Friday, March 17, 2017

Atheism and its discontents

I recently got into a debate with a former evangelical Christian turned atheist. Here are some bits and pieces from my replies I thought might be helpful to some. Apologies if there's still a lot of filler or fodder in here as I wasn't necessarily all that discriminating in what I left in or took out. Also sorry I don't have the time to better organize this (e.g. topically). It's mostly just a quick copy and paste job in chronological order. And keep in mind I'm not a biblical scholar, theologian, or philosopher so I'm open to correction.


"The first sentence is in conflict with the definition of God, which includes goodness."

Hm, how is God not intending to save everyone in conflict with God's goodness?

If God intended to save everyone, wouldn't everyone be saved? What could thwart God's intention? If LFW, then for starters we'd have to argue the Bible teaches LFW.


"You do, so surely that means you think God can overcome or circumvent their LFW otherwise there is no point praying."

Well, speaking for myself, I subscribe to compatibilism, not LFW.

"If God can and He doesn’t, then that means He is not good: He wills them to be eternally punished despite the saving work of Christ. How do you escape this seeming problem in the logic?"

1. I don't see how it follows from God can but doesn't answer prayer to therefore he is not good. To take a lesser but hopefully still analogous case, say there is a good father who has two kids. If both kids asked their father for something, but their requests conflicted with one another, then the father can't very well grant both requests. However, it doesn't therefore follow the father isn't good even though he can't grant both their requests.

2. There's no "despite the saving work of Christ" because I don't believe Christ died for every single person in human history.

"There was a link to my story in that I wanted to know if you thought I was mistaken praying so much for my dad."

I think Steve Hays has given you several excellent replies.

"Now you’d be delighted to hear of a killer turning to God and being saved. Surely?"

I'm afraid this misses my point. My point is God is not obligated to save everyone. That includes me. That's because I'm a sinner and I don't deserve to be saved. What I deserve is punishment for the many wrongs I've committed.


"Patrick, the Euthyphro dilemma is not on how God behaves but the nature of goodness..."

Actually, as far as that goes, that's a false dichotomy inasmuch as one's nature and one's behavior are related.

"Can you please explain what the good is in delivering this justice?"

If you're looking for a personal answer specifically tailored to your father's case, I don't see how anyone other than God would be in a position to know.

However, the fact that one human being is ignorant about why God didn't save another human being doesn't therefore mean God does not exist.


"My father was a normal bloke with a family praying for him. Isn't that a pretty normal and general situation? I'm not asking for you or Steve to answer personally like 'it was the way your father laughed about God's actions in Joshua' or anything - you don't know my dad. It is a general answer I am requesting. Imagine it is any person."

Hasn't your question been: why doesn't God answer prayers to save someone? If so, Steve Hays, for one, has given you plenty of reasonable "general answer[s]". I'm not sure what else you're looking for?

"I agree if you can't answer, even in general terms, it does not mean God does not exist. It probably means that if the God of the Bible is real, He can't be understood even slightly. That has knock-on consequences."

No, even if (arguendo) we can't answer, it doesn't follow that "He can't be understood even slightly". If, as you say, "the God of the Bible is real", then God has revealed himself in the Bible. If God has revealed himself in the Bible, then there's enough about God in the Bible that he can be "understood" at least to some degree. If he can be "understood" to some degree, then that's more than "He can't be understood even slightly".


"If the other factors make for punishment best being less than the crime, then your principle is cruel. For example, the Texas sharpshooter should not be killed but locked up and have surgery for the tumor, then released when we are fully sure it is safe."

On a practical note, Ed acts as if arresting and locking up Charles Whitman while he was holed up in a clock tower would've been a live possibility back in the 1960s. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, it was because of Whitman that modern SWAT teams were created, wasn't it? The regular police weren't equipped to handle a military trained sniper gunning down victims at whim.

Also, it's not as if anyone knew it was a brain tumor until after the fact. Although there may have been clues here and there, some of which in hindsight might've been regarded as clear red flags, at least to my knowledge there was nothing absolutely definitive.

Besides, depending on the location of the tumor, I'm not even sure it would've been operable, given the state of neurosugery and medical technology in the 1960s.


"This is so frustrating. I posted it as a question that you have refused to answer after several attempts I’ve made to get you to address it"

1. There's nothing necessarily wrong with not answering a question. Nor with not answering a question in exactly the way a questioner has posed a question. That's because, for one thing, it's possible to (intentionally or unintentionally) ask the wrong sort of question (e.g. loaded question, leading question, complex question fallacy, offering false dichotomies). Again, whether or not it was your intention, not all questions are innocuous questions perfectly aimed at truth-seeking. Sometimes a person even has to correct the question being asked or reframe the question entirely or ask a different question and so on in order to get a better answer.

2. Also, you earlier admitted that we need not consider the specific case of your father, because we don't personally know your father. Instead, you said, we should just consider general or generic cases. That's precisely what Steve has repeatedly done. But you keep inserting your father into your questions despite the fact that you earlier said we need not consider his specific case. You can't have it both ways. That's quite unfair.


"Can you please explain what the good is in delivering this justice?"

"The question is the same, in place of my dad is a generic person who is prayed for and despite that he/she does not believe and goes to hell."

1. As I said, Steve already answered the question. Not in the way that may satisfy you, but in a way that's more true to the Bible.

2. Here's how I understand two of Steve's answers, though Steve can correct me where I'm mistaken (and it should go without saying any mistakes or potential problems are my own):

a. Suppose you have two worlds: world A and world B. Suppose world A is a world where Adam and Eve are saved, but their son Cain is not. Suppose world B is a world where Adam, Eve, and their son Cain are all saved. In other words, Cain is damned in world A, whereas he's saved in world B.

A world in which Cain is saved would be different than a world in which Cain is damned. For one thing, obviously, Cain is saved rather than damned.

If Cain had been saved, then he would not have been "a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth". He would not have "went away from the presence of the Lord". He would not have "settled in the land of Nod" at the time he did. He would not have married the woman he married. He would not have sired the son he did. He would not have "built a city" after his son. He would not have had the same descendants he had including Lamech, but instead would have had different descendants.

At the same time, in a world where Cain was saved, Adam and Eve would not have had a son named Seth, of whom Eve said: "God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him", because in a world where Cain was saved, Cain would not have murdered Abel. If Seth had not been born, then Seth's descendants would not exist including Seth and his descendants who came to be saved by God.

Thus, in a world in which Cain was saved, Seth would not exist, and neither would his descendants, many if not most of whom were saved. By simply changing a single variable and saying Cain was saved, it means Seth and all his descendants would not exist, and thus they would not be saved.

You could argue a world in which Cain was saved would have been good for Cain and perhaps his descendants, but a world in which Cain was saved would have been bad for Seth and all his descendants, depriving them of existence.

Hence one good (and bad) is offset by another good (and bad).

b. Also, in a world where all have done wrong, moreover where all are *wrongdoers* in their innermost being, "justice" would be to damn everyone. That's the world in which we live. If you want "justice", then justice would be that everyone ends up damned.

Of course, damnation and going to hell doesn't mean hell is a torture chamber or like Dante's Inferno. Rather, it's possible to be in hell even if one is in paradise. That's in part because we still have to live with ourselves, and living with ourselves can be punishment enough. That's in part because we have to live with others, and living with others can be punishment enough. Presuming no fundamental change in a person's nature, which would be what hell would involve. No "new creation", the old has not passed away, the new has not come.

Imagine even husbands and wives who dearly love one another can get annoyed with one another over the pettiest grievances. Imagine that being the case for eternity. Imagine you were immortal but otherwise unchanged. Imagine that's the case for everyone else around you too. Given enough time, even the best friendships begin to wear thin.

3. Although I don't entirely agree with it, have you read Alvin Plantinga's "Supralapsarianism, or 'O Felix Culpa'"?


"The problem is how to understand God choosing not to answer faithful prayer for someone who does not believe, prayer to get them saved."

In other words, why doesn't God answer every prayer request to save someone? Again, we've addressed this almost ad nauseam now.

By the way, just because someone is "faithful" in prayer does not necessarily compel God to save the person they're "faithfully" praying for. God can take the prayer of his child into consideration, but that in no way forces God's hand. As if being "faithful" in prayer necessitates God must save. God isn't Santa Claus, where if you're nice he'll give you a gift, but if you're naughty then he won't. God isn't an if-then statement. God isn't a computer algorithm. God isn't a mathematical equation. We can't tame God; God is not tame.

"You agree that God’s justice is fully satisfied when He does answer such prayers, due to the saving work of Christ. That is my understanding of the problem which I think you agree with."

Sorry, no, that's incorrect on at least two counts:

1. I don't believe Christ died for everyone.

2. I believe "justice" would be for everyone to be condemned because everyone has sinned and/or everyone is sinful.

"God’s goodness as seen in His justice is not dictionary goodness but something more complicated"

Well, we said that because you kept insisting a dictionary definition would be sufficient to define God's goodness. However, that's like saying Merriam-Webster's definition of "pathology" sufficiently captures what pathologists, scientists, and other researchers mean when they say "pathology".

"You think that it is certainly something that must be understood as a moral issue"

How would God's goodness be better understood as a non-moral issue?

"There does not need to be a good beyond this inherent justice, so worries about a lack of any other perceivable good from deterrence, protection or correction do not matter."

Although retributive justice presumes it is intrinsically good to punish an offender, it does not therefore follow that "deterrence, protection or correction do not matter". For example, although it is intrinsically good to punish a rapist for rape, it does not therefore follow that deterring rapists from raping "does not matter".

"You cannot give more details on what exactly the good is in punishment"

Likewise, you cannot give more details on a number of points Steve has brought up. No need for me to rehearse it all. Interested readers can simply read (or re-read) what's already been written above.

"But the consequences actually make for less good overall in cases where God does not answer prayer. The mechanism here is that the consequences include fewer people being born and this means fewer people have the chance for heaven."

How do you go from "where God does not answer prayer", then "the consequences include fewer people being born"? How does this necessarily follow? For example, what if God does not answer any prayer at all, but instead he simply wishes to have more people born in this world without anyone requesting it or praying for it? In that case, there would be "more people being born" despite "cases where God does not answer prayer".

By the way, the word "mechanism" caught my attention. It's almost as if it happened to be a Freudian slip. That's because you seem to think of God and/or prayer to God in terms of "mechanism". As if a, b, and c are met, then x, y, and z will result. As if God or prayer to God is like a neat formula. At best, that's highly simplistic. For one thing, it ignores the fact that God is person.

"In the case where someone would be born if God omitted to answer prayer and would not if He did, God is not wronging or even harming the not-born person when answering the prayer. Rather it is avoiding a deprivation of good overall."

What I said was about world A vs world B was meant to be an illustration of how certain goods (and bads) are not necessarily commensurable goods (and bads) if God instantiates one world over another. That was my main point.

Deprivation is harmful in light of the fact that those deprived would not only lose out on existence, but also on eternal bliss if they're heavenbound.

"So God’s goodness is expressed in a greater overall good rather than in doing good to the otherwise non-existent person."

There is not necessarily a best of all possible worlds if that's what you're implying.

"So it is not good to people we are talking about but a general overall good, the ones who don’t get the good of God making them repent and get to heaven, are actual people, however."

Why would someone want to be in "heaven" if they do not want God himself?

Ask almost anyone if they want to go to heaven, and I bet most would say yes. Ask almost anyone if they want to leave behind their sins and follow Jesus as the only way to heaven, and I bet many (maybe most?) would start coming up with various reasons or excuses not to do so.

"You don’t need to agree with each other, so an answer from each of you would be great."

By the way, I do need to agree with Steve if I'm trying to accurately represent him, which is what I was trying to do above.


If you're serious about searching for answers, then you should study all you can to find it.

