Saturday, May 13, 2006

Beckthrick in his little box


My attention is often piqued when a Christian apologist insinuates that a proposal under consideration is deemed "unlikely."

Of course, we should not expect any New Testament writer to have come forward to correct the record if in fact any of these alleged eyewitnesses did discover that they were mistaken. But there is an even larger concern here. While we are told that coincidental mass hallucination "seems unlikely," this is stated in the context of a defense of a belief system which tells us that "all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26), that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that dead people rose from their graves (cf. Mt. 27:52-53), that serpents and donkeys and burning bushes speak in human languages, that water was turned into wine by a wish, etc. To assess the likelihood of some event or occurrence under consideration, a thinker, whether he realizes it or not, is making reference to fundamental premises that he holds about the world in general. As some apologists might say, he is "invoking his worldview presuppositions." Greg Bahnsen explains:
presuppositions have the greatest authority in one's thinking, being treated as your least negotiable belief and being granted the highest immunity to revision.(5)

What 'seems likely' to me is that the apologist is not mindfully conscious of his own worldview's basic premises and their implications as they concern the issues on which he makes such pronouncements. He is torn between the premises of the position he wants to defend, and premises he employs in that position's defense: on the one hand, the Christian's position affirms a fanciful, cartoon-like view of the universe where anything the ruling consciousness wishes is not only possible, but the very standard of reality as such; while on the other hand he seeks to dismiss alternatives to his paradigm on the basis that certain elements of those alternatives "seem unlikely." There's a fundamental inconsistency here, one that usually runs along undetected by the believer as he insists on a fantasy while illicitly borrowing from a reality-based worldview. On the basis of my worldview's fundamentals, I can consistently suppose that it is "highly unlikely" that a group of individuals will have the same hallucination, complete with shared uniform details, and for reasons not unlike those which Jason himself has mentioned. For instance, an hallucination is not only an individual and private experience, its distortion of what one perceives is most likely to be influenced by such an enormous number of imperceptible factors that it would be essentially unrepeatable. But if I held to the view that the universe is run by a magic spirit who choreographs all events in human history according to a divine "plan," on what grounds could I confidently say that uniform hallucinatory experiences shared by even enormous numbers of human beings is either "unlikely" or impossible? Blank out.


Although this comment is directed at Jason, it’s also given a general application.

But Dawson’s objection is a cute rather than acute argument.

i) He is confounding psychological probability with metaphysical probability. Whether miracles are likely are not is a metaphysical question.

To draw inferences from metaphysical probability to psychological probability is a category mistake.

Whether inanimate water can turn into inanimate wine is irrelevant to whether the Apostles would die for a lie.

Whether an angel can speak from a burning bush is irrelevant to the implausibility of mass hallucination.

Indeed, to elaborate on that very illustration, which Bethrick brought up, Moses reacts to the burning bush with a very “natural” curiosity.

And his reluctant reaction to the summons of God is amusing to readers precisely because it’s so recognizably realistic, as he flails about for any excuse to escape his calling.

In his initial amazement and subsequence evasiveness we can all see ourselves.

ii) It is also utterly sophistical to accept, for the sake of argument, the God of the Bible, only to turn such a God against his own designs by proposing that he would deceive his own people.

If he would deceive his own people, then we couldn’t trust the depiction of God on which Dawson’s hypothetical is predicated.

The fundamental inconsistency belongs to Dawson, when he cynically floats the trustworthy self-revelation of an untrustworthy God.

If God is untrustworthy, then his self-revelation is untrustworthy, in which case the depiction of a God who can do anything, on which Bethrick bases his hypothetical, is untrustworthy as well. For such a God would be devious in what he says as well as what he does.

So Dawson’s attempt at a clever refutation proves to be self-refuting.

iii) Dawson’s appeal to a “reality-based” worldview is question-begging. What is real? How do we know what is real? There are only two or three ways: by intuition, or observation, or revelation.

Rupert Sheldrake has made a career of investigating natural phenomena which the scientific establishment studiously ignores because such ordinary phenomena are far too extraordinary to slip through its preconceived filter of reality.

Although the parapsychological literature contains a fair amount of fraud, there also remain a fair number of case studies involving hauntings, healings, possession, precognition and the like which are quite resistant to naturalistic analysis.

This sort of thing is routinely ignored or round-filed, not for lack of evidence, but because it cannot be squeezed into the naturalistic little box of secular scientism.

Dawson Bethrick's "Not Impossible" Speculations

Dawson Bethrick has written a response to the material posted at this blog in recent days on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Bethrick's article addresses a large number of issues, makes many assertions it doesn't even attempt to support, and ignores much of what Steve and I have already said. Bethrick interacts with some portions of the material I linked to in my earlier articles, but he often ignores other portions that are relevant to the claims he's making.

Though he quotes me saying that historical judgments about Jesus' resurrection involve probability, not certainty, Bethrick often acts as if the issue is certainty. He refers to how it's "not impossible" that people experienced a subjective vision, as if the issue at hand is what's possible. Near the end of his article, he comments:

"In the final analysis, the proposal that hallucinations or other subjective factors played a role in the development of early Christian accounts, is not as implausible or 'unlikely' as these apologists would like to believe."

If the subjective vision theory is unlikely, then we should reject it, even if it's not as unlikely as some people think. Historical judgments, including a historical judgment about Jesus' resurrection, are matters of probability. It's not enough for Bethrick to argue that subjective visions are a possible explanation, and it's not enough for him to say that such visions and other "subjective factors" may have "played a role". If an objective appearance of Jesus to Paul better explains the evidence, then the fact that a subjective vision is possible doesn't overturn the probability of an objective appearance, and the involvement of "other subjective factors" can't overturn that probability unless Bethrick can show that it's probable that those factors produced the data we have.

Bethrick writes:

"Throughout his rejoinder to such proposals, Jason's approach to the matter rests on the assumption that the elements of the New Testament's stories are accurate and historical to begin with, and that a theory attributing the experience of the risen Jesus to hallucination would have to come to grips with these stories on their own terms."

I didn't just make an assumption. I linked to a Tektonics article that argues at length for the historicity of the resurrection accounts. In other articles at Triablogue and elsewhere, I've argued for the historicity of the gospels, the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels, etc.

"Given the scant details that can be adduced from the New Testament on the psychological stability of the characters mentioned in its stories and chronicles, it is unclear where defenders of Christianity think they get their certainty about the supposed truthfulness of the incredible claims found in the New Testament."

Notice that Bethrick once again poisons the well by making "certainty" the standard. I don't claim that historical conclusions are matters of certainty.

However, we do have much material from which to reach some conclusions about the psychology of the relevant historical figures. For example, we know what common Jewish belief about the resurrection involved. Whatever some minority sources believed, we know that the popular view of resurrection was a view that involved transformation of the physical body that died, as we see reflected in the Old Testament (Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2). We also know that Saul of Tarsus, for example, was an enemy of Christianity. We know that the early Christians were significantly persecuted, as we see reflected in Jesus' crucifixion, Paul's testimony about how he persecuted Christians, etc. We also have information on the beliefs of Jesus' disciples in the gospels, Acts, etc. From these factors and others, we can determine what a claim of resurrection would have normally meant in the context of first century Israel. We can also determine whether men like Saul of Tarsus, James, and Peter would be likely to have had the sort of expectation of a resurrection appearance that would be involved in a hallucination, since expectation is such a major factor in such psychological disorders. We don't know every detail of the psychology of the early Christians, but we do know a lot about their society, their circumstances, and their beliefs. And some of that information we have is contrary to the hallucination theory.

"The earliest of these documents are a series of letters written mostly by one man, known to us as the apostle Paul, and his accounts put Jesus in some unspecified past in an unspecified setting, for the most part giving no time, location or other details one could confidently call historical....Later, some time after Paul's life and missionizing campaign, a new series of texts starts to be written. These texts also speak of a man named Jesus who was divine, and who was also crucified by the Roman state, and who was later resurrected from the dead. But these texts, known as gospels, place this Jesus into a historical context that is absent from Paul's many letters."

Why would Paul include the sort of detail we see in the gospels? Paul did know some details, such as that Jesus had a brother named James (Galatians 1:19), what Jesus said on some occasions (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), that He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23), that the betrayal occurred at night (1 Corinthians 11:23), etc. The fact that Paul doesn't go into more detail doesn't prove that he was unaware of more details, nor would ignorance on Paul's part prove that later sources are fabricating the details they give.

It seems that Bethrick is largely relying on the erroneous arguments of Earl Doherty, who argues against Jesus' existence. Doherty's position was unknown to the earliest enemies of Christianity, who acknowledged Jesus' historicity. And Doherty's position is rejected by the large majority of modern scholarship. See the list of articles responding to him here, at J.P. Holding's web site.

If Christian contemporaries of Paul and Christianity's earliest enemies refer to Jesus as a historical figure of the early first century, and Paul's writings are consistent with that view, why should we conclude that it's probable that Paul believed in some significantly different Jesus? Why do men like Luke, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp speak so highly of Paul, if Paul was teaching about another Jesus who was radically different from the Jesus they believed in? Paul repeatedly said that the other church leaders were in agreement with him on the foundational issues of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:11, Galatians 2:7-10). So, does Bethrick want us to believe that Paul's Jesus was universally forgotten, then replaced with the Jesus of traditional Christianity at a time when Paul's disciples and contemporaries were still alive? Wouldn't somebody like Luke be in a better position to know Paul's view of Jesus than Dawson Bethrick is? Are we to conclude that Paul believed in a radically different Jesus than Luke, because Paul's letters don't go into as much detail as Luke's Greco-Roman biography does? What does Bethrick expect? A discussion of Jesus' infancy in Paul's letter to Philemon? Paul was writing letters, not Greco-Roman biographies, and he was writing those letters to people and communities that were already Christian.

"What's more is that the gospel texts essentially repeat the same story (suggesting that later narratives were derived from the earliest account to produce new versions), and - significantly - that the gospel story grows more elaborate and impressive with each telling. For instance, the earliest account, found in the book of Mark, begins with Jesus as an adult getting baptized under the supervision of John the Baptist. This detail is nowhere mentioned in any of Paul's letters."

Where would we expect Paul to discuss Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist? Was the Corinthian church asking Paul questions about John the Baptist's relationship with Jesus? No, they were asking Paul questions about other issues, like marriage and resurrection. When Paul wrote to the Galatians about the doctrine of justification, would we expect him to include a discussion of Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist? No.

As far as development is concerned, the fact is that there is no universal pattern of increasing complexity. John's gospel probably was the last one written, yet it contains fewer resurrection witnesses than 1 Corinthians 15 and fewer miracles than the previous gospels, for example. Matthew and Luke address Jesus' infancy in some depth, whereas John doesn't. Why, then, should we think of John's gospel as more developed? It was more developed in some ways, but not in others. Nothing in the development of the gospels makes it likely that the gospels are radically unhistorical or even unhistorical at all. See David Wood's extensive refutation of the sort of development argument Dawson Bethrick is advocating.

"Thus the gospel accounts themselves are unhelpful in uncovering any truths in the earliest testimony, for the narrative accounts that we find in the gospels bear the signs of literary invention rather than historical reporting."

The Tektonics article I linked to earlier discusses some of the evidence we have for the resurrection narratives. And we know what sort of literature the gospels are. They're Greco-Roman biographies. The New Testament scholar Craig Keener writes:

"Readers throughout most of history understood the Gospels as biographies (Stanton 1989a: 15-17), but after 1915 scholars tried to find some other classification for them, mainly because these scholars compared ancient and modern biography and noticed that the Gospels differed from the latter (Talbert 1977: 2-3; cf. Mack 1988: 16n.6). The current trend, however, is again to recognize the Gospels as ancient biographies. The most complete statement of the question to date comes from a Cambridge monograph by Richard A. Burridge. After carefully defining the criteria for evaluating genre (1992: 109-27) and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman ‘lives’ (128-90), he demonstrates how the canonical Gospels fit this genre (191-239). The trend to regard the Gospels as ancient biography is currently strong enough for British Matthew scholar Graham Stanton to characterize the skepticism of Bultmann and others about the biographical character of the Gospels as ‘surprisingly inaccurate’ (1993: 63; idem 1995: 137)….But though such [ancient] historians did not always write the way we write history today, they were clearly concerned to write history as well as their resources allowed (Jos. Ant. 20.156-57’ Arist. Poetics 9.2-3, 1451b; Diod. Sic. 21.17.1; Dion. Hal. 1.1.2-4; 1.2.1; 1.4.2; cf. Mosley 1965). Although the historical accuracy of biographers varied from one biographer to another, biographers intended biographies to be essentially historical works (see Aune 1988: 125; Witherington 1994:339; cf. Polyb. 8.8)….There apparently were bad historians and biographers who made up stories, but they became objects of criticism for violating accepted standards (cf. Lucian History 12, 24-25)….Matthew and Luke, whose fidelity we can test against some of their sources, rank high among ancient works….Like most Greek-speaking Jewish biographers, Matthew is more interested in interpreting tradition than in creating it….A Gospel writer like Luke was among the most accurate of ancient historians, if we may judge from his use of Mark (see Marshall 1978; idem 1991) and his historiography in Acts (cf., e.g., Sherwin-White 1978; Gill and Gempf 1994). Luke clearly had both written (Lk 1:1) and oral (1:2) sources available, and his literary patron Theophilus already knew much of this Christian tradition (1:4), which would exclude Luke’s widespread invention of new material. Luke undoubtedly researched this material (1:3) during his (on my view) probable sojourn with Paul in Palestine (Acts 21:17; 27:1; on the ‘we-narratives,’ cf., e.g., Maddox 1982: 7). Although Luke writes more in the Greco-Roman historiographic tradition than Matthew does, Matthew’s normally relatively conservative use of Mark likewise suggests a high degree of historical trustworthiness behind his accounts….only historical works, not novels, had historical prologues like that of Luke [Luke 1:1-4] (Aune 1987: 124)…A central character’s ‘great deeds’ generally comprise the bulk of an ancient biographical narrative, and the Gospels fit this prediction (Burridge 1992: 208). In other words, biographies were about someone in particular. Aside from the 42.5 percent of Matthew’s verbs that appear directly in Jesus’ teaching, Jesus himself is the subject of 17.2 percent of Matthew’s verbs; the disciples, 8.8 percent; those to whom Jesus ministers, 4.4 percent; and the religious establishment, 4.4 percent. Even in his absence he often remains the subject of others’ discussions (14:1-2; 26:3-5). Thus, as was common in ancient biographies (and no other genre), at least half of Matthew’s verbs involve the central figure’s ‘words and deeds’ (Burridge 1992: 196-97, 202). The entire point of using this genre is that it focuses on Jesus himself, not simply on early Christian experience (Burridge 1992: 256-58)." (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 17-18, 21-23, 51)

See also the further discussion in the Introduction in the first volume of Keener’s commentary on the gospel of John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003]). Keener goes into much more detail than what I outline above, far too much to quote here. For example:

"The lengths of the canonical gospels suggest not only intention to publish but also the nature of their genre. All four gospels fit the medium-range length (10,000-25,000 words) found in ancient biographies as distinct from many other kinds of works….all four canonical gospels are a far cry from the fanciful metamorphosis stories, divine rapes, and so forth in a compilation like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Gospels plainly have more historical intention and fewer literary pretensions than such works….Works with a historical prologue like Luke’s (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2) were historical works; novels lacked such fixtures, although occasionally they could include a proem telling why the author made up the story (Longus proem 1-2). In contrast to novels, the Gospels do not present themselves as texts composed primarily for entertainment, but as true accounts of Jesus’ ministry. The excesses of some forms of earlier source and redaction criticism notwithstanding, one would also be hard pressed to find a novel so clearly tied to its sources as Matthew or Luke is! Even John, whose sources are difficult to discern, overlaps enough with the Synoptics in some accounts and clearly in purpose to defy the category of novel….The Gospels are, however, too long for dramas, which maintained a particular length in Mediterranean antiquity. They also include far too much prose narrative for ancient drama….Richard Burridge, after carefully defining the criteria for identifying genre and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman bioi, or lives, shows how both the Synoptics and John fit this genre. So forceful is his work on Gospel genre as biography that one knowledgeable reviewer [Charles Talbert] concludes, ‘This volume ought to end any legitimate denial of the canonical Gospels’ biographical character.’ Arguments concerning the biographical character of the Gospels have thus come full circle: the Gospels, long viewed as biographies until the early twentieth century, now again are widely viewed as biographies….Biographies were essentially historical works; thus the Gospels would have an essentially historical as well as a propagandistic function….[quoting David Aune] ’while biography tended to emphasize encomium, or the one-sided praise of the subject, it was still firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction. Thus while the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicates that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened.’…had the Gospel writers wished to communicate solely later Christian doctrine and not history, they could have used simpler forms than biography….As readers of the OT, which most Jews viewed as historically true, they must have believed that history itself communicated theology….the Paraclete [in John’s gospel] recalls and interprets history, aiding the witnesses (14:26; 15:26-27).…the features that Acts shares with OT historical works confirms that Luke intended to write history…History [in antiquity] was supposed to be truthful, and [ancient] historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they exhibited self-serving agendas." (pp. 7-13, 17, n. 143 on p. 17, 18)

See also the large amount of evidence we have for Luke's historical reliability here and here.

"We do not have the benefit of seeing what Paul identified as Jesus when he tells us things such as that he received his gospel story by means of revelation (Gal. 1:12) and that 'it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me' (Gal. 1:15-16). So again, it's unclear how believers can conclusively rule out at least the possibility that what Paul experienced was hallucinatory in nature, or at least subjective."

Notice that Bethrick yet again poisons the well with a reference to whether we can "conclusively rule out at least the possibility". The issue is what's probable, not what's possible.

"The record we have nowhere rules out later private visitations by Jesus; in fact Paul's frequent appeals to having knowledge by means of divine revelation suggests that he enjoyed repeated visits by Jesus, or that he was in regular contact with the risen deity."

The article at Tektonics that I linked to earlier addresses that issue. Paul and the early Christians in general believed that Jesus' resurrection appearances ended shortly after Jesus' death. Paul refers to himself as the last witness. The early Christians distinguished between resurrection appearances and later visions. And they described the resurrection appearances differently than they described the visions. Thus, Paul's later experiences can't be equated with the resurrection appearance he witnessed. Paul himself distinguishes between the two. That's why the earliest generations believed that apostolic authority ended with the death of the apostles. Visions of Jesus continued, but resurrection appearances did not. The early Christians believed that God had revealed to them that the resurrection appearances were over, and the later experiences lacked the physicality of the resurrection appearances.

"Of course, at this point, one might raise the question: why doesn't Jesus do for everyone he wants to save what the New Testament says he did for the apostle Paul (i.e., pay a miraculous personal visit), rather than just for one man who lived upwards of 2,000 years ago, whose writings are the only record of these private deliverances from a divine source, and whose ideas have been hotly debated throughout the centuries? It's larger questions like this that serve to put these disputes about whether hallucinations et al. played a part in the development of the early Christian testimony. As it is now, with a private message hand-delivered to one individual who died centuries ago and penned into texts which read like legend and myth, the result that reaches us in the modern era tends to raise more questions than it can hope to answer, and to cause more problems than it can hope to resolve. Apparently the all-wise, all-knowing creator of the universe finds the present method of disseminating its word to be preferable to a direct approach, but for reasons that we will likely never know."

Christians don't claim that Jesus' resurrection is the only evidence that exists for Christianity. The Bible discusses prophecy fulfillment, the miracles of the apostles, and other evidence as well. The Bible also refers to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and other means of leading people to the truth.

Even if the resurrection were the only evidence Christianity offered, the fact that Bethrick and other critics are capable of raising objections doesn't prove that the objections are reasonable. For example, if you're aware of something as easy to understand as the fact that eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive when the New Testament was written, then much of what Bethrick claims about the New Testament shouldn't seem credible to an honest and reasonable person. Some people will agree with what Bethrick asserts anyway, but the problem isn't with God supplying too little evidence. Rather, the problem is with people either not being honest or not making sufficient effort to discern what's reasonable and what isn't.

If Bethrick wants to argue that all of the resurrection witnesses were hallucinating or mistaken in some other way, that the early Christians were repeatedly mistaken about who wrote the documents of the New Testament, that the early enemies of Christianity were too undiscerning or apathetic to do more to make such facts known, etc., then he ought to think about the difficulties involved in accepting his view of things. Christians do, after all, have first century documents they can cite supporting their position. The positions of people like Dawson Bethrick and Earl Doherty, on the other hand, are unknown to the early sources (Christian and non-Christian) and widely contradicted by the data we have. Bethrick's theories require an unprecedented amount of hallucination, forgetfulness, apathy, and other unusual characteristics to be combined within one community and its opponents during a short period of time. It's not just that Bethrick does this with the resurrection appearances. He also does it with the empty tomb, the pre-resurrection miracles of Jesus, the miracles of the apostles, prophecy fulfillment, etc. He keeps telling us that his speculations are "not impossible". That's true. But they're highly unlikely.

"Since the details of what Paul's 500 witnesses actually experienced are nowhere given, it is possible that the individuals he had in mind underwent a kind of mass trance-like episode."

We know that Paul is referring to a physical resurrection. That's why he refers to the transformation of mortal bodies (Romans 8:11) and the continuity between the planted seed and the object that grows from it (1 Corinthians 15:43), for example. See Christopher Price's extensive documentation of Paul's belief in a physical resurrection.

Thus, if the more than 500 people Paul refers to were witnesses of a purported physical resurrection, some implications follow. Anybody who believed in a physical resurrection would expect physical evidence, as we see reflected in the gospels. We know that the early Christians distinguished between the resurrection appearances and later visions and other experiences. We would expect, then, that both the group of more than 500 people and the people who preserved the account would be interested in discerning whether the experience was a physical sighting, not something non-physical. Bethrick can speculate that all of the people involved might have been mistaken, but the issue here is probability, not certainty. While it would be possible for more than 500 people to have a hallucination on the same subject at the same time, such an occurrence is unlikely. (And, remember, Bethrick or any other defender of a hallucination theory would have to argue that such group hallucinations, or group experiences of other psychological disorders, occurred repeatedly and in a short period of time.) The normal human desire when seeing Jesus would have been to speak with Him, as we see reflected in the gospel accounts. It seems unlikely that they would just look at Jesus, without any attempt to interact with Him. How would more than 500 people not only hallucinate at the same time and hallucinate the same general object (Jesus), but also not notice that they were seeing Him in different places, were hearing Him say different things, etc.? It's unlikely that more than 500 individual hallucinations are going to be accidentally coordinated or be mistaken for something coordinated later on.

Bethrick might try to minimize the difficulties involved in his theory by suggesting that perhaps all of these more than 500 people thought that Jesus only appeared at a distance briefly, then left. But how likely is it that more than 500 people would hallucinate at the same time, would hallucinate on the same subject, and all of them would hallucinate something as unusual as Jesus only appearing at a distance, then leaving soon after? Is Bethrick going to propose this sort of unlikely scenario to explain every one of the reported group appearances?

Part of the significance of 1 Corinthians 15:6 is that Paul refers to a majority of these people still being alive. How would Paul know such a detail, and why would he mention it? Apparently, even more than 20 years after the resurrection appearances, Paul continued to follow the lives of these people. It doesn't seem that Paul was being careless. He goes on, later in the same chapter, to refer to how Christian faith is worthless if Jesus wasn't resurrected. He knows that the issue is highly significant. It doesn't seem that Paul was so careless that he would have a hallucination, not realize that it was just a hallucination, then join a group with hundreds of other people who had the same sort of hallucination around the same time, without any of them realizing it either. 1 Corinthians 15:6 isn't just significant because of what it tells us about a group of more than 500 people. It's also significant because of what it suggests about Paul's carefulness and his concern for evidence.

"Was Marshall Applewhite hallucinating? I don't know, but I tend to doubt that he was since his devotion to his nonsense was sustained over a long period of time."

What did Marshall Applewhite claim to see? Believing that a spaceship exists in outer space isn't equivalent to claiming to have seen a man risen from the dead. Applewhite's claim was of a different nature, his social context was radically different, he didn't have the sort of corroboration a source like Paul had, etc. The fact that Bethrick makes such a comparison doesn't hurt Christianity's credibility as much as it hurts Bethrick's. Does he understand the relevant issues so poorly that he thinks that Heaven's Gate is comparable to early Christianity?

"Of course, we should not expect any New Testament writer to have come forward to correct the record if in fact any of these alleged eyewitnesses did discover that they were mistaken."

See my article on a related subject here. If any of the apostles or other resurrection witnesses had renounced the faith, we would expect there to be many ripples in the historical record, as we see with Judas and Demas in non-resurrection contexts. The early enemies of Christianity show no knowledge of anybody like Paul, Peter, or John having denied the resurrection, and the earliest post-apostolic sources speak of all of these men having died within the faith. Bethrick is speculating that something may have happened that doesn't appear anywhere in the historical record and is widely contradicted by the data we do have. Once again, we see how Bethrick proposes highly unlikely possibilities as alternatives to the probable.

"But there is an even larger concern here. While we are told that coincidental mass hallucination 'seems unlikely,' this is stated in the context of a defense of a belief system which tells us that 'all things are possible' (Mt. 19:26), that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that dead people rose from their graves (cf. Mt. 27:52-53), that serpents and donkeys and burning bushes speak in human languages, that water was turned into wine by a wish, etc."

Men like Paul, his travel companions, and James weren't Christians. They were initially skeptical of the Christian claim. Even as far as Christians like Peter and John are concerned, the fact that a person is a supernaturalist doesn't mean that he'll believe any supernatural claim that's made by anybody. And the fact that people are Christians doesn't prove that they'll believe any claim that's made by anybody in the name of Christianity. That's why Muslims don't believe in Jesus' resurrection, Presbyterians question the miracle claims of Pentecostals, etc. The early Christian sources tell us - multiple sources and on multiple occasions and in multiple ways - that Jesus' disciples and other resurrection witnesses weren't expecting to see Jesus risen from the dead. Whatever supernatural views they held, an expectation of Jesus' resurrection wasn't one of them. And we know that expectation plays a major role in hallucinations. That's why I said, earlier, that people like the women who went to the tomb, Thomas, Saul of Tarsus, etc. were poor candidates for a hallucination. They weren't expecting to see Jesus.

If Bethrick wants to speculate that all of the early sources are mistaken about this fact, then he needs to give us more than just the possibility that all of the sources were mistaken. He needs to explain why they would collectively make up such a thing, and he needs to explain why he thinks that men like Paul and James were expecting to see the risen Jesus. And, remember, the issue here is probability, not possibility.

"But if I held to the view that the universe is run by a magic spirit who choreographs all events in human history according to a divine 'plan,' on what grounds could I confidently say that uniform hallucinatory experiences shared by even enormous numbers of human beings is either 'unlikely' or impossible?"

Here we see another example of how Dawson Bethrick doesn't understand the issues he's discussing. Christians don't argue that hallucinations would be supernaturally impossible. What Christian ever denied that God could produce mass hallucinations? That's not the issue. Rather, the issue is the unlikelihood of these hallucinations occurring naturalistically. If Bethrick wants to argue that God made these people hallucinate, then we can interact with that argument. Until then, our focus will be on naturalistic theories, since Bethrick and other critics aren't arguing for supernatural theories.

But, since Bethrick brought it up, why do Christians believe that God produced a resurrection rather than hallucinations? Because it wouldn't make sense for God to produce such hallucinations, yet have the hallucinated Jesus tell people that He had been resurrected and have all of the witnesses mistakenly think that a resurrection had occurred. If God is going to produce hallucinations, why would He have those hallucinations communicate misinformation and be misunderstood by all of the people who had the hallucinations?

I want to close this response to Bethrick by addressing the issue of alleged errors in the New Testament, which is a subject Bethrick mentions in his article. Such claims of error have been answered for centuries, and anybody interested in more information on specific passages or subjects can consult a resource like J.P. Holding's web site.

However, we should keep in mind that claiming that there are errors in the New Testament doesn't justify a rejection of the general historicity of the documents. Even if an author like Luke would be wrong on two, five, or fifteen incidents he reports, the fact would remain that he was right about hundreds of other details and remains a highly credible source. (See, for example, here and here.) Craig Keener writes:

"But the divergent details [in the accounts of the resurrection appearances] suggest independent traditions, thereby underlining the likelihood of details the accounts share in common (e.g., Boyd 1995: 277-78). This fits what we should expect of eyewitness traditions. (Thus, for example, though two eyewitnesses who accompanied Alexander agreed that Callisthenes was indicted, publicly scorned, and died, and though their accounts could be called entirely trustworthy [pany pistoi], they differ even on whether he died by sickness or hanging – Arrian Alex. 4.14.3. The variation in the Gospel accounts is far less significant than this.)" (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 697-698)

That's one of the reasons why modern scholarship, including much non-conservative scholarship, rejects a lot of the arguments put forward by people like Dawson Bethrick and Earl Doherty. The New Testament documents give too many details about the resurrection appearances, and give those details too early and in too credible a context, for it to be plausible to dismiss as many of the details as people like Dawson Bethrick do. The more he suggests that the New Testament authors were mistaken, and the more he does so without any direct evidence to that effect and without any of Christianity's early enemies supporting Bethrick's speculations, the less plausible his case becomes. It seems that Dawson Bethrick's conclusions have more to do with his desires than with the historical data.

I will say one thing favorable about his conclusions, though. They're "not impossible". You can't say much more than that in support of them.

Hillbilly atheism

Dawson Bethrick has responded to Jason and I. For now I’ll confine my remarks to what he says about me.

Who, exactly, is this Bethrick anyway?

He makes the following claim about himself: “I am a Man, and I think with my own mind.”

May I say that I find this patriarchal and homophobic usage deeply offense. As a San Franciscan he ought to understand that by assigning himself to a specific gender, this will make transgender readers feel excluded from the dialogue.

Such usage borders on hate-speech. He clearly needs to attend a sensitivity seminar to elevate his social consciousness.

In addition, his appeal to “thinking” with his own “mind” represents a throwback to folk psychology. Any astute, card-carrying materialist would know better.

So I apologize to my enlightened Christian readers for subjecting them to yet another hillbilly atheist.

“We must not forget that the book of Acts itself puts the words ‘heavenly vision’ into Paul's mouth when it portrays him as recounting his conversion experience to King Agrippa (Acts 26:19). Thus it is up to the author of Acts to clarify whether his story's purported experience by Paul was ‘an objective vision or appearance’ or ‘a subjective vision or appearance.’ The details given in Acts are too scant and inconsistent with themselves to allow us to make this clarification with much confidence.”

Keep in mind that I was originally responding to Dagood, whose case is based on the subjective interpretation.

So, assuming for the sake of argument that Dawson is right on this point, he has just hamstrung Dagood’s whole case. His argument is with Dagood, not me.

Let me thank my cobelligerent for joining forces with me in our common cause to disprove Dagood.

“Naturally the apologist does not want it to be considered subjective, but in the cartoon universe of theism, everything is ultimately subjective anyway.”

I haven’t see any cartoons since I was a little boy. So, to judge by his standard of comparison, Dawson must either be a precocious four-year old or a retarded adult.

“Steve may say to me that, since I am persuaded that, like the gospels, Acts is more legend than history in the first place, that I therefore cannot rely on Acts 26:19 to support the visionary proposal. But if Acts is more legend than history, then the stories of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus are brought into serious doubt anyway.”

This is a dilemma for Dawson, not for me.



As Earl Doherty points out in response to Gary Habermas' statements to Lee Strobel on page 234 of The Case for Christ, we actually have in the New Testament "a wealth of invention" (Doherty) where Habermas chooses to see "a wealth of sightings of Jesus."

Each writer sat down to provide 'proofs' of Jesus' rising in the flesh," explains Doherty, "and they all quite naturally come up with anecdotes of their own, which best explains their incompatible variety. (3)


All he’s done here is to give us Doherty’s opinion. No supporting argument or corroborating evidence is brought forward to substantiate this claim.

“Anxious to dispel the subjective implications of phrases such as "heavenly vision" used by Acts to describe Paul's sighting of Jesus, Steve exclaims…”

This is a prejudicial and tendentious characterization of the phrase.

It’s “heavenly” because Jesus ascended to heaven. So, in order for him to appear to Paul on earth, he must leave heaven. That would actually imply the objective character of the “vision.”

Likewise, the Greek word doesn’t carry any specialized sense of a “subjective” vision as over against an “objective” vision. We could easily use another synonym, like “sighting.”

“But does Paul ever distinguish between the nature of his sighting of Jesus and the sighting of Jesus he says these others enjoyed?”

As I said before, he describes his encounter as a public event.

“On the contrary, it remains ambiguous and unspecified, thus allowing believers to uncritically read gospel details into what they read in Paul.”

i) Again, if true, this undercuts Dagood.

ii) In addition, the reasoning is reversible. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is what Christians do, dubitantes do the exact same thing, only in reverse order. They (mis-) interpret Paul as reducing the Resurrection to a spiritual (i.e. ethereal body), and classify his Damascus Road encounter as a subjective vision, then they uncritically read the “Pauline” details back into Luke and John.

“Apologists need to understand that, while they want to put the onus on the New Testament's critics, the onus is really on the New Testament itself to shore up the very areas where they claim its critics habitually default.”

No, both sides assume a burden of proof.

“The whole point of this chapter is to repeatedly stress the physicality of the glorified body even though the chapter nowhere uses the word 'physical' (at least not in any of my translations)”

i) So Bethrick is dependent on English translations. He can’t read 1 Cor 15 in the original?

ii) He is also confusing words with concepts. A concept can be present without a particular word to designate the concept.

1 Cor 15 has been extensively exegeted by the likes of Thiselton and Wright. It isn’t necessary for an apologist to reinvent the wheel each time.

“ Not to mention the fact that this position needs to be reconciled with what we read in I Peter 3:18, which speaks of Jesus as "being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." It is hard to read this statement as coming from one of Jesus' own disciples who, according to the gospels, met face to face with a physically resurrected Jesus.”

If he spent anytime with the standard commentaries he’d see that this verse has reference to the fact that the corpse of Christ was reanimated by the Holy Spirit.

It refers to the agent of the Resurrection, not the composition of the body.

“Steve may counter that Paul spoke of Jesus having been resurrected in the flesh, but Paul himself indicates that there are different kinds of flesh, that "all flesh is not the same flesh" (I Cor. 15:39), which leaves open the possibility that Paul may have reserved the use of the term 'flesh' in some circumstances to refer to some spiritual, non-physical "substance" which is to be distinguished from the tissue, bone and organs of living organisms. So this is at best inconclusive.”

i) And the examples given by Paul are all of material entities.

ii) Moreover, Paul is not saying that one kind of flesh is another kind of flesh. Just the opposite.

He merely draws our attention to both the continuities and discontinuities between the mortal body and the glorified body—the chief of which being that the glorified body is immortal.

“Moreover, Paul insists that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 15:50), which suggests that the physical bodies we have are not analogous to the resurrected bodies that believers should expect to awaken in once they are resurrected.”

This is an oft-refuted canard. Only someone wholly ignorant of the exegetical and apologetic literature would continue to exhume this objection.

Paul is merely using a Hebraic idiom to express the fact that mortality cannot inherit immortality.

“All these issues point to just some of the many serious ambiguities that plague the New Testament record, thus inviting endless contests between conflicting interpretations and wide-ranging speculations. (I'm glad these aren't my problems.)”

They’re only ambiguous if, like Bethrick, you don’t know NT Greek or basic linguistics or the standard exegetical literature.

“To be sure, there have been many efforts over the centuries to codify an authorized interpretation, but this endeavor is about as effective as trying to harvest wheat on the dark side of the moon; and no matter how much effort is applied to this ambition, the early record is still what it is: laden with incompatible variances and unyielding ambiguities.”

This is a backhanded admission of defeat on Dawson’s part. He attempts a preemptory dismissal of the existing answers to his objections without bothering to actually argue them down. Not a one.

“Concerning reported sightings of the Virgin Mary, Steve hedges when considering the question "Do we reject Marian sightings?" giving no firm answer one way or another.”

“Hedging” is another prejudicial and tendentious characterization. I don’t go beyond the evidence I have. That’s a rational precaution.

“I agree: some reports are more credible than others, and some reporters are more credible than others. But here we might inquire as to what criteria Steve consults in determining whether a report is "more credible than others," or in determining when one reporter is "more credible than others." Obviously the writers of the New Testament meet his criteria, while what he has written strongly suggests that his contemporaries (or near contemporaries) who have claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, do not meet his criteria. What are those criteria? Heaven knows! But he does give some indication here:”

He devotes several sentences to the claim that I offer no criteria, only to admit, in the concluding sentence, that I do. Apparently, Bethrick doesn’t know where he’s going. He sits down at his keyboard and starts writing and keeps on writing without thinking through what he’s going to say before he says it.

“If it is valid to ask how those who claim to have experienced a visit from the Virgin Mary "know what Mary looks like," we should also ask: How did Saul of Tarsus know what Jesus looked like?”

Several problems with this question:

i) It does nothing to validate Marian apparitions.

ii) Even if it were valid, it would do nothing to invalidate Luke or John.

iii) Odds are, Paul did know what Jesus looked like. On a standard chronology of the NT they were probably in Jerusalem at the same time of year. Jesus and Paul were contemporaries. Paul studied in Jerusalem. His sister lived in Jerusalem. Even if he wasn’t living in Jerusalem year round, he would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for all the major feast days. And Jesus came to Jerusalem for major feasts days as well.

Jerusalem was a small town, centered on the Temple. Jesus was a public speaker and a celebrity. His visits to Jerusalem were centered on the Temple. If Paul was living in Jerusalem at the time, he’d visited the Temple at least daily. If he was in town for a feast day, he’d visit the Temple at least daily.

Jesus drew a crowd. Jesus was controversial. It’s almost inevitable that Paul would have seen and heard Jesus preach.

iv) This is reinforced by that fact that Paul was involved with the initial persecution of the Jerusalem church.

v) Of course, at the time, Paul thought that Jesus was a Messianic pretender. It took a Christophany to turn him around.

“Steve says that "Jesus was seen by his contemporaries," but this may be read as saying far too much. That one is a contemporary of another, does not indicate that either has seen the other or knows what the other looks like.”

The historical record of Christ contained in the NT consists of either eyewitness observation or eyewitness testimony. That’s the point.

This assumes, of course, the traditional authorship and dating of the NT documents. Others have made that case, and I’ve made it myself in other venues, so I needn’t repeat myself here.

“For instance, both Steve and I are contemporaries, but I would never be able to pick him out from a crowd. Nor would he be able to do the same with me. Today we have cameras which record faithful images of our physical features, such that I could pass my picture to Steve via e-mail, and then he very well might be able to pick me out of a crowd. But cameras were not around in 1st century Palestine, so Jesus' "contemporaries" (an expression which takes the gospels as history) didn't even have this benefit.”

i) Photography is beneficial if you haven’t seen someone for yourself. But that overlooks my point.

ii) In addition, we will often accept someone else’s testimony. The police will have a friend or relative ID a body for them.

Or a detective will show the photo of a missing person to various individuals, to see if they recognize the picture.

Here a second party takes the word of a witness for purposes of identification.

“ The ‘no one knows what she used to loo like’ approach is certainly applicable in considering claims involving inanimate objects, such as that the burnt markings on a tortilla are the image of Mary. But a sighting of the Virgin Mary is usually claimed to involve an encounter with the real McCoy, though perhaps only in spirit form, which can enable direct communication, sometimes even dialogue (such as we find in Acts' versions of Paul's firsthand encounter with Jesus). And if the apparition identifies itself as the Virgin Mary (just as whatever it was that appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus allegedly identified itself as Jesus), then there's no need for face recognition based on prior knowledge of "what she used to look like when she was walking the earth two thousand years ago" in the first place. The apparition could very well have introduced itself as the Virgin Mary, and the person experiencing the vision, whether subjective or otherwise, might very well be prone to believing it.”

This line of argument poses a dilemma for Bethrick. If he uses one objection, he can’t use another, for they cancel each other out.

i) If it’s sufficient for the apparition to identify itself to the eyewitness, then this will suffice for the Damascus Road encounter.

If) If facial recognition is needed, then this will also suffice for the Damascus Road encounter (for reasons given above), but not for Marian apparitions.

iii) Let us also remember that while the absence of genuine dominical apparitions is a defeater for Christianity, the presence of genuine Marian apparitions is not a defeater for Christianity.

So these are not symmetrical propositions. If Mary did appear to Bernadette or Lucia Santos, that does not falsify the Christian faith.

iv) At the same time, the lack of facial recognition is not the only undercutter for Marian apparitions. I mentioned others, which he conveniently ignores.

“Regardless, Steve makes it clear that he is committed to taking the New Testament - including significantly the gospels - as historically accurate on its say so…How these apologists' belief in the bible amounts to anything better than ‘it's true because I want it to be true,’ is not at all clear.”

i) To begin with, I, like many other Christians, am an adult converts to the faith. We don’t believe it’s true because we want it to be true.

a) Many of us did not want to be true.

b) And if wishful thinking were the operative motive, then many of us would have converted at a much earlier age.

ii) Wanting something to be true and believing it to be true are two very different things.

I want it to be true that I’ll see my dead father again. This doesn’t make me believe that I’ll be seeing him again.

I want it to be true that I have a Swiss bank account with a few billion dollars tucked away for a rainy day. That doesn’t make me believe it.

I want it to be true that my favorite movie star will show up at my doorstep tomorrow with a marriage proposal. That doesn’t make me believe it.

iii) There are many considerations which evidence the Bible. Part of this is psychological realism. All writing has an autobiographical dimension, even biographical writing. A biographer reveals a good deal about himself in the course of writing about others.

That’s at the narrator’s level. Then there’s also the narrative level. Do the figures within the narrative speak and act in a way that’s realistic?

This is not something we can quantify, but we have no need of doing so. If you’re a good judge of character, you can size someone up. We are human. So we know what it means to be human. We understand human motives and passions from the inside out.

We can detect their bias, as well as the source of their bias.

The capacity to identify with another, to relate to his situation, to sniff out blinding bias or mendacity, is something without which a social life would be impossible.

iv) If we assume Markan priority, then there’s also the exceedingly conservative use made of him by Matthew and Luke, which shows their highly reliable handling of dominical tradition.

And if you’re a Matthean prioritist, you can easily adapt the very same argument.

v) There’s also the way in which an account does or does not dovetail with our other sources of information about that time and place—although those sources are subject to the same assessments and adjustments.

“But what the witnesses that Paul speaks about in I Cor. 15? For instance, what "biographical material" do we have in the case of the 500 who Paul claims saw the risen Jesus? Even though this is among the earliest post-resurrection sightings of Jesus reported in the New Testament, Paul mentions it only in passing, not even telling us who any of these 500 might have been or where the sighting may have occurred. Apparently this doesn't matter, because the gospel details are read into the accounts we read in Paul's and other early letters, such that "by the time we arrive at the Resurrection, we know a good deal about the character and quality of the reporters." Were I to take so much for granted in my criticism of Christianity, apologists would try to make a field day of me.”

This is a model of confused reasoning:

i) Dawson is the one who’s reading into my statement certain things I never said or implied. I made no attempt to correlate the 500 witnesses in 1 Cor 15 with the Gospels. There’s a way to do that, but that’s hardly germane to my immediate point.

ii) Dawson is also reading into my statement a popular apologetic strategy which begins with 1 Cor 15:5-8, plus a redacted pre-Markan passion narrative.

I never used that argument.

iii) As far as Paul’s appeal is concerned, the salient point is not whether we are in a position to know who the 500 were, but whether the Corinthians were. Paul is deliberately staking out a claim which would leave himself exposed to falsification if untrue.

iv) Then there’s the matter of Paul himself. Is he a credible character?

For reasons summarized by Cranfield, I’d answer in the affirmative, and firmly in the affirmative.

Cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, On Romans and Other New Testament Essays (T&T Clark 1998), 144.

“Indeed, the sighting of Mary at Fatima is so better documented than the unattested and conflicting reports that we find in the New Testament's epistolary record, that the two are essentially incomparable.”

i) My case was never limited to the epistolary record.

ii) Bethrick offers no evidence of conflicting reports.

iii) Is Fatima “so much better documented”? Actually, there are conflicting reports of what was seen. Cf. S. Zimdars-Swartz, Encountering Mary (Princeton 1991; reprint 1992), 82-83.

“This merely puts the onus to prove a negative squarely on Steve's shoulders. Otherwise he risks asserting from his own ignorance while standing on New Testament invention.”

i) I am under no standing duty to prove that Mary never appeared to Bernadette or Lucia Santos or anyone else. Since she never appeared to me, the onus is hardly on me to disprove anyone else’s experience.

ii) Due to the brevity of life, we prioritize our beliefs. Some beliefs are far more important than others. So we invest our time in proving or disproving our priority-beliefs.

iii) Does the onus fall on Bethrick to disprove every UFO?

iv) The Resurrection is infinitely more important than Marian apparitions. And the Resurrection is logically independent of Marian apparitions. Their truth would not falsify the Resurrection.

“ It is not difficult to suppose that the individual(s) who saw Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich would agree that their sighting was not a purposeful event. If one can suppose that turning water into wine or causing a fig tree to wither is sufficiently purposeful for an incarnated deity to take trouble to effect, one can with as much imagination consider that an apparition in burn marks, water stains, tree knots, etc., to be just as purposeful.”

i) It’s no trouble for an omnipotent deity to effect a miracle.

ii) If Bethrick spent anytime with the standard exegetical literature, he’d see that cursing the fig tree and turning water into wine were, indeed, significant events.

“A mind inebriated on religious faith has already stepped onto the wild-card grounds of make-believe. Surely if apologists had something more substantial than special pleading and rash dismissals, they'd be screaming it instead of these paltry offerings.”

A mind inebriated on irreligious faith has already stepped onto the wild-card grounds of make-believe. Surely if unbelievers had something more substantial than special pleading and rash dismissals, they'd be screaming it instead of these paltry offerings.

Dr. Morris Chapman on SBC President

For the benefit of our SBC readers, here's an excellent article on the nomination for SBC President by Dr. Morris Chapman.

As I stated in the last article I wrote on this at Strange Baptist Fire, addressing Dr. Ronnie Floyd's nomination, my personal overriding concern for the SBC isn't so much who is elected as it is the election process itself. There are 43,000 churches and 16.4 million members (assuming that they all show up to church; if we go by attendance, the SBC is about 1/3 to 1/2 that size), why do the same personalities keep rotating in and out of office on the boards? Why do SBC presidents and prominent pastors wind up as executives of agencies? Why does the SBC need a megachurch pastor as President every year? Why do Paige Patterson, Johnny Hunt, and Bailey Smith have to give a public nomination to the candidate? If the "Battle for the Bible" is truly over, then why are the elections in the SBC just slightly more free than the elections in Cuba? Is this a function of SBC denominational structure? The SBC is organized very much like the Old South; in the Old South, the political machine often gave its imprimatur. Is this a similar phenomenon, or is there more to it? What about conflicts of interest? Even the wives have been affected. Look at the schedule for the wives' events this coming SBC; almost all the same names that are speaking in workshops at the Pastor's Conference have wives who have planned and are hosting the wives' conference. Those that aren't are closely associated with those who are, and all of these are close to or directly in the Inner Circle, including Ronnie Floyd and his wife. If another candidate or candidates for President is nominated from the floor, it is extremely doubtful he will have the kind of visibility in Greensboro as Ronnie Floyd and even Mrs. Floyd! That's like having a massive convention where the candidates for US president are all present but only one gets to speak to the people. That's a big no-no in the world, and here the SBC seems to be going down a path even the world recognizes is unfair. These things should not be, and that goes for whoever is on the ballot, not just Ronnie Floyd.

Read Dr. Morris Chapman's article. It is most insightful. He used to be SBC President himself. He knows what he's saying.

The mind/body problem

Daniel Morgan said:

“ Steve,

I don't want to get too deep into this, as I'm ill-equipped to argue the philosophy of the mind. I'd love to hear your thoughts on two particular aspects thereof, though:
1) Why does brain alteration/damage/drug-induced biochemical changes cause distinct personality, behavior, and thinking changes, if the basis of these things is an immaterial agent? Just a short answer would be great.
2) Why are personality/behavior/thinking so well correlated to specific parts of the brain, and this can be verified by observing specific changes (eg those listed in (1)) to those particular loci, if the immaterial agent occupies no particular part of the brain?”

To begin with, I’ve already been over some of this same ground with you, Exbeliever, and Loftus once before:

So I don’t know what you think was lacking in those answers.

“What good reason is there to suppose that a soul is sending a "call" to your physical brain, and how is it transmitted, and how does this not violate the laws of thermodynamics? How can an immaterial "energy source" initiate the cascade of electrochemical changes to your brain, undetected? We can account for the "energy in = energy out", so whatever "spark" that comes from the soul to the mind, it apparently has no energy...therefore, how does something with no energy (or matter) interact with matter/energy, without affecting the total sum of matter/energy of the system?”

i) Since the soul is not an energy source, the laws of thermodynamics are irrelevant.

You continue to beg the question by assuming that causal relations must involve some sort of energy transfer and physical contact.

Dualism doesn’t operate within that framework.

ii) I’d add that causation is unobservable. We never see causation. We simply observe certain correlations in nature, from which we infer a cause/effect relation.

There’s nothing wrong with that inference, but causation remains invisible and intangible.

iii) Indeed, the materialist is substituting a disguised description for a causal explanation.

It's like attributing the phenomenon of falling bodies to “gravity,” or animal behavior to “instinct.”

Now, there's no doubt a correlation here (what goes up must come down) which calls for some sort of explanation.

But "gravity" (or “instinct”) is just a linguistic placeholder.

"Gravity" is not a causal explanation, but a disguised description of the correlation.

And different theories of gravity may be empirically adequate or even equivalent.

Likewise, we observe certain correlations between mental impairment and brain impairment.

That’s nothing knew. Inebriation and senile dementia are hardly novel scientific discoveries.

But to infer the causal dependence of the mind on the brain from this correlation is not a true explanation, but just a redescription or paraphrase of the observable correlation. It doesn't advance understanding.

For unless a physicalist can demonstrate for us how certain brain states actually give rise to certain mental states, his attribution is factually vacuous in the same sense that appeal to the law of gravity is just a tautology absent a demonstrable mechanism or even a theory that uniquely picks out the phenomenon.

And the materialist has been hitting his head against this wall for decades. It's been decades since Marvin Minsky began making triumphalist claims about how AI was just around the corner.

Well, if it's just around the corner, the block has a nasty habit of elongating to keep pace with the AI program.

Some have chosen to cut the knot through the solvent of eliminative materialism. Can a machine duplicate consciousness? A pseudoproblem, they say, for consciousness is an illusion. So there is no problem to solve. Hence, AI is a reality.

The stock objection to dualism is how interaction between unlike substances is possible.

(Actually, I regard THAT as the pseudoproblem. For it tacitly assumes the precondition of a causal medium.)

But I think we can turn this around. The reason that the materialist has been unable to show how brain states give rise to mental states is because (substance) dualism is true, in which case, only one half of the relation is ever observable.

That's why they can never construct a bridge from the one domain to the other. Half of the bridge remains invisible.

“I just see no evidence to suppose that there is a necessity for [superfluous] immaterial causality.”

Depends on what you take to be “evidence.”

The mind/body interface is not a direct object of perception or apprehension. Rather, it supplies a precondition by which we perceive and apprehend the world and/or our own mental states.

The evidence for dualism follows along such lines as:

i) The irreducible distinction between mental properties and material properties.

ii) Mental faculties which exceed physical constraints.

iii) Case-studies in parapsychology.

To pick up on some earlier questions before Danny dropped out of the debate:

“I am a bit confused here -- if you are in a chair with electrodes hooked to your brain, but have no idea which ones are hooked where, are blindfolded, and are not told what is going on [which is how these studies are often done], and are instructed to simply describe anything you feel or experience when asked to do so [some are "controls" where no stimulus was applied], it is a well-known fact that particular loci in the brain elicit particular memories, visual or auditory hallucinations, and temporal lobe stimulation is known to give "religious" experiences [think Dostoevsky...sp?].”

One of the striking features of cortical stimulation is that it actually exposes a mind/body, subject/object duality, for the patient is aware that what is triggering these memories is an external stimulus.


In 1961, Penfield reported a dramatic demonstration of the existence of a mind that is separate from the brain. He found that the mind acted independently of the brain under controlled experimental conditions. His subject was an epileptic patient who had part of the brain exposed. When Penfield used an electrode to stimulate a portion of the cortex, here is what he reported:

“When the neurosurgeon applies an electrode to the motor area of the patient’s cerebral cortex causing the opposite hand to move, and when he asks the patient why he moved the hand, the response is: ‘I didn’t do it. You made me do it.’... It may be said that the patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.”

“Once when I warned a patient of my intention to stimulate the motor area of the cortex, and challenged him to keep his hand from moving when the electrode was applied, he seized it with the other hand and struggled to hold still. Thus, one hand, under the control of the right hemisphere driven by the electrode, and the other hand, which he controlled through the left hemisphere, were caused to struggle against each other. Behind the “brain action” of one hemisphere was the patient’s mind. Behind the action of the other hemisphere was the electrode.”

This experiment (and others like it) demonstrates that there is both a mind and brain. Mind is more than just merely a byproduct of the brain.


i) But if the mind were the brain, then how would it enjoy the objectivity to distinguish the source of excitation—whether internal or external?

ii) I also recall reading that the memories triggered by cortical stimulation are so vivid and detailed as to be indistinguishable from the original experience.

But if memory is stored in the brain, then how is total recall over a lifetime possible given the limited storage capacity of the brain?

iii) Yet another difficulty for the physicalist is how to account for the persistence of long-term member despite the loss of brain cells over time.

And even if old brain cells are replaced by new brain cells, how does personal identity survive the interchange? How does long-term memory survive the transition? And how are they transferred from old microstructures to new microstructures?

“My sole point is, if the mind is the primary cause, I still just don't get why an immaterial mind is "compartmentalized" and somehow "correlated" to particular loci in the brain...?? I may just be too dense to get how your answer addresses this.”

Dualism doesn’t operate in a metaphysical void. God assigns a certain soul to a certain body. That’s how soul and body pair off.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Immaterial agency

“That is an awfully ‘backwoods’ approach, compared to Steve's far more modern and sophisticated ‘an immaterial agent inside me, somehow, somewhere, does it...or something’".

This was part of Danny’s reply to me, but it’s really a separate issue from the relation between cosmology and Gen 1. So I’ll briefly respond to it in a separate post.

As usual, Danny has no concernment of the position he’s opposing. By definition, an immaterial agent is not “inside” a material compartment.

Being immaterial, it has no dimensions. Being immaterial, it occupies no volume of space.

Rather, a soul has a body, and a body has a soul.

Likewise, the soul uses the body.

If I were to give Danny a ring on his cell phone, I would not be inside his cell phone. Not even my voice would be inside his cell phone.

I would be outside his cell phone, but I would be using his cell phone to communicate with him. He would hear a simulated voice. And the signal would encode my words, while the words would encode my thoughts.

And although I had no direct, physical contact with him, I could make him do something.

Say I were to impersonate his chemistry professor. Suppose I told Danny that I wanted to see him in my office.

My mind would reach out to Danny through this indirect material medium and thereby make something happen.

Starfish and "Doing Away With the Law"

Sharon continues to pick up and defend the broken pieces of her argument:

> What do asexual starfish have to do with homosexual humans?

Trans-sexual clams and homosexual seagulls?
‘God saw all he had created and said it is good.’ Long before the original sin.

And thus you make the same assertion with the same assumptions that I questioned in my last post.

1. Sharon assumes that the way the world is today is the same as it was before the fall. But the very Bible that states “God saw all he had created and said it is good” denies this. Sharon needs to re-read Genesis 1-3.

2. Seagulls and clams aren’t moral agents. They aren’t committing a moral wrong. Their actions may or may not be a result of another’s wrong, but they themselves do not make moral choices.

3. Sharon continues to make the syllogistic leap from the animal kingdom to God’s image-bearers. It is natural for a starfish to reproduce asexually. In other words, this is an effective means of reproduction. But last I heard, homosexuality is an ineffective means of reproduction for humans. So for Sharon to argue that natural non-heterosexual behavior in the animal kingdom proves that homosexual behavior in God’s image-bearers is “natural” is the same things as arguing that because sponges filter feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water, it is “natural” and according to “God’s order of things” for humans to do the same.

God’s commandments apply to his image-bearers. The institution of marriage is a purely human institution.

Speaking of clams, are they clean to eat? Yes? All meat is good? Then why is homosexuality or bi-sexuality considered such a “mighty mighty abomination”?

Is Sharon really arguing like this? The self-debunkers are known to be theologically ignorant. The Old Covenant dietary laws were ceremonial laws. But sexual laws were purely moral. The instituted death penalty is a big red flag demonstrating this fact.

What is it, that is “so abominable” about homosexuality… I considered that earlier today and when I think about it, you know, I really cannot pinpoint anything specific… except the homophobia associated with it.

Homosexuality is sin because it transgresses God’s law. God, being the King of the Universe, has the right to impose laws upon his creation. Stealing is a sin because it transgresses God’s law. Murder is a sin because it transgresses God’s law. Disobedience to parents is a sin because it transgresses God’s law. The same is the case with homosexuality.

Why are God’s laws the way they are? Well, God is not obligated to give an answer. The clay cannot object to the Potter. But God has, in his mercy, given us an answer in Scripture. Homosexuality redefines the family unit. It negates God’s very purpose for marriage. Ultimately, it slanders the marriage between Christ and the church.

Those old laws were done away with the Christians tell me.

Where does Sharon get her theology? Ceremonial laws were fulfilled in the High Priesthood of Christ. Yet moral laws are binding upon all of creation. They are the measure for both sin and sanctification.

Most don’t waste time reading the Old Testament.

That is terribly misfortunate, for the Old Testament, as Jesus says, is all about Christ (John 5:39).

But notice that Sharon has persistently ignored those New Testament verses clearly and explicitly condemning homosexuality that I have presented to her. Here are only two:

Romans 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God

In fact, eating pork and shellfish can be more hazardous to your health than homosexuality.

1. While I could reasonably argue against this statement, evil isn’t evil because it is hazardous to your health. As far as I know, theft isn’t immediately hazardous to the health.

2. Sharon continues to commit category errors between ceremonial and moral laws. She doesn’t recognize divisions which the text itself recognizes. Her arguments are strawmen.

And what of Circumcision? It too was of such a great importance to Jehovah, it is written Moses came close to getting stricken dead, for his son wasn’t circumsized. Yet, in the New Testament circumcision is no longer a mandatory requirement, is that not part of the reason the Jews wanted to kill Paul? Paul was doing away with the laws.

1. Paul wasn’t “doing away with the laws.” He rightly viewed the ceremonial laws as being fulfilled in the High Priesthood of Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross. Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, so sacrificial laws no longer apply.

But does that mean that Paul would then assert “there are no more laws” and so that we can go on sinning? He answers for himself:

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Romans 13:13-14 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

2. Sharon persists to confuse ceremonial and moral laws, and she continues to ignore the New Testament condemnation of homosexuality.

Do we pick and choose which laws are still in effect and which ones not? Jesus said he had not came to do away with the law, but to fulfil. Do you believe it is okay to get blood transfusions? The Jehovah Witnesses don’t, and they too base their teachings on scripture –an old law.

Shall I quote the verses from the Old Testament about the abomination of eating the flesh of swine? Then why do you and other Christians eat swine?

The fact that Sharon cannot recognize the obvious distinction that the Old Covenant makes between civil, ceremonial, and moral laws speaks much more about the nature of Sharon’s research than the law itself. The fact that she persistently ignores what the New Testament states concerning this subject speaks volumes.

And remember, this isn’t some ad hoc answer made on the fly in order to defend a particular theological position. This comes straight from the text. This is what the text itself states. Theologians have recognized this long before anyone like Sharon asked these questions concerning homosexuality. Just because Sharon ignores the answer that the text has already given does not mean that the answer is neither legitimate nor true.

Really, when is John Loftus going to come in with his seminary degree and put his team in line? Is he not honest and fair enough to inform his team concerning their bad arguments?

I gather, if a homosexual accepts Christ, he is a Christian… and God is no respector of persons. His christianity is as good as yours.

“Christianity” is much more than a name: it means something. A Christian is a sinner that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and has received his work by grace through faith. But it doesn’t end there. A Christian has been saved that he might proclaim something about God in his holiness (1 Peter 2:9). Christ saves sinners, but then he transforms them into his image.

Last, but not least, I said my peace yesterday when I posted. Facts are facts, and I have seen nothing posted up to this point to debunk the science I presented you with. Homosexuality is as naturally occuring in nature, as heterosexuality.

It is very difficult to read this concluding statement with a straight face.

Sharon, why do you persist to commit category errors between the animal kingdom and God’s image-bearers? And why do you ignore the fact that the sexual behavior in these animals that is “natural” is able to reproduce, where homosexuality in humans is unable to reproduce? Why do you continue to equate asexual reproduction with homosexual activity?

Would you have us to believe that because sponges filter feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water, it is “natural” and according to “God’s order of things” for humans to do the same?

Sharon, why do you continue to ignore the Scriptural facts that have been presented to you? Why do you continue to mishandle texts like Genesis 19? Why do you persist in committing a category error with ceremonial and moral laws?

Evan May.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"God's Order of Things"

Our apostate master-mind Sharon Mooney pontificates:

What Sue seems to be overlooking, is that Homosexuality is not totally unnatural and against God’s order of things.

“Against God’s order of things”? So does Sharon believe in God? That’s certainly possible, for Debunking Christianity is a group of nonbelievers that are in no like mind apart from their rejection of Christianity. We were well informed of this when “Acharya S” briefly appeared on the scene for a short-lived contribution.

Of course, if Sharon denies the existence of God, her statement here is utterly ridiculous. If God does not exist then he has no “order of things,” and it would be complete nonsense to assert that anything is for or against his order.

But let’s assume that Sharon acknowledges the existence of God. What is her authority for his existence? Or, what is her means of knowing what he is like? This is the problem with “theistic” worldviews that are non-Christian. Perhaps Sharon is a deist. In fact, deism would be the perfect religion for Sharon: God is there when you need him to get things started, but he’s conveniently absent when you don’t want him around. But such a worldview is utterly unable to cause its proponent to lift her eyes off of herself. Sharon does not stop and consider what God likes or dislikes, what God has said about himself and the world. She cares not to be informed concerning an authoritative anthropology or harmatiology. When asking about God’s created “order of things,” she never once looks to God for the answer to the question.

Today, while composing an entry for my other blog on ocean species, I learned of yet another species that breaks “the rules”… I must admit as a heterosexual, it makes me uncomfortable. However, I suppose learning to accept those realities in nature is all part of increasing in intellectual and emotional maturity.

Sharon goes on to cite sources concerning certain clams where “nearly all individuals are male the first year then about half become females,” starfish which “may reproduce either sexually or asexually,” and the homosexual behavior that has been observed in certain animals.

I assume that the argument is that since this (supposedly) “homosexual” behavior is (supposedly) “natural” in these species, it is therefore “natural” and according to “God’s order of things” in humans. But there is quite a number of problems in this type of argumentation:

1. Let’s assume for the moment (we will question this later) that the nature of the actions in these specimen is “homosexual” in the same sense of human homosexuality. Even if we give this to Sharon, she is still relying on so many unestablished assumptions. She assumes that this behavior is natural in the animal kingdom in the sense that it is according to “God’s order of things”. But how could she possibly know this? In placing the discussion in the realm of theism (”God’s order of things”), she has naively brought so many difficulties upon herself. Since she is arguing against Christian theism in her post on homosexuality and in the rest of her work on this blog, we are free to frame the discussion internal to Christianity.

So how does Sharon know that this (supposedly) homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom is according to “God’s order of things”? This merely begs the question. That is, she is assuming her doctrine in order to prove her doctrine. She assumes that homosexual behavior is according to “God’s order of things” in the animal kingdom in order to prove it in human behavior. But certainly because things are the way they are doesn’t make them according to “God’s order of things.” God made his creation to be good. Murder exists in today’s world. It’s a reality. But then does the mere fact that it is present make it according to “God’s order of things”? In a word, how does Sharon know that this (supposedly) homosexual behavior in certain species is not, like human homosexuality, a result of the fall? She assumes what she needs to prove.

2. Sharon commits equivocations and category errors on so many levels. The fact that homosexual reproduction is nonexistent in the human species but existent in other species should sound an alarm. Sharon tells us that “Starfish may reproduce either sexually or asexually.” Does this mean that it then becomes “natural” or according to “God’s order of things” for humans to reproduce asexually? Does the fact that it is “natural” for a starfish to “breaks itself into two pieces” prove that it is “natural” for a human to reproduce in this manner? Not only is it unnatural for a human being to do so, but it is impossible!

I mean, just stop and think. Is this really Sharon’s argument? Let me remind you of her opening statement: “What Sue seems to be overlooking, is that Homosexuality is not totally unnatural and against God’s order of things.” And this is her supporting evidence?

3. Of course, I don’t deny that homosexual desires exist. This is because we live in a fallen world, and our flesh tempts us to sin. But the fact that desires exist does not make the act “natural” or according to “God’s order of things.”

4. The simple truth is that God has revealed his “order of things.” Sharon does not inform her presentation with what God himself has said. This is, no doubt, because Sharon denies special revelation. Sharon’s worldview doesn’t start external to herself, but internal to herself. That is, she doesn’t look outside herself for objective truth. Instead, her viewpoint on the world is dominated and controlled by the subjective realm of her own knowledge and experience.

5. Sharon seems to be unable to distinguish between homosexual and asexual behavior, and between sexual behavior in the animal kingdom and sexual behavior in the human race. Our topic concerns whether or not homosexuality is natural for humans, not whether or not asexuality is natural for starfish. It is quite a syllogistic leap, to say the least, to go from “asexuality is natural for starfish” to “therefore, homosexuality is natural for humans.”

6. We can divide Sharon’s supporting evidence into two categories: where the sexual act is natural and where the sexual act is unnatural. Both categories altogether fail to speak into the subject at hand.

In the category where the sexual act is natural, it is used as a means of reproduction (for instance, starfish and asexual reproduction). This, however, is irrelevant to the discussion because human homosexuality is unnatural in the sense that it is unable to be useful in reproduction. Once again the syllogistic leap appears. We might as well be arguing that because sponges filter feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water, it is natural for humans to do the same.

In the category where the sexual act is unnatural; that is, where the sexual act is unable to be effective in reproduction, the evidence is once again inconclusive. Sharon cites, “Two female macaque monkeys were observed giving each other orgasms.” But Sharon assumes that it is natural for the monkeys. This only begs the question and forces the discussion into the framework of a different reference point. She has only moved back the target that she must hit. Homosexual behavior exists. But that does not make it “natural.” Furthermore, there are many details of which Sharon or any scientist is ignorant. We don’t know what is in the minds of these monkeys. And even if we did, how does Sharon know that such action is not the result of the fall? The fall has affected all of the created realm.

Sharon then takes a completely pivotal action in her arguments and decides to address the Biblical text:

Was the Wickedness of Sodom Homosexuality?

1. Why does this matter? What does this have to do with whether or not homosexuality is “natural” and according to “God’s order of things”?

2. Perhaps Sharon has finally decided to remain in the internal critique and assume Biblical authority. If this is the case, then she acts as if this is the only place in the Bible where homosexuality is addressed, altogether ignoring where Scripture explicitly condemns homosexuality:

Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Romans 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God

All of these texts very clearly describe and condemn the homosexual act. In other words, God has been quite clear what his “order of things” is. If Sharon is attempting to argue that Scripture is ambiguous on this topic, she has quite a bit of homework to do.

Many theologians feel not, rather, tend to believe it was the wretched treatment of strangers.

If by “many” Sharon means a small percentage of liberal “scholars” on the fringe of nominal evangelicalism with an obvious political agenda, then she is correct. But these very “theologians” ultimately deny the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture, so Sharon only assumes a non-biblical worldview in order to prove a non-biblical worldview.

The meaning of the word knew and know according to the Concordance, does not typically mean sexual relations as many have implied when interpreting the events that are recorded to have taken place in Sodom.

1. At the risk of stating the obvious, Sharon is not a Hebrew exegete. Her version of “exegesis” is to look up a particular word in the concordance (in English) and cite all of its usages. But this tells us nothing of what the word means in this particular context.

2. The preceding petition between Abraham and God before the destruction of Sodom where Abraham asks God to spare the city on the account of ten righteous displays the spiritual state of the city. Not even ten were righteous. Indeed, it is as Moses states, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13). And Sharon wants us to believe that their sin was that of inhospitality? Standing in opposition to such a hypothesis, we see that these men’s sexual passions were so strong that Lot even had to offer his own daughters to them, and they still pursued the angels (Genesis 19:8)! These men didn’t just want to “know” the angels in the sense of “sit down and have a chat with them.” It takes nothing but intellectual dishonesty for anyone to argue that the meaning of this term is anything but sexual.

Evan May.

Swinish science

After having washed his hands of the “creationist” crowd, Danny has evidently had a change of heart.

“First, note that far down in the post, I said I was going to quote from authorities. I didn't pretend that I was going to write from my own.”

I don’t have any particular problem with Danny speaking outside his field of expertise. I just want to make it clear to all that Danny is, indeed, speaking outside his field of expertise.

And the field in question is a highly specialized and interdisciplinary field—cosmology.

This simply means that Danny doesn’t know whether what he’s saying is true or false. All he’s giving us is an argument from authority—and from selected authorities, at that.

This is important to keep in mind when Danny assumes an oracular tone about how Gen 1 is falsified by the scientific evidence.

Danny is in no position to know that. He’s just a popularizer of a popularizer—regurgitating what Tanner Edis and others spoon-feed him.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But he doesn’t speak with any authority. He lacks the technical equipment to judge for himself. And he picks and chooses which authorities he puts his faith in.

For example, he’s apparently a firm believer in string theory. But, of course, there are scientific authorities who oppose string theory. So what’s an amateur to do when the experts disagree?

“If he doesn't have credentials, does he marshal out his big thoughts on whatever strikes his fancy, especially concerning that last post, in which he attempts to address science?”

What I did in my last post was not to make any scientific pronouncements, but to pose some questions for Danny.

“Then why would we want to get our information on "creation science" from him, rather than a bona fide credentialled creationist? Enter AiG and ICR.”

This is yet another example of Danny’s chronic reading incomprehension. In the various posting I’ve done on this thread, I never made a case for creation science, or proposed an alternative cosmological theory proffered by some representative of the creationist community.

All I did was to discuss the exegesis and implications of Gen 1,on the one hand, while citing a number of scientific authorities or philosophers in which they discuss various difficulties besetting cosmology, the philosophy of science, or theories of perception, on the other.

So the only scientists I cited were scientists who do not belong to the creationist camp—scientists who represent mainstream physics and cosmology.

In other words, I wasn’t making a case by citing any conservative Christian physicists or cosmologists. Rather, I made by case by citing the opposition.

Pity that Danny is still too dim to see that.

“I suppose I don't really care to hear Steve's refutation of Ryle's Regress any more than he cares to hear the materialist explanation of stellar evolution, then.”

The link takes us to a Wikipedia article. How is this article supposed to disprove indirect realism?

As long as Danny chooses to use Wikipedia as his gold standard, let’s follow the links. Here’s some of what a related article has to say:

“A problem with representationalism is that if it assumes that something in the brain, described as a homunculus, is viewing the perception, this suggests that some physical effect or phenomenon other than simple data flow and information processing must be involved in perception. This was not an issue for the rationalist philosophers such as Descartes, since dualism held that there is indeed a 'homunculus' in the form of the mind.”

But since, as I say in my profile, which Danny read, that I’m a Cartesian dualist, this gives me an automatic exemption from Ryle’s regress.

This is reinforced by yet another article:

“The succession of data transfers that are involved in perception suggests that somewhere in the brain there is a final set of activity, called sense data, that is the substrate of the percept. Perception would then be some form of brain activity and somehow the brain would be able to perceive itself. This concept is known as indirect realism. In Indirect Realism it is held that we can only be aware of external objects by being aware of representations of objects. This idea was held by John Locke and Immanuel Kant. The common argument against indirect realism, used by Gilbert Ryle amongst others, is that it implies a homunculus or Ryle's regress where it appears as if the mind is seeing the mind in an endless loop. This argument assumes that perception is entirely due to data transfer and classical information processing. This assumption is highly contentious (see strong AI) and the argument can be avoided by proposing that the percept is a phenomenon that does not depend wholly upon the transfer and rearrangement of data.”

I’d add that even if my own position were flawed, that is not an argument for his position. He needs to mount an independent argument for his own position—if he even knows what it is.

Speaking of which—this is what the last named article has to say about the science of sensation:

“The science of perception is concerned with how events are observed and interpreted. An event may be the occurrence of an object at some distance from an observer. According to the scientific account this object will reflect light from the sun in all directions. Some of this reflected light from a particular, unique point on the object will fall all over the corneas of the eyes and the combined cornea/lens system of the eyes will divert the light to two points, one on each retina. The pattern of points of light on each retina forms an image. This process also occurs in the case of silouettes where the pattern of absence of points of light forms an image. The overall effect is to encode position data on a stream of photons and to transfer this encoding onto a pattern on the retinas. The patterns on the retinas are the only optical images found in perception, prior to the retinas light is arranged as a fog of photons going in all directions.”

So, as I said before, the human mind lacks direct access to the observable. What we perceive is encoded information—information which has run through several permutations to reach our consciousness.

And this is a scientific analysis of perception. So the veil of perception is not merely a philosophical doctrine, but is a problem internal to science as well.

Surely this is highly germane when we ask about the relation between theory and reality.


“One question, though:
Steve, the ‘perception’ of divine revelation is different than the perception of "non-divine observation"”

I never spoke of the “perception” of divine revelation. Rather, I spoke of revelation as a partial way around the veil of perception.

God knows the world without perceiving the world. So there’s no gap between appearance and reality in God’s knowledge of the world.

And God can reveal his knowledge to us.

True, the Bible is an empirical object. But our knowledge of the propositions of Scripture doesn’t depend any resemblance between the abstract concepts and the linguistic tokens which encode those concepts.

Moving along:

“I've yet to take the first course in philosophy. I've read only sparsely in the field of philosophy.”

That’s not necessarily a problem. The question at issue is not your knowledge, or lack thereof, of philosophy in general, but the philosophy of science.

I don’t think it’s asking too much that a doctoral candidate in science have some grounding in the philosophy of science.

And even if that were asking too much, if you’re going to say that science disproves the Bible, then, even before you can appeal to the scientific “evidence,” you have to espouse and defend some version of scientific realism which would be sufficiently robust to make such a disproof even possible.

Instead of mousing over to Wikipedia, you might begin by reading relevant entries (along with the referenced literature) in, say, the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Science (Blackwell 2001), viz. “Berkeley,” “Confirmation, Paradoxes of,” “Convention, Role of,” “Evidence & Confirmation,” “Explanation,” “Feyerabend,” “Idealization,” “Induction & the Uniformity of Nature,” “Kuhn,” “Lakatos,” “Laws of Nature,” “Locke,” “Logical Empiricism,” “Mach,” Mathematics, Role in Science,” “Metaphor in Science,” “Metaphysics, Role in Science,” “Models & Analogies,” “Observation & Theory,” “Popper,” “Quine,” Realism & Instrumentalism,” “Russell,” “Theoretical Terms: Meaning & Reference,” and “Underdetermination of Theory by Data,” to name a few.


“I take visual perception to be the combination of light entering your eye, your brain receiving and interpreting the signal, and another part of your brain using the combination of the signal and memory/experience to make sense of it.”

Fine. Let’s assume that this simplistic analysis is roughly correct. Notice that on this view the information which reaches the mind is already preinterpreted by the black box of our sensory processing system. What you end up with is a cryptogram.

So, my question, based on your own stated position, is how a cosmological theory can disprove the Biblical description of the world when your theory is so many steps removed from the sensory data. How do you compare appearance and reality? On your view, they are clearly distinct.

Notice, again, that I’m not relying on creation science to make my case. I’m pulling my material from the opposition to my own position.

“Perhaps you should ask me what I think rather than telling me what a wild animal I am for thinking it.”

Oh, dear! “Animal faith” is a coinage of George Santayana. I have to remind myself to assume as little as possible about Danny’s knowledge of the history of ideas.

Moving along:


Steve, it appears you have changed your mind. You said originally,
ME: Which also record lots of other goodies, like that the earth was created before the stars, that the plants were created before the sun, that the "days" were present before the sun,”

Steve: And the problem with all this is what, exactly?

Okay. So you admit now that there was a problem, if the sun was not in place before the earth. Fine. So I suppose we should focus on the new problem that this brings up, now that you've changed your mind from saying that there was no problem with plants existing before the sun. Now, your new problem is, you admit that the Hebrew Creation Myth is in dispute--the traditional interpretation is not one that you hold.


There’s a certain morbid fascination in tracking such an illogical reasoning process.

i) As I’ve said more than once, if the traditional interpretation is correct, that does not present a problem, and if my interpretation is correct, that does not present a problem either.

On the traditional reading, it would not be a problem since there would still be a solar equivalent in place on day 1.

On my reading, it would not be a problem since the sun was already in place on day 1.

The problematic rendering of Gen 1:14 is not a problem in relation to modern cosmology, for however you render it, you either have a sun or else a solar equivalent before the plants came on the scene.

BTW, we’re talking about just one verse—not the whole chapter.

Once again, how many Morgans does it take to change a light bulb?

However often I explain something to him, however often I paraphrase my explanation, it still bounces off his noggin.

“Besides, creationists have worked pretty hard on elucidating the differences in the sequences between modern science and the myth.”

i) Yet another inexhaustible example of Danny’s reading incomprehension. I never denied a difference between the sequence of Gen 1 and the sequence of modern science.

What I denied is that such a difference invalidates Gen 1. Danny has done nothing to show otherwise.

ii) And on any of the proposed readings, we still have a sequence of six consecutive calendar days—as I said before.

“Okay, so you admitted that yours is not the traditional reading, but you argued previously that even in the traditional reading it didn't matter.”

Yes, for purposes of scientific disproof, it matters not one way or the other, for either way, science is in no position to prove it wrong.

“I was arguing against the traditional and straightforward reading. This is where I pointed out to Steve that more than light is needed -- or else the planet's temperature would be lower than that of Pluto (which is warmed slightly by the distant sun). There would be no "waters" on the earth -- only ice.”

Everyone knows that sunlight is a source of heat as well as light—including the ancient Israelites. Try living in the Sinai desert for forty years.

“Steve's position evolved...just like stars, and life on earth.”

i) Only on Danny’s typical misreading of what was said.

ii) Let us also remember that Danny has been raising new objections which he didn’t invoke the first time around.

No, I didn’t respond to an objection that didn’t come up at the time of writing.

I address different answers to different objections. This doesn’t represent an evolution in my position. Rather, it represents an evolution in his critique. My replies go wherever his objections go. That’s what makes a response responsive. New arguments invite new counterarguments.

But I haven’t retracted my original position one inch.

“Nooooo...I believe I pointed out that more than light is needed -- heat it.”

Yes, Danny, everyone understands that a solar light source (or functional equivalent) is a heat source.

“Steve seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. If the lights [plural] in the expanse of the sky here, which mark seasons, days, and years, and govern the day and the night...are not the sun and moon...what in the hell are they?”

As I’ve explained several times now, they are the sun and moon.

And that’s consistent with my interpretation, with Wiseman’s (who renders the verb differently), and with Sailhammer’s (who renders the syntax differently).

Once again, this bounced right off Danny’s bulletproof noggin.

“An ad hoc is when the interpretation of Genesis is "tweaked" a bit.”

The so-called “tweaking” is a case of how to render the Hebrew wording in v14. That isn’t “tweaking.” That’s a preliminary to doing exegesis. It’s written in Hebrew. So you have to ask what the Hebrew nouns and verbs mean (semantics)—and they may mean more than one thing—as well as how they go together (syntax).

This isn’t “tweaking” the text. This is just the nuts-and-bolts of grammar and lexicography, without which you can’t do exegesis on the original text.

The identification of intertextual parallels between the creation account and the flood account isn’t “tweaking” the text. Rather, that’s a stock observation in the standard line of commentaries, viz. Currid, Hamilton, Hartley, Kidner, Ross, Sailhamer, Waltke, Wenham. If need be, I can give page numbers. It’s only an arm-length away.

The identification of certain architectural metaphors is not a case of “tweaking” the text, but being sensitive to the demonstrable presence of such metaphors. As one scholar observes:


The OT frequently uses a building motif to describe the universe. It figuratively represents the cosmos as a three-storied building composed of the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the sector below the earth (e.g. Exod 20:4)…Architectural imagery is also found in the creation account of Gen 1. The world is divided into compartments or “rooms” for habitation by the various creatures. The sky is a canopy-like covering (“the firmament”) serving as a roof for the earth. Lights are installed in the roof in order to provide illumination.

J. Currid, Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament (Baker 1997), 43.


“And miracles are invoked (plants without a sun) to explain difficulties in the traditional interpretation of the myth.”

The entire narrative is miraculous. This is, after all, a divine creation account.

Miracles like having plants without a sun are not grafted on after the fact. Rather, that would be a structural feature of the account on the traditional reading.

Danny is a man who used to consider himself a Christian. In all his years as a nominal Christian, did it never occur to him that the creative fiats in Gen 1 are intended to be supernatural?

Did he really think the creation week was ever meant to be understood in terms of purely naturalistic processes? And supernatural intervention was only smuggled in by Christian apologetes to stave off the encroachments of modern cosmology and historical geology?

Does Danny not know the first thing about the history of Judeo-Christian exegesis?

“You tailor-made a solution to retain (in your own mind) the characteristic of inerrancy, but, to your credit, you are acquiescing to common sense and scientific reason on some levels: at first, you saw "no problem" with plants before the sun.”

i) You’re the one who sees a problem. I’m merely responding to you.

If a child says there’s a monster in the closet, and I assuage his fears by opening the closet door to show him that there is no monster, I’m not acquiescing to the problem of the monster in the closet—as if there really is a monster in the closet, albeit well-hidden from view. I’m merely answering the child on his own level.

ii) There’s also a basic difference between an exegetical problem and a scientific problem. There are certain exegetical questions regarding the meaning of Gen 1:14. That’s internal to the text. And that’s quite distinct from extraneous scientific objections.

But if someone is going to raise extraneous scientific objections to v14, then that naturally requires us to investigate the original meaning of v14.

“Okay, so do the creationists who have already done this qualify? Do I need to go to a seminary to figure out if Genesis is an unscientific creation myth?”

This is another one of Danny’s many confusions. To believe in special creation doesn’t commit one to creation science.

Jews and Christians took Gen 1 literally long before the rise of creation science. Taking Gen 1 literally is a prerequisite of creation science, but that alone doesn’t commit you to creation science, a la Walt Brown or Kurt Wise.

A creation scientist believes it’s possible to defend the literally interpretation of Gen 1 (as well as Gen 7) on scientific grounds. He believes that the preponderance of the scientific evidence supports special creation. He believes that it’s possible to devise scientific models, consistent with Gen 1 (and Gen 7), which are empirically adequate and equivalent, if not superior, to naturalistic theories.

In sum, he shares, in common with the secular scientist, a belief that it’s possible to reconstruct the distant past. Natural history—even to the point of origins.

I do not. I don’t believe that scientific theories enjoy that degree of truth-value. I regard scientific theories as useful fictions.

Well, not entirely. Some scientific theories (e.g. Darwinism) are useless fictions.

My position is closer to Hawking’s, or—if you prefer a Christian counterpart—John Byl.

“Okay. The implication of an earth before a sun, aside from "which orbits which?" include problems with plant life or water being above -180C, or so. It's pretty simple.”

It’s pretty simple for a simple-minded disputant who, no matter however often you remind him, can never absorb the oft-stated point that, on a traditional reading of the text, there is already a luminary in place on day one which is responsible for the diurnal cycle. And where there’s light, there’s heat—as in radiant energy.

“I don't believe I said it was. I said your ad hoc way of reading "light source" from Gen 1 still doesn't solve the real problem of heat energy, which you at first appear to not even realize.”

I respond to objections as they arise. Since you didn’t raise that objection on the first round, there was nothing to respond to.

So we might as well say that you didn’t realize the problem until I said what I did and you reacted accordingly.

“It is an ad hoc solution because the plain reading of 1.14-16 is clearly referring to the creation of the sun, moon, and other stars, as hundreds of scholars who aren't "intellectual charlatans" like me and have done the "spade work" agree.”

This is not a factual refutation of the evidence I brought forward. It is no evidence at all.

Let’s see Danny back up his claim. Let’s see Danny produce a bibliography of his “hundreds” of scholars, by name, title, and pagination, who disagree with me.

“Quite clearly, the text is asserting that the sun and moon were made on day four.”

Quite clearly, Danny has never read Donald Wiseman’s article in which he discusses the semantic range and domain of the verb. Cf. D. J. Wiseman, (1991), “Creation Time—What does Genesis Say?,” Science & Christian Belief, 3/1 (1991), 25-34.

Quite clearly, Danny has never read Sailhammer’s commentary on the syntax of Gen 1:14. Cf. EBC 2:34.

Quite clearly, and unlike me, Danny never ran Sailhammer’s rendering by three other Hebraists, only to receive three different answers from Bruce Waltke (coauthor of the standard Hebrew grammar), David Clines (editor of the standard Hebrew lexicon), and John Currid, who received his doctorate from the Oriental Institute of Chicago.

So, yes, I withhold judgment.

Quite clearly, Danny has never consulted the standard commentators on Genesis (whom I cited above) regarding intertextual parallels between the creation account and the flood account.

Quite clearly, Danny has never consulted commentaries and monographs on the use of architectural imagery in Gen 1 to foreshadow the tabernacle. Cf. G. Beale, The Temple & the Church’s Mission (IVP 2004); P. Enns, Exodus (Zondervan 2000); M. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (; J. Levenson, Creation & the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Omnipotence (Harper & Row 1988).

“Quite clearly, the text is asserting that days even existed before the sun and moon were made.”

True, which quite clearly means that on Danny’s own interpretation, the problem is a pseudoproblem given the existence of a solar stand-in on day 1.

“Quite clearly, this reflects an unscientific and ignorant appraisal of the cosmos, by a people who I don't hold at fault for their ignorance.”

Quite clearly, prescientific Jews knew about the normal relationship between the sun and the diurnal cycle, as well as the normal relationship between sunshine and heat.

“That there is some way to get around the plain and obvious issue that the creation myth is quite unscientific in its sequence of events and general setup (days before sun/moon)?”

Coming from an apostate, when did the plain and obvious issue become plain and obvious to you? As a nominal Christian, when did you make this sudden and stunning discovery?

If it’s really all that plain and obvious, it doesn’t say much about your IQ that it took so long for something so plain and obvious to dawn on you.

And if it’s so plain and obvious to you, it would be even more obvious to an ancient Israelite who was much more attuned to the cycles of nature than a contemporary urbanite and technocrat.

“When this very philosophical position (ex nihilo) renders my attempts futile?”

Ex nihilo is a theological position, not a philosophical position. A philosophical position would be indirect realism or instrumentalism or positivism.


And, no matter how many times I bounce "matter and energy are not created nor destroyed, they transform" off your head, you don't seem to get it either. Matter and energy require no a priori explanation of origin. The universe itself doesn't either. Science has given us a way to see that time is a feature of this universe and that this universe originated from a singularity which itself was not created. Yet again, we see a transformation from one form of energy into another, but no need to say "God poofed" at any step of the process. That very step is what I "oppose", old chap.


What’s missing from this claim? Let’s see. He has no theory of perception to underwrite his claim. He has no philosophy of science to underwrite this claim. And since he’s not an astrophysicist or cosmologist by training, this is nothing more than a blind appeal to authority. What is more, there is nothing approaching a scientific consensus on this question.

“Assumes what it needs to prove? The law is based on every bit of the knowledge we have of physics,”

Earth-bound knowledge of the physical laws governing the observable regions or our particular universe. Not a knowledge of physical laws prior to the big bang.

“And the concept of "something cannot come from nothing" in philosophy.”

A silly equivocation, since the Creator of the world is far from nothing.

“I can't argue with someone who invokes a miracle whenever they are confronted with a difficulty in their text.”

This is, as I’ve demonstrated on more than one occasion now, a straw man argument.

“Ockham would dictate that we look for the most reasonable explanations, and we can argue about what constitutes ‘reasonable.’"

The explanation should be no simpler than the explandans.

“By your philosophical bent, it is more reasonable to think ‘poof’ while by my own, ‘poof’ doesn't exist.

You’ve become very attached to this word (“poof”), as a multipurpose retort. Hiding behind a cutesy word is a substitute for reason.

“So something from nothing is scientific?”

You continue to reiterate the same misrepresentation of ex nihilo. If you cannot honestly represent the opposing position, then you don’t have an honest argument for your own position.

Why bother being a college student if you’re so incurious and anti-intellectual that you constantly take refuge in these intellectual short cuts: “poof,” “something from nothing”?

Does our little debate leave you that mentally maxed out?

“Science is based on the assumption of naturalism.”

This is dogma, not science. For a former “Christian,” you don’t know the difference between providence and naturalism.

The subject-matter of science is ordinary providence.

“Is there anything in science you can point me to which claims matter can be "poofed" from nothing?”

You’re assuming, without benefit of argument, that all knowledge is scientific knowledge.

“This is hardly surprising, and it means very little. If you have ever solved a differential equation (which I already know the answer to, as your display of hubris over this quote is revealing) you'd know the solutions are often pages long. In my differential equations classes at VT, I regularly had homework assignments whose solutions were 4 pages. Perhaps you could relate, but competence in mathematics isn't proven by being able to crunch through DiffEq. Building a model and solving an equation are entirely different skill set levels.”

Which begs the question of whether mathematical and theoretical physics operate at entirely different skill set levels. What about Roger Penrose or Ed Witten? Or, from another era, Leibniz and Newton?

“Steve goes on to try to pit the empiricists (Hawking) against the [implied useless] theorists (Witten).”

No, I didn’t pit Hawking against Witten.

As I already explained—something that always trips up Danny—I quoted Hawking as an example of a leading cosmologist who’s also an antirealist in his philosophy of science.

If, as Hawking would have it, a theory doesn’t have to represent reality, then the lack of correspondence between modern cosmology and Gen 1 is irrelevant to the veracity of Gen 1.

Sorry if Danny is too slow to trace out the connection, even when I already connected the dots for him.

Now, someone is free to disagree with Hawking’s positivism. But you need to have an argument for why he’s wrong, and you also need to mount an argument for your alternative. Danny does neither.

I brought up Witten to ask how a fourth-order abstraction can be true of the world when it is four steps removed from the observational data.

Once again, Danny has no answer.

Turtle-like, Danny withdraws his head into a shell, hoping the big bad T-blogger will go away. Poof!

“Thankfully, believers like yourself and Steve don't bother going after the "big guns" like Bart…”

If Danny were paying attention to the debate, he’d realize that a number of scholars have already taken Bart Ehrman to task. I can send him some links.

“Sadly, it appears that your ranks among published and recognized philosophers has steadily dwindled for generations, and the trend shows no signs of reversal.”

Is that a fact?


Greetings and Farewell
Editorial by Keith M. Parsons

My experience editing Philo was bittersweet. Philo was born out of discussions between myself and Timothy J. Madigan, Executive Director of the Society of Humanist Philosophers. I was concerned that recent work in the philosophy of religion had been dominated by theists, with few replies and critiques by atheist or humanist philosophers. Worse, a very conservative strain of apologetic, heretofore relegated to the periphery of academic discussion, had begun to enter the mainstream. I was, and am, convinced that the vast majority of professional philosophers are nontheists who endorse secular aims and values, yet, while theist philosophers energetically pursued their agenda, the secular voice was mute.

Philo was founded to provide the forum for the best and most sophisticated expression of atheist and humanist philosophy, while still being open to the publication of articles by theists. With much trepidation, I agreed to edit Philo, a job for which I had no experience. While I have been proud to serve as the founding editor, I have been disappointed by the response of the philosophical community. For any journal to thrive, it must have a generous number of high-quality submissions from top scholars. While I feel that the pieces we did publish were generally very good, we often had to make issues slimmer than I would have liked because we had too few top-notch submissions. I do sincerely hope that humanist philosophers will support Philo by submitting some of their best work and not leave the field to an increasingly strident and aggressive religious apologetic.

The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism
by Quentin Smith

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers. Can you imagine a sizeable portion of the articles in contemporary physics journals suddenly presenting arguments that space and time are God’s sensorium (Newton’s view) or biology journals becoming filled with theories defending élan vital or a guiding intelligence? Of course, some professors in these other, non-philosophical, fields are theists; for example, a recent study indicated that seven percent of the top scientists are theists.1 However, theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected, requiring them to write secular articles if they wanted to be published. If a scientist did argue for theism in professional academic journals, such as Michael Behe in biology, the arguments are not published in scholarly journals in his field (e.g., biology), but in philosophy journals (e.g., Philosophy of Science and Philo, in Behe’s case). But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, “academically respectable” to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today. A count would show that in Oxford University Press’ 2000–2001 catalogue, there are 96 recently published books on the philosophy of religion (94 advancing theism and 2 presenting “both sides”). By contrast, there are 28 books in this catalogue on the philosophy of language, 23 on epistemology (including religious epistemology, such as Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief), 14 on metaphysics, 61 books on the philosophy of mind, and 51 books on the philosophy of science.

And how have naturalist philosophers reacted to what some committed naturalists might consider as “the embarrassment” of belonging to the only academic field that has allowed itself to lose the secularization it once had? Some naturalists wish to leave the field, considering themselves as no longer doing “philosophy of mind,” for example, but instead “cognitive science.” But the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist. (The numbers “one-quarter” and “one-third” are not the result of any poll, but rather are the exceptionless, educated guesses of every atheist and theist philosophy professor I have asked [the answers varied between “one-quarter” and “one-third”]). Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

The current practice, ignoring theism, has proven to be a disastrous failure. More fully, naturalist philosophers’ pursuit of the cultural goal of mainstream secularization in a philosophically governed way has failed both philosophically (in regards to the philosophical aspects of this philosophically governed pursuit of the cultural goal) and culturally. The philosophical failure has led to a cultural failure. We have the following situation: A hand waving dismissal of theism, such as is manifested in the following passage from Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind, has been like trying to halt a tidal wave with a hand-held sieve. Searle responds to about one-third of contemporary philosophers with this brush-off: Talking about the scientific and naturalist world-view, he writes: “this world view is not an option. It is not simply up for grabs along with a lot of competing worldviews. Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather than in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remained convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith.”2 Searle does not have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion and, if he did, he might, in the face of the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today, say something more similar to the non-theist Richard Gale (who does have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion), whose conclusion of a 422 page book criticizing contemporary philosophical arguments for God’s existence (as well as dealing with other matters in the philosophy of religion), reads “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith”3 (if only for the reason, Gale says, that his book does not examine the inductive arguments for God’s existence). If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist, which is similar to the attitude expressed by Searle in the previous quote, the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.