’t think God has any obligations, you’ll appreciate that
    to me that is equivalent to asking what obligations the tooth fairy has. In a hypothetical
    sense, I think you’re probably being facetious. The comment before your quote
    was with regards to Christians that attribute things like faith healing and
    similar miracles, to God. If this were true, the reason it would make God
    obscene is that I’m sitting in a lab right now with pious Christian HIV,
    malaria and yellow fever patients outside, who have never been exposed to one
    of God’s miracles, some of whom will likely die in pain quite soon. God’s
    apparent preferential treatment of HIllsong members and WASPS is what makes him
    obscene. He has no obligation to reveal himself, but the fact that we are
    having this conversation is that he obviously chooses NOT to reveal himself to
    some people, to most people, and that when he does (via miracles, as you
    concede) it is mostly to people who are already expecting him. God could reveal
    himself and heal all the sick people outside my window, probably saving my soul
    in the process, yet he elects not to. You can make theological arguments to
    explain away my complaint but I’m afraid they’re as ineffective to me as the
    argument for miracles is.

  7. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    However, what if I told you that the score or so people in my biology
    department had observed the abiogenesis of a simple living cell in the
    laboratory and so the matter is settled, abiogenesis is proven?

    I’d be skeptical, but you should know that I’m not averse in principle to the concept of abiogenesis.

    I think it’s prima facie improbable to the point of impossibility. But if it could be shown that a living organism of some kind can form from non-living organic chemicals (and this was, per standard scientific rigor, a repeatable phenomenon), it wouldn’t “break” anything for me.

    It’s still a long leap from abiogenesis in the lab to abiogenesis on primordial earth. And a long leap from there to “goo-to-you” evolution.

    To be honest, although I’m not studied in this area, I know enough people who are to think that your notion that evolution is so well-evidenced that it’s unlikely any data could bring it into doubt is remarkably naive. Then again, that confirms my suspicion that your general attitude toward contrary evidence is to ignore or dismiss it.

    But evolution is another discussion entirely.

  8. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Tom…

    the leap to ‘this is God’s work’ takes much more documentation, which is my original point, and one you continue to sidestep.

    I haven’t side-stepped it. I’ve simply denied that burden of proof. If there is a scientifically documented miracle immediately following Christian prayer in a Christian setting, then what reason is there not to assume causation? If you applied that level of skepticism to science in general, nothing would ever be “proven”, and we’d still be arguing about whether fire really ignites gunpowder.

    you are conceding that miracles neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “prove”, since that tends to be a person-variable concept.

    Miracles may well prove God’s existence to the person for whom God used miracles to produce faith.

    On the other hand, miracles might only be interesting trivia to someone who’s already convinced of God’s existence.

    And they might be unexplained phenomena to someone with strong reasons for disbelieving in God’s existence.

    God’s apparent preferential treatment of HIllsong members and WASPS is what makes him obscene.

    I don’t get it. That isn’t an explanation. You’re just repeating your original assertion that God only bestowing miracles on Westerners makes him obscene. But although I deny this happens anyway, why would it make God obscene if it did?

  9. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Hey Bnonn,

    ‘If there is a scientifically documented miracle immediately following
    Christian prayer in a Christian setting, then what reason is there not
    to assume causation? If you applied that level of skepticism to science
    in general, nothing would ever be “proven”, and we’d still be arguing
    about whether fire really ignites gunpowder.’

    The first point I’m sure you recognise to be a classical fallacy ‘post hoc ergo proctor hoc.’ I suppose a Christian has no incentive ‘not to assume causation’ but that’s doesn’t remove your burden of proof. If I said, I thought about rain, and then it rained, therefore I can make it rain, I might have no reason ‘not to assume causation.’ But my assertion that I can make it rain doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Furthermore, if I wished to assert outright that my ability to make it rain had metaphysical connotations that affect literally every human on earth, then I should be prepared to and expect to provide some proof.

    “I’m not sure what you mean by “prove”, since that tends to be a person-variable concept.

    Miracles may well prove God’s existence to the person for whom God used miracles to produce faith.

    On the other hand, miracles might only be interesting trivia to someone who’s already convinced of God’s existence.

    And they might be unexplained phenomena to someone with strong reasons for disbelieving in God’s existence.”

    Yes, that’s well put. The problem is that God either exists or he does not. That truth isn’t person-specific.  So to say ‘miracles prove god’s existence’ to the witness is a pretty useless statement in the overall discussion. It opens the floodgates to non-universal truths. All you’re really conceding is that performance of miracles is unhelpful in discussion of God’s existence. You picked my comment from a previous post in which I was specifically arguing this point. I’m quite happy for you to categorise the perception of miracles as you have here, and not use miracles to verify the existence of God. Ad nauseum, my point is that to use miracles as verification of the existence of God to anyone less credulous than a Christian, you have to provide some proof or evidence of causation. It’s inescapable. If you want to test the fact, try it out on any other rational atheist and see how far you can swing them toward Christianity without evidence.

  10. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    The first point I’m sure you recognise to be a classical fallacy ‘post
    hoc ergo proctor hoc.’ I suppose a Christian has no incentive ‘not to
    assume causation’ but that’s doesn’t remove your burden of proof.

    Since all of science works on the fallacy of post hoc ergo proctor hoc, this either proves too much or too little for you. It just looks like special pleading when you won’t let the Christian assume causation in one instance, but you let science in general assume it in other similar instances.

    All you’re really conceding is that performance of miracles is unhelpful in discussion of God’s existence.

    I don’t think I’ve conceded this at all. Rather, I’ve acknowledged that miracles are unhelpful in discussion of God’s existence with people who are unreasonably skeptical of miracles. That’s a fairly uninteresting statement.

  11. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    I’m not sure what to make of your inability to address my argument  in any meaningful way. Given that

    (a) – I’m not a complete idiot, and
    (b) – I’m a fairly reasonable person

    The fact that discussing this with you has made me even less credulous at both the concept of God-created miracles, and the ability of Christians to prove such miracles in any way at all, makes me think that you probably either can’t explain or don’t understand this particular component of Christianity. At least a Christian with some conviction might offer ‘it’s my spiritual understanding’ or something similar.

    ‘Since all of science works on the fallacy of post hoc ergo proctor hoc,
    this either proves too much or too little for you. It just looks like
    special pleading when you won’t let the Christian assume causation in
    one instance, but you let science in general assume it in other similar
    instances.’

    Well, much of science is focused on understanding the relationship between cause and affect. Your aversion to science is a little bizarre. It’s a hilarious idea that I am the one undertaking special pleading. Why on earth would any sane person let a Christian get away with claiming that an unexplained phenomenon is the work of God, without even a sniff of an attempt to explain or even link the two things beyond your hunch?? There’s lightening, it must be a miracle from God. In your world, there is nothing wrong with that statement – woe betide anyone who either attempts to link lightening to God, or searches for alternative solutions.