By contrast, atheism isn't epistemically comparable to Christianity, for if atheism is true, then there's no good reason I shouldn't continue doing what I'm already doing so long as it makes me happy.


"It seems you are saying that God is not being perfectly just when He grants salvation. How does that work? Is God not perfectly just?"

I would say God granting salvation to anyone would be a mercy to them. At the same time, justice was served by Christ's death on the cross for his people.

"So under this view God’s goodness is all about His attitude of kindness and love towards us which need not have a right/wrong moral aspect at all. Eg if my toddler gets angry and kicks me, I don’t think about what would justice require, I only think of the loving thing to do in the child’s best interests."

Yet what would "kindness and love" be without morality? You might "love" your toddler, but what does "love" even mean absent morality? Is "love" a feeling preprogrammed into your DNA by millions of years of human evolution?

"It seems that you don’t agree with Steve on this, then, as he thinks it does follow"

I don't see where Steve or I have said what you attribute to us saying. You keep trying to put words in our mouth.

"I see that you are not agreeing with Steve on deprivation being harmful in the case of non-existence, he thinks it isn’t a harm."

You're the one linking deprivation to harm, aren't you? I'm just trying to respond on your terms, but it doesn't mean I myself entirely subscribe to your presuppositions.

"Yes there are many ways that a commitment to Christianity makes you epistemically non-comparable to the rest of us without such commitments. But in this case I think there is a very good reason for you to seriously consider your beliefs using reason and evidence, W K Clifford sets it out in his essay of 1877 ‘The Ethics of Belief’."

I don't see how Clifford's reasoning would be compel me to "seriously consider your beliefs" if atheism is true.

One of his central propositions is: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence".

However, if atheism is true, if moral relativism or nihilism is true, if there is ultimately no universal objective moral norm, then what compels me to believe or disbelieve? Why shouldn't I believe or disbelieve whatever I want so long as it benefits me or doesn't harm me? It's not as if I'm duty-bound or obligated to believe based on sufficient evidence or disbelieve based on insufficient evidence, for duties and obligations presume objective moral norms, which don't exist if atheism is true.

Where's the "sufficient evidence" that this statement is true? Otherwise it's self-refuting.


"“Is "love" a feeling preprogrammed into your DNA by millions of years of human evolution?” Yes that and more, it is part of who we all are, and who we are is the outcome of evolution."

If so, and coupled with your atheism, then morality may as well be an illusion foisted upon us by our genes. There is no objective foundation for morality apart from human nature, which in turn is subject to evolution. If human nature can evolve, then in the future it's possible (say) human nature could evolve to consider what people think of today as rape to be "loving". That's the terrible logic of your commitments to atheism and evolution.

"You make two objections to Clifford. First you think that he can’t ground morality. But that, even if true, is totally irrelevant. If you think morality is real then within your own view you are subject to it and if "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence" then you are subject to it."

If I'm a moral nonrealist, relativist, or nihilist, then I don't necessarily think "morality is real" in or out of my "own view". Perhaps I think morality is simply a useful fiction. Hence I can't be "subject" to it; rather, morality could be "subject" to me.

After all, being "subject" to subjective morality isn't exactly compelling for the moral nonrealist, relativist, or nihilist. There's still no duty or obligation for me to believe or disbelieve anything, for at a minimum duty or obligation assume there's an objective moral standard by which we are duty-bound or obligated to abide by the objective moral standard. However, if morality can't be grounded in anything more objective than human nature, then one can consciously rise above their human nature and do as they please.

"You second objection is that there may be no evidence for the Clifford’s principle. But there is, Clifford writes the essay to set out the evidence. It is not a principle he plucks from nothing."

I still don't see any "evidence" in the essay for Clifford's proposition that "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence". Care to cite what you think constitutes such "evidence" in the essay?

Otherwise, as I said, the statement is self-refuting.


"Yes that’s roughly how I see it, except that there is no problem with murder or rape being objectively wrong once you have an agreement that morality is based on something like human flourishing. It is the basis of the agreement that is subjective."

1. If by "human flourishing" you mean something like what Sam Harris means, then it's questionable whether "human flourishing" even has reference to morality at all. One might as well talk about "bacteria flourishing". There's nothing moral about bacteria "flourishing" or immoral about bacteria not "flourishing". Morality doesn't enter the picture. And there's certainly no grounding of objective morality in bacteria "flourishing" or not "flourishing".

2. If one bacterium gobbles up another bacterium, that doesn't mean what it did was good or evil. It doesn't mean one bacterium murdered and cannibalized another bacterium. Again, where's the objective morality here?

3. Moreover, and quite crucially, to say morality is involved here commits the naturalistic fallacy. You can't derive what ought to be from mere facts about nature.

4. There's no moral obligation for an individual person to act or behave in ways conducive to "human flourishing".

5. Given atheism and evolution, given you agree love is a feeling preprogrammed into your DNA by millions of years of human evolution, then it's doubtful whether you even have free will. If you don't have free will, then you can't choose to do what's moral or immoral anyway, which in turn severely undercuts your point.

6. Finally, for now, that's the rub, isn't it? Different peoples and cultures will not necessarily "agree" on "human flourishing".

"And here is where we depart, see above. As human nature changes, I can’t see how the basic agreement for flourishing can adjust sufficiently, the development has been in the opposite direction. Eg in the OT rape by Israeli soldiers seemed to be sanctioned by God. But that was 3000 years ago. Modern Jews and Christians have more developed morals."

Actually, you just conceded my point, since you've granted human nature can change. If human nature can change, then what's considered "immoral" today may be considered "moral" tomorrow (and vice versa). That's not objective morality, but the very definition of subjective morality. If morality is subjective, if it is subject to our ever changing nature, then it obliterates what you've said.

"Because you are claiming there is a good in the alternative world without accepting the only way that has been suggested for how it might arise."

That's mistaken because I've said (several times now) there are incommensurate goods (and bads), which is the very point you keep failing to grasp.

Also, the very fact that God could have instantiated alternative worlds or multiple worlds presupposes there's no "only way".

"The ultimate goal is people going to heaven,"

What makes you think that's the "ultimate goal"? I've never said that and I don't see that from the Bible either. This seems like another example of you putting words into my mouth.

"so sacrificing that for some better outcome is OK in theory, but not OK if you can’t even suggest how the sacrifice can result in more going to heaven."

There's no "more" (or less) "going to heaven". There's a fixed number of people whom God has saved from the foundation of the world.

"At least Steve has done that, but you just see all the objections to his proposal."

Steve can more than speak for himself, but I don't read Steve as agreeing with you here.

"You’ve missed the point on the first objection to Clifford. Do you agree that you have moral duties? Forget what you think that Clifford or I think on the matter, for you: are there moral duties? If so then Clifford claims that part of your duties are to believe on sufficient evidence."

You've missed the point that I brought up in response which was pegged on *your atheism*. If atheism is true, then there are certain significant consequences. For one, if atheism is true, then there are no moral duties - as I've already argued above. If atheism is true, why should anyone have any moral duty "to believe on sufficient evidence"? If atheism is true, then who cares what a person believes or disbelieves? They can believe in something, nothing, or anything. Ultimately, why does it matter? You have to learn to think through your own atheism and what it entails.

As for Clifford, he became an atheist or at least agnostic, didn't he?

"1. If we aim to be moral we have moral purposes for many of our actions*."

See, there you go again. Given atheism, there's no duty for anyone to "aim to be moral".

"2. Our beliefs inform our actions and accurate beliefs are on the whole more likely to achieve the purpose for an action than inaccurate beliefs."

This should include our "beliefs" in atheism too. Our belief in atheism should "inform our actions" too. And, given atheism, where is the moral duty to believe accurate beliefs over and against inaccurate beliefs?

In fact, given atheism and evolution, what makes you think it's even true "accurate beliefs are on the whole more likely to achieve the purpose for an action than inaccurate beliefs"? If an accurate belief is maladaptive, whereas a false belief is adaptive, then natural selection could potentially favor the false but adaptive belief. This poses a serious challenge.


"On morals changing, we both agree that they have and 3000 year old views on rape were wrong."

1. Here you go again, putting words in my mouth. I haven't said one way or another what I think about "3000 year old views on rape" (is this an attempt to poison the well?) let alone "agree" "morals" are "changing".

2. Also, this is another equivocation on your part. Whether morality is fundamentally objective or subjective is the question that's been at issue (which anyone can simply verify by reading our above exchanges) - and *not* OT morality or the OT and its relation to the NT in terms of ethical laws, codes, principles, and the like.

"So why is that evidence against my understanding of the objective aspect of morality, but not yours?"

Because you subscribe to moral relativism or nonrealism, while I don't.

"In fact your divinely sanctioned big-O Objective morality can’t change,"

Apart from the fact that this is a simplistic and naive statement, I've already granted for the sake of argument that atheism and evolution are true. Given atheism and evolution, there are implications for morality.

"while for me our understanding of small-o objective facts has improved along with all human knowledge."

That science is progressive is a highly debatable contention. For instance, it's possible to have a false but empirically adequate (though not necessarily true) piece of "knowledge" or theory which is widely accepted.

"Whatever you say. I thought it was obvious that a loving God’s ultimate goal is to have his creatures have relationship and worship Him forever. Your religion appears less and less attractive with every post."

1. You still don't demonstrate from the Bible how "God's ultimate goal" is "people going to heaven" (indeed, as you said, "more going to heaven").

2. You originally talked about "more people going to heaven", but now you're trying to move the goalpost by changing your original statement to say "to have his creatures have a relationship and worship Him forever". The two aren't identical to one another. For instance, many Christians believe "his creatures have a relationship and worship Him" here and now, before we've "gone to heaven".

3. For one thing, why think God has one "ultimate goal" (singular) rather than many goals (plural)?

4. For another, what do you mean by "a loving God"? Should God "love" people who have made themselves his sworn enemies? If so, in what sense should he "love" them?

5. Not that you brought this up, but it's slightly related: why think "God" even needs "more people going to heaven"? It's not as if God needs anyone or anything.

6. Whether or not Christianity is "attractive" to Ed is hardly the standard for why someone should consider Christianity.

7. By the way, as I said earlier, I'm not trying to persuade you. I don't expect you to change your mind. This is primarily for the benefit of others who are following this from the sidelines, as it were.


"And I agree that any moral proposal is irrelevant to people who don’t think they are subject to morality."

Again, you're putting words in my mouth. I never said this. It's not about "thinking" they are or aren't "subject to morality". Rather, it's what's entailed by the confluence of atheism and evolution, which implies moral relativism, nonrealism, and/or nihilism.

"But still the question is: do you think you are subject to moral duties? Please answer."

1. Let's first note you're now changing the subject from the implications of your atheism and moral nonrealism to implications given my beliefs.

2. That said, yes, I have moral duties. However, just because I have moral duties still doesn't mean I'm subject to Clifford's proposition. That's because:

a. As I've said more than once now, Clifford's proposition may be self-refuting even on its own terms - unless you have "sufficient evidence" for why "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence"?

b. In addition, Clifford's proposition is an *evidentialist* objection. However, when it comes to belief in God, Alvin Plantinga has taken apart Clifford's propositions and others like it (e.g. David Hume, Bertrand Russell, J.L. Mackie, Michael Scriven) in his landmark book Warranted Christian Belief.

c. Not to mention other philosophers like William Alston have argued that religious experience is a justifiable source of belief in God.

3. And, even if we were to agree on Clifford's evidentialism, there are evidentialists who argue the evidence justifies belief in God (e.g. Richard Swinburne, Tim McGrew).

"On 2. If someone is aiming to be moral I don’t see why a lack of belief in God should make any difference."

1. For one thing, if atheism and evolutionary theory are true, if morality is ultimately subjective or relative, then there is no target to "aim" for. Or at best, it's a moving target.

2. That's not my mere opinion. Rather, that's what atheist intellects and scholars have argued as well. For example, atheist philosopher Michael Ruse has said: "There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention - an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape - in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level - love your neighbor as yourself, etc. - is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving 'is' from 'ought,' in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter. I think ultimately there is nothing - moral nihilism, if you wish."

3. Atheism isn't merely "a lack of belief in God". Not according to one of the world's top atheist philosophers, Graham Oppy, who defines atheism as such: "Atheism is the rejection of theism: a-theism. Atheists maintain some or all of the following claims: that theism is false; that theism is unbelievable; that theism is rationally unacceptable; that theism is morally unacceptable" ("Arguments for Atheism," The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, p 53).

"It is possible that “an accurate belief is maladaptive, whereas a false belief is adaptive,” but in vastly more instances the opposite applies. Accurately believing that those berries are poisonous is very adaptive and there are loads of cases like that. Cases where the opposite applies generation after generation will be extremely rare."

1. Where's the "sufficient evidence" for your statement that "in vastly more instances the opposite applies"? Do you have data which show "the opposite" is true in "vastly more instances"? Otherwise, you're not basing your argument on "sufficient evidence". A single example and a promissory note for "loads of cases like that" isn't "sufficient evidence". At best, it's "evidence" but the evidence from a single example is hardly "sufficient".

2. More to the point, one doesn't need an "accurate" belief about poisonous berries to avoid eating poisonous berries. It's still possible to have an inaccurate belief about poisonous berries, but still end up avoiding eating poisonous berries. Belief and avoidance don't necessarily have to correspond to one another. For instance, it's possible to falsely believe the berries are non-poisonous and at the same time falsely believe avoiding eating the berries is spiritually beneficial (e.g. not being gluttonous, avoiding eating the berries will bring good fortune on a family or tribe). Despite the false belief about the berries not being poisonous, the end result is the same, avoidance of eating the berries.

3. Also, to turn the tables around, it's possible there are perfectly edible (i.e. non-poisonous) berries. However, generally speaking, it does no harm to falsely believe the berries are poisonous, and avoid eating the berries. As such, it's possible there are false beliefs which are beneficial or at least not detrimental, and these false beliefs can be adaptive as well, passed on from one generation to the next.

4. In other words, it's possible for a situation where there is a corresponding true belief, there is a situation where there is a corresponding false belief. If so, then it would not be "extremely rare".


"It would be great to know how you do see evolution, as you keep referring to it. It seems you reject it, so are you a YEC? Guided evolution? What is your position?"

The answer is: none of the above. I agree and disagree (to varying degrees) with different aspects of "evolution" if by "evolution" you're referring to neo-Darwinism. I'm a Christian which broadly speaking commits me to creation ex nihilo, but how that pans out would take considerable time and detail to elucidate. I'm agnostic on the age of the universe and Earth because, for a start, I see merit in metrical conventionalism (e.g. à la Henri Poincaré).

"Also it would be nice to know if you have theology or philosophy in your background. Or are you a layman like me on these issues?"

Again, I don't see how that's relevant. I'm currently happy to primarily deal with the arguments, and not get into personal backgrounds, unless perhaps they're explicitly relevant to some issue or question (e.g. a licit appeal to authority).

"you’re saying there is loving in the absence of morals and loving with morals and what make the difference is morals."

No, that's not what I said. I never said anything about *my* position. I'm critiquing *your* position. You're the one who asked: "how loving is any less loving in the absence of morals". Basically, you're not fully appreciating what "love" amounts to given your subscription to atheism, evolution, and moral relativism or nonrealism.

"BTW I reject love being reducible to physiology in the same way that biology is not reducible to physics and fashion is not reducible to our minds."

So you're a nonreductive materialist rather than a reductive materialist.

"Sorry – are you saying you agree with God’s apparent take on rape given in the OT? ! I didn’t realise that was an option for you. I’m referring to the passage where God says kill them all but take the virgins for yourselves."

Rather than make me guess, it'd be better if you simply cite the passage you're referring to. Otherwise I can't tell you whether I agree or disagree with your interpretation of it.

"Yes, I am discussing whether morality is fundamentally objective or subjective here, as you request. Do you ground the objectivity in God? You keep saying how under atheism there is no moral objectivity. You also believe in the God of the Bible, so you have to ground objective morals in Him, so when His commands regarding rape are made, we have to say that is objective truth of the matter on rape. I’m sure you think rape is wrong, so over to you to say how I’ve got it wrong here."

1. Again, I don't see how my position here is relevant in a critique of your position. Let's say for the sake of argument I have no grounds for objective morality. So what? That doesn't get you off the hook for your inability to objectively ground your morality.

2. If you are a moral relativist, then you have no objective grounds to say rape is immoral or wrong. You can't hold the Bible or Christianity to an objective moral standard because there are no objective moral standards.

"I am talking about what God would want, not what morals might constrain Him to do."

How does that change anything? You said "God's ultimate goal" is "more people going to heaven". I led with asking how you substantiate this from the Bible - which you still don't address.

"But answering your question “in what sense should he "love" them?” I’d say in the sense of the Creator of them. Again very like a parent with a wayward child – the Father of the Prodigal Son running out to him even before the Father knew the son was repentant."

The Bible makes a marked distinction between the "love" of the Creator and the "love" of God the Father for his children such as the prodigal son. Biblically speaking, the two aren't one in the same despite you attempting to make them one in the same. In short, God's providential love for his creatures isn't identical to God's particular love for his children.

"BTW most people who don’t adopt Christianity are not sworn enemies of God, that is you claiming things. "

Start with verses like Col 1:21, Rom 5:10, Rom 8:7.

"If God’s goal in creation was not primarily "to have his creatures have a relationship and worship Him forever" what do you think were the higher goals than that?"

1. Again, you originally said, "God's ultimate goal" is "more people going to heaven". You never acknowledge that was your original statement, but instead you've moved the goalpost, and now you plough ahead with this newer statement as if that's always been the one under consideration.

2. You're speaking from our perspective, not God's perspective. It might (arguendo) be a person's ultimate or highest goal (summum bonum) to "have a relationship and worship Him forever". But that doesn't necessarily mean that's God's ultimate or highest goal.

3. As I already said, I don't know that God has a *single* highest goal. As I already said, maybe he has multiple goals.

4. However, if we had to pick a single highest goal or aim or purpose or the like, then I would think it'd be God's glory. That could be unpacked if I had the time, but there it is.


"Please complete the explanation, why couldn’t God fix more going to heaven at foundation of the world?"

Steve and I have already addressed this. Over and over again. Quick rehash: sure, God could fix more people going to heaven. But then God would have had to instantiate a different world than the present world. That comes with incommensurable goods and bads. Among these would plausibly be the fact that you and I don't even exist in a different world. It'd plausibly be a different set of human beings which do not include you or I. You might not care about that, but I do!

"I think you are misunderstanding evolution to think that it does not show that our thinking is adaptive. Some animals are great at running fast to catch prey, others at reaching high leaves with their tall necks, for us it is our superior thinking. Our brains are so large it gives birth problems, but this is offset by the adaptive advantages of thinking. Just because you can imagine a plausible counter example does not change this big picture."

1. As a general note, I'm not arguing against evolution, but in fact assuming evolution for the sake of argument.

2. To steal from Plantinga, a cheetah pursuing a prey or a giraffe reaching for high leaves to eat require cognitive faculties which track important features of the environment, but they do not require true belief or even any belief at all.

Sure, the long-term survival of a species makes it likely that there are individuals in the species with cognitive faculties that are successful in tracking these important features of the environment, which we can term "indicators". However, indicators do not need to involve beliefs. For example, the human body has indicators for blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and so on, but the blood, heart, lungs, and so on do not hold any beliefs let alone true beliefs.

Thus, your examples don't demonstrate that true beliefs are required to catch prey or eat leaves.

3. By the way, it's (again) simplistic of you to say "Our brains are so large it gives birth problems". First, the obstetric dilemma is not a universally accepted hypothesis. Also, it's not about brain size per se, but the cranium as a whole. It likewise involves the maternal pelvic girdle including the maternal pelvic inlet. What's the fetal lie, presentation, and position (e.g. longitudinal lie, cephalic presentation, left occiput anterior) in relation to the maternal pelvis? These are the kinds of things that should be mentioned. Much more could be said, but anyway I think I've said enough to get my main point across: I point this out not because I'm a pedant, but because oftentimes the finer details do matter. However, you often make simplistic statements in case where the details do matter.

"Even the berries example, you suggest that 'it does no harm to falsely believe the berries are poisonous, and avoid eating the berries.' But when severe drought comes, the tribe that eats the berries will more likely survive and the one with the false belief will die out. I don’t think you understand evolution."

1. So the tribe that eats the *poisonous* berries "will more likely survive"? I don't think you understand basic facts and logic.

2. However, if you're referring to my second scenario, and if you're going to add provisos after the fact, then I could add provisos after the fact too. For example, I could simply say that in a drought the tribe forms another false but adaptive belief conducive to eating the non-poisonous berries, and therefore survives (e.g. the false belief that a drought means the sky god is angry that they haven't eaten the sky god's delicious non-poisonous berries). We can play this silly game all day long, but it still doesn't change the fact that what you've said is unresponsive to my point, which I have again just rehearsed above for you (i.e. see above starting with "To steal from Plantinga...").

"Clifford’s principle is about our thinking today, appeals to evolution are a red herring."

That's not a problem for me because I didn't appeal to evolution in response to Clifford.

"Today are you more or less likely to achieve the purpose for an action with accurate beliefs?"

The point isn't timebound. If it works, it would work "Today" too.


"I don’t see it as just you critiquing my position in a one-way exchange."

I never claimed it was "a one-way exchange". That's just you putting words in my mouth. What I said was I'm not primarily writing for you, but primarily for the benefit of others who might be reading this.

"Sure – it is Numbers 31:17-18 but obviously the context matters. The point for me here is that you used rape as something that is objectively wrong but God seems to be happy with it in the OT."

What makes you think anyone was necessarily raped in these verses?

Yes, context matters. That includes biblical, historical, and cultural context (among others). In the ancient Neareast, most women without husbands were typically left to worse (sometimes far worse) fates than marriage to Jewish or Israelite men who were required to care and provide for their wives and families. If the women willingly married the Jewish men, then how was it rape? In fact, if these women married Jewish men, then they would be considered part of the covenant community and receive the full benefits and protections (and responsibilities) thereof. They would be part of God's people.

If these women were enslaved by the Israelites, then again let's first consider the biblical, historical, and cultural context. Slavery in the ancient Neareast was not like slavery in the antebellum period of US history or the 18th century UK. It would be anachronistic to think so. Rather, it was more like indentured servitude. It was more "voluntary" slavery, which sounds paradoxical, but Steve Hays has written about it here.

And keep in mind slaves in the OT had certain rights and protections as well.

"He also says to punish collecting sticks on the Sabbath with stoning, so He feels strongly about that as well, so is that objectively wrong? (Numbers 15:32-36)"

Short answer for now: it's arguable the Sabbath isn't an issue of moral law, but an issue of ceremonial and/or civil law in ancient Israel. If so, then there's nothing wrong with ancient Israel's ceremonial and/or civil laws changing with the advent of Christ.

"I don’t see what the hook is, as I’ve cheerfully agreed from the start that the basis of morality is a subjective agreement."

If the basis of morality is ultimately subjective, then there need not be agreement from one person to the next.

"Yes, all along this is an internal critique of Christianity. An external critique of the OT God is easy – you don’t need ‘objective moral standard’ for that, just some morals."

So far you haven't mounted a successful internal critique of Christianity, although you keep claiming otherwise.

Also, it's not solely an internal critique of Christianity because your worldview is on the table as well. As an atheist, evolutionist, and moral relativist, you shoulder a burden of proof too. For starters, you can't hold Biblical morality and ethics to account if you believe morality is ultimately subjective. If you're a moral subjectivist, then you can't say Biblical morality is objectively right or wrong in an ultimate sense.


"Can you give me a link, please."

Sure, here's one.

"I thought it was the main theme of the NT, eg John 3:16 – salvation etc"

What makes you think John 3:16 teaches "God's ultimate goal" is to get "more people to heaven"? Are you referring to the scope of "kosmos"?

"I didn’t interpret the Bible that way when I was an evangelical Christian."

Fortunately, what Ed thinks (or once thought) isn't the standard for how one should accurately interpret the Bible. A better hermeneutic is the grammatico-historical method with an exegetical theological overlay.

By the way, judging by our interactions in this very thread, it's obvious you had a superficial understanding of Christianity when you were a Christian.

Of course, that's not an uncommon experience among apostates. In fact, I suspect the majority of apostates tend to come from shallow Christian backgrounds (e.g. fundamentalism). As such, it's no surprise when they do apostatize and leave Christianity, because they never had very deep roots to begin with. Some of them have even been professing Christians for decades, but they still somehow never dug deep down in their knowledge and understanding of the Bible, let alone in other important aspects (e.g. apologetics, practical theology). Sadly, Ed is a good example.

"You are making God into the Mafia patriarch again – He loves his own loyal in-crowd and bullies and kills everyone else."

You're just erecting a strawman to burn. You're just trying to paint a particular caricature of God so you don't have to deal with the hard work of working through the relevant biblical texts and themes.

However, the Bible does in fact teach God's providential love for his creatures isn't identical to God's particular love for his children. For example, see The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson. I don't necessarily agree with everything Carson argues, but I do agree with his argument for what I've just said, that the Bible does speak of the love of God in different ways.

"Thanks for answering the question. The more we pick away the less attractive your take on God becomes."

One shouldn't decide on Christianity solely or primarily based on "attractiveness". One should decide on Christianity because one thinks it's true.

Of course, whether or not God is "attractive" to Ed is entirely besides the point. For one thing, Ed is not the arbiter of truth. In fact, Ed is one of the very disputants in this thread (along with Steve Hays and myself). Not to mention Ed apostasized from and left Christianity and is now an atheist. So he's not exactly an uninterested party here when it comes to saying he doesn't think my take on God is "attractive". (I'm not an uninterested party either, but then again I never claimed God is attractive.)


"Ref my – “why couldn’t God fix more going to heaven at foundation of the world?" You still have not answered,"

You mean I haven't answered in exactly the way you expect me to answer. However, sometimes people ask mistaken or dubious questions or the like (whether intentionally or unintentionally). Just think of lawyers who asking leading questions or loaded questions, for example.

"all you can say is that it would be different,"

Sure, world A would be "different" to world B. But that's not "all" I said.

"but not show how the difference results in more."

Why should I be the one showing "how the difference results in more"? I'm not the one arguing there should be more (or that there should be less). That's *your* argument that there should be "more people going to heaven". However, I think that's one of your crucially mistaken assumptions i.e. that "God's ultimate goal" is "more people to heaven". As I've explained, that's not what the Bible necessarily teaches.

Besides, how do you know God won't save the majority of humans? For example, theologians B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and Robert Dabney have argued that the majority of humanity will be saved.


By the way, this is not to suggest I myself entirely agree with Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. I think there are legitimate criticisms of the argument, which I won't get into unless it comes up. Rather, I floated it to see what Ed would say and see how he would reply. But in the end, Ed just ended up making jejune remarks about "evolution", which I doubt he grasps at a level beyond what's taught in high school, and again completely missing the point.

"Another question you have not answered: "Today are you more or less likely to achieve the purpose for an action with accurate beliefs?" A yes/no is all that is needed."

For starters, asking if I'm "more or less likely to achieve x" can't be answered with "yes/no". It wouldn't make sense. The answer would have to be either I'm "more" likely to achieve x or I'm "less" likely to achieve x, not "yes/no I'm more or less likely to achieve x". (A possible exception is if you meant "more or less" as in "roughly" or "approximately," but then your question would be unclear.)

All that said, if you understood the EAAN, you would know it's not actually a yes/no issue.

Sorry, Ed, but I can't answer your questions in part because you evidently don't know how to ask clear or good questions!


"Do you agree with mainstream geology as regards the science and leaving aside your philosophy of time ideas?"

That's such a broad question. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree.

Also, I can't leave aside the philosophy of time "ideas" because they're directly relevant to big questions such as measuring time, dating the age of the earth, dating artifacts, etc.

"Do you think the Fall caused diseases and other natural suffering in humans?"

That's vague. It depends what you mean by "diseases and other natural suffering". I don't necessarily think Adam and Eve couldn't have gotten sick or injured themselves before the Fall. But again that depends on the specifics of what you have in mind.

"A. Sex is clear “save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” B. It was against the will of the young women. I call that rape."

You're ignoring the context. Num 31:17-18 is an abbreviated account that takes for granted the more detailed provisions regarding war brides (Deut 21:10-14). The context is marriage to women whose husbands (enemy combatants) died in battle. Not an enviable situation, but ironically, the alternative would be rape if the women (eligible widows) had no able-bodied men to protect them.

"Your comments here show me two things. First that you don’t have a view of objective morality. Your use of the context to make excuses for this indicate that what is right and wrong in our age is not the same as for them."

You're muddle-headed here. This doesn't mean I "don't have a view of objective morality". It means one has to take the grammatical, historical, and cultural context (among others) into consideration when interpreting the text in order to deduce what the morality was. It's being faithful to the text. It's not substantially different than if someone was reading, say, a primary source document on the U.S. Civil War, and the document had a section about what to do if an enemy soldier was killed, how to care for his widow, etc. A historian would have to consider the grammatical, historical, and cultural context (among others) in which the document was written in order to understand the document. This doesn't mean the historian necessarily agrees with the morality of the Union or Confederate document, but the historian is attempting to see morality from their perspective, to walk in their shoes, as it were. Likewise that doesn't mean the Union or Confederate document doesn't have "a view of objective morality". The Union or Confederate do have a "view," whether or not you or I might agree with their "view".


"You are claiming that the command here to kill everyone (including little boys) except the virgins is moral given the context."

You're moving the goalpost again. Originally you didn't raise any objection about "the command here to kill everyone". Now you do. Originally you only referred to "rape". If you want to talk about this, then that opens up another huge debate. However, before we do, I'll point out you keep raising objections left and right, like some mad conspiracy theorist who believes the moon landing was a hoax by the US and other governments of the world. Every time someone presents evidence demonstrating the moon landing, the conspiracy theorists throw up yet another objection. It's easy to throw up objections, but it takes time and effort to answer them. Yet if you really cared about the truth, you wouldn't be throwing up objections. Rather you'd be asking questions and dealing with answers in good faith.

"Second you are not aware that the slavery rules for Israelites holding foreign slaves were different than the slavery rules for Israelites holding their own countrymen and women."

Go ahead and enlighten me then.

"1. If it is just ceremonial, why is it in the 10 commandments? If they are not objective, what is?"

Just because it's found in the 10 commandments doesn't necessarily mean it's a strictly moral issue. For one thing, the verb samar in Deut is also used in reference to observing other holy festivals (Ex 12:17, 23:16). In addition, Jesus points out the Sabbath is not an end in and of itself but a means to an end (e.g. Mk 2:27).

"2. If it is just ceremonial why stone people for infringement?"

For starters, the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement was a ceremonial event. However, there was capital punishment for people who entered the Holy of Holies if they weren't the high priest or if they entered at another time besides Yom Kippur. So it's possible for something ceremonial to be punishable with the death penalty.

"Absolutely, you think stoning someone for picking up sticks on the Sabbath is moral, I can’t appeal to an agreement that we both share about as humans to show you that you are mistaken. It is scary."

Well, you're an atheist, evolutionist, and moral relativist or nonrealist. You've already agreed you don't believe in any fundamentally objective moral standard. So you can't say anyone is "mistaken" about morality, for morality is ultimately relative, according to you. At best, all you can say is you think I'm "mistaken" based on your early 21st century Western liberal belief and values about morality, but it's not as if early 21st century Western liberal beliefs and values about morality are the standard of comparison for humanity, especially not for a self-described moral relativist or subjectivist.


“What makes you think John 3:16 teaches "God's ultimate goal" is to get "more people to heaven"? Are you referring to the scope of "kosmos"?” "Yes"

What's your specific objection to its scope then?

"On your material about me interpreting the Bible differently from you, yes I get it that you think you are right. I don’t believe it now, so for sure I am a poor guide to a ‘correct’ interpretation."

Thanks for the candid admission. People reading this ought to keep this in mind.

"But the trouble is that Christian denominations and theological streams all disagree as to the correct interpretation of passages and consensus is getting further away as time goes on. There is a large new thrust on ‘ReThinking Hell’ these days, for example. You can’t just claim that your view is the correct one and expect people to treat you seriously."

1. So just because there are different opinions means that there is no "correct interpretation"? That's utterly naive. There are different opinions on almost any subject. Just because there are different opinions on whether the Holocaust occurred means there is no "correct" interpretation? Just because there are different opinions on whether the earth is flat means there is no "correct" interpretation? Just because there are different opinions on whether we should vaccinate there is no "correct" interpretation? Just because there are different opinions on whether it's best to treat a cancer with chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery means there is no "correct" interpretation? And so on and so forth.

2. There are central issues, there are peripheral issues, and there are issues which lie in-between. At the very least, the Bible is quite clear on central issues - even though there are kooky people who somehow still find a way to disagree. But it's been the case since the dawn of time that there have been different opinions on all manner of subjects. As long as you have two human beings, you will probably have different opinions about something.

3. You think *your* interpretation of God's love is the "correct" one, but if there's no "correct" interpretation, then your interpretation isn't "correct" either.

"On the Mafia boss, fine if it is a straw man, explain how God’s behaviour differs. You made it sound pretty similar."

1. You can't just assume God is like a Mafia godfather, then reply, "fine...explain how God's behaviour differs". The onus is not on me to demonstrate something *you* have alleged. You bear a burden of proof too - which you haven't discharged.

2. A good parent would love their child in a way that's not identical to the way they love children in general. Otherwise, for example, the mother wouldn't mind if another mother swapped babies with them, because the mother loves all children identically anyway.

"That you had to refer to a book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” says it all really. Why should God’s love be anything but simple to understand?!"

1. You're unthinkingly and reflexively judging a book by its title. Among other things, the author explains why the title in the very first chapter.

2. The truth is there's a sense in which God's love is difficult to grasp, and there's a sense in which God's love is not difficult to grasp. That depends on what precisely we have in mind when we speak of God's love.

3. Much of the difficulty is in part because too many people today assume God's love is like the kind of love you're assuming it is (e.g. pollyannaish).

"You misunderstand me on ‘sworn enemies of God’, most non-Christians do not profess to be enemies of God, I’d love it if a loving God were real. I might unwittingly be an enemy of God but what I honestly profess - ‘swear’ - is the opposite. I pray quite often asking God to help me come to Him and understand Him."

Perhaps God is answering your prayers through this debate with Steve Hays and myself. However, if you're someone who "honestly" wants to "come to Him and understand Him," then I don't understand why you're resisting so much. Your replies to us thus far have been more like a sick or injured but violently combative patient, punching and kicking the physicians and nurses attempting to help him.

"On your take on God being unattractive because He creates primarily for His glory, yes I used that word to make it clear this was an external subjective take. As God has not revealed Himself to me I am left with the range of ideas for worldview. If Christianity is based on a God like that, then it does not make much sense to me, along with the seemingly contradictory ideas of God’s love and his treatment of people He hasn’t already chosen and those boys & virgins & minor Sabbath-breakers. It is here that I have to decide, and it is here that my assessment has to be an external critique."

1. I think I've already responded to your objections, albeit some briefly since I'm so busy.

2. If you're an "honest" seeker, if you "honestly" want to "come to Him and understand Him," then you should do everything in your power to make this happen, or die trying, because if God exists, then there's nothing more important to know in the whole of life. So this includes studying as much as you can including about all these "hard" questions that you have. You should not limit yourself to interactions with us. Ask, and I (and others) can give you book recommendations and other resources if again you "honestly" want to learn and know more. Go to church. Go to a decent church. Go as often and as much as you can. You might not believe in God, but that's in part why you go, to overcome your unbelief. And if you want God to "reveal" himself to you, then obey the Bible as best as you can, to the extent you have light, for Jesus said, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them" (John 14:21). Anyway, this should be a decent start for you.

"Yes, of course, the world could become majority Christian of the right kind to satisfy your version of God and then last another several thousand years. But Jesus did say that only the few take the narrow road (Mt 7:13-4)."

Here's what Matthean scholar Donald Hagner has said: "'There are few who find it' is primarily descriptive of the situation confronted by Jesus and his disciples during his ministry (so too, 22:14). Although the 'few' is clearly hyperbolic, it remains true that the majority of the people (polloi, v13) do not receive Jesus’ message (cf. 11:20-24; 12:41-42)...It is not the point of the passage to speculate over the number who are saved or lost" (Matthew 1-13, pp 179-180). In short, Matthen scholar Hanger argues the passage is only applicable to Jesus' public ministry in 1st century Israel, not necessarily to other times or places.


"Your response was not a yes/no but a copy and paste of you earlier reporting *someone else’s* opinion. That is a dramatic and very telling avoidance of giving a clear statement of your position, and that after I have been asking you again and again on this."

Is that hard for you to connect the dots here? It's obvious I agree with what I wrote. Otherwise why would I write it? The reason I cited other philosophers who are evidentialists is because their words on the matter are far more substantial than mine. In short, if a world renowned Oxford philosopher like Richard Swinburne and other intelligent professors of philosophy like Tim McGrew believe the evidence justifies belief in God, then that's far better than if I were to say so.

"If that is correct can you please assume the EAAN is correct (and so naturalism is falsified), and then go on to show that accurate beliefs are today on the whole less likely to achieve the purpose for an action and inaccurate beliefs are on the whole more likely to achieve the purpose. So here is what I mean regarding the question I keep wanting you to answer: "Today are you more or less likely to achieve the purpose for an action with accurate beliefs?" A more/less is all that is needed. Please now answer."

If the EAAN succeeds, then, yes, it would show naturalism is *epistemically* self-defeating. On EAAN, yes, that could be true today too. On EAAN, beliefs could be equally reliable and equally unreliable (reliable 50% of the time, unreliable 50% of the time).


"Could they have got cancer? Could they have broken a leg?"

What's possible or not possible in prelapsarian times is bound to be speculative, but I don't see anything which would necessarily preclude the possibility.

"Ref Deut 21:10-14 – what about the ugly virgins?"

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"How do you know these rules were in place in the time of Num31?"

Because most of the Torah was composed by Moses.

"How is it still not having sex with a young girl without her consent?"

Because she consented to marriage.

"Your response about objective morality misses the point. If this is OK by God in 1000BC then it has to be OK today - i.e. it is objectively true that having sex with a young girl without her consent is wrong or that is objectively untrue. Which is it?"

You keep assuming she didn't give her consent.

"That assumes subjective morality."

No, it assumes a historian is doing his or her job as a historian.

"But the historian in your case is seeing what the eternal unchanging God objectively sees from His unchanging perspective."

Historians would be pleased to hear you say they have a God's eye perspective here, but I think most historians are more modest about their perspective.

"OK I see that you are hunkering down and saying God is moral in all the OT ‘atrocities’ and you have explanations for them one by one. That is all I need to know."

How wonderful you've already come to a judgment about me or my position before I've been able to say anything on the topic!

"The point is that if these things can be moral given a certain context, then they are not objectively wrong."

The latter half of your sentence doesn't necessarily follow from the former.

"This is basic stuff:"

Interesting to see Ed considers Wikipedia on par with academic or scholastic research.

"On the 10 commandments you have not replied. How many of them are objectively true?"

Objective truth is a different subject than objective morality.

"If you are using Jesus to explain how this now applies please see Matt 5:17-20. It all still applies."

I didn't say one way or the other the Sabbath shouldn't be observed today.

"You haven’t answered my "2. If it is just ceremonial why stone people for infringement?" You merely gave another example ‘for starters’."

I did, but you didn't grasp it.

"That is right if they don’t think that human flourishing or something like that is a basic moral aim. If they do have such an aim, then they (and I) can be mistaken in its application and I can have a conversation with them. My early 21st century Western liberal belief and values about morality are not going to be free from mistakes."

No surprise but despite repeated explanations my point has still sailed right over Ed's head.

"Again, you are missing the point. You were questioning how I could be objective given my moral basis. I was explaining how my assertion (which again just summarises my earlier points) can be an objective one. If you want to refute my point here, please show how my claim is not objective in nature."

Because you're already accepted moral relativism or subjectivism (nonrealism).

"I don’t have one."

Then you shouldn't have said "yes" and waste my time.

"1. Whether the earth is flat is in the realm of factual matters. How to interpret a text is, as in all other areas of life, subjective."

You're horribly naive about the nature of hermeneutics for a start.

"There is no correct interpretation of Hamlet,"

That's an argument from analogy minus the argument for the Bible isn't a Shakespearean play.

"(but there are better and worse ones I guess)."

Exactly my point.

"So God using narratives, letters in certain contexts, poems, etc etc in the Bible rather than a clear handbook format means that he is using a method where subjective judgement is required."

Sorry the Bible isn't a math or science "handbook" as Ed expects it to be. Too bad archaeologists and historians couldn't interpret the Bible well enough to locate anything useful.

"The array of interpretations is extremely strong evidence for this. You can argue that there may be a correct interpretation, but if there is it is not accessible to us."

It's not accessible to people like Ed who don't wish to try to understand it.

"2. Yes, a central claim is that God is good and loving and the God of the whole universe, not just His own chosen few."

I never denied God doesn't "love" the whole of creation including his creatures.

"3. I am arguing that there are massive internal inconsistencies, which is a factual matter that can be shown to be right or wrong."

Ed hasn't demonstrated this, but only asserted it.

"It seems you agree with me on “You can’t just claim that your view is the correct one and expect people to treat you seriously.""

I agree that follows from what you said, and is therefore a problem for you, but that's not what I believe or have said so it's not a problem for me.

"On the Mafia boss thing: 1. I did - I said “He loves his own loyal in-crowd and bullies and kills everyone else.” Over to you."

As I've argued, that's a strawman. Over to you.

"2. How is that relevant? God is the parent of us all, there are no children that are not ones he has created."

Just because God created all people doesn't necessarily mean he is every person's parent or father (e.g. John 8:44).

"See Acts 17:28-9, we are all His."

See 1 John 3:10 where some are the children of God while others are the children of the devil.

"2. My point is that the way you need to do all this qualification is very telling."

If you don't want to understand the Bible or Christianity, then go ahead and simplify and generalize whatever you wish to your heart's content.

"What calls for sadness in God is love? Oh dear."

If you can't even be fair to the context in these exchanges, then it's no wonder you can't be fair when it comes to the Bible.

"I’m glad you get me on sworn enemies of God. Yes I am hoping to learn from you and Steve if God is real. I will push back at arguments you make that seem nonsense to me or are incorrect – how else do I learn?"

The problem is you're not "pushing back" for the sake of learning.

"2. This all blatantly assumes that Christianity is the correct worldview and indeed your style of it is correct, despite what has come out of this discussion."

You "blatantly" "assume" atheism is "correct".

"If I could make that assumption the seeking would be over instantly. I did go to church, indeed helped lead one, for 20 years or so. But you say it was not a decent one."

Which church did you go to?

"We had a high view of scripture."

A high view of Scripture is vague and not necessarily equivalent to bona fide essentials such as inerrancy.

"I note your chosen scholar’s interpretation of Matt7. What else in the sermon on the mount can I ignore as not relevant to the 21stC, please? The Lord’s Prayer? Love your enemies, but only if they are Roman?"

You're making a hasty generalization.

"No you made it far from obvious, it was at the end of a list of options to address the issue, all by Christians and some in conflict with each other. Your view was never specified until just here."

You can't say your "interpretation" is "correct" because you don't believe it's possible to have a "correct" "interpretation" unless there is a "clear handbook format" involved.

"My response is why then do you resist so strongly Clifford’s principle? And why did you not say you think you comply with it the first time I asked rather than after the 5th or so time? It is hard for me not to draw conclusions from this."

Because as I've already told you multiple times: without "sufficient evidence" for Clifford's proposition it's self-refuting.

"Again, you don’t get my question on when you assume the EAAN."

You don't get a lot of things including the EAAN.

"I asked you based on EAAN being correct and naturalism is self-defeating – which is your view. But then you make the case “beliefs could be equally reliable and equally unreliable” based on evolution and naturalism, which we are saying is wrong for you."

No, because the EAAN is premised on "evolution and naturalism".

"What I am asking you is to make the case using what you think is true, not what you think is false. So please go ahead and argue why it is true that: accurate beliefs are today on the whole less likely to achieve the purpose for an action and inaccurate beliefs are on the whole more likely to achieve the purpose."

If the EAAN succeeds as an argument (as you agree for the sake of argument), then what you're saying does not even make sense.


"That’s clear enough for me this time. You don’t seem to see cancer as in conflict with God saying the world He made ‘very good’ and you don’t seem to see cancer as the result of the Fall. That was all I was wanting clarity on."

1. As I said, answers are bound to be speculative.

2. A fundamental issue with cancer is genetic mutations. Were certain genetic mutations possible in the prelapsarian world (e.g. oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes)?

3. Don't forget you mentioned breaking a leg too. I think it's possible that's consistent with God making the world "very good".

"So are you saying the verse covers all the virgins and beauty is a red herring? I don’t get you."

No, I'm saying who is considered "beautiful" depends on the person.

"But Moses was still alive in Num31!"

It's possible for people to write about themselves, you know.

"What makes you think Deut was written before the Num31 events?"

It's not called the Five Books of Moses for no reason. The Torah or Pentateuch was meant to be a literary unit.

"It has Moses as a key character and he dies right at the end, so common sense says that it was written after Numbers and the events in it were after Numbers (as Moses does not die in that narrative)."

Yes, traditionally, the question is who wrote about Moses' death in Deut 34. One possibility is Joshua, but there are others. That's not inconsistent with my original claim that Moses wrote "most of the Torah".

"The events in Deut included Moses summoning the people to hear the laws which included your Deut 21 ones."

People can write about events in which they participated, you know.

"There is no hint anywhere that these girls consented. Where do you get that?"

Where do you get they did *not* consent?

"These are girls taken prisoner with everyone else in their family slaughtered. Resistance is not even an option."

1. What I originally said bears reiteration: Num 31:17-18 is an abbreviated account that takes for granted the more detailed provisions regarding war brides (Deut 21:10-14). The context is marriage to women whose husbands (enemy combatants) died in battle. Not an enviable situation, but ironically, the alternative would be rape if the women (eligible widows) had no able-bodied men to protect them.

2. Indeed, Deut 21:10-14 explicitly calls for the charitable treatment of foreign brides in marriage as well as divorce. For example, if the couple divorced, then Deut 21 notes: "you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave".

3. Besides, if it's true they were about to be "raped" (as you allege), many if not most women would prefer "resistance" to "rape" (e.g. suicide, fighting to the death). Of course, some people might find this shocking to even mention, but living in the ancient world was more akin to living in the world of Game of Thrones than living in any developed nation today. That said, the Bible dealing with the reality of war brides (if that's what was happening) does not necessarily imply the Bible condones war brides any more than the Bible dealing with the reality of polygamy or slavery necessarily implies the Bible condones polygamy or slavery. (I suspect Ed will later seize on these two additional points as well.)

"So this still needs response: "Your response about objective morality misses the point. If this is OK by God in 1000BC then it has to be OK today - i.e. it is objectively true that having sex with a young girl without her consent is wrong or that is objectively untrue. Which is it?"

Since I don't necessarily grant your premise(s), your demand falls flat.

"It may be the case that a historian is doing his or her job and your very words show that her job requires a subjective view of morality. If it is objective the historian will not need context to know how the historical character will be morally viewing the rape or whatever."

Say you're a historian who is reading a primary source document which mentions someone's imprisonment. If this is all the information you had, Ed, and if as you say you do "not need context to know," no grammatical, historical, or cultural context at all, then on what basis are you going to conclude their imprisonment was right or wrong, justified or unjustified? And if it's "subjective" anyway, then who cares?

"I said ‘in your case’ (again you are not being genuine in this exchange),"

1. That's amusingly ironic coming from you, Ed.

2. Besides, you subscribe to subjective morality, Ed, so you can't say it's ultimately wrong for anyone not to be "genuine".

"yes normal historians do the job properly and see how this is all about the culture of the time. But in your case this is the eternal unchanging God in action that you are trying to understand."

And "in your case," Ed, what I said was you need to (at a minimum) take into consideration the grammatical, historical, and cultural context in order to understand the Biblical text. That is relevant to understanding the Bible (e.g. authorial intent) which in turn helps adduce what moral or ethical duty or direction is involved and how it may (or may not) be applied to an analogous situation.

"Where did you get that idea? Wikip is a basic start as I indicated, there is plenty there to take it on if you need. Actually your response makes me feel that there is a lack of genuine exchange here. You made remarks that seemed oblivious to the slavery distinction in the OT, I pointed it out, so you asked me to enlighten you. I naturally assumed that you wanted the basic facts and wikip is the best place to start as it is neutral (or aims to be). When you suddenly say I am claiming wikip is on a par with scholastic research by referring to wiki I can’t see that as wanting a genuine exchange with me."

1. I did not ask for "the basic facts". That's your mistaken assumption.

2. Moreover, whether or not Wikipedia is "basic" is besides the point. Wikipedia could be "basic" but riddled with errors.

3. And no, your linking to a Wikipedia article does not reasonably address the original question. If you want to argue in good faith ("a genuine exchange"), then at a minimum you should have cited a scholarly monograph relevant to the topic at hand. Not a Wikipedia article because, for one thing, just look at some of the resources it relies on. They're outdated or contentious.

"I am losing patience with you, I am afraid."

If you don't wish to continue, stop replying.

"OK, but I am used to apologists talking about morals as facts."

1. That still isn't directly relevant to "objective truth".

2. I'm not one of the "apologists" you "used to" talk to.

3. If you're referring to these facts being moral properties, how so?

4. As an atheist, evolutionist, and moral relativist or nonrealist (or antirealist), how do you overcome the is-ought problem?

"I need to ask then, should we stone people today who pick up sticks on the Sabbath? Or go to work? Or use the services of those who are working - like waiters?"

1. These Sabbath penalties are addressed to the people of ancient Israel living in the nation of ancient Israel directly ruled by God or God's "anointed" king. Not necessarily to modern Christians living in a significantly different political, social, and cultural context.

2. There's a distinction between sin and crime. Not every sin is necessarily criminalized and not every crime is necessarily a sin (e.g. it's a crime to graffiti a public building but graffiti is not sinful in and of itself). So even if (arguendo) it's a "sin" not to observe the Sabbath today, it may not necessarily be a punishable offense, punishable under a nation's penal code, given my first point above. (By contrast, this doesn't necessarily apply to, say, murder and the death penalty, which is fundamentally grounded in the image of God.)

3. You missed my earlier point where I said that Jesus did not think the Sabbath is an end in and of itself but a means to an end (Mk 2:27).

4. The Pharisees thought Jesus and his disciples were "working" when they picked heads of grain to eat (Mt 12:1-2). However, that's not what Jesus thought, as the subsequent verses indicate.


"There was no why .. at all. Read your response. This is again where I wonder if you are being genuine or just trying to obfuscate."

You can continue throwing around accusations about "genuine" debate and "obfuscation," but what's the point? I think you missed my point, you think I missed yours. That's unsurprising because that's what the two parties involved in a debate would say, wouldn't they? However, anyone else following this now or in the future can simply re-read what's been said and come to their own conclusions.

"I am completely confused, you are leading the conversation here, I gave Jn3:16 as an example and I’m waiting for you to show why it does not indicate that God loves the world and wants us not to perish but have eternal life. You have asked me some questions and then said I’m wasting your time, but I still want to know how Jn3:16 does not say what it seems to say."

1. You're confused because you can't follow your own arguments. This is hardly the first time either.

2. If you want a "genuine" debate, then maybe you should argue in good faith. Stop trying to revise what took place.

3. Here's what actually happened, contrary to Ed's revised version:

Ed stated he believes "God's ultimate goal" is to get "more people to heaven". He cited John 3:16 in support of his statement.

I asked Ed what in John 3:16 teaches "God's ultimate goal" is to get "more people to heaven". I even asked him if he was referring to the scope of "kosmos".

But did Ed reply with even an attempted exegesis of John 3:16? No, he didn't. All he said was a single word answer: "Yes."

Then I came back to Ed and asked him what was his specific objection to its scope (i.e. kosmos).

Then Ed replied, "I don't have one."

That's when I replied thanks for wasting my time, because that's precisely what he did.

Contrary to his attempted revision, Ed is the one who's been avoiding answer questions.

"I am waiting for you to actually respond to my point that as God uses poems, letters etc, a single interpretation is not possible due to the genre He chose."

That's completely illogical. How does taking genre into consideration in one's interpretation (e.g. historical narrative, poetry, 1st century Roman letters, apocalyptic literature) mean that "a single interpretation is not possible"? At the very least, you need a connecting argument.

"As ever, the assertion is a summary of previous material and the point is not the claim but its nature- it is a factual issue – as against an interpretation. You missed my point (deliberately?)."

As was pointed out to you much earlier in the debate, you operate with a Sunday school level of understanding about the Bible and Christianity. Given this background, it's no surprise you became an apostate.

"We’ve circled back … – to where I ask you "On the Mafia boss, fine if it is a straw man, explain how God’s behaviour differs. You made it sound pretty similar." I.e. What is the essential difference between your view and my analogy? I’m wondering if this exchange is achieving much now that you seem more interested in responses that avoid engaging."

1. For starters, do you seriously think your statement "He [God] loves his own loyal in-crowd and bullies and kills everyone else" is even an attempt at fairly representing the other side? You seriously think that's going to help in rational discourse? You seriously think that's a reasonable approach for you to take, assuming that God is like a "Mafia boss"?

2. Anyway, your argument that God is like a "Mafia boss" is an argument from analogy. But what was your argument based on? Was it based on the fact that I said God's love for people in general is not identical to God's love for his children in particular? Yet I likewise said: A good parent would love their child in a way that's not identical to the way they love children in general. Otherwise, for example, the mother wouldn't mind if another mother swapped babies with them, because the mother loves all children identically anyway. How's that like a "Mafia boss"? Where was your response to this? If I missed it, you'll have to reiterate it for me.

3. In addition, what matters most is what the Bible actually teaches, not analogies or metaphors. That's where you'll have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of exegeting the texts for a start. And, as I already pointed out, the Bible does talk about different senses of God's love. I referenced D.A. Carson's The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God which argues that very point (among other things).

"So either the Bible contradicts itself or there is a meaning in Acts 17 that He is the father of all via creation."

1. Or it could be Ed has a Sunday school understanding of the Bible.

2. This is part of Paul's apologetic and missionary strategy on Mars Hill. He's quoting from their pagan works in part to find some sort of commonality in order to launch into a presentation of the God of the Bible. What the "living God" is really like. That doesn't mean Paul believes what the pagans believed about God, even though he uses their works as a starting point. That doesn't mean Paul is literally endorsing pagan beliefs about the gods.

3. Also, the point of contention was never over God as Creator to all and thus "father" to all his creatures in a general sense. Rather, the point of contention was over whether God's love for people in general is identical to God's love for his children in particular. Simply saying that God is the father of all means precious little in this case. After all, I could easily agree, yes, in one sense, God is a "father" to all in that he created all, but in another sense he is not a "father" to all because not all are his children because not all are in union with Christ.


"It is that meaning that I am alluding to when I see God loving us all and wanting us to know Him even if we are currently in ignorance and rebellion…. Just like a parent. Other Biblical uses of the parent analogy do not mean this Biblical one is invalid."

God does not have "parental love" for those who are in "rebellion" against him. What makes you think he does? Rather the Bible warns those who are in "rebellion" against God that they need to turn away from their sin and unbelief and come back to God, otherwise they will face God's wrath and hell. For example, Rom 5:10 assumes Christians were God's "enemies" before they were "reconciled to God".

"On God’s love, you are saying I don’t want to understand and I’m not being fair, but all you are doing in you interpretations is chopping God’s love back and qualifying it,"

No, among other things, I referenced Carson's book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God which *argues* the Bible itself "qualifies" God's love.

"it is not for you this great thing that passes all understanding."

More evidence of your biblical illiteracy. That's a reference to Phil 4:7, which is about the "peace" of God, not the love of God.

Eph 3:19 talks about "the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," but that's meant for Christians, not those who are in "rebellion" and thus outside of God's family.

"If we are to love our enemies, how much more does God - as Jesus himself teaches."

God loves his enemies by telling them they are his enemies and will face his judgment unless they repent. It doesn't mean they are not his enemies. It doesn't mean his enemies are his children.

"Indeed God is perfect in it."

God is also "perfect" in his judgment.

"(Matt 5:43-7)."

1. This is addressed to Jesus' disciples (Matt 5:1). Yes, Christians are to love their enemies, just as God does, but that doesn't mean their enemies are no longer their enemies. It's because they are still enemies that loving them can be significant.

2. However, our duty to love our enemies isn't an absolute and unconditional duty. If there's ever any conflict between "loving our enemies" and "loving God," then we have the higher duty to love God. For example, if my mom is not a Christian, then she is an enemy of God. That doesn't mean I don't love her in many ways such as by being a good son and such as by warning her she needs to turn away from her rebellion and turn to God, but if my mom tells me I am never allowed to read the Bible or pray in her home ever again, then I have the higher duty to love God than to love my mom and read the Bible and pray.

Or if loving our enemies conflicts with, say, protecting our family, then we have the higher duty to protect our family. For example, if my mom is about to be attacked by an "enemy" that has broken into our home, then I have the higher duty to protect my mom rather than to "love my enemy" and let him do whatever he wants to her.

"But I’m not giving you guidance on how to conduct your search based on the prior assumption that my view is correct."

Yet atheism is assumed in your replies to me. That's your default setting. This default influences what you say or write. You might not notice it, because we don't tend to notice our biases, but it exists.

"That was my point. I am wondering if you are choosing to miss my points now, to keep you from engaging with me."

I'm wondering if you're making excuses now.

"I hope we are winding down."

You can do whatever you like. It doesn't bother me one way or the other.

"And you again just assume that your version of Christianity and approach to the Bible is the correct bona fide one. I have exchanged with Catholics and many other streams, they all think the same."

1. Yawn. Boring. That's obvious. Almost everyone assumes their views about anything happen to be "correct".

2. That goes for you too. You likewise "just assume" that there is no "correct interpretation". That's also a view that you assume is correct but need to defend.

3. The difference is in whether it's reasonable or unreasonable to hold the view in question.

"I asked a simple question which you have found a way to avoid answering, again."

I replied with a simple answer which you have a found a way to misunderstand, again.

"There was no generalisation in my question. You can answer that this was the only place in the sermon on the mount can I take as not relevant to today if you want."

1. Again, let's rehash what happened:

Ed originally said Mt 7 indicated only a few will be saved.

I replied with commentary from a Matthean scholar countering the idea that only a "few" shall be saved.

Ed then asked what else should we ignore in the Sermon on the Mount? Should we ignore the Lord's prayer, loving your enemies, etc.?

2. However, neither I nor the quote from scholar indicates we should "ignore" anything. The quote is to put Jesus' words in their context so we can better understand what Jesus is saying or not saying.

3. Also, what does addressing the "few shall be saved" issue even have to do with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount?

4. In fact, even if (arguendo) it's true (not that I grant), how does Ed go from if it's true of the part, then it must be true of the whole?

"1. This is philosophy not textural interpretation, in philosophy where there is a proposition being discussed whether it is justified or not, it's possible to have a correct answer.

That's a false dichotomy.


"2. Even if you were correct, it is not relevant. Your view was not specified."

My "view" was simply to use your own logic against you. I'm just basing what I said on what you said. If it's true this is irrelevant, then so is what you've said, since again I'm just going by your logic. Admittedly, it's amusing watching you attack your own logic though.

"That does not answer either of my questions, a proposition can be agreeable to you without needing to have (in your view) a secure foundation."

That's not my view. Stop putting words in my mouth. I never said Clifford's proposition needs to have "a secure foundation".

I said it needs "sufficient evidence," for that's what Clifford's proposition itself states: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence."

What I said was if there is "insufficient evidence" to believe Clifford's proposition, then it's self-refuting, because we don't have "sufficient evidence" to believe Clifford's proposition about "sufficient evidence". And that was only one of the points I brought up about Clifford's proposition.

"And the other of my questions… .. why did you not say you think you comply with it the first time I asked rather than after the 5th or so time?"

I never said I "complied" with Clifford's proposition. The answer is: I have no idea why you still don't understand even after 5+ times of you asking and me explaining.

"How? Let’s say the EAAN even confirms theism."

The EAAN can't "confirm theism" because that's not its argument. It's not called the EAFT.

"Under theism please argue why it is true that: accurate beliefs are today on the whole less likely to achieve the purpose for an action and inaccurate beliefs are on the whole more likely to achieve the purpose."

Why should I argue this? Why should I agree or disagree with this? Your formulation of the EAAN isn't "accurate". The EAAN isn't about what you keep saying it's about. Rather, the EAAN is about the reliability of one's cognitive faculties given naturalism and evolution.

"What will cut through all this simply is an answer to this that I’ve been asking you and you have not yet replied: are you Patrick more or less likely to achieve the purpose for an action with accurate beliefs? I am asking what you think."

And I am telling you that you're asking the wrong question. There's no obligation for me to reply to a poorly worded question.


"I note you’ve give no evidence that Deut21 was before Num31 just a tortured way of claiming that it might be possible despite all the problems."

1. As is his wont, Ed engages in a lot of hand-waving (alongside pejoratives) despite my detailed answers.

2. I never argued "Deut21 was [written] before Num31". That's another one of Ed's tactics: impute to us a position we never held, then attack the position he imputed to us rather than our actual position. Of course, that's also known as attacking a strawman.

3. What part of Moses wrote (most of) the Five Books of Moses do you not understand, Ed?

"I see no reason to think Deut21 already existed as a law for the people in the Num31 story, it is just far too tenuous with the evidence against."

And I note you provide zero "evidence against" it. Just your fact-free assertion.

"This is all about taking the girls without consent as is clear to everyone except a person who has to think God is moral here in His commands."

This is all about Ed replaying his broken record of a reply despite my answers to him. Ed pretends he wants to "learn," but the truth is he's dismissive of our answers. He waves away or snubs his nose at our answers rather attempting to fairly interact with them.

"my point is that God agrees with the awful culture, which you are arguing as well. This undermines objective morality from God."

Where did I argue "God agrees with the awful culture"? I didn't. That's once again Ed imputing a position to me I never held, then using it as a pretext to burn his strawman. At this rate, Ed should consider buying flame retardant clothing lest his clothes become singed from all the strawmen he's burned.

"It makes African soldiers taking girls as their ‘wives’ today OK by the perfect God, so long as all the other members of the family have been killed."

An argument from analogy minus the argument. How are modern Africa soldiers doing what they do analogous to ancient Israel? Ed doesn't bother to make any connecting argument.

"Remember this is the verses we are talking about: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”"

1. Again, keep in mind Ed ignores what I've already said. For example, he doesn't deal with: It's an abbreviated account that takes for granted the more detailed provision regarding war brides (Deut 21:10-14). The context is marriage to women whose husbands (enemy combatants) died in battle. Not an enviable situation, but ironically, the alternative would be rape if the women (eligible widows) had no able-bodied men to protect them.

2. Keep in mind the context. This was a defensive war. Israel was defending itself against the Midianites and Moabites (there may have been others) who had done horrible things to Israel. Israel defeated them in war.

3. The NIV's translation of "boys" belies the fact that adolescents could be savage and ruthless warriors. Consider some teenagers today. Such as teenagers in inner city gangs. Many are ferocious.

4. As for "every woman who has slept with a man". Recall Num 25 where these Midianite and Moabite women intentionally sexually seduced the Israel in order to have them commit idolatry with their gods. These weren't exactly innocent or blameless women.

5. By the way, in Num 25 God likewise had Moses command Israel to kill all the Israelite men who committed sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabites and Midianites. So it wasn't about genocide or one people killing only those from another people.

6. Don't forget the same Moses who wrote Numbers also wrote most the rest of the Torah. In other parts of the Torah, Moses likewise condemns rape, so if we believe Moses is consistent (which I do), then this could not have been rape.

7. Rather, worst case scenario, what happened to "every girl who has never slept with a man" was they were married to Israelite men. As such, they received the rights and privileges of marriage. They were now part of Israel's community. Part of God's people. (And if they ever divorced, they likewise had certain rights and privileges as detailed in Deut 21:10-14.) That's far better than being left destitute and alone, without any able-bodied man (e.g. husband, father) to defend them. If they were left destitute and alone, then it would have opened them up to being taken advantage of by others in the ANE. Or what else could be the alternative for these women in the ANE?

"This does not change things much. Take the moral not to save for yourself a virgin girl if she is alone due to war, you are saying its ontological status is that it is objectively false, but with extra information it may turn out to be true."

Where did I ever say this? Answer: I never said this. I never even assumed this. This is just Ed drawing an unwarranted inference from what he thinks is my position. Burning another strawman. Typical Ed.

"The ontological status is irrelevant. You are saying that it is the epistemological position that actually matters for guiding behaviour and there is no objectivity."

1. No, that's not what I said. Do you intentionally attempt to misrepresent people's position - or is it just sloppy thinking and unintentional on your part?

2. I was responding to what you said the Bible said, not what the Bible said. What the Bible said is different from what you said the Bible said.

3. That's why I also said "in the first place" we need to know what's been said in the text, not "in the only or sole place". If we don't know what the text says, if we don't appreciate the grammatical and historical context, then we can't necessarily move forward with our interpretation let alone moral application and the like.


"Yes I am winding down. Picking up only on things where I think I might learn."

1. If you truly want to learn, then you wouldn't hand wave away our answers so often.

2. If you truly want to learn, then you wouldn't burn so many strawmen.

3. If you truly want to learn, then you would check out the resources that have been previously cited. And no, Wikipedia doesn't count, Ed.

4. Where's the evidence for all this? As I've always said, I ask people to read our exchanges, read Ed's responses, read Steve Hays' responses as well as mine, and come to their own conclusions. Reasonable people can appreciate reasonable argumentation, whereas one can't reason with unreasonable people.

"BTW I take it that you think that there is one kind of slavery only in the OT and the laws for Israelite slaves and foreign slaves were the same, and scholarship supports your view, is that what you are saying?"

Seriously, Ed, what's your problem? I asked you to explain your distinction, but all you did was cite a Wikipedia article on the topic.

"OK – others say that killing babies for fun is wrong and that is a fact about the universe and they’d call it "objective truth"."

1. Given your atheism, evolution, and moral relativism (nonrealism), you're logically committed to accepting "killing babies for fun" is justifiable.

2. They'd have to overcome the is-ought dilemma for starters.

"But just because other apologists say that, you don’t need to."

What are you talking about, Ed? I don't "need to" say what other apologists say? If so, yeah, that's pretty obvious, because I'm not them and they're not me. Different apologists can use different arguments, etc. By the way, is Captain Obvious coming to rescue Ed from himself?

"I answered before, way back, but I’ll expand here. We get an ought from a goal. Eg in sport ‘the striker ought to find more space’ that only makes sense if the goal of the striker and the commentator is to win the game. I get a moral ought only when there is an agreed goal, such as human flourishing. So the claim ‘you ought not to steal’ is really ‘if an important goal for you is human flourishing then you ought not to steal’ , and note that leaves room for stealing for helping a starving child when human flourishing is then better served by breaking the claimed ought. I am not arguing for anything here, just letting you know how I see things."

1. Given your atheism and evolutionism, if morality is analogous to a game, then you can attempt to explain moral *sentiments* within the game. But how does explaining moral *sentiments* resolve the is-ought problem let alone justify fundamental objective morality? It seems to me you're bypassing the is-ought problem rather than addressing it head-on when you punt (no pun intended) to this game metaphor.

2. Given your atheism and evolutionism, moral sentiments are subject to the forces of evolution. It's possible humans could evolve different moral sentiments in the future (or have evolved from different moral sentiments in the past). It's possible that although our moral sentiments tell us it's wrong to rape, we could someday evolve into (or we have in the past evolved from) hairless apes with moral sentiments which tell (or told) us there's nothing wrong with rape. So yes, you can explain the moral sentiments for "rape" within the game, but I don't see how that resolves the is-ought problem at all, let alone grounds objective morality.

3. There's no moral duty or obligation for a person in the game to abide by the rules of the game. If someone is clever enough to get away with it and not get caught, then, even if a horrific act like rape runs counter to their moral sentiments, they can override their sentiments, and rape someone else, and you can't say it's objectively wrong for them to rape.

4. Similar problem remains if someone doesn't agree with the goal (e.g. human flourishing), but prefers a different goal, even one which runs counter to their moral sentiments or the moral sentiments of everyone else in the game (e.g. if their goal is self-interest). After all, there is no moral obligation for him or her to agree with any goal. Again, anyone who recognizes this can escape participating in the game.

5. The goal of human flourishing is an arguably consequentalist goal. As such, one issue is it doesn't necessarily consider individual members or minorities as part of the total equation. Too bad for an individual or minority if their welfare cuts against human flourishing as a whole. Too bad for a minority group if the majority of humanity believes the minority group's existence cuts against human flourishing overall. (This ironically undermines your objection to ancient Israel's treatment of the Midianites.) So yes, that's a glaring problem for your position. It not only leaves room for stealing for helping a starving child, but it potentially leaves room for stealing, period.


"You only mentioned the first commandment, I’m feeling some avoidance is happening again. I’ll try again – how many of the 10 commandments do you consider objective?"

1. Given how you switch back and forth in what you're referring to, are you now talking about objective morality, objective truth, or another sense of objective? Perhaps "objective" in a general sense? If in a general sense, then I consider all of them "objective" in a general sense.

2. But here's what you're missing Ed. How many of them I consider "objective" is besides the point. The specific question pertains to the Sabbath. So a better question you could ask me is whether I am a strict Sabbatarian? The answer is no I am not.

"On Sabbath observance and stoning for picking up sticks, you say it is just ceremonial law"

No, I never confirmed one way or the other. I floated the idea that it's possibly a ceremonial law, but I likewise gave other possibilities.

"and I gave a reference to show that Jesus still thinks it applies, but you think it can be broken because Jesus said it is for our benefit not Gods and he didn’t mind his disciples breaking it. (The grain thing seems as bad as picking up sticks). You also agree that it is not appropriate for today’s world, while it was for theirs in 1000BC. It is a sin not a crime. I am struggling to see any objective morality in any of this. It is all subjectivity. I am also failing to see how stoning is an appropriate punishment, even, for the time. That’s my summary of the issue and I’m happy to leave it there."

Your summary is way off. For starters, your reference wasn't about the Sabbath in particular. It was about "the Law" and "the Prophets" which is what 1st century Jews would say to refer to the entire Hebrew Scriptures or what we call the OT. Jesus then mentioned he has come to "fulfill" "the Law" and "the Prophets". How does Jesus "fulfill" the Law and the Prophets? One possibility is Jesus is bringing the OT to its intended goal. However, if so, this doesn't mean the OT is going to be unchanged going forward. Indeed, Jesus' "fulfillment" itself brings about a tremendous "change". At the same time, it doesn't mean we discard the entire OT either. What it means is we need to interpret the OT in light of Jesus' fulfillment. The long and short of it is there are continuities as well as discontinuities between the OT and the NT. But it would take a book length treatment to get into all this. And many books have been written about this.

"On Jn3:16, I am indeed referring to kosmos to make my case as you asked, and I don’t have any objections to it. I don’t see how my answers were not clear on this."

I already explained how. But you apparently hand wave it away. Again.

"But to add more ….. It is translated ‘world’ which to me means all of us. In places in the NT ‘world’ can mean outsiders, but either meaning still includes the people who don’t believe within those God wants to reach."

1. An appropriate interpretation of John 3:16 isn't in the first place dictated by the entire NT but by Johannine usage. That's the immediate context.

2. In Johannine usage, "world" isn't equivalent to "all of us" if by "all of us" you mean "everyone". For example, John frequently uses "world" in contrast to those who believe in Christ (e.g. John 15:19). Since John can and does set the "world" in contrast to believers, it can't refer to "everyone".

3. As for "outsiders," it's true God in one sense "loves" "outsiders" who are in rebellion against him (as I've *already* said more than once), but that alone does not get you to God loves the "world" (outsiders) *identically* to how he loves believers (insiders, if you wish). So yes, God loves the world in rebellion against him enough to send his Son, but that doesn't mean all the world in rebellion against him is therefore identical to those who laid down their arms and turned back to God for mercy.

4. Even D.A. Carson in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (p 17), whom I don't necessarily agree with on kosmos, has said: "In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people...More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect."

"Here it is, copied from before: “How to interpret a text is, as in all other areas of life, subjective. There is no correct interpretation of Hamlet, (but there are better and worse ones I guess). So God using narratives, letters in certain contexts, poems, etc etc in the Bible rather than a clear handbook format means that he is using a method where subjective judgement is required. The array of interpretations is extremely strong evidence for this. You can argue that there may be a correct interpretation, but if there is it is not accessible to us.”"

More hand waving. I already addressed this.

"It was the Acts 17 discussion – in a vital respect God is a parent to us all, especially by creation."

In a vital respect, I already disproved your simplistic notion.

"I’ve read your responses to my analogy of the Mafia boss and if that is it, fine. We’ll move on, I’m winding down."

In short, Ed acknowledges my responses, but offers no counterarguments. So my arguments stand.

"Great – that is what I’m arguing for here. All meanings of God being our father are analogies."

No, that's not what I said. That's not what can be properly inferred from what I said either. How Ed goes from me saying God's "fatherly" love for his creatures in general is not identical to God's "fatherly" love for his children in particular to therefore "All meanings of God being our father are analogies" is beyond me. The existence of different senses of a concept does not imply therefore all senses are merely analogies. Not to mention Ed equivocates between sense and meaning. Anyway, this is just Ed drawing another unwarranted inference. Jumping to conclusions.


"I am saying that in the sense that God is a "father" to all He wants the best for us all as for all healthy fatherhood."

That depends on what you mean by God "wants the best for us all".

"Jn3:16 for a start, and that Jesus reached out to sinners, etc etc This is a major theme of the gospels."

I already responded to John 3:16. See above.

Why do you think Jesus reaching out to sinners means God's love for the world in general is identical to God's love for his children in particular?

"I didn’t have a verse in mind. What’s wrong with Ephesians 3:19 as I said, Jesus loved the lost, the sinners and tax collectors and all."

1. So much for "genuine," Ed. I see you throw out "genuine" debate when it suits you. I didn't say there was anything "wrong" with Eph 3:19. In fact, I was the one who brought up Eph 3:19! That was in response to you saying God's love (not peace) "is not for you this great thing that passes all understanding". I said this is in reference to Phil 4:7 which talks about the peace of God, not the love of God. I said Eph 3:19 is about God's love surpassing all knowledge, but that that's meant for Christians. Not that there was anything "wrong" with it. You can't argue in good faith, so...whatever.

2. Again, Jesus loving the lost et al does not mean God's love is *identical* for all who are lost as for his children. At least you don't say so, but only assert it.

3. Also, even among "the lost," there are different groups of people. If "the lost" means all unbelievers, then there are some unbelievers who don't think they need to be saved and some unbelievers who do. Jesus himself said he did not come to save the righteous, but the unrighteous. Jesus himself said he did not come to save the healthy, but the sick. Of course, everyone is a sinner and thus unrighteous and unhealthy, but not everyone recognizes it. For those who don't recognize it, Jesus has said "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32).

4. Further, Jesus said "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matt 10:34-38). Jesus knows he brings division. He has "come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother" and so on.

[Me:] "God loves his enemies by telling them they are his enemies and will face his judgment unless they repent." [Ed:] "This made me chuckle. I can’t think of a less loving way to address your enemy."

That's because your values are those of a 21st century UK denizen which believes such forthrightness is more akin to a vice than a virtue. Where prim and proper etiquette tend to be superior to being straightforward and direct. Not all cultures share your 21st century British values. You should be more open-minded about other cultures.

"This was the theme of all your response to God loving enemies, but it is never an issue for Him."

No, that's your oversimplified summation of what I've said.

"If somehow God loves Himself in a way that stops Him loving others, He is not really being loving."

Did I mention anything about "God loving himself" let alone "in a way that stops Him loving others"? No, I'm talking about *human* duties and obligations, not *God's* duties and obligations (as it were).

"I am getting how God loves all from Matt 5:43-7 – the rain falls on the wicked etc. It is that aspect you missed in the reply."

1. Yet again, more hand waving from Ed. I didn't ignore this. I replied. My claim (which I've argued for) has always been God's love for people in general is not identical to God's love for his people in particular. God's providential care for creation (common grace) is consistent with his particular love for his people (special grace). Matt 5:43-47 does not undermine this in the slightest, but is consistent with this.

2. Ed often argues by proof-texting. He doesn't bother to exegete the text nor lay down an argument to show how the text demonstrates inconsistency in my claims. He just cites the text as if citing a text or verse or passage automatically does all the work of an argument for him.

"So this is something else that, despite being a key teaching of Jesus, turns out not to be objective."

Or it turns out you prefer to conclude Jesus is wrong rather than entertain the mere possibility that perhaps you might, just maybe, be wrong.

"Anyway, aren’t you making up qualifications that Jesus never mentioned here?"

1. I didn't say these are "qualifications that Jesus...mentioned". I'm not arguing only from Jesus' words. I'm arguing from Christian theology and philosophy, which is and must fundamentally be rooted in God's word, but it's not exclusive to God's word. There's such a thing as using biblically informed reason for example.

2. If someone tries to murder your wife, then is your primary duty to your wife or to this enemy who is trying to murder her? Most would argue your primary duty is to protect your wife over the assailant (assuming no other options are available). The only major exception that comes to mind is pacifism, but that would be another debate. However, if you want to get into it, we can.

"I thought Jesus said obeying God is more important than families."

1. How does that contradict what I said?

2. This was in the context of believing in Jesus vs not believing in Jesus.

3. In any case, even Acts 5:29 has Peter saying: "We must obey God rather than men". In context the religious establishment (the Sanhedrin) was attempting to silence Peter and the other disciples from proclaiming the gospel. So Peter says their duty is to God first, not to the Sanhedrin members who were attempting to silence the disciples. The Sanhedrin members attempting to silence the disciples were acting as their enemies here. Indeed, the Sanhedrin's response to Peter was: "When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them" (5:33).


"You are still not addressing the point about Mt7 on ‘the few’. Your quoted scholar says that point applied only to the Jews of the time. I want to know what else in the sermon on the mount applies only to the Jews of the time? I have never heard anyone say the Lord's prayer, loving your enemies, etc only applied to the Jews of the time. That is my only point and I find it hard to believe that you don’t see it."

1. I do see it, but I think it's a stupid objection. You're jumping to conclusions. As I asked you, why do you think what's true of the part is necessarily true of the whole (or at least of other parts)? You never addressed that. For example, just because it's true one chapter of my bioethics textbook argues "withdrawing life support is not necessarily equivalent to euthanasia" does not therefore mean it's licit to apply this argument to other chapters in my textbook which aren't even talking about euthanasia at all (e.g. such as by saying "withdrawing life support is not necessarily equivalent to abortion"). They're separate or separable subjects.

2. The Sermon on the Mount is essentially a collection of sayings by Jesus. It could have all been from a single "sermon" that happened at one time. But it could have been a collection of several different "sermons" or "sermonettes" at different times, though presumably taking place at approximately the same locale since that's where Jesus would've often taught his disciples, and the sayings were later collated into our familiar Sermon on the Mount passage by Matthew. If the latter is true, then it's possible Matt 7:13-14 is distinct from other parts of the Sermon on the Mount. So you can't just assume if x is true of Matt 7:13-14, therefore x is true of other passages in the Sermon on the Mount. At the very least, you have to exegete each passage individually before you can draw that conclusion about other passages in the Sermon on the Mount let alone the entire Sermon on the Mount.

"X or not-X can’t be a false dichotomy."

You didn't say "X or not-X". You said "philosophy not textural interpretation". Philosophy and textual interpretation are x and y, not x and not-x. X and not-x would be philosophy and not-philosophy, or textual interpretation and not-textual interpretation.

"It is very telling that you reply “And I am telling you that you're asking the wrong question. There's no obligation for me to reply to a poorly worded question” to such as simple and simply worded question as "are you Patrick more or less likely to achieve the purpose for an action with accurate beliefs? I am asking what you think." But I will try again:"

1. A question can be a "simple and simply worded question" but still a poorly worded one. These aren't mutually exclusive.

2. Remember the context of your question. We were talking about Plantinga's EAAN. So for you to ask what I think is besides the point. The point is the reliability is cognitive faculties in general, not in particular. It's possible for a particular organism in a species to have reliably functioning cognitive faculties, but the cognitive faculties still be unreliable at the entire species level. As I said to you, it could half of a species has reliable cognitive faculties, while the other half has unreliable cognitive faculties. That's enough to undercut naturalism. (If we add the ones with reliable cognitive faculties also happen to be the ones that cannot reproduce, then it's even worse.)

3. In any case, you're a broken record, Ed. You keep rehearsing the same old tired script. What else is new? Do you actually want to interact or do you just want to copy and paste the same old objections over and over again? If you're not able to offer arguments and counterarguments, but just copy and paste jobs, then that demonstrates your limitations.

4. Given your atheism, evolutionism, and moral nonrealism, you should read a book like How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren't Skeptical Enough by Mitch Stokes. Stokes is an engineer turned philosopher. He studied under Alvin Plantinga as well as other world class philosophers.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. You and Steve might be interested in these: