Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why I'm too sceptical to be a sceptic

Among the living, Paul Kurtz may be the world’s leading humanist philosopher. So what’s his cumulative case against theism in general and Christianity in particular?

“Why do skeptics doubt the existence of God? First, because the skeptical inquirer does not find the traditional concept of God as "transcendent," "omnipotent," "omnipresent," or "omnibeneficent" to be coherent, intelligible, or meaningful. To postulate a transcendent being who is incomprehensible to the human mind (as theologians maintain) does not explain the world that we encounter. How can we say that such an indefinable being exists, if we do not know in what sense that being is said to exist? How are we to understand a God that exists outside space and time and that transcends our capacity to comprehend his essence? Theists have postulated an unknowable "X." But if his content is unfathomable, then he is little more than an empty, speculative abstraction. Thus, the skeptic in religion presents semantic objections to God language, charging that it is unintelligible and lacks any clear referent.”

i) This would be an impressive objection if only it didn’t suffer from the minor liability of being wrong. Theologians do not generally maintain that God is unknowable or indefinable. That’s merely the extreme apophatic tradition.

ii) How is something that subsists outside of space and time not an object of knowledge? Are abstract objects unknowable or indefinable?

If he’s going to deny the existence of abstract objects, he will need a supporting argument.

“A popular argument adduced for the existence of this unknowable entity is that he is the first cause, but we can ask of anyone who postulates this, "What is the cause of this first cause?" To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step.”

i) Kurtz is treating the first cause as if it were the first member of a temporal series. That is not what Aquinas had in mind.

ii) There is more than one version of the cosmological argument. This is not about a linear series of cause-and-effect. The depiction of a causal series as “chain” of events with sequential links is just a picturesque metaphor, especially in connection to the cosmological argument.

The true relation is not one of temporal priority. Rather, cause is to exemplar as effect is to exemplum. God actualizes a concrete property-instance of an abstract universal.

“To step outside the physical universe is to assume an answer by a leap of faith.”

This is an assertion, not an argument. It assumes that the physical universe is all there is. There’s nothing outside the box.

What’s that if not a leap of faith?

“Nor does the claim that the universe manifests Intelligent Design (ID) explain the facts of conflict, the struggle for survival, and the inescapable tragedy, evil, pain, and suffering that is encountered in the world of sentient beings.”

i) This is a very dense objection. Dysteleology presupposes teleology. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the items in question are natural (or even moral) evils, they are only evil in relation to some ideal standard.

But once you deny design, there can be no declension from an ideal state of affairs. Kurtz is denying in his conclusion what he must affirm in his premise.

Also, how is “pain” or the “struggle for survival” inconsistent with teleology? Doesn’t pain serve a biological purpose? Doesn’t the predatory/prey cycle represent a balancing act in the ecosystem? How are these features dysteleological?

“Regularities and chaos do not necessarily indicate design.”

By definition, “chaos” does not indicate design. But about “regularities”?

“The argument from design is reminiscent of Aristotle's teleological argument that there are purposes or ends in nature. But we can find no evidence for purpose in nature.”

Another orphaned assertion.

“Even if we were to find what appears to be design in the universe, this does not imply a designer for whose existence there is insufficient evidence.”

An odd statement for a couple of reasons:

i)”If we can find no evidence for purpose in nature,” then why does Kurtz feel the need to bring in this backup argument to take up the rear? Sounds like he not so confident of his original claim after all.

ii) How would the evidence for a designer’s existence be insufficient if he were to find what appeared to be evidence?

Wouldn’t that be, of itself, evidence for a designer?

Is Kurtz saying that since there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God, apparent evidence of design would be insufficient to overcome this insufficiency?

But if there is apparent evidence of design, then what we took to be insufficient evidence of God’s existence would be less insufficient than we took it to be apart from such additional evidence.

And how does inevidence negate evidence? The only evidence for something is evidence.

Inevidence is not a bar to evidence. Kurtz is acting as if inevidence were the same thing as contrary evidence, so that any new evidence would have to overcome counter-evidence.

But inevidence is just that—the lack of evidence. All you need to counter the negative, to counter the absence of evidence, is evidence.

If I have no evidence for the existence of four-leaf clovers, and I discover a four-leaf clover, that’s all the evidence I need.

I wouldn’t say that even if a found a four-leaf clover, this does not imply a four-leaf clover for whose existence there is insufficient evidence, would I?

Or does it all turn on the distinction between evidence and “apparent” evidence?

But that distinction is equally unclear. The only evidence of evidence is apparent evidence.

What’s the alternative to apparent evidence? Inevident evidence?

Or does he mean that the evidence is only “apparent” evidence because it could be deceptively evidentiary when, in fact, it is not real evidence after all?

But couldn’t we say that about any kind of evidence—such as scientific or historical evidence?

Real evidence is apparently real, but deceptive evidence is apparently real as well.

It looks like Kurtz is trying to arbitrarily cordon off evidence of natural design, as if it were in a class apart from other types of evidence.

“The evolutionary hypothesis provides a more parsimonious explanation of the origins of species.”

There are two or three basic problems with this appeal:

i) There is frequently a tradeoff between a simple explanation and a simple ontology. The reason that a scientist or logician or metaphysician may postulate hypothetical entities is that a more complex ontology will simplify his explanation, just as a more Spartan ontology may complicate the explanation. So there’s often an inverse ratio between one type of parsimony and another.

ii) In addition, if you knew what reality was like, you wouldn’t need Occam’s razor, for you’d already know how simple or complex the world is.

If you need Occam’s razor, then you don’t know what reality is like, in which case you don’t know if it’s simple or complex, or to what degree, in which case the principle of parsimony is either prejudicial or otiose.

iii) Why should parsimony enjoy any ontological presumption over plenitude?

“The changes in species through time are better accounted for by chance mutations, differential reproduction, natural selection, and adaptation, rather than by design.”

Yet another wailing assertion left on the doorstep. We will have to open a foundling hospital to feed and house all of Kurtz’s deserted assertions.

“Moreover, vestigial features such as the human appendix, tailbone, and male breasts and nipples hardly suggest adequate design; the same is true for vestigial organs in other species. Thus, the doctrine of creation is hardly supported in empirical terms.”

Are male beasts and nipples vestigial features? What is Kurtz saying, here? That hominids were originally female, and males evolved out of female hominids, which is why they retain these vestigial secondary sexual characteristics?

i) One little question: in the absence of male hominids, how did the females reproduce? How were they impregnated?

ii) Actually, the male breast is more than vestigial. It is potentially functional, and, in some situations, men are able to lactate.

Why treat this as an evolutionary relic rather than an adaptable survival mechanism or inbuilt backup system in the event of environmental situations where the female cannot nurse enough of the offspring?

“Another version of the Intelligent Design argument is the so-called fine-tuning argument. Its proponents maintain that there is a unique combination of "physical constants" in the universe that possess the only values capable of sustaining life, especially sentient organic systems. This they attribute to a designer God. But this, too, is inadequate. First because millions of species are extinct; the alleged "fine-tuning" did nothing to ensure their survival. Second, great numbers of human beings have been extinguished by natural causes such as diseases and disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that suddenly killed over two hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children was due to a shift in tectonic plates. This hardly indicates fine tuning-after all, this tragedy could have been avoided had a supposed fine tuner troubled to correct defects in the surface strata of the planet.”

This is a non sequitur. The fine-tuning argument is an argument for the possibility of life. Having the preconditions in place. It is not an argument for the actual existence of life, much less the survival of any particular species or individual members thereof.

“A close variant of the fine-tuning argument is the so-called anthropic principle, which is simply a form of anthropomorphism; that is, it reads into nature the fondest hopes and wishes of believers, which are then imposed upon the universe. But if we are to do this, should we not also attribute the errors and mistakes encountered in nature to the designer?”

That is not the anthropic principle:

i) To begin with, there is more than one version of the anthropic principle.

ii) Far from being “anthropomorphic,” critics object to the principle, not because it isn’t true, but because it’s a truism or tautology.

iii) Of itself, the anthropic principle is not a theistic proof.

“Related to this, of course, is the classical problem of evil. If an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibeneficent God is responsible for the world as we know it, then how to explain evil? Surely, humans cannot be held responsible for a massive flood or plague, for example; we can explain such calamities only by inferring that God is malevolent, because he knew of, yet permitted, terrible destructive events to occur-or by suggesting that God is impotent to prevent evil. This would also suggest an unintelligent, deficient, or faulty designer.”

i) Other issues aside, natural disasters are natural goods which only seem like natural evils when human beings get in the way. There is nothing dysteleological about a hydrological system or bacteria. These have a natural function in the ecosystem.

ii) In addition, how does Kurtz define a human being? Does he agree with the secular scientific definition of Richard Dawkins? If so, what’s so bad about blindly programmed survival machines perishing in a flood or dying from a plague?

Does he agree with the secular scientific definition of Paul Churchland, according to which “pain” and “suffering” are folk psychological archaisms which ought to be expunged from the materialistic lexicon? If so, then the problem of pain is an illusion. We don’t suffer.

“The historic religions maintain that God has revealed himself in history and that he has manifested his presence to selected humans. These revelations are not corroborated by independent, objective observers.”

How does he define “independent” or “objective”? If an observer were to corroborate a revelation, he would presumably believe in it. How could he corroborate a revelation he didn’t believe in?

“They are disclosed, rather, to privileged prophets or mystics, whose claims have not been adequately verified: there is insufficient circumstantial evidence to confirm their authenticity.”

i) Another stranded assertion.

ii) In addition, one cannot intelligently evaluate religion in general. Rather, this must be done on a case-by-case basis.

“To attribute inexplicable events to miracles performed by God, as declared in the so-called sacred literature, is often a substitute for finding their true causes scientifically. Scientific inquiry is generally able to explain alleged "miracles" by discovering natural causes.”

A straw man argument. In Scripture, a miracle is not a stopgap to explain an otherwise inexplicable event. Bible writers are not attributing otherwise inexplicable events to divine agency, as if they were floating a theory or postulating a hypothetical entity.

“The Bible, Qur'an, and other classical documents are full of contradictions and factual errors. They were written by human beings in ancient civilizations, expressing the scientific and moral speculations of their day. They do not convey the eternal word of God, but rather the yearnings of ancient tribes based on oral legends and received doctrines; as such, they are hardly relevant to all cultures and times.”

i) Another lonely assertion in search of a warm-bodied supporting argument.

ii) Notice how he jumbles together very different “scriptures,” as if he could dispatch all revelatory claimants with one stroke. This is simple-minded and anti-intellectual. A mental short-cut.

“The Old and New Testaments are not accurate accounts of historical events.”

Another groundless assertion.

“The reliability of the Old Testament is highly questionable in the events and personages it depicts; Moses, Abraham, Joseph, etc. are largely uncorroborated by historical evidence.”

i) Lack of corroboration doesn’t imply either inaccuracy or unreliability. For that you would need contrary evidence, not the absence of evidence.

ii) Given the fact so little evidence has survived, or been excavated, even partial corroboration is mighty impressive—especially when the world at large took so little interest in ancient Israel or 1C Christians.

“As for the New Testament, scholarship has shown that none of its authors knew Jesus directly.”

A one-sided remark which disregards, without benefit of argument, a broad and deep body of conservative scholarship.

“The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses but are products of oral tradition and hearsay.”

Why assume they were the products of oral tradition? Didn’t 1C Jews know how to read and write?

“There is but flimsy and contradictory evidence for the virgin birth, the healings of Jesus, and the Resurrection.”

Another naked assertion, shivering in the cold.

“Some claim to believe in God because they say that God has entered into their personal lives and has imbued them with new meaning. This is a psychological or phenomenological account of a person's inner experience. It is hardly adequate evidence for the existence of a divine being independent of human beings' internal soliloquies. Appeals to mystical experiences or private subjective states hardly suffice as evidential support that some external being or force caused such altered states of consciousness; skeptical inquirers have a legitimate basis for doubt, unless or until such claims of interior experience can somehow be independently corroborated. Experiences of God or gods, or angels or demons, talking to one may disturb or entrance those persons who undergo such experiences, but the question is whether these internal subjective states have external veracity. This especially applies to those individuals who claim some sort of special revelation from on high, such as the hearing of commandments.”

Another couple of problems:

i) It’s true that my subjective experience, all by itself, cannot count as evidence for a second-party. That’s a built-in limit to the argument from experience. But it’s a limit, not a defeater, or even an undercutter.

ii) Interior experience is our only port of entry to the external world. The human mind does not enjoy direct access to the world “out there.” We only know the external world via our internal experience of the external world. So subjectivity is the only gateway to objectivity.

iii) Ironically, the only alternative would be divine revelation. Revelation can infuse our private, inner experience with information about the public world.

The only “independent” check on our perception of the sensible world is divine revelation. Apart from that, we have no intersubjectival source or standard of knowledge regarding extramental events.

“Second, is God a person?”

God is personal. Indeed, he’s three persons in one!

“Does he take on human form?”

In theophanies and especially the Incarnation.

“Has he communicated in discernible form, say, as the Holy Spirit, to Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad, or other prophets?”

Yes, he spoke to Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is God speaking.

No, he never spoke to Muhammad.

“These claims again are uncorroborated by objective eyewitnesses. They are rather promulgated by propagandists of the various faith traditions that have been inflicted on societies and enforced by entrenched ecclesiastical authorities and political powers.”

i) NT Christians were a persecuted minority group. They had no entrenched ecclesiastical authorities. And the political powers are arrayed against them.

ii) Secular propagandists like Kurtz inflict their faithless traditions on society, enforced by entrenched media and academic authorities as well as political powers.

“They are supported by customs and traditions buried for millennia by the sands of time and institutional inertia. They are simply assumed to be true without question.”

There is a vast body of literature in the field of Christian apologetics, natural theology, and philosophical theology which gives the lie to this sweeping assertion.

“The ancient documents alleging God's existence are preliterate, prephilosophical, and, in any case, unconfirmed by scientific inquiry.”

i) The ANE world in which the OT was revealed was hardly preliterate. The Greco-Roman world in which the NT was revealed was hardly preliterate.

The problem is not with ancient illiteracy, but with Kurtz’ illiteracy.

ii) Science is not the only source of knowledge. Science is suited to empirical objects of knowledge, but unsuited to privileged mental states, abstract objects, and the like.

“They are often eloquent literary expressions of existential moral poetry, but they are unverified by archeological evidence or careful historical investigation.”

He simply disregards Biblical archeology and conservative scholarship.

“Moreover, they contradict each other in their claims for authenticity and legitimacy.”

It’s true that different religions contradict each other. So what?

“The ancient faith that God is a person has not been corroborated by the historical record.”

This is a very vague denial. What would such corroboration look like?

“Such conceptions of God are anthropomorphic and anthropocentric, reading into the universe human predilections and feelings. "If lions had gods they would be lionlike in character," said Xenophon. Thus, human Gods are an extrapolation of human hopes and aspirations, fanciful tales of imaginative fiction.”

i) This is an assumption, not an argument, and the reasoning is reversible. The properties of an artifact in some ways resemble the properties of an artificer. A da Vinci painting is a projection of da Vinci’s genius. But that hardly makes da Vinci a fictitious or imaginary painter.

God’s nature would be the template of what’s possible or actual. So we’d expect the creature to resemble the Creator in certain respects.

ii) Kurtz is contradicting himself. He earlier said the concept of God is “indefinable” and “unintelligible,” an “empty, speculative abstraction.”

Now, however, he says it’s “anthropomorphic” and “anthropocentric,” an “extrapolation” of human hopes, &c.

“Third, the claim that our ultimate moral values are derived from God is likewise highly suspect. The so-called sacred moral codes reflect the socio-historical cultures out of which they emerged. For example, the Old Testament commands that adulterers, blasphemers, disobedient sons, bastards, witches, and homosexuals be stoned to death. It threatens collective guilt: punishment is inflicted by Jehovah on the children's children of unbelievers. It defends patriarchy and the dominion of men over women. It condones slavery and genocide in the name of God.
The New Testament consigns "unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; it demands that women be obedient to their husbands; it accepts faith healing, exorcisms, and miracles; it exalts obedience over independence, fear and trembling over courage, and piety over self-determination. “

Setting aside his simplistic, acontextual summary of the evidence, all that his comparison amounts to is a contrast between secular ethics, on the one hand, and Biblical ethics, on the other.

But to compare and contrast the two is hardly an argument for the superiority of secular ethics. All that Kurtz has done is to take secular ethics as his presumptive standard. Is begging the question the best he can do?

“From the fatherhood of God, contradictory moral commandments have been derived; theists have often lined up on opposite sides of moral issues. Believers have stood for and against war; for and against slavery; for and against capital punishment, some embracing retribution, others mercy and rehabilitation; for and against the divine right of kings, slavery, and patriarchy; for and against the emancipation of women; for and against the absolute prohibition of contraception, euthanasia, and abortion; for and against sexual and gender equality; for and against freedom of scientific research; for and against the libertarian ideals of a free society.”

i) In general, this fails to distinguish between liberals and conservative.

ii) Moreover, you can also find unbelievers on every conceivable side of an issue. So does that render secular ethics “highly suspect” as well?

“True believers have in the past often found little room for human autonomy, individual freedom, or self-reliance. They have emphasized submission to the word of God instead of self-determination, faith over reason, credulity over doubt. All too often they have had little confidence in the ability of humans to solve problems and create a better future by drawing on their own resources. In the face of tragedy, they supplicate to God through prayer instead of summoning the courage to overcome adversity and build a better future. The skeptic concludes, ‘No deity will save us; if we are to be saved it must be by our own efforts.’"

To cast the alternatives as a choice between faith and reason, credulity and doubt is tendentious. For the rest, all he’s done is to take the moral superiority of his humanistic values for granted.

“The traditional religions have too often waged wars of intolerance not only against other religions or ideologies that dispute the legitimacy of their divine revelations but even against sects that are mere variants of the same religion (e.g., Catholic versus Protestant, Shiite versus Sunni). Religions claim to speak in the name of God, yet bloodshed, tyranny, and untold horrors have often been justified on behalf of holy creeds. True believers have all too often opposed human progress: the abolition of slavery, the liberation of women, the extension of equal rights to transgendered people and gays, the expansion of democracy and human rights.”

Several flaws:

i) Only a shameless partisan like Kurtz would mention all the blood spilt in the name of religion while conveniently failing to mention all the blood spilt in the name of atheism. If this disqualifies religion, it equally disqualifies atheism.

ii) Equally unscrupulous is the lumping together of all religions so that any atrocity committed by any religion is laid at the doorstep of every other.

This comes just a few sentences after Kurtz condemned the principle of collective guilt.

iii) There is no necessary contradiction between bloodshed and a particular religion. It all depends on the creed. Bloodshed is quite consistent with Aztec religion. Bloodshed is quite consistent with Islam.

iv) The civil wars between Catholic and Protestant were instigated by monarchs attempting to impose a uniform faith on their subjects. This doesn’t represent a spontaneous, grass-roots altercation. One faction was conscripted to attack another faction, which was forced to defend itself.

v) Although Kurtz pays lavish lip-service to science, notice how he will instantly sacrifice hard science on the altar of political correctitude.

What is the scientific case for homosexual rights? What is the scientific case for transgender rights? Is there any solid scientific basis for these conditions?

And assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is, why would that not be treated as a genetic defect, subject to eugenic abortion or infanticide? Wouldn’t that be the consistent position for a secular ethicist to take?

“I realize that liberal religionists generally have rejected the absolutist creeds of fundamentalism. Fortunately, they have been influenced by modern democratic and humanistic values, which mitigate fundamentalism's inherent intolerance.”

Actually, covenant theology was invoked by men like Samuel Rutherford as an argument against absolute monarchy (Lex Rex). Under the OT, the king was a constitutional monarch who could be deposed if he proved to be a covenant-breaker. And in that same vein, let us not forget the role played by Presbyterians in the Revolutionary War, which was an extension of this principle.

“We are driven to ask: will those who believe in God actually achieve immortality of the soul and eternal salvation as promised?
The first objection of the skeptic to this claim is that the forms of salvation being offered are highly sectarian. The Hebrew Bible promises salvation for the chosen people; the New Testament, the Rapture to those who have faith in Jesus Christ; the Qur'an, heaven to those who accept the will of Allah as transmitted by Muhammad.
In general, these promises are not universal but apply only to those who acquiesce to a specific creed, as interpreted by priests, ministers, rabbis, or mullahs. Bloody wars have been waged to establish the legitimacy of the papacy (between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy), the priority of Muhammad and the Qur'an, or the authenticity of the Old Testament.”

He has stated this as an objection without bothering to state what makes it objectionable. How does its sectarian character render it untrue?

“A second objection is that there is insufficient scientific evidence for the claim that the "soul" can exist separate from the body and that it can survive death as a ‘discarnate’ being, and much less for the claim that it can persist throughout eternity. Science points to the fact that the ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is a function of the brain and nervous system and that with the physical death of the body, the ‘self’ or ‘person’ disappears. Thus, the claim that a person's soul can endure forever is supported by no evidence whatever, only by pious hope.”

Several problems:

i) Once again, Kurtz acts as though science is the only source and standard of truth. If that’s what he thinks, then why is he a philosopher instead of a scientist?

ii) Why not treat the mind/body problem as a metaphysical question rather than a physical question? Why not treat the soul as analogous to an abstract object rather than an empirical object?

iii) Kurtz disregards, without benefit of argument, all of the philosophical and scientific arguments for dualism.

iv) Christians do not maintain that the soul is naturally immortal, but that God preserves the soul through all eternity. As always, Kurtz is too lazy to engage the actual argument.

“Along the same line, believers have never succeeded in demonstrating the existence of the disembodied souls of any of the billions who went before us.”

Even if this were true, we don’t need direct evidence for everything we believe. Somethings we accept on authority as long as we can validate our authority-source.

Kurtz’ appeal to science is, itself, an appeal to authority. He’s not an experimental scientist.

“All efforts to communicate with such discarnate entities have been fruitless. Sightings of alleged ghosts have not been corroborated by reliable eyewitness testimony.”

This disregards, without benefit of argument, the whole of the parapsychological literature. A genuine critical thinker would sift through the case-studies.

“The appeal to near-death experiences simply reports the phenomenological experiences of persons who undergo part of the dying process but ultimately do not die. Of course, we never hear from anyone who has truly died by any clinical standard, gone to "the other side" and returned. In any case, these subjective experiences can be explained in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes.”

Are they all explainable in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes? Or does the secularist merely postulate some generic, hypothetical explanation as to how there might possibly be a natural mechanism to account for this experience?

“Fifth, theists maintain that one cannot be good unless one believes in God.
Skepticism about God's existence and divine plan does not imply pessimism, nihilism, the collapse of all values, or the implication that ‘anything goes.’ It has been demonstrated time and again, by countless human beings, that it is possible to be morally concerned with the needs of others, to be a good citizen, and to lead a life of nobility and excellence-all without religion. Thus, anyone can be righteous and altruistic, compassionate and benevolent, without belief in a deity. A person can develop the common moral virtues and express a goodwill toward others without devotion to God. It is possible to be empathetic toward others and at the same time be concerned with one's own well-being.”

He is conflating distinct issues:

i) The question is not, in the first instance, whether an unbeliever can exhibit common decency, but whether moral absolutes are consistent with, or implicit in, a secular worldview.

ii) In the nature of the case, what is considered to be moral is indexed to a particular value system, so there comes a point where Christian ethics and secular ethics are incommensurable. For example, in a secular value-system like National Socialism, eugenics and genocide, as well as involuntary medical experimentation, are morally licit.

“Secular ethical principles and values thus can be supported by evidence and reason, the cultivation of moral growth and development, the finding of common ground that brings people together.”

What kind of evidence would count as evidence of moral norms? Empirical evidence? Scientific evidence? Are moral norms tangible properties?

“Our principles and values can be vindicated as we examine the consequences of our choices and modify them in light of experience.”

Two problems:

i) This assumes, without benefit of argument, that teleological ethics is the way to go.

ii) It also assumes, without benefit of argument, that teleological ethics is consistent with, or implicit in, a secular worldview.

“Skeptics who are humanists focus on the good life here and now. They exhort us to live creatively, seeking a life full of happiness, even joyful exuberance. They urge us to face life's tragedies with equanimity, to marshal the courage and stoic forbearance to live meaningfully in spite of adversity, and to take satisfaction in our achievements. Life can be relished and is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake, without any need for external support.”

How does this hortatory bromide flow from a secular outlook? Sounds more like the pep talk a commander would give to foot soldiers on a suicide mission:

“Even though you sorry, ill-fated grunts are only such much canon fodder in a losing battle, never forget that your futile efforts are for a noble cause, so buck up and make the old man proud!”

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

You know, I’d just love to be a sceptic. Really I would. Cross my heart—unless, of course, that might offend someone.

But I’m too sceptical to be a sceptic. I haven’t the faith to be an unbeliever.

I cannot crucify my intellect to become a blind disciple of eliminative materialism.

I cannot make myself believe that all these nested and interlocking complexities inched their way into existence.

I cannot convince myself that living and dying in the trenches of materialism is a noble cause.

To become an atheist I’d have to commit intellectual suicide, and whatever the fringe benefits of membership in the secular suicide cult, the severance package leaves a mite to be desired.


  1. The suggestion that we have no non-Christian corroboration of the supernatural elements of Christianity is common, but false. Josephus, the Talmud, and other non-Christian sources suggest that Jesus performed apparent miracles. The early Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged that Jesus' tomb was empty. Origen and Julius Africanus refer to non-Christian sources corroborating the darkness that occurred at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Some of the Old Testament prophecies Jesus is believed to have fulfilled involve matters that are attested in non-Christian sources (His birth in Bethlehem, the timing of His life, His death by means of crucifixion, etc.).

    Even among the Christian sources we have, some of those sources, such as James and Paul, seem to have become Christians by means of eyewitnessing supernatural events. They weren't Christians who were desiring to experience those events.

  2. I agree. It takes a great deal of faith to be an atheist.

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