Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Steve sends along this article: "Hypergamy and Singleness in the Church" by Michael Scott Foster. Well worth reading. I hope it's widely circulated among Christians.

Several people make valuable comments in Foster's Facebook post too (especially the ever incisive Bnonn).

Ephemeral streams

Professing Christians commit apostasy for a variety of reason, but here's one reason: I think that, in a nutshell, this is all a lot of Christians are taught: we are sinners, for God to forgive us, we must put our faith in Christ. That's the only way to avoid damnation.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that message as far as it goes. Indeed, mainline denominations fail to preach that fundamental truth.

But there's a limitation to that message. The rewards and sanctions are internal to the theological paradigm. If you come to reject the paradigm, you may feel that you have nothing to lose since the stakes are defined by the paradigm. For the prospective apostate, Christianity offers a make-believe solution to a make-believe problem. Sin is a theological category. If you don't believe in sin, if you don't believe in God, then there's no need for the Cross, no need for divine forgiveness. No heaven or hell. 

To take a comparison: in traditional Catholic theology, we are born hellbound due to original sin. Baptism shifts us from the hellbound lane to the heavenbound lane. But that's just temporary since we can slip back to the hellbound lane at any time. Therefore, we need a lifelong maintenance program of Penance, Communion, and Last Rites to stay in a  state of grace. The reason Luther posed such a threat to Catholicism is that when he rediscovered the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, that implicitly nullified the entire Catholic paradigm. (Mind you, Catholicism had fudge factors, and it eventually ditched the traditional paradigm. The priesthood and sacramental system is an empty shell.) 

Christianity is often presented in such a way that the rewards and sanctions have no significance outside the Christian framework. If you reject the framework, you have nothing to fear since the rewards and sanctions take the framework for granted, and have no reality beyond it. 

But Christians need to understand that naturalism has its own sanctions, without any compensatory rewards. Christians need to consider the cost of naturalism.

Is human life of any value if we pass into oblivion when we die? 

If naturalistic evolution is true, then the things we value are the arbitrary result of how the mad scientist of natural selection wired our brains. Like in the animal world where some mothers defend their young while other mothers eat their young. Or the Terminator which is programmed to kill John Connor the first time around, then reprogrammed to protect him the second time around. 

If naturalistic evolution is true, there is no right or wrong, just winners and losers.

Part of enlightened self-interest is to consider the consequences of different positions. Suppose you stood before three doors. Suppose you know that if you pass through door 3 there's an 70% chance you will be electrocuted. Suppose you don't know what will happen if you pass through doors 1 & 2. For all you know there might be a 100% chance you will be electrocuted. Even so, it makes better sense in that situation to opt for the unknown danger rather than the known danger. 

Suppose for the sake of argument that the evidence for Christianity and naturalism was about the same. But the consequences are not the same. It would be foolhardy to bet on naturalism, because there's no payback. This is why I collect statements by atheists who are candid enough to admit what naturalism represents:

Atheists say we should follow the truth. But what if the truth is a door that will electrocute anyone who goes through that door? Isn't that an option you should scratch off the list?

Atheists are like a suicide cult where you mustn't disappoint the team. You go first! 

Now I'm not suggesting that Christian faith is just about playing a role or acting as if it's true. At some point there needs to be genuine conviction. 

Suppose you have a choice between living in the desert or living by an ephemeral stream. Either way, you may die of thirst, but if you live in the desert you're bound to die of thirst! 

A Christian whose faith is wavering should keep on doing Christian things. That's the only source of hope. Naturalism is hopeless. 

How did God inspire the Bible?

I'm going to comment on a post by Michael Bird:
It is common in evangelical theology to argue that the Holy Spirit’s influence extends to the very choice of words used, but falls short of dictation. On this theory, each word used is exactly the one that God intended. Inspiration is not a matter of guidance or assistance, but something given, imparted, conveyed to biblical authors as “sacred penmen,” and extending to the selection of words.[1] As such: “Each writer was guided so that his choice of words was also the choice of the Holy Spirit, thus making the product the Word of God as well as the word of man.”[2]  In support, it should be admitted that Jesus placed importance on the words and very minutia of scripture (Matt 5:18; John 10:35–36). Justin Martyr and Athenogoras described divine inspiration like the Spirit playing a musical instrument and among Protestants there has been a common analogy of authors as the Spirit’s pen, in one poem “Th’ inspired pens of his beloved disciples.”[3] Here inspiration is plenary and verbal.

Against plenary verbal inspiration theory, common as it is evangelicalism, it does have a few shortfalls.

First, it is not all that clear exactly how it differs from dictation theory. While dictation theory and verbal theory are not strictly the same, the difference is one of degree rather than mode of inspiration. For instance, Millard Erickson suggests that the Holy Spirit directs the thoughts of the Scripture writers, but the direction is quite precise and extends to the very choice of words in the author’s vocabulary: “By creating the thought and stimulating the understanding of the Scripture writer, the Spirit will lead him in effect to use one particular word rather than another.”[4] I submit that directing an author’s mind to a specific word is merely dictation at a subconscious level.

The standard conservative paradigm places verbal plenary inspiration within the framework of the organic theory of inspiration. That was championed by Warfield. It's no coincidence that Warfield was a Calvinist who relies on a Reformed understanding of providence. 

Putting it in modern parlance, the way God inspires the Gospel of Luke (to take one example) is to create a world with a particular history that includes St. Luke. God inspires the Gospel of Luke by picking a possible world or timeline in which St. Luke exists–along with all his contacts. A world with a particular past, leading up to St. Luke.  Luke's Gospel is the outgrowth of that historical process. God inspires the Gospel of Luke by providentially creating St. Luke, with his nature and nurture. 

If, instead, God wanted the Gospel of Andrew, he'd create a different world with a different history. For the most part, the doctrine of meticulous providence underpins the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture–according to that paradigm. The authors use their own words, yet their choice of wording is divinely intended by a prior chain of causes. The whole package reflects divine planning every step of the way–like a novelist who creates a narrative with a particular plot, setting, and characters. Everything they think, say, and do is the end-result of their circumstances. 

Now, you still have direct revelation. God causing Ezekiel to experience a series of referential mental images. However, even that can make use of Ezekiel's own imagination, a mind stocked with mental images of ancient Israel, &c. 

This is very different from dictation, where the writer is just a stenographer. According to a dictation theory, content and wording are entirely separate from the personality of the "writer". Different "writers" would produce the identical text. According to the organic theory, by contrast, the text is not independent of the writer's personality. To the contrary, God produces the text indirectly by producing all the conditions that necessarily eventuate in that particular outcome. A historical process leading up to that foreintended product.  

Letting Scripture speak for itself

Because I was eager to submit to the Bible itself, whatever I found there, more than any presupposed theology about the way God should have inspired it, I simply adjusted my understanding of inspiration to fit what I found there. I want to submit to whatever God’s Word says, not impose a philosophic or theological straitjacket on it. That was because I believed that the Bible, rather than any inherited theology about the Bible, should direct our beliefs.

Yes, it sounds good to say we shouldn't impose our expectations on Scripture but let it speak for itself. Who doesn't say that? That's a fine ideal to aspire to. 

Problem is, people who say that are often oblivious to the presuppositions they bring to Scripture and the inferences they draw. They lack the critical detachment to realize that they're not just letting Scripture speak for itself. 

There's nothing wrong with bringing assumptions to the Bible. That's unavoidable. The Bible is part of the world we live in.

But scholars need to recognize and examine their operating assumptions. Unconscious presuppositions are treacherous. 

Peter Enns says we should just let the Bible speak for itself, and when we do, the Bible doesn't behave like an inerrant book. But Enns has preconceptions of what an inerrant Bible ought to say. Preconceived notions of what evidence should survive if these events actually happened. In reality, his position is quite naive. 

Did Jesus die four times!

I was converted from a non-Christian background, so I didn’t grow up hearing the Gospels. The first time I read through the Gospels as a new believer, I was shocked. Matthew was great, but then Jesus got crucified again at the end of Mark. “How often is this going to happen?” I wondered.

This is an unintended parody of Bart Ehrman's case for Gospel contradictions. A reductio ad absurdum of his approach. Ehrman is always telling people to read the Gospels horizontally. 

So you read Matthew's crucifixion account, then you slide over to Mark–and Jesus dies again! Then you slide over to Luke and John and it keeps on happening. Jesus died four times! 

Just do the math! He dies in each Gospel, so if you add them up, he was crucified and resurrected four different times! Ehrman's case for Gospel contradictions isn't much more sophisticated than that. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Comparative religious miracles

i) An atheist trope is to neutralize the Christian argument from miracles by appealing to many purported miracles in other religions. In my experience, I've never seen an atheist actually document anything comparable in non-Christian religions. This is just a hypothetical counterexample they toss out. 

ii) Many atheists labor under the illusion that the occurrence of non-Christian miracles is incompatible with the truth of Christianity. They never explain why they think that. 

iii) Hume appealed to purported non-Christian miracles. His argument is that such a phenomenon creates a stalemate between revival religious claimants. Up to a point that's true if the argument from miracles was the sole argument for Christianity, but it's not. 

iv) In Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), Yujin Nagasawa has block quotes of reported Christian/biblical, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim miracles without any footnotes to the source material he's quoting from. It would be nearly impossible for the reader to track down the source in order to consider elementary questions about genre, the date of the source, &c. in relation to the putative event. He does have a chapter bibliography which hints at where he's quoting this material from, but that's it.

v) I'm going to quote from The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (Cambridge 2011), G. Twelftree, ed. This has contributors representing different religious viewpoints. It bends over backwards to be evenhanded. Each contributor gives a sympathetic account of purported miracles in non-Christian religions. So this is about as good as it gets. As scholarly, nonpartisan reference work. 

Despite that, notice the poverty of the examples. Notice the distance in time and space between the purported miracles and the source material. There's nothing comparable to the Christian argument from miracles. I'll be quoting from the following chapters: 4. Miracles in the Greek and Roman world by Robert Garland; 10. Miracles in Hinduism by Gavin Flood; 11. Miracles in Islam by David Thomas; 12. Tales of miraculous teachings: miracles in early Indian Buddhism by Rupert Gethin:

The fact that the Greeks used the word iama from iaomai, meaning "to heal", rather than thauma, suggests, however, the cures are to be regarded as routine rather than miraculous, even though they came about in surprising ways (81). 

[Aelius Aristides] is the only firsthand literary account from the beneficiary of a miraculous cure that has come down to us from Graeco-Roman antiquity (82)…Regarding the "truth" of the claims, Charles A. Behr, Aelius Aristides and the Sacred Tales (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1968), 39, writes, "Many of Aristides' cures seem transient…" (92n20). 

Salmoxis was denounced as a charlatan by Herodotus' Greek informant (4.94-6). They claimed that he faked his resurrection by building a hall with an underground chamber and then went into hiding for three years, after which he popped up again–literally so, perhaps–to the amazement of all (83).

Even more ridicule attached to the philosopher Empedocles of Acragas (c. 492-32 BCE), who is said to have stayed the winds, cured the sick, resuscitated the dead and become a god. His chief claim to fame, however, was the bathetic manner of his death. The most colorful account has him leaping into the volcanic crater of Mt. Etna with the intuition of faking his apotheosis, only to be revealed as a fraud when the volcano belched up one of his bronze sandals (Diogenes Laeritius, Lives 8.69). It may be that the reports of his miraculous powers, largely extrapolated from his poetry, aroused such derision that posterity exacted its revenge by assigning him a particularly ignominious death (83).

In the absence of any contemporary account of Pythagoras' life, there is no knowing when reports of his wondrous deeds first began to circular (83). 

We hear of no Roman miracles workers, and it may be that here, as in so many other areas of professional expertise, the Greeks claimed a monopoly, particularly in light of the fact that miracle workers were, as we have seen, to some degree perceived as entertainers (84).

The Jewish philosopher Philo (Embassy 144-5) credited the deified Augustus with the ability not only to "calm the torrential storm on every side" but also to "heal plagues that afflicted both the Greeks and the barbarians". However, extravagant flattery of this sort was routinely offered by those seeking favors or rewards and is part of the language of soteriology (84).

Tacitus' account is nicely nuanced. Though he does not dismiss the story outright as fabrication, he falls short of endorsing the claim that Vespasian had miraculous powers…There are no reports of Vespasian performing miracles after his accession. Quite possibly claims to this effect would have been greeted with incredulity in the capital itself (85). 

Julian the Theurge is said to to have caused a miraculous downpour in 172 CE, when the Roman army was dying from thirst during Marcus Aurelius' campaign in Germany (88)…The earliest surviving reference to the rain miracles is in Tertullian, Apology 5.6 (c. 197-8) [93n27]. 

Perhaps the most famous contemporary guru associated with the miraculous is Sathya Sai Baba…There is much controversy surrounding Sai Baba…He has borne the brunt of negative criticism that his "miracles" are in fact sleight-of-hand [cf. Erlendur Haraldsson, Modern Miracles: An investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (New York: Fawcett, 1997) and accusations of sexual abuse and even complicity in murder [cf. David Bailey, A Journey to Love (Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Towers Hotels Pvt. Ltd, 1997] (195; 197n33; 197n34). 

In this context we must lastly mention the "miracles" associated with icons of the gods. In September 1995, a "miracle" occurred in a Delhi temple when the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, drank milk offered during worship. Due to mass communication this phenomenon spread and icons of Ganesha were drinking milk throughout the world within a few days. This was attested from Malaysia to London and 60 percent of the Delhi's population visited a Ganesha temple at the time. The phenomenon died down in due course and was explained by "rationalists" in India as the porous stone of the image absorbing the liquid (196).

According to traditional accounts, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE by the angel Gabriel from God himself…The reference in 54:1-2–"the hour [of judgment] is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder. But if they see a sign, they turn away, and say, "this is [but] transient magic'"–was interpreted as a physical occurrence in the heavens witnessed by Muhammad and people around the world. And the reference in 17:1 formed the basis of a tradition that became a whole genre of literature in itself: "Glory  to [Allah] who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts we did bless–in order that we might show some of our signs"….The story of this event was greatly elaborated as time went on…These later amplifications of references in the Qur'an that at best hint at miracles associated with Muhammad boost his status to that of at least the equal of the greatest of his predecessors (204-5).

One of the best-known early examples of this genre is the Kitab al-din wa-al-dawla, The Book of Religion and Empire, by 'Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari (d. c. 860 CD), who worked at the caliphal court in Baghdad for many years as a Christian but then converted to Islam at the age of seventy…'Ali also adduces examples of miraculous events that are immediately recognizable as works of wonder. They include the Night Journey, which here Muhammad proves when he returns home by giving the skeptical Meccans details about a caravan approaching the town that he could not have known about without seeing it, the sudden and painful deaths of five of his most vehement critics in Mecca, his diverting a storm that threatened to damage some dwellings, turning a plant stem into a sword and understanding what a bird was communicating, a calf that was about to be slaughtered proclaiming his advent, a wolf doing the same, his withholding rain, increasing food and providing water for his companions on a journey (207-8). 

From its beginnings in the fourth or third century BCE, Buddhist literature abounds in tales of miracles…In the earliest texts, the Buddha himself is  routinely portrayed as exercising his ability to perform miracles: he makes someone sitting near him invisible to another (Vin 1 16); he overpowers fiery dragons (naga) by himself bursting into flames (Vin 1 25), he disappears from one shore of the Ganges and reappears together with the community of monks on the far shore (D II 89), when the great god Brahma fails in his own attempt to make himself invisible, the Buddha makes himself invisible (M 1 330) [216,21). 

The Irrationality of Miracles

Jason Engwer pointed out the following.
Gary out of one side of his mouth:

"Some of the miracle claims are just downright stupid. Any educated Christian with a college degree should be embarrassed that Keener included these claims in his book. One such claim is that a woman who had previously undergone a complete hysterectomy prayed to Jesus for a child and nine months later she delivered a healthy child. If that story is true, that is more miraculous than the virginal conception of Jesus!"

Out of the other:

"When Jesus puts back together the thousands of pieces of tissue of a victim of a bombing, or reattaches the head of someone who has been decapitated, or reattaches a severed leg from an amputee, you will have my full attention. Until then, since prior investigations of 'miracle' healings have demonstrated that there is always a possible (and more probable) naturalistic explanation (such as the previous chemo and radiation treatment finally kicked in), I'm not buying your magic tales."

So, Gary apparently wants Jesus to produce miracles that he's already dismissed as "downright stupid" in principle.
It’s a common atheist tactic to claim that to believe in miracles is irrational.  This is why Gary feels comfortable saying it’s “downright stupid” when he disparages certain miracles.  But, I argue that it’s not irrational to believe in miracles, even on purely materialistic grounds.

To be clear, when I talk about “irrational” I’m referring to something that would be logically impossible, or something that it absolutely impossible to occur.  Furthermore, when I say it’s not irrational for miracles to happen even on materialistic grounds, I’m not referring to atheist claims of “spontaneous recovery” or “we’ll eventually figure out how to pretend God didn’t do this”-of-the-gaps arguments.  I mean legitimate miracles are perfectly consistent in a materialistic universe.

First, as I pointed out in one of my previous exchanges with Atheist Lehman, atheists assume that the supernatural is an impersonal force.  But God is a person.  It’s why He has the pronoun “He” (not because He’s gendered, so feminists can chill, but because He is not an It).  When we are looking at miracles, we are not looking at something that will happen due to machine-like causality, but instead we are looking at the choices of a personal agent.

One of the arguments that Gary brought out was that there are billions of people who pray to be healed, but not all are healed.  But this would only be a problem if God was obligated to answer all prayers.  We can easily imagine a hospital ward full of patients who have a bacterial infection.  A doctor may choose to give certain patients an antibiotic that he doesn’t give to other patients.  Those who receive the cure are cured, but those who do not aren’t.  Regardless of whether one wants to debate the ethics of a doctor making such a selection, it is clearly not irrational to stipulate that a personal agent could make such a decision for his own reasons.  In other words, it’s not like gravity (which functions no matter what someone wishes or desires) and so the fact that some, but not all, people who pray to be healed actually are healed is not grounds to rule that praying for a miracle is irrational.

But let me delve into this further with my second point.  The impetus for how miraculous healing works doesn’t have to be “magical” in any sense of the word.  All it requires is the existence of a higher dimension, something which string theory already teaches.  In fact, nearly all (if not all) of the miracles that Jesus performed could be adequately explained as the actions of someone who has the ability to use the fourth Euclidean dimension (I use the term “Euclidean” here to differentiate between it and Einstein’s use of the fourth dimension as time).

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to use the example of Flatlanders.  This work examined a theoretical two-dimensional space where creatures lived on a plane.  We can imagine a square drawn on a piece of paper with a heart-shaped icon inside the square.  To a creature that exists two-dimensionally, they would see only a line in front of them (they have only the x and y coordinates, no depth).  They would therefore see just the surface of the square and they would have to dig through the surface of the square in order to get to that heart icon.

You, existing in the third dimension, can see all sides of the square simultaneously, inside and outside.  You can even put your hand over the square and touch all points within the square simultaneously.  Neither of these concepts makes sense to a two-dimensional being, however, because they can only touch the outside of the square—never the inside, unless they burrow in.

Now consider some of the miracles of Jesus.  He walked through a locked door.  Irrational?  Well, a three dimensional being can use the third dimension to bypass a two-dimensional door.  To the perspective of a two-dimensional creature, we can walk through doors.  If Jesus could access the fourth dimension, bypassing a three-dimensional door is trivial.

Jesus turned water into wine.  Well, we can imagine a locked room in two-dimensional space that’s full of a substance—say, red chalk.  We can easily imagine erasing the substance out of that space and replacing it with something else, like black ink.  To the observer in two-dimensional space, a miracle has happened whereas for us, it’s just a natural aspect to the third dimension.

Jesus healed people.  Imagine what a doctor could do if he could see all points of a human body, inside and out, without having to cut into the body.  Just as we can reach in and touch the heart-icon inside a square without digging in, a fourth-dimensional being could see our entire heart and reach in to remove plaque or to repair arterial damage, all without cutting into our body or needing to use surgery.  Gary, being in the medical field, ought to appreciate how much one could do with this ability.

Again, extra dimensions are believed by many in modern physics.  It’s certainly not prima facie irrational to hold to their existence.  And it wouldn’t take a “magical” being to do anything.  If we had some way to access the fourth dimension ourselves, we could already do all of these things and we certainly aren’t magical beings.

Now atheists still might not like God.  They might even say that just because it’s possible that there could be a being in fourth-dimensional space doesn’t mean there actually is one.  But that “rebuttal” misses the point.  Atheists are claiming that Christians are irrational for holding to beliefs that are perfectly rational even on purely materialistic grounds.

What does that say about how rational atheism is?

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

I'd like to use another example to illustrate my argument in this post:

In consequentialism, given a choice between saving five lives and saving ten lives, you sacrifice five lives to save ten lives. And all things being equal, that's a reasonable, if tragic choice.

But it's not just about raw numbers. Suppose it's a choice between saving five kids or ten psychos. In that case we should save the kids rather than the psychos. Indeed, it isn't clear that we even have a duty to save the psychos. On the one hand we didn't put them in that life-threatening situation. On the other hand, they're a danger to society. 

So this is an example of how consequentialism has simplistic appeal. It's true that sometimes numbers matter, but not because consequentialism is correct. That calculus is only valid when there are no other moral considerations in play. 

Does God only heal certain types of disorders?

Atheists object that only certain kinds of healing miracles are reported. 

i) In my experience, atheists are rarely conversant with the best literature documenting miracles, so most of them are too uninformed to generalize about the types of healing miracles. 

ii) In addition, case-studies barely scratch the surface. Miracles are vastly underreported. The sample is infinitesimal. 

iii) However, for discussion purposes, let's stipulate that God rarely if ever performs certain kinds of miracles. Is there an explanation for that? Let's consider two related hypothetical examples. 

From what I've read, language acquisition is crucial to cognitive development and social formation. And there's a narrow window of opportunity for that to occur. If a child fails to acquire a language by a certain age, he will suffer severe cognitive impairment. 

And I've read that prior to the development of sign language, people born deaf were liable to cognitive impairment for that very reason. They had a normal brain. But without a linguistic stimulus, their cognitive development was stunted. That's an irreversible and unrepeatable phase in developmental psychology. If you miss out, it can't be fixed.

Suppose God healed a teenager born deaf. A teenager from the 17C. Assuming that his lack of language acquisition left him mentally impaired, restoring his hearing wouldn't restore his mind. 

To take another example, from what I've read, the brain of autistic kids fails to develop certain neural pathways. Suppose God heals the brain of a 17-year-old-autistic. Even though he now has the brain of a normal 17-year-old boy, does that mean he now has the personality of a normal 17-year-old boy? Or did his defective brain fail to process information correctly, so that he's psychologically stunted? Did he miss key steps in his cognitive development?  

If so, do we know what kind of person would pop out at the end of the miraculous healing? If he didn't develop the proper socialization, might he have a personality disorder? Might he turn out to be a psychopath or sociopath? Just restoring his brain doesn't automatically compensate for other deficits. And at that stage, the defective brain might suppress sociopathic behavior. Did the deficient brain structures that filtered out crucial information processing now filter out socially dangerous impulses? If you suddenly remove the screen, what emerges? 

I'm not stating this for a fact. I don't claim to be an expert. My immediate point is that these are considerations which critics of miraculous healing overlook. Physical restoration doesn't entail psychological restoration. Psychological restoration may await heaven. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sometimes ignorance is bliss

Apostates are a funny breed. So many people who deconvert from Christianity have the same zeal as converts to Christianity, even though apostates have nothing to offer up but the maggoty corpse of atheism. Yet they are spoiling for a fight. They start picking fights with Christian relatives. They surf the net to pick fights with Christian bloggers. Yet all they have to offer up is the maggoty corpse of atheism.

Apostates think they've discovered the truth, and they act as if enlightenment is necessarily better than ignorance. But that's a thoughtless perspective. Consider the ethical dilemma of predictive genetic testing. Some people are ticking time bombs. They suffer from a genetic defect that will eventuate in a catastrophic, incurable illness. 

The dilemma is that they may have many good years ahead of them before the disease begins to manifest itself. They may be healthy and asymptotic for many years. 

But if they receive the diagnosis ahead of time, that ruins the good years. Unlike animals, humans are future-oriented. If they receive that dire diagnosis and prognosis, then that casts a shadow of dread over the healthy years. 

If they waited until symptoms appeared before seeking a diagnosis, that would still be devastating, but at a later stage of life. They'd still have had the full benefit of the good years. 

So there are situations in which ignorance is bliss. Situations where ignorance is better than enlightenment. Some people commit suicide after they are diagnosed with a degenerative condition because they can't face that hideous prospect. It will go from bad to worse. Not coincidentally, Christians have emotional resources to cope with a dire prognosis which unbelievers lack. 

A dire prognosis is fatalistic–like an oracle of doom. Suppose the oracle says you will burn alive. But it doesn't say when or where that will happen, so you don't know what not to do to avoid it. If you were doomed but didn't know it, you'd only suffer the actual outcome, but if you have advance knowledge, then your life cursed with foreboding. You can't forget what awaits you. It's always hovering in the back for your mind. You suffer all the way up to the fateful day, in fearful expectation. 

If a professing Christian loses his faith, the intelligent response isn't to leave church, argue with Christian friends, bone up on atheism. The intelligent response is to stay in church, continue to pray, have others pray for you, continue to read the Bible, devotional material, and Christian apologists–because that's the only hope you've got. 

Gary, I have Figured Out Your Problem: Well, One Of Them

Gary wrote a post about his poor feels.  In the post, he attributes something I wrote to “James, conservative Christian.”  Then, he swings for the fences and says he thinks that I’m actually JP Holding.


First, what did Gary quote me as saying?  I’m glad you asked.  Gary had said: “Ask Jesus to levitate my coffee table three feet off the ground for three minutes and I will believe.”  To which I responded:
Why would something that Derren Brown can emulate be enough to convince you that Jesus is Lord?

This inadvertently exposes a fundamental problem for you. You hate God so much that you don't even know what would count as evidence. You pretend that it wouldn't take much evidence to convince you, but what you ask for is a magic trick. And not only that, but one that can be performed by dozens of people in ways you would never be able to catch. Penn & Teller could perform a levitating table trick for you right now and you wouldn't be able to tell how they did it. Does that count as evidence they are divine? Of course not.

So when you say that's what it would take for you to believe Jesus, you obviously lie. Why?

I mean that seriously. Ask yourself. Why is it you insist on giving trials that would not prove the thing you're requesting in the first place? Were you really blinded to it? If so, what would be sufficient to blind you to how obvious this is? Perhaps a sin nature at enmity with God?
Gary is upset that I pointed out that he hates God.  He even bolded and italicized that sentence when he quoted it (without saying “emphasis added” or anything like that, since I didn’t bold or italicize it myself).  Gary then said: “Good grief.  This guy knows nothing about me but decides after a very brief conversation that the reason for my deconversion was that I hate God.”

Actually, I know more about Gary than he might think, such as that he’s been going around whining on several people’s blogs since early July trying to pick fights with theists.  But whatever, that’s par for the course for atheists who have nothing better to do with their life.  Also, I stated my reasons for making the statement.  Gary gave us a very obvious lie.  Why?  What could explain that?  Well, hatred of God certainly fits the bill.  Either way, Gary still didn't give a counter reason for why he gave such an obvious lie.

In the comments on his blog, Gary accuses me of being JP Holding by saying: “After receiving a few nasty, personally demeaning responses to my comments on Triablogue, I started to recognize the handiwork of JP Holding. Isn’t he one of the owners of Triablogue? His primary strategy on every blog in which he is involved is to personally attack and demean the skeptic to shut them up. His minions follow suit in the personal attacks.”

I asked JP Holding if I was permitted to confirm he was an owner of Triablogue now that the great Gary had figured it out, and he said "Only if you call me Patrick Chan."  So, there is that.

But personally, I don’t know how it’s demeaning to ask Gary to be consistent.  Well, actually given the impossible “standards” he uses, I suppose it would be demeaning to hold someone to them. I still find it funny that Gary thinks that I’m JP Holding though.  This gives me even further reason not to take anything Gary says seriously.

But I will.  See, I’ve actually taken Gary seriously throughout.  More seriously than Gary does, as a matter of fact.

How can I say that?  Because I insist that if Gary uses a standard that he USES that standard.  The end of the very first thing I said to him in my first response was: “If you plan on going that route, you're going to have to apply it to your own view too. Unless you don't care about consistency. But if that's the case, I don't care about what you have to say.”

And see, that still stands.  If Gary doesn’t apply his own rhetoric to his own position, then clearly what he says doesn’t have any substance.  I respect Gary too much to pretend that his non-responses are actually responses when he clearly doesn’t believe they are responses.

But let us look at what Gary has yet to actually respond to, and this is just in what I’ve presented to him.  I am persistent and have no problem pointing it out:

Gary wrote:
Just because a lot of people believe something...doesn't mean it is true.

The reality is, people had evidence for geocentrism, starting with what they observed with their own senses. They had reason to suspect the Earth was stationary because anyone could put a drop of water on the side of a top and give it a twirl and watch the water go flying off on a tangent line to the rotation of the top, so if the Earth was spinning that would mean we ought to go flying off its surface too.

The fact is, no matter what foolish theory you decide to pick throughout history, it was always believed because of the evidence, not due to the lack of the evidence. And the only reason that anyone ever changed their mind on a topic was when a paradigm-shift happened.

Newtonian physics could not explain the orbit of Mercury, and it took Einstein thinking outside the box to explain it better. Even then, we know for a fact that many of our current theories are still flawed because there are fundamental contradictions between relativity and quantum mechanics. In a decade, people could view something like string theory in the same way we currently view phlogiston.

So what you're really trying to say is "Just because a lot of people have evidence for something...doesn't mean it is true." Because what you're attacking is not the belief, but instead the evidence provided for the belief.

If you plan on going that route, you're going to have to apply it to your own view too. Unless you don't care about consistency. But if that's the case, I don't care about what you have to say.

Gary wrote:
As mammals we are "herd animals" and herds operate best (and are more likely to pass on their genetic material) when the herd establishes rules for the herd that are also beneficial to the individuals in the herd.

Except clearly our view of morality do NOT operate in such a manner; they operate in opposition to this. We have compassion on the weak and sick--which not only is not Darwinian, but it actually undermines Darwinism by increasing the ability of non-ideal genetics to get passed on.

But if you really hold to Darwinism, I think you're facing a bigger problem. Atheists are a very, very small subset of people who exist. Something like 4% worldwide, according to Dawkins. I'll be generous and say 10% of the population is atheist. That means that 90% of people hold to some kind of deity.

According to Darwinistic reasoning, the only way to get to this level of disparity is if atheism harms evolution. There is some survivability advantage to believing in a God (of whatever kind) that doesn't attain for atheists.

But I'm quite sure you believe it is a *FACT* that there is no God, so you're left with a dilemma. Darwinism is selecting for something that is false. That which is NOT TRUE provides a better survivability rate than the truth does. Which is problematic on the face of it, but gets worse when you realize that EVERYTHING you think and reason about is the result of evolution, in your view, and if evolution does not select for truth then you have no basis to trust any of your beliefs whatsoever.

"If two billion people always pray to Jesus when they are ill, then statistics tells us that there are going to be millions of instances in which the person recovers from that illness shortly after praying to Jesus. It's just basic math, folks."

And how are you going to establish what the baseline "random" recoveries should be? What if the reason the common cold isn't fatal more frequently is because Christians pray? Does this even enter into your mind to think on? Of course not, because you have a drum to pound and you're going to pound it.

You've mentioned several times that the rate of miraculous healing between atheists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. is all the same, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that Christians do not pray ONLY for Christians, but also for non-Christians. Indeed, sometimes we pray more for non-believers than we do for believers, because we know that if a believer dies he or she is going to heaven whereas the non-believer will go to hell. It is far more important to pray for the non-believer's recovery than the believer's. But again, it doesn't even enter into your mind to think about that aspect.

Expand your horizons. The box you inhabit is far too small.

"If the overwhelming majority of experts on an issue find out they are wrong and change their position then we non-experts should follow suit."

Except, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, scientists don't change their position even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They just die while the new generation doesn't believe what the old one did.

That's how scientific consensus changes through time.

Since you brought up the fact that we should listen to experts, Gary, how are you an expert in anything you're talking about. This includes the "consensus of NT scholarship"--are you an expert in NT scholarship? Note, I'm not asking if you're an expert in the NT (that comes later) but if you are an expert in what constitutes genuine NT scholarship. What is your degree in? Prove your credentials.

This isn't my standard, it's yours. Until you live by your own standard, kindly shut up.

And only after all of this was ignored did I finally say:
Oh so now you're an expert in defining the "scientific community" too, eh? What are your credentials, Garebear? A PhD in Google-Fu? What fields are you an expert in? Who did you study under? What makes your words of whizzdumb so important that anyone should listen to you?

You're a gasbag of randomly arranged atomic particles that somehow has self-awareness but which will pass into nothing the instant you die. This isn't what I believe--it's what you believe.

So why should anyone care about one word you've said? C'mon. Put up your dukes or hightail it out of here like the inconsistent coward you are.

At this point, Gary said (to another atheist responding): “Hi Lehman. My interest in this conversation is waning. If you feel like it, take over, my non-supernaturalist brother! You are more than capable of dealing with this set of supernaturalists.”

To which, I said: “I suspect it's pretty hard to stay interested when people keep pointing out how you're not following your own standards.  Gary still hasn't given his credentials either, so I'm assuming he has none.”

Now Gary, you can retreat to your own blog and misidentify me and whine and complain all you want, but really all your screeching is doing is demonstrating that you don’t have a leg to stand on.  You ignored everything of substance brought against your position, shifted the goalposts, pretended that we haven’t already presented counter arguments to your own position, and lied repeatedly throughout our interaction.  You got mad at me because I saw through it and refused to play along with you and insisted you use your own standards.

You made the rules, Gary.  I’m enforcing your own standards against you.

If you don’t like it, perhaps you should get better standards.