Would Christianity die out if Christians stopped witnessing? And if it did would that mean Christianity was false?

Posted on 05/08/12 85 Comments

John Loftus just came up with a new argument against Christianity. He summarized it like this:

1) If Christianity is true then the Christian faith will probably not die out if Christians stop proselytizing.

(2) The Christian faith will probably die out if Christians stop proselytizing.

(3) Therefore Christianity is false.

 It is, if nothing else, a novel argument.

When he offered this argument yesterday I countered with some initial criticisms. I’ll unpack those criticisms a bit more here.

The first point, as I noted, is that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. What does follow is:

(3′) Therefore, Christianity is probably false.

That correction is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively minor course correction.

More serious are the problems with the two premises.

To begin with the phrase “if Christians stop proselytizing” is ambiguous. Here are a couple possible meanings:

(Scenario 1): Christians refrain from all active evangelism and mission. In that case a person could still share their faith if asked about it.

(Scenario 2): Christians refrain from ever referring to their faith to outsiders, even if asked. That would include shutting down all Christian publishing and broadcasting, shuttering the doors of all churches, and practicing the faith secretly underground.

Needless to say there is a huge difference between these two scenarios (and the many other possible meanings). And John is obliged to explain which one he means since the continued growth of Christianity would be more miraculous under some of these conditions than others.

Now here’s the way that John seems to be thinking about these matters. The idea is something like a corporate bonding event where office workers are asked to team up as buddies and take turns falling backward into the arms of the other person. Trusting the person by falling back into their arms is a way of forcing them to act to save you.

And so by the same token the church that refuses to proselytize (on either of these scenarios) would be forcing God’s hand. This would have the following result: if God exists then he will act supernaturally to save the church. If God does not exist then there is no God to save the church and it will die out, thereby establishing that God (probably) doesn’t exist.

The problem is that we have no reason to accept that probabilistic claim. In fact, we have an excellent reason to believe it is false and that God would, in fact, allow the church to go extinct.

In order to see why this is the case we need to keep in mind first that an essential hallmark of the church is that it is missional. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Thus, the church that refused to do that would be the church that was abdicating its right to be called the church.

Think about it like this. If Tony is paying the Mafia protection money to keep his pizza place running smoothly, then one can expect that if Tony fails to pay the protection money it will have negative repercussions for the pizzeria.

Okay, don’t get sidetracked by the fact that I compared God to a mafioso. I wasn’t comparing the problematic dimensions of the illustration (e.g. extortion). I was simply observing that people who fail to recognize their end of a contract/coevnant relationship face repercussions for doing so.

So if the visible church committed mass disobedience by refusing to fulfill the missio dei then you can expect the visible church would suffer. Perhaps it would disappear altogether.

Now you might be thinking: but how could God allow the church to disappear?

That’s a fair question and it brings us to the final problem with Loftus’s argument: he fails to distinguish the invisible and visible churches. Augustine was the first theologian to develop this important distinction at some length in response to the collapse of the Roman Empire. How could God’s empire — Rome — be falling to the barbarians? In response to this dilemma, Augustine distinguished between the temporal, shifting power institutions in history and the one Kingdom of God — that eternal city — which is unaffected by the shifting fortunes of history. Thus, even if visible kingdoms and institutions fade away, God’s kingdom remains eternal.

For these reasons Loftus’s argument is utterly without force. Even if he could establish that Christianity as we have known it would probably disappear if Christians stopped evangelizing (and he certainly hasn’t shown that), he would still have provided no reason to think that the disappearance was owing to the non-existence of God rather than the judgment of God on an unfaithful people.

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  • pete

    “..if Christians stopped evangelizing, he would still have provided no reason to think that the disappearance was owing to the non-existence of God rather than the judgment of God on an unfaithful people.”

    This is true. A little historical digging into the fates of the 7 churches of Asia Minor (Revelation chapters 2 and 3) would confirm how God played this one out.

  • Walter

    I think what John is getting at is that it might be reasonable to expect the One True Revelation from God should occur supernaturally to all people at all times, and the Christian revelation did not happen that way–it spread just like every other false religion has since man first started inventing religions.

    It bothered me in my Christian days to think that the most important event in the history of man had to be spread by the glacially slow process of word-of-mouth between mere humans. It took the Native Americans some 1500 years to get the news. Seems a rather inefficient way of doing things.

    • randal

      How do you get that out of the stated premises and conclusion?

      • Walter

        1) If Christianity is true then the Christian faith will probably not die out if Christians stop proselytizing.

        A true revelation from the Creator would not need human effort to sustain it; it would propagate in a supernatural manner.

        (2) The Christian faith will probably die out if Christians stop proselytizing.

        The Christian faith appears to propagate by purely natural means, and the faith would disappear if no human kept spreading the message.

        (3) Therefore Christianity is false.

        • randal

          Okay, that’s clearer. It’s also different from what John argues. You’re arguing that the actual diffusion of the gospel provides a defeater for the truth of the gospel. John’s arguing from a counter-factual (i.e. if Christians stopped proselytizing).

          • http://www.edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com Ed Babinski

            Can people live without building altars to their hopes and fears? Can they live without institutionalized religion? And without exhaling a whole list of “what they believe” concerning such hopes and fears on other people? I suspect evangelism is a form of self-programming, meant to increase the participant’s faith, particularly so in the case of religious evangelism. What a boost to the ego if one can convince one’s self that GOD ALMIGHTY is urging, nay,commanding one to “evangelize” in HIS name, bearing HIS good news? I recall a cartoon featuring two door to door evangelists in which they say to the man peeking from behind his front door, “May we please take up some of your precious time in order to further our own personal goals?”

            Interesting thought though. What IF Christians stopped deducting money from their taxes for churches and minister’s salaries, proselytism and missionary trip vacations, and all that former church property was purchased by businesses that also had to pay land taxes? And what if neighbors asked each other to tea instead of “to church?”

            I’m not sure humans are ready to give up the joy of feeling their ego inflated by divine certainty in the face of all the world’s uncertainties and fears.

            That being said, there have been tribes in the past and present who lived peacefully and happily with seemingly little to no notice of religion or religious ideas. I have a list I can share with you. The Piraha tribe in the amazon is one of the least religions and also least convertible tribes ever known, and there’s a curious cultural and linguistic reason why that may be so as told in this book: http://books.google.com/books?id=iQV9l-s7y2IC&lpg=PA263&pg=PA263#v=onepage&q&f=false

            • randal

              “Can they live without institutionalized religion?”

              When does football or humanism (or Costco) become an institutionalized religion?

              “The Piraha tribe in the amazon is one of the least religions and also least convertible tribes ever known….”

              I’m familiar with the story of the Piraha and discuss it in my Crazy book. They are a fascinating case.

              • edwardtbabinski

                Randal, I don’t know if you’re seriously claiming that football is a religion or not. It’s a pass time for some, or it can be an obsession for others. But since any interest can grow obsessive, then every obsession is a “religion?” That’s quite a broad metaphorical brush one is painting with. Though I admit if one were to draw a Venn diagram we could find plenty of things with categories that overlap with other things. But that doesn’t also make them the same things.

                • randal

                  “But since any interest can grow obsessive, then every obsession is a “religion?””

                  Well we need a definition of religion, don’t we? There are superfans out there who live vicariously through their team, who pour their resources into their team, who study their team, who rejoice when their team wins and go into deep depression when they lose, who define the good life in terms of devotion to their team and seek to win others to the team, etc. Could their commitment to their favorite sports team function in a similar way to Christianity for a devout Christian? Sure.

                  If you want to provide a definition of religion that excludes that kind of analysis I’m open to considering it.

                  • Jerry Rivard

                    A collection of beliefs about the meaning and purpose of human life and the practice of those beliefs.

                    I’m sure it can be refined, but I think it’s a good starting point. Religion is a collection of beliefs, not just a single belief (e.g. theism is not a religion, though it can form the foundation of one). Those beliefs are not just any old beliefs but specifically about the meaning and purpose of human life. No matter how obsessed the sports fans is, he is not operating on a belief that his team provides the purpose of human life. (Sure, some sports fans may think that God made the universe so He could watch the Jets, but let’s not base our definition on the lunatic fringe.)

                    I intended ‘meaning and purpose of human life’ to mean that we’re not talking about that which gives one’s own life meaning, but that which one thinks provides meaning for all human lives. That rules out the sports fan. A belief that any god made us for any purpose whatsoever would meet this criteria. A belief that no agent was involved in the natural development of the universe and evolution of life on this planet would not, although atheistic philosophies which would meet that criteria could certainly be developed, and probably already have been.

                    Does this definition include and exclude those beliefs systems that should be included/excluded?

                    • randal

                      “A collection of beliefs about the meaning and purpose of human life and the practice of those beliefs.”

                      One problem is that this definition would entail that an alien life form which worships a deity with an elaborate priestly class and sacred text does not have religion if their belief system lacks any specific views on the purpose of human life.

                      You stipulate that religion must encompass a narrative which applies to all human life. That may be normatively the case but is it necessarily so? You say so, but I see no reason why a person might demur and define religion to encompass person relative belief systems, an extreme case being the famous “Sheilaism” described in Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart.

                      “A belief that no agent was involved in the natural development of the universe and evolution of life on this planet would not, although atheistic philosophies which would meet that criteria could certainly be developed, and probably already have been.”

                      There have been many atheistic-secular religions by your definition including Marxism and many modern expressions of humanism.

            • Chris

              Ed,

              <i" who lived peacefully and happily with seemingly little to no notice of religion or religious ideas.

              Ed how do you define “peacefully”” and “little to no notice of religious ideas” ? What is a religious idea exactly, Id love to hear your definition.

              I haven’t read the book so I can only go off of the reviews, but going off of the reviews, you and I must have a very different view on what “living peaceably” and “religious ideas are. ”

              Let me quote some of the reviews and Im assuming you’ve read the book so maybe you could comment:

              some of the descriptions are inconsistent (Everett repeatedly refers to how peaceful the Piraha are, and then mentions violent acts they commit, like a gang rape; he mentions that they don’t have a word for “sorry” and then turns around and translates something as “sorry”).

              He says they are lacking in religion because they focus on the “immediacy of experience” and yet he describes their myths and superstitions.

              He says they are lacking in religion because they focus on the “immediacy of experience” and yet he describes their myths and superstitions.

              I was fascinated by this tribe who live in the “now” and communicate with spirits daily.

              • Chris

                Third quote should have been:

                Everett’s limitations with regard to religion made him unable to understand that the Piraha really did have a religion. They actually spoke to him about their interactions with spirits.

                • edwardtbabinski

                  Chris, I didn’t say the Piraha were saints living idyllic lives. I said they were peaceable. Nor did I say they had absolutely no religion. Furthermore, when they spoke to each other about so-called “spirits” Their “spirit” views are of the simplest nature, no theological debates. No sacrifices, no prayers, no churches. They also reflect that fact that the way the brain works means we’re all “natural born dualists” who find it less difficult to believe we are “spirits” inhabiting “bodies” than embodied brain-minds in a monistic sense. [See the article, “Natural Born Dualists” http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bloom04/bloom04_index.html So the belief in “spirits” explains more about how the brain-mind functions than Piraha’s having a “religion.”

                  They admire first hand stories from people they know and can see. The don’t seem to accumulate myths and legends, which they apparently see little point in accumulating. Their culture prizes immediacy and direct sight and sound, as if they practiced a primitive form of skepticism.

                  Speaking of other PRIMITIVE SKEPTICS, the historian, Will Durant listed the following:

                  1) Certain Pygmy tribes found in Africa were observed to have no identifiable cults or rites. There were no totems, no gods, no spirits. Their dead were buried without special ceremonies or accompanying items and received no further attention. They even appeared to lack simple superstitions, according to travelers’ reports.

                  2) Tribes in Cameroon only believed in malicious gods and so made no efforts to placate or please them. According to them, it was useless to even bother trying and more important to deal with whatever problems were placed in their path.

                  3) The Vedahs of Ceylon, only admitted the possibility that gods might exist, but went no further. Neither prayers nor sacrifices were suggested in any way. When specifically asked a god, Durant reports that they answered in a very puzzled manner: “Is he on a rock? On a white-ant hill? On a tree? I never saw a god!”

                  4) A Zulu, when asked who made and governs things like the setting sun and the growing trees, answered: “No, we see them, but cannot tell how they came; we suppose that they came by themselves.”

                  5) Some North American Indian tribes believed in a god, but did not actively worship it. They considered this god to be too remote from human affairs to be concerned with them. According to Durant, an Abipone Indian stated their philosophy thus: “Our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers were wont to contemplate the earth alone, solicitous only to see whether the plain afforded grass and water for their horses. They never troubled themselves about what went on in the heavens, and who was the creator and governor of the stars.”

                  SOURCE: http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathp_primitive.htm

                  I also read that the missionary priest Chretien LeClerq found that the Indians of the Gaspe peninsula had never formed a conception of any divinity but, he noted in 1691, “they were charitable beyond anything imaginable in Europe.”

                  Someone told me there are more examples in a book by Ludovic Kennedy, titled, All in the Mind: A Farewell to God, though I haven’t read it yet, though there’s a detailed summary of the book here: http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mind.htm

                  Animism is perhaps one of humanity’s oldest beliefs, with its origin probably dating back to the Paleolithic age… According to John Le Patourel in the Chambers Encyclopedia, Animism is “not itself a religion, but a sort of primitive philosophy which controls not only religion but the whole life of the natural man. It represents a stage in the religious evolution which is still represented by the so-called nature-religions, or rather by the poly-daemonistic tribal religions.”
                  http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blfaq_theism_animism.htm

                  Are there Any Atheistic Religions? Can an Atheist Be Part of Any Religion?
                  http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/p/AtheistReligion.htm

                  Can Atheists Be Religious? Are there Religious Atheists?
                  http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/AtheismReligion.htm

                  • Chris

                    Gotta love about.com

                    I didn’t say the Piraha were saints living idyllic lives. I said they were peaceable.

                    No, you said ” who lived peacefully.

                    And I asked you “Ed how do you define “peacefully”

                    And you said seemingly little to no notice of religion or religious ideas

                    And again I asked you how do you define “little to no notice of religious ideas”

                    Would you mind defining the statements you made?

                    You also said But since any interest can grow obsessive, then every obsession is a “religion?” That’s quite a broad metaphorical brush one is painting with.

                    Would you mind defining religion for us?
                    Do you agree with the definition given by dictionary.com or maybe webster? Please do tell so we can agree up on terms and not talk around in circles.

    • pete

      how would you make it more efficient?

      • Walter

        You seriously can’t imagine a better way?

        An omniscient and omnipotent being who seeks to get an important message out can easily come up with a better method of communicating to humanity besides appearing to a handful of men in backwater Palestine, then commissioning these men to spread this important message to the whole world via proselytism. Such a God could easily have every person on earth experience their very own Damascus road vision. In fact, an omniscient deity could dream up all manner of supernatural means of communication that I couldn’t even imagine.

  • Steyn

    Actually, the argument is based on a false dichotomy.

  • SpruceGroveSteve

    The one thing I notice right away about this argument is that it assumes in order for Christianity to be true, there must be a group of people (in this case, the church) who believes it to be true.

    Truth is not dis proven by people’s opinions. At one time, every person on earth believed the earth to be flat. Still didn’t make it true.

    Christianity could be true even without anyone around to affirm this truth. The argument that if the visible (or invisible) church disappears, then Christianity could not be true is a jump to an unwarranted conclusion.

    • randal

      Your point is correct to an extent. However, this is one place where John Loftus’s constant harping about believing what is probable over-against what is merely possible would have some purchase. If Christianity disappeared from the world it would appear much less likely that Christianity is true in the same way that the disappearance of believe in the Greek gods provides prima facie evidence that the Greek pantheon of gods is false (Percy Jackson not withstanding).