  12. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    I’m disappointed to hear that you think that my understanding of the theory of evolution is ‘remarkably naive’. Unfortunately it is your remarks here which are remarkably naive! You speak of contrary evidence to evolution and my dismissal of these, but the academic field of biology is the best indicator of the theory, just as the physics field is the best indicator of Einstein’s gravity, and it is incredibly strong. But no doubt you don’t think the academic field is the best indicator, which is crazy frankly.

    “I’d be skeptical”

    Good, since you hadn’t verified it for yourself.

    “and this was, per standard scientific rigor, a repeatable phenomenon”

    But what if these people claimed that it wasn’t repeatable? Why would that not be okay? And why is it okay for christians to claim that their miracles aren’t repeatable?

    It occurs to me that the game of the person who wants to believe things for which there is little or no evidence is to continually keep things unfalsifiable and unverifiable. That way no matter how anything turns out they can always justify their beliefs. Can you make any falsifiable statements Bnonn? Do you have knowledge of anything at all which, if it wasn’t for your ‘correct’ worldview, you wouldn’t otherwise know? If there isn’t anything, then what is the value of your worldview apart from warm fuzzies via delusion? If there is, please make some predictions. If you can’t then I should probably do the only rational thing – walk away and ignore you.
     

  13. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    why is it okay for christians to claim that their miracles aren’t repeatable?

    Since miracles are, by definition, a suspension of natural laws, it doesn’t make sense to expect them to be repeatable. That doesn’t mean they can’t be well-documented when they occur, though.

    But your example of abiogenesis operates within natural laws; indeed, is governed by them. So if it could not be replicated, then the original experiment would be cast in doubt.

    It occurs to me that the game of the person who wants to believe things
    for which there is little or no evidence is to continually keep things
    unfalsifiable and unverifiable.

    Go ahead and investigate the evidence for miracles yourself. You can’t just keep throwing out “little or no evidence” as if that’s an accepted fact. It simply isn’t. You’re begging the question, and that’s all.

    Can you make any falsifiable statements Bnonn?

    Since much of the Bible is historical narrative of one kind or another, there are plenty of falsifiable statements in it. Unfortunately, no one so far has falsified any.

    Do you have knowledge of anything at all which, if it wasn’t for your ‘correct’ worldview, you wouldn’t otherwise know?

    The gospel…? I don’t get what you’re driving at. Obviously Christianity contains myriad unique truth-claims that, if indeed true, cannot be known in any other way than via God’s revelation in Scripture.

    If there isn’t anything, then what is the value of your worldview apart from warm fuzzies via delusion?

    Even if there wasn’t anything (which I deny), why do you imply that the only value of a worldview is to furnish knowledge we wouldn’t otherwise have?

    The primary value of Christianity is in the salvation it offers. Surely eternal life is more valuable than eternal damnation + trivia.

    And what about explanatory power as well? Doesn’t the explanatory power of a worldview count for anything?

  14. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Tom, this comment got caught in the queue for some reason. Sorry about that.

    Anyway, I deny that the generally accepted variable in morality is the wellbeing of conscious creatures. That just seems to beg the question in favor of utilitarianism, which is an unsustainable moral framework.

    Jesus prompts us to feed the poor, be charitable, comfort the sick.

    Which is why Christians believe we are obliged to do these things—because God commands it. That is what the “variable” is for Christians.

    However, it goes without saying that while God commands these things, he himself has the ability to fullfil them instantly. He could have created  world without suffering in the first place. So your comment that “God therefore implicitly permits suffering and chooses NOT to reduce it in certain places” seems, at best, naive. Why not just make the much stronger objection that God should not permit suffering at all?

    You’re basically just rehashing the problem of evil, with a specific focus on miracles in the West thrown in as red herring. Perhaps not intentionally, but that’s what it amounts to—clearly your larger concern is with God allowing suffering in the first place. But that’s a dead-end argument, as I’ve discussed in the past.

  15. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    “Since miracles are, by definition, a suspension of natural laws, it doesn’t
    make sense to expect them to be repeatable.

    Yes it does! If christianity is true then I would expect that praying to
    Jesus would yeild results. If praying to Jesus actually works then this is a
    miracle in that it wouldn’t have happened if the person hadn’t prayed to Jesus.
    So, would you be prepared to put your money where your mouth is? Could you
    outline an investigation/study that you would expect would display christianity
    as outshining the rest in the area of prayer? But I’m not talking about past events or after-the-fact-reasoning like the bible or that miracle book you mention – there is a book for everything – I’m
    talking about a study, an experiment.

     

     

    “why do you imply that the only value of a worldview is to furnish knowledge
    we wouldn’t otherwise have?”

    Actually try to come up with a worldview which doesn’t give a person
    knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have. You won’t be able to.

     

    “The primary value of Christianity is in the salvation it offers.”
    That is knowledge, but it’s conveniently invisible, so unless you are prepared to make a measureable prediction about it, it’s as valid as reincarnation.

    “And what about explanatory power as well? Doesn’t the explanatory power
    of a worldview count for anything?”
    Not so much. I’m sure I could come up with a religion which explains much more than christianity. I wouldn’t stop at the rainbow I’d go on to explain why leaves are flat, why rocks are hard and many, many other just so after-the-fact stories. Then my religion would explain the most!
    What matters is falsifiability. The future. So, please, outline a study.

     

     

     
     

  16. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Peanut…

    Yes it does! If christianity is true then I would expect that praying to
    Jesus would yeild results.

    I take it you mean that prayer should always be efficacious within a certain timeframe. That seems to be what you’re implying when you say “if praying to Jesus actually works”. What I’m curious about is why you think Christianity predicts such an outcome.

    Since we’re applying the scientific method here, the hypothesis is presumably something along the following lines:

    If Christianity is true, praying to Jesus for healing will produce such healing within a certain timeframe, while not praying will not.

    But since Christianity’s theology of prayer does not predict such an outcome, this seems like a bad hypothesis. God is not an adult substitute for Santa—you don’t write him a letter when you want something and then wait for it to be delivered. Prayer is primarily a means of developing a relationship with and reliance upon God. Not all prayers are answered, not all prayers are answered immediately (indeed, the Bible places some value on perseverance in prayer), and not all prayers are answered in the way we expect.

    Even given these basic facts, let alone all the other variables involved, I don’t see any way that prayer could be reliably tested using the scientific method. We need to look to other kinds of evidence. And of that, there is far more than can be dismissed without prejudice.

    Actually try to come up with a worldview which doesn’t give a person
    knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have. You won’t be able to… [salvation] is knowledge, but it’s conveniently invisible

    I think I see what you’re getting at here. You’re saying that the primary purpose of any given worldview is to furnish some uniquely valuable knowledge? Like salvation, for example? I’m curious what the primary purpose of an atheistic worldview is in that case.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “invisible” knowledge here. Do you just mean knowledge which cannot be empirically tested? It’s hard to see why that should be a problem, since much of our most fundamental knowledge cannot be empirically tested.

    I’m sure I could come up with a religion which explains much more than christianity.

    Really? You think you can do better than thousands of years of attempts by some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers the world has seen? Go on then.

    Bear in mind that you’re going to have to plausibly explain issues like subjective experience, the unity/plurality problem, the vast plethora of miracle reports, the reliability of the senses, the ontology of moral norms, the correlation of the senses to reality, the explicability of the empirical universe, why empirical laws can be modeled using mental rules, the origin and nature of logic, and so on.

    I think you really haven’t considered the implications of that little off-hand remark :)

  17. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    “Yes
    it does! If christianity is true then I would expect that praying to
    Jesus would yeild results.”

    I agree.
    A number of studies have been done on intercediary prayer (especially relating
    to the health of participants, given the tendency for quack pastors to claim
    healing powers) and revealed the complete absence of a correlation. In fact the
    last study I read of found that those who received prayer and KNEW they were
    receiving it had MORE complications following equivalent surgery, than did
    other control groups.

    Bnonn,
    you are a frustrating sounding board for these ideas. First, it’s worth
    pointing out something you are already well aware of – that you are absolutely
    at odds with a large number (dare I say, majority) of others who call
    themselves Christians – who have completely different expectations when it
    comes to prayer, and a completely different interpretation of miracles.
    Conceding this (as I’m sure you do) your only option is to claim a higher or at
    least more nuanced understanding of Christianity than that of your peers. Implied, it
    must be nice that God has revealed himself more entirely to you than to others
    (oh yes, I enjoyed writing that line).

    ‘But
    since Christianity’s theology of prayer does not
    predict such an outcome’

    According
    to you. I’ve been to at least 8 churches in Auckland and Brisbane that predict
    exactly such an outcome.

    More to
    the point, however, you are simply hedging your bets – so that, as Peanut indicates,
    nothing you claim is falsifiable. Eternal salvation might be the entire point
    but it also one of the least demonstrable components of Christianity in a
    natural law (i.e. real world) sense. Because you cannot demonstrate what
    happens when we die beyond a theologically inspired hunch, agnostics and
    atheists take a great deal of interest in the aspects of faith that ARE
    falsifiable (specifically, how God intervenes in our lives on earth, and how he
    does not). This component of Christianity is, in fact, the only aspect myself
    and other atheists are interested in, given we discount spending eternity on a
    cloud with our grandparents as a likely outcome of death. When it comes to this
    component, I find myself unable to nail you or any other Christian down on
    specifics – because as soon as you say ‘oh yes, God does x, y and z,’ it
    becomes disputable, and also verifiable. In my view, you and other Christians adapt God to suit your own situation. Good or bad, fair or unfair, happy or not, God is doing exactly what he should be. Frankly, were I a good person and a Christian, I would expect more from God than you seem to.

    Prayer
    is primarily a means of developing a relationship with and reliance upon God.
    Not all prayers are answered, not all prayers are answered immediately (indeed,
    the Bible places some value on perseverance in prayer), and not all prayers are
    answered in the way we expect.

    You say ‘answered
    in the way we expect.’ Why on earth do you have any expectations at all, given
    the outcome of prayer is both random and often completely out odds with what
    you are praying for? In your framework, I might just as well pray that I get
    sicker than I already am. But I agree – we would develop a dependency on God if
    we used him to fill up all the uncertainties that surround us. If the bible
    places value on perseverance, then surely that is because in the long run
    prayers may be answered? This too would be falsifiable, but for your remaining
    caveat – ‘not answered in the way we expect.’ That is a complete non-statement.
    If we permit ‘God works in mysterious ways’ into the argument, then all bets
    are off. Essentially, the value of prayer to you is that it provides emotional
    stability via your id.

    I’m
    curious what the primary purpose of an atheistic worldview is in that case.

    Lastly,
    you should surely by now know that there is no such thing as ‘an atheistic
    world view.’ Non-belief in something cannot be the basis of a world view. You
    have an ‘atheistic world view’ if that is the case, given your consistent rejection
    of Thor and Mohammed.

  18. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Tom…

    A number of studies have been done on intercediary prayer

    I’ve already given my view on the soundness of scientifically investigating prayer, so there’s not much to say here.

    Implied, it must be nice that God has revealed himself more entirely to you than to others

    Or implied, I’m simply better schooled than most Christians. So what?

    I’ve been to at least 8 churches in Auckland and Brisbane that predict exactly such an outcome.

    The way you say this makes it sound like an objection. But we both agree that these churches are wrong—and we even agree on at least one of the proofs for why (the empirical evidence). So I’m puzzled about what your objection is.

    Many atheists disagree with you on certain issues as well. Does that mean I should doubt that you are right if I’ve studied the same issues and come to the same conclusions you have?

    More to the point, however, you are simply hedging your bets – so that, as Peanut indicates, nothing you claim is falsifiable.

    I’ve already given ample examples of claims that Christianity makes which are absolutely falsifiable. I just don’t think the fulfillment of prayer is one of them.

    we discount spending eternity on a cloud with our grandparents as a likely outcome of death.

    So do Christians, so that’s another point of agreement we have.

    Frankly, were I a good person and a Christian, I would expect more from God than you seem to.

    How do you mean?

    In your framework, I might just as well pray that I get sicker than I already am

    It’s hard to believe you’re not deliberately misunderstanding. Just because God doesn’t always give us the answer we were hoping for doesn’t mean we should ask for things we don’t want. How does that follow?

    If we permit ‘God works in mysterious ways’ into the argument, then all bets are off.

    So much the worse for your desire to test prayer empirically I guess. But since it is simply a truism that we don’t always understand how and why God works, for the obvious reason that we are not God and he has not told us, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to deal with it.

    Essentially, the value of prayer to you is that it provides emotional stability via your id.

    Sure, if you’re going to beg the question by assuming God’s non-existence, then reinterpret prayer according to your knowledge of pop psychology, then that’s exactly the value of prayer.

    you should surely by now know that there is no such thing as ‘an atheistic world view.’ Non-belief in something cannot be the basis of a world view.

    Firstly, casting the issue in terms of non-belief is a standard rhetorical tactic, but a transparently tendentious one. In fact, you do not merely lack belief in God, but you disbelieve in him.

    Secondly, the evidence clearly contradicts you, in that there are numerous atheists who define their worldviews in terms of disbelief in God. So I’m not sure what to say except point out this obvious fact.

    Thirdly, even if disbelief (or non-belief) in something could not be the basis of a worldview, it doesn’t follow that there is no such thing as an atheistic worldview. Obviously there is: any worldview which does not incorporate theistic assumptions is an a-theistic worldview. Again, this is obvious so it’s pretty strange that you make this claim.

    You have an ‘atheistic world view’ if that is the case, given your consistent rejection of Thor and Mohammed.

    I think you need to go and revisit your definition of atheism. Disbelieving in one kind of theism because I favor another kind does not make me an atheist O.o

  19. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    We could play this
    game all day…

    “I’ve already given my
    view on the soundness of scientifically investigating prayer, so there’s not
    much to say here.”

    By that I assume you
    mean there is no validity in testing the outcome of prayer… because it’s
    entirely random, or non-quantifiable, or in fact will disprove the Christian
    position that prayer has any tangible impact in terms of direct outcomes (i.e,
    what it is that you’re praying for). I mean ‘praying for strength’ is one
    thing, but it’s entirely indiscernible from non-religious practices such as
    meditation, and therefore has no use as a tool for validating God’s existence.
    While you may not use it for such purposes, most other Christians I know do,
    and seeing as I wouldn’t be going to church with you, but rather them, your
    unique position is unhelpful. Further, if you will put absolutely no weight on
    the outcome of prayer (I want to get better, I pray, nothing happens), then
    perhaps the purpose of prayer is ENTIRELY the building of the relationship with
    God, as you hinted? I would be happy with that as a position to argue against,
    but it begs the question of why bother requesting any specific when you pray in
    the first place.

    “Or implied, I’m
    simply better schooled than most Christians. So what?”

    It may be too opaque
    for you to see it, but the fundamental and almost complete fracturing of ‘Christianity’
    into contradictory beliefs is a very strong reason for non-Christians to
    dismiss it as a viable world view. You can’t even agree amongst yourselves! Not
    even close to it. In fact, as an apologist, YOU can’t even persuade people who
    ALREADY THINK THEY AGREE WITH YOU to concede fundamental and absolutely basic
    doctrinal points. Given your emphasis seems to be on emotions rather than
    outcomes when it comes to prayer and miracles, I will admit to you that I find
    other Christians, who disagree with you on these points, far more persuasive in
    a relative sense about the merits and truths of Christianity. People I know
    working for refugees in Uganda, for example. This is at least food for your
    thoughts, assuming that the salvation of lost souls (and not just your own) is
    a relevant goal for you, ‘being a Christian.’

    “The way you say this makes it sound like an
    objection. But we both agree that these churches are wrong—and we even agree on
    at least one of the proofs for why (the empirical evidence). So I’m puzzled about what your
    objection is.”

    As above. Given that
    this is such a common ‘misconception’ for so very many Christians, I’m a little
    concerned you will be somewhat lonely in Heaven.

    “Many atheists disagree with you on certain issues as well. Does that mean I
    should doubt that you are right if I’ve studied the same issues and come to the
    same conclusions you have?”

    No, and I think you continue
    to misunderstand this basic point on atheism. I don’t anticipate identifying
    with other atheists in any way, beyond an obvious non-belief. I would direct
    you to Dawkins or preferably Harris on this matter. See here:

    “The entirety of atheism is
    contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view
    of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we
    live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle.
    The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a
    thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It
    is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.”  – Harris

    “we discount spending eternity on a cloud with
    our grandparents as a likely outcome of death.

    So do Christians, so
    that’s another point of agreement we have.”

    For one, you are
    missing my point – simply that ‘going to heaven’ is a useless claim to a
    rational person seeking truth and wanting evidence. But, for the record, this
    adds to MY original, which is that what happens when you die, apparently the
    entire point, is another universal point of contention AMONGST CHRISTIANS! Ask
    two Christians what heaven looks like, see if you get the same answer. 

    “Frankly, were I a good person and a
    Christian, I would expect more from God than you seem to.

    How do you mean?

    In your framework, I might just as well pray
    that I get sicker than I already am

    It’s hard to believe you’re not deliberately misunderstanding. Just because God
    doesn’t always give us the answer we were hoping for doesn’t mean we should ask
    for things we don’t want. How does that
    follow?

    “So much the worse for
    your desire to test prayer empirically I guess. But since it is simply a truism
    that we don’t always understand how and why God works, for the obvious reason
    that we are not God and he has not told us, I’m afraid you’re just going to
    have to deal with it.”

    Unfortunately, the Bible
    disagrees with you here. John 15:7. God expects you to pray to him, expects you
    to ask for things, and expects to give them to you. Or else, here you go: http://www.allaboutprayer.org/prayer-in-the-bible-faq.htm

    “Sure, if you’re going
    to beg the question by assuming God’s non-existence, then reinterpret prayer
    according to your knowledge of pop psychology, then that’s exactly the value of
    prayer.”

    I’m not assuming God’s
    non-existence – that’s the point, I’m looking for evidence. Despite what other
    Christians, not to mention the bible, say about prayer, you are saying it’s not
    a relevant part of the search.

    “Firstly, casting the issue in terms of non-belief is a standard rhetorical
    tactic, but a transparently tendentious one. In fact, you do not merely lack belief in God, but you disbelieve in him.”

    I do not believe in
    the Christian god. Also, I don’t believe in Santa Claus. My non-belief in Santa
    Claus is not a worldview. The fact that the Christian God is obviously more
    complex, complete and apparently misunderstood does not make non-belief in him
    a world view, it just makes belief in him, in and of itself, a more entire
    world view for the believer. So what? Re-read the Harris quote.

    “Secondly, the evidence clearly contradicts you, in that there are numerous
    atheists who define their worldviews in terms of disbelief in God. So I’m not
    sure what to say except point out this obvious fact.”

    Name me one.
    Non-belief in God is inconsequential in forming your worldview, if you don’t
    believe in him! Rejecting the biblical framework is a pretty useless starting
    point in deciding what you DO believe. I’m not going to hell for thinking
    impure thoughts… I’m also not going to meet 72 virgins if I fly myself into a
    building full of Christians. Were it true, maybe I would consider it, but the
    obvious fact that it isn’t true isn’t useful in FORMING my world view. Re-read
    the Harris quote.

    “Thirdly, even if disbelief (or non-belief) in something could not be the basis
    of a worldview, it doesn’t follow that there is no such thing as an atheistic
    worldview. Obviously there is: any worldview which does not incorporate
    theistic assumptions is an a-theistic worldview. Again, this is obvious so it’s
    pretty strange that you make this claim.”

    You’re tying yourself
    in knots. Atheism is only necessary because of theism. It is not what defines
    my world view any more than disbelief in alchemy does. You’re giving
    Christianity, and archaic theism in general, too much credit here, I fear. Essentially
    – my world view is not defined by my atheism, so I would not accept having my
    worldview defined primarily by non-belief in something. Surely you can see why
    an atheist objects to being defined first and foremost by what they DON’T
    believe.

    “I think you need to go and revisit your definition of atheism.”

    Ditto.

  20. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Tom…

    seeing as I wouldn’t be going to church with you, but rather them, your unique position is unhelpful.

    I don’t mean to be unhelpful. I just don’t know what you’re looking for here. Okay, so some Christians mistakenly think prayer is an apologetic tool as well as a sanctification tool. What do you want to say to those Christians? Are you looking for a theological refutation? I recommend Vincent Cheung’s Prayer and Revelation: http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/prayrevel.pdf.

    if you will put absolutely no weight on the outcome of prayer (I want to get better, I pray, nothing happens), then perhaps the purpose of prayer is ENTIRELY the building of the relationship with God, as you hinted?

    That would follow if it was always the case that prayer was causally inert, as it were. But since that’s not the case, it doesn’t follow.

    It may be too opaque for you to see it, but the fundamental and almost complete fracturing of ‘Christianity’ into contradictory beliefs is a very strong reason for non-Christians to dismiss it as a viable world view.

    Am I to take it that you think the mere existence of disagreement mitigates against the possibility of discovering truth? Shall I go ahead and disagree with you then, so that you can’t think this is true any more? Might save you a lot of headaches in future.

    You can’t even agree amongst yourselves! Not even close to it.

    Since I don’t know why you think we should agree among ourselves, I can’t really comment. To me, the obvious reply is simply, “So what?”

    This is at least food for your thoughts, assuming that the salvation of lost souls (and not just your own) is a relevant goal for you, ‘being a Christian.’

    The only way this is food for thought is if you presuppose I’m wrong about the purpose of prayer. But since I maintain that prayer doesn’t have apologetic or evangelical value, except perhaps as related to miracles in specific situations, the fact that I’m discussing it with you is obviously unrelated to my wishing to convince you of the truth of Christianity.

    Sometimes it’s worthwhile to correct people’s understanding of theology, regardless of whether they believe that theology.

    Given that this is such a common ‘misconception’ for so very many Christians, I’m a little concerned you will be somewhat lonely in Heaven.

    Why do you think that believing the wrong thing about prayer has any bearing on one’s salvation? I’d need to see the argument for this implication to even be able to comment. As it is, your statement (yet again) just doesn’t follow.

    I don’t anticipate identifying with other atheists in any way, beyond an obvious non-belief.

    Really? You don’t anticipate identifying with their belief in evolution, their position on the nature of morality, their respect for science, and so on? You wouldn’t feel like someone was “letting down the team” if he believed in the supernatural (just not God) or used Christian arguments against the age of the earth?

    Okay. But the fact remains that Harris’s comments about atheism not being a view of the world are kinda obviously self-refuting.

    ‘going to heaven’ is a useless claim to a rational person seeking truth and wanting evidence.

    It’s only useless if you presuppose that there’s no such thing as sin or God or heaven or hell. It’s pretty useful if, in fact, those things do exist. And since there is plenty of evidence for Christianity—as indicated, for a start, by the fact that many of the world’s greatest thinkers both today and throughout history are Christians—there’s no problem with providing it.

    Ask two Christians what heaven looks like, see if you get the same answer.

    Since the Bible furnishes us with absolutely no concrete descriptions of heaven, the only correct answer is silence. All we know about heaven is that we will be in the presence of God, and it will be better than we can imagine.

    Unfortunately, the Bible disagrees with you here. John 15:7. God expects you to pray to him, expects you to ask for things, and expects to give them to you.

    Since you haven’t exegeted the passage, there’s nothing for me to respond to. I don’t recall ever denying that God expects us to pray to him, that he expects us to ask for things, or that he expects to give them to us. I’ve simply not taken a naively unqualified position.

    I’m not assuming God’s non-existence – that’s the point, I’m looking for evidence.

    You’re looking in the wrong place.

    My non-belief in Santa Claus is not a worldview.

    If millions of people seriously believed in Santa, then asantaism would be a worldview. Your analogy is transparently disanalagous.

    Name me one.

    Just about any new atheist patently takes the following approach to defining his reality:

    1. Assume there is no God
    2. Hate him.

    The fact that new atheists like Harris and Dawkins claim not to define their worldviews in terms of disbelief in God doesn’t make the slightest difference to what they actually do. Frankly, I think you need to be very credulous to take their word for it in the teeth of the obvious evidence of their actions. Anyone with eyes can see that they’re consumed by defining their worldviews in negative terms against God. “The End of Faith”, “The God Delusion”, “God is Not Great”, “Letter to a Christian Nation”, “Godless”, “The End of Christianity”. Come on, you’re a smart guy. Why are you denying the obvious?

    It is not what defines my world view any more than disbelief in alchemy does.

    If you spent as much time debating alchemists on alchemy blogs, I’d be more inclined to believe you. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests you’re just kidding yourself. As William Lane Craig observes,

    “I think they hang onto this [definition] because it excuses them from engaging in the intellectual hard work of trying to justify their position. They don’t have to offer then any justification for what they believe. They just say, ‘well I lack this belief.’ And it’s really intellectual laziness.”

    And you might want to read what philosopher Bill Vallicella has to say about this “terminological mischief”: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/05/against-terminological-mischief-negative-atheism-and-negative-nominalism.html

    That’s all I’ll say on the topic, though, since it’s really neither here nor there.

  21. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Bnonn.

    “Prayer is primarily a means of developing a relationship with and reliance upon God.”

    Okay, so we can work with this. What would you expect would be the measurable effects of developing a relationship and reliance upon god? We can then do a study and compare these effects with people who pray within other religions, and with people who meditate etc. So, what would you say are the measurable effects of praying to the christian god?

    “We need to look to other kinds of evidence.”

    Like the evidence for reincarnation, yes?
    http://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Reincarnation-Evidence-Past-Life-Experiences/dp/0712660208/ref=sr_1_sc_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330128392&sr=1-2-spell

    “I think I see what you’re getting at here. You’re saying that the
    primary purpose of any given worldview is to furnish some uniquely valuable knowledge? Like salvation, for example? I’m curious what the primary purpose of an atheistic worldview is in that case.”

    Well, True knowledge. Knowledge which accurately reflects the Real World. And if one has True knowledge about the Real World then one should be able to predict things. Like salvation as you point out. If your worldview is True then you should be correct that there is an afterlife. Unfortunately though, the purported afterlife is shielded from objective observation. It’s conveniently unfalsifiable And it had to be, for if wasn’t it would be proven false and religion would have to drop it.
    The atheistic view furnishes me with plenty of falsifiable claims, like the claim that prayer will be as effective in any religion, since there is no god.

    “Really? You think you can do better than thousands of years of attempts
    by some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers the world has seen? Go
    on then.”
    Er…I don’t think that philosophers were trying to invent a religion. L. Ron Hubbard did it though!

    “Bear in mind that you’re going to have to plausibly explain…”

    Hehehe, it’s funny that you unabashedly use the word ‘plausibly’. Adherents of other religions hold their explanations as being as plausible as you do yours, and think their reasons are objective just as you do. But I don’t count my worldview along with religions because my worldview is falsifiable.

  22. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    P.S. I almost forgot to adress this:

    “It’s hard to see why that should be a problem, since much of our most fundamental knowledge cannot be empirically tested.”

    I would like to know what knowledge you mean here. I can’t think of any knowledge that can’t be tested empirically.

  23. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

     

    But I don’t count my worldview along with religions because my worldview is falsifiable.

    Please explain how atheism – the belief that there is no God(s)/ lack of belief in God(s) – is falsifiable?

  24. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Hi Bsquibs,

    The theory that there is no god predicts many things which are testable and falsifiable. For instance, my knowledge that there is no god would be falsified if: God revealed himself to me, miracles reliably occurred when praying to god, prayer studies revealed that prayer actually works, evolution had poor evidence and species looked like they were just created independently, evidence that the world/universe was only six thousand years old, people got what they deserved – innocent people weren’t tortured to death, and on and on.

  25. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Oh come now Peanut. God revealing himself to you would not falsify atheism. It would falsify your belief in atheism. When atheists are converted to Christianity through an experience of God, other atheists dismiss it as a delusion.

    If miracles occurred reliably when praying to God, that would not falsify atheism. Rather, atheists would take this as evidence of some natural ability we have to cause seemingly supernatural events, which is triggered in certain conditions.

    Evolution does have poor evidence, and species do look like they were just created independently. So obviously that doesn’t falsify atheism—at least not for atheists.

    How would evidence for a young earth falsify atheism?

    And as for people getting what they deserve, firstly that isn’t falsifiable in principle, since what people deserve is not the purview of science. And secondly, since Christianity holds that people get what they deserve at the final judgment, you can’t say this has been falsified anyway without begging the question.

    You’re just taking some ad hoc objections to Christianity and pretending they’re evidence for atheism. But they’re not. I wonder if you even understand the scientific method if you think falsifying these kinds of evidence would falsify atheism.

    I would like to know what knowledge you mean here. I can’t think of any knowledge that can’t be tested empirically.

    How about your knowledge that a world exists independently of you? How about your knowledge that your senses are accurate? How about your knowledge about the regularity of nature? C’mon.

    More later.

  26. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Bnonn,

    Oooh, that was quick!

    Um, yeap, certainly if god revealed himself to me it would only change my mind, though it might open up people who know me who are atheists a little, depending on the experience I could relate I guess.

    But I think that atheists are right to dismiss people’s experiences of god, because for everyone who claims to have had an experience there is another claiming contrary things in another religion.

    “If miracles occurred reliably when praying to God, that would not
    falsify atheism. Rather, atheists would take this as evidence of some
    natural ability we have to cause seemingly supernatural events, which is
    triggered in certain conditions.”

    This is completely incorrect. We would easily be able to tell the difference. One only needs to pray to ‘the universe’ or grass or plato and receive no supernatural happening to tell the difference.

    “Evolution does have poor evidence, and species do look like they were
    just created independently. So obviously that doesn’t falsify atheism—at
    least not for atheists.”

    I…….all I can do is marvel at the ignorance of your statement about poor evidence, Bnonn. I have a great book I can send you, written by a catholic biologist, if you wish. Most religious people just seem ignorant about just how much evidence there is. I have opened up a few eyes with it.

    But species look like others, and have vestigial organs, and their genetics are telling. (I’m ignoring archeological evidence here.)
    For example, one of our chromosomes (#3 I  think) is the fusing of two chromosomes of chimps – heck there are even the remnants of the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ sequences where they fused! If species’ did not evolve from common ancestors and were created in situ I would expect that their genetics would be very different, and I CERTAINLY wouldn’t expect to see fused chromosomes.
    Like most/all(?) land mammals, whales and dolphins have one bone, then two bones, then five bones on their fins. And they’re mammals! If they were created in situ I would expect that they would have fins like fish, who do fine without those bones, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to find the suspicious fact that the sea animals which have this bone pattern are mammals.
    Why do the most intelligent non-human species look like us? That’s suspicious.

    “How would evidence for a young earth falsify atheism?”

    You’re right I’m conflating ideas a bit. But for one thing, if the earth was only, say, six thousand years old then that wouldn’t leave nearly enough time for species’ to have evolved from common ancestors, and so the likelihood that species were zapped into place by a god becomes much more probable.

    “And as for people getting what they deserve, firstly that isn’t falsifiable in principle…”

    You’re right here in that I haven’t made a statement about atheism being falsifiable, I have made a statement about what I would expect if there was a god. Sorry.

    “I wonder if you even understand the scientific method if you think falsifying these kinds of evidence would falsify atheism.”

    They would, I’m afraid. If praying to god yeilded results, if species looked like they were created, if the universe looked very young, and if god revealed himself to me – all of these things would go quite a way towards falsifying atheism (for me).

  27. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Bnonn,

    “I would like to know what knowledge you mean here. I can’t think of any knowledge that can’t be tested empirically.”

    “How about your knowledge that a world exists independently of you?
    How about your knowledge that your senses are accurate? How about your
    knowledge about the regularity of nature? C’mon.”

    I’m afraid your thinking here is a little off. I have a very good answers to these. I’m sure you’ll agree with me once I explain.
    For your first question, presumably you believe that you know that the world exists independent of you. But how do you know? What did you use to determine this? Whatever you used – it doesn’t matter what – how do you know that it is not just a phantasm of your own self? Answer: you can’t. You can’t know the answer to this question any more than anyone else can!
    Unless you claim to have some sense that I do not. And even if you do claim this, how do you know you can trust it?

    Now why don’t I, as a non-theist, just start shooting people at random since they might just be imaginary anyway? The answer is NOT because I believe that they are Real despite my not knowing whether they are or not. The answer is that I have had a realistic definition of “Real” all along. A definition that is rooted in this world, not some imaginary one.

    Notice how your first question belongs to a little class of statements/questions called the Unfalsifiable. There is no way to falsify it. None at all! Because anything that you might think you know could just be something that is not independent of you. And because it is completely indeterminable, no knowledge can come from it. KNOWLEDGE CAN ONLY COME FROM THE FALSIFIABLE. Which is to say, things that are empirical.

    Your second question is essentially the same as the first.

    Your third question seems to assume that you have some knowledge about the regularity of nature that I do not. Even if you were told by god “nature will be regular” (and you could somehow determine that this was independent of yourself (question one)), you still would not be able to predict anything better than I can, and so this is not knowledge either!

    I trust that you will agree with my points here. But I am worried that you will avoid the very important conversation we were having earlier, so I will paste it here:

    Bnonn.

    “Prayer is primarily a means of developing a relationship with and reliance upon God.”

    Okay,
    so we can work with this. What would you expect would be the measurable
    effects of developing a relationship and reliance upon god? We can then
    do a study and compare these effects with people who pray within other
    religions, and with people who meditate etc. So, what would you say are
    the measurable effects of praying to the christian god?

    “We need to look to other kinds of evidence.”

    Like the evidence for reincarnation, yes?
    http://www.amazon.com/Explorin

    “I think I see what you’re getting at here. You’re saying that the
    primary
    purpose of any given worldview is to furnish some uniquely valuable
    knowledge? Like salvation, for example? I’m curious what the primary
    purpose of an atheistic worldview is in that case.”

    Well, True
    knowledge. Knowledge which accurately reflects the Real World. And if
    one has True knowledge about the Real World then one should be able to
    predict things. Like salvation as you point out. If your worldview is
    True then you should be correct that there is an afterlife.
    Unfortunately though, the purported afterlife is shielded from objective
    observation. It’s conveniently unfalsifiable And it had to be, for if
    wasn’t it would be proven false and religion would have to drop it.
    The
    atheistic view furnishes me with plenty of falsifiable claims, like the
    claim that prayer will be as effective in any religion, since there is
    no god.

    “Really? You think you can do better than thousands of years of attempts
    by some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers the world has seen? Go
    on then.”
    Er…I don’t think that philosophers were trying to invent a religion. L. Ron Hubbard did it though!

    “Bear in mind that you’re going to have to plausibly explain…”

    Hehehe,
    it’s funny that you unabashedly use the word ‘plausibly’. Adherents of
    other religions hold their explanations as being as plausible as you do
    yours, and think their reasons are objective just as you do. But I don’t
    count my worldview along with religions because my worldview is
    falsifiable.

  28. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    “They
    would, I’m afraid. If praying to god yeilded results, if species looked like
    they were created, if the universe looked very young, and if god revealed
    himself to me – all of these things would go quite a way towards falsifying
    atheism (for me).”

    Peanut, I agree.
    I understand why you do it, but there is no need to qualify that statement with
    ‘for me.’ The qualification opens up the argument that your conversion may
    simply be a delusion, and consequently that the conversion itself has no empirical value (an ironic
    argument coming from a theist, but regardless one I have heard before).

    Underpinning atheism is the obvious point that there is no logic or reason in believing
    something on (woefully) insufficient evidence. I have been pushing this point
    with Bnonn – the methods of God’s interaction with humans (including the more
    obtuse process of ‘creation’) are the most obvious and rational opportunity for
    theists to ‘provide’ evidence. Any rational human being would be converted to
    theism on sufficient evidence, and this might be one or more of the aspects you
    outline.

    Unfortunately,
    as this thread demonstrates, apologists refuse to be pegged down on specifics
    when it comes to God’s interventions in human life, for very good reason; there is no strong,
    falsifiable, tangible evidence for their specific belief system (unless you
    include the ‘historical record’ – self-evidently insufficient given the growth
    of atheism in societies where free-thought is encouraged. If it were sufficient, it would be sufficiently persuasive – unless I and other atheists are all idiots (not completely impossible)). Thus, things like prayer
    and miracles become worthless as pieces of the puzzle in the ‘search for God.’
    Prayer sometimes works, but ‘not in the way we expect,’ miracles exist but when
    they are disproven it has no consequence for the existence of God… these
    statements are so broad, they are useless in the discussion.

    It’s worth
    adding an obvious point, made at the start of Bertrand Russell’s ‘celestial
    teapot’ argument:

    ‘Many
    orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove
    received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a
    mistake.’

  29. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘Oh come now Peanut. God revealing himself to you would not falsify atheism. It would falsify your belief in atheism. When atheists are converted to Christianity through an experience of God, other atheists dismiss it as a delusion.’

    Hah! There is a big difference between ‘an experience of God’ and evidence for the existence of God. And, yet again, I’m going to insist that there is no such thing as ‘a belief in atheism.’ You may well see it as semantics, but that is only because you don’t understand the concept. Atheism is the non-belief in God, it is does not imply a belief in something specific, additional to that obvious.

  30. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    I think there is such thing as a belief in atheism. The core of atheism is a null point in that it is waiting for theists to prove that there is a god, but one still goes on and lives one’s life as though theists never will come up with proof – one has to!

  31. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

    So atheists sit there passively waiting for theists to “prove” that there is a God or Gods? That is a truly unique belief.

  32. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    David,

    Attention to context invalidates the accusation of contradiction and intellectually dishonesty made in the video you referenced. The radio interview was with respect to how he conducts academic debates. The TV conversation was with respect to the content of New Atheist books.
    You may be interested to know that this video has decisively been refuted with respect to the Tumetrics ranking.
    Also, I wonder what academic works of Craig’s you have interacted with? Don’t tell me all you’ve done is watch a few YouTube vids. Else your criticism above is totally empty and shows an deplorable lack intellectual honesty. How (and why) do you call his books awful?
    Sincerely,

  33. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Bsquibs,

    Certainly atheists wait for a god to be shown to them. Otherwise they would have to believe any crazy claim.

    I didn’t realize that Craig was such an academic non-event!

  34. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    “So atheists sit there passively waiting for theists to “prove” that there is a God or Gods? That is a truly unique belief.”

    ….. I don’t think I understand your tone!?? I don’t know about ‘passive,’ but apart  from that – what is the alternative? What alternative, rational way forward is there? Why do you have ‘prove’ in inverted commas? You seem like you’re admitting the fact that there is no proof?

    My experience was so: I was presented with a claim of ultimate truth (that the Christian God is real, Jesus loves us, etc etc), I spent an unusually long time investigating the claim (mostly out of fascination oscillating between amusement and horror), and concluded that the evidence was so weak and uncompelling, and that Christians are so dramatically unable to offer any sort of proof, that it was obvious the truth of the universe was elsewhere.

    I really need to insist, though, that as apologists you stop calling atheism a ‘belief.’ It is certainly not a ‘unique’ belief. It is the default position of any human being not born into indoctrination and with access to modern education and science. Maybe you end with a pantheist or an agnostic, but generally, an atheist.

    Atheism is the non-belief in your God. It doesn’t tell you anything about what I do believe, it just tells you what I don’t believe.

  35. Peanutaxis
    Peanutaxis says:

    Craig is not a philosopher of science. He is a Christian apologist. Personally I quite respect his arguments, he takes them as far as they can go, which is not very far considering the complete dearth of evidence for most of what he believes.

  36. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Peanutaxis,

    You state, “Craig is not a philosopher of science. He is a Christian apologist.”
    You say this like the two are mutually exclusive. The above is like someone saying “Richard Dawkins is not a zoologist. He’s an atheist.”
    You state, (1) “I quite respect his arguments…” and (2) “[there is] a complete dearth of evidence for most of what he believes.”
    You say this like the two are compatible. Again, this is like some like me saying, “Dawkins’ arguments are great. But his logic is shocking!”
    I was wondering if you actually believe what you say? Because by all appearances your remarks here are insulting to your intelligence.

  37. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Adding to that, he is a bigot.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOBsUP0N3tQ

    He explains that homosexuality is morally wrong, lists it alongside sex with animals as ‘prohibited by God,’ shows his hand a little too much by claim gay sex is ‘unfulfilling,’ and then says that it’s obvious being gay is bad because homosexuals have a high rate of depression! Well thanks, Sherlock – I can’t image why!

    I’m sorry, but given his God-like status on this website, I’m a little concerned for your judgement. I hope no-one here has ever enjoyed ‘sexual activity outside of marriage’ lest you be on par with being gay in the eyes of your hero.

  38. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Tom,

    Your problem isn’t with Craig. Its with God.

    Let me ask you this… If God existed and made sex sacred, would such things as homosexuality be wrong?
    This is where the debate on homosexuality belongs. It’s certainly not advanced by showing your bigotry towards Craig.

  39. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ??? Did you watch the video? Against clear scientific understanding, Craig continues to argue the idea that being gay is a lifestyle choice, something you choose, something to be resisted. This is a stone-age and extremely harmful idea to push, and it is particularly harmful for gay Christians, including friends of mine too terrified to be honest with their families. Craig is a conscious bigot on this subject, whether you can see it or not. This is obviously a huge segue, but the point is quite important.

    And: False – that is where YOUR attitude toward homosexuality begins. You will appreciate that for people like me, and more importantly, most gay people, adopting the atheist point of view ONLY when relevant (i.e. when talking to people like Craig), God is not part of the equation. You want to frame your world view with a patently immoral God with respect to things like homosexuality, that’s your business, but don’t deceive yourself to thinking that this framework can be imposed on other people – especially not the people whom are actually relevant.

    And please don’t patronise me. My problem is with Craig, the real, influential person with poor ideas about ethics and morality. My ‘problem’ with God is limited to the influence ‘He’ has on people like Craig, and subsequently on people like you.

    Lastly, to answer your question – if God exists, and sex is sacred, and further – homosexuality exists, and is a ‘genetic defect’ in some people created ‘in his image’ (Craig is willing to ‘concede’ this point) – then what you have is a God who has deliberately created people who are unable to be sacred. What you have found, Stuart, is that in this scenario, God – not homosexuality – is wrong.

  40. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Well you’re being a bit selective Stuart, given the qualification Peanut used: ‘which is not very far considering the complete dearth of evidence for most of what he believes.’ Putting aside the issue of homosexuality, Craig has complex and superficially compelling arguments, but he is still wrong.  

  41. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

     ‘I hope no-one here has ever enjoyed ‘sexual activity outside of marriage’  – it might sound rhetorical, but let’s pretend it’s not. Let’s assume I know more about you than you would like. How do you differentiate yourself from your homosexual contemporaries, given Craig’s parallels between being gay, and being single and active in any way, or (dare I say it) beastiality? Is it by virtue of you seeking (or having already found) one day, to be in a committed married relationship? Maybe a gay person could be gay up until he or she gets married – it’s equivalent to being a normal young male, is it not?

  42. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Tom…

    I really need to insist, though, that as apologists you stop calling
    atheism a ‘belief.’ It is certainly not a ‘unique’ belief. It is the
    default position of any human being not born into indoctrination and
    with access to modern education and science.

    Since yours is an evidence-based worldview, could you provide some evidence for this claim?

    It seems pretty far-fetched to me. I’d like to see the evidence behind it so I can understand why you think it’s worth believing.

    Thanks.

  43. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Tom…

    Craig continues to argue the idea that being gay is a lifestyle choice,
    something you choose, something to be resisted. This is a stone-age and
    extremely harmful idea to push, and it is particularly harmful for gay
    Christians, including friends of mine too terrified to be honest with
    their families. Craig is a conscious bigot on this subject

    I’m not seeing the relation between believing that being gay is a lifestyle choice, believing that being gay is wrong, and being a bigot.

    Assuming that Craig believes mistakenly that all gays simply choose their sexual orientation, how does this make him a bigot?

    Assuming that Craig believes (let’s say mistakenly for the sake of argument) that homosexuality is a sin, how does this make him a bigot?

    I’m not seeing the connection. Perhaps you could enlighten me. It sounds like you’re saying he’s a bigot just because he disagrees with you. But I’m sure that can’t be what you’re implying.

    You want to frame your world view with a patently immoral God with
    respect to things like homosexuality, that’s your business, but don’t
    deceive yourself to thinking that this framework can be imposed on other
    people

    Just a couple of questions:

    1. Is it objectively true that God is patently immoral, or is it just your opinion? If the latter, why are you trying to impose your opinion on us? If the former, what makes God immoral?

    2. If, for the sake of argument, God exists and homosexuality is wrong, then in what sense are we deceiving ourselves when we think that this framework can be imposed on other people? Would it not be you who was deceived, while we had a fairly good understanding of things? How are you not just begging the question here?

  44. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

     Tom, like many Christians, I was converted after having been involved in extra-marital relationships. You don’t need to know more about me than I’d like to know that I had a girlfriend before I became a Christian, and that our relationship was openly sexual.

    I guess I don’t understand your question. Do I think that what I did was sinful? Obviously. Was it as sinful as homosexuality? Well, I think the Bible shows us that homosexuality is a particularly gross kind of sexual sin—a kind of depravity God gives people over to only in more extreme cases. So perhaps “ordinary” extra-marital sex is not as severe in God’s eyes, in a general sense—but it would depend on the situation.

    I don’t really get your question though.

  45. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    I know Craig’s position so don’t need to watch the video. And he’s right. Insofar as homosexuality is construed as the _act_ of same-gender sexual intercourse, homosexuality is a choice. Insofar as homosexuality is construed as a desire for same-gender-nookie, even if this desire is genetic, it would still be wrong (that is, if God made sex sacred).
    You say, “don’t deceive yourself to thinking that this framework can be imposed on other people . . .” Thats just relativism. Which is false if God exists and made sex sacred. Thus, this _is_ where the debate should lie.
    In Christian theology God created everyone, and ALL are unable to be sacred apart from him and his grace. In Christian theology the ‘image of God’ has nothing to do with physicality, which includes a personal genes (‘defective’ or not). Thus, your theological argument for the immorality of God is poor; you have not sufficiently engaged with Christian theology to lodge a valid critque: your premises being false.

  46. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Forget about the degree of how sinful some sex is. I have no qualm believing all extra-maritlal sex is wrong (and that some is nonetheless enjoyable), but this is irrelevant. What matters in this discussion is whether homosexuality is wrong. And it clearly is – if God made sex sacred.

  47. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    ‘You say, “don’t deceive yourself to thinking that this framework can be imposed on other people . . .” Thats just relativism. Which is false if God exists and made sex sacred. Thus, this _is_ where the debate should lie.’

    No it’s not relativism, I’m just dismissing your starting point of ‘God created….’ especially given how uncompelling the argument is. So I can say the same thing – your premise is false. In fact, you can have a debate about the morality of homosexuality regardless of your premise. That is, whether you believe in God or not. Given that we know homosexuality is NOT a lifestyle choice, and given that my gay friends do not seem to threaten the stability of society by engaging in same-sex relationships (yawn), I, alongside most non-religious people, do not consider homosexuality to be ‘wrong’ any more than I consider masturbation or making love to be ‘wrong.’ You have to accept the blind idea that ‘God says x, so x must be so’ in order to find an argument for why homosexuality is wrong. It’s a weak starting point and it gives you a weak argument.

    Religious suspicions of sex are far more disturbing than sex itself. I saw old Santorum claiming that ‘sensuality’ was what the Devil was using to bring down the USA. Sensuality???

Newer Comments »

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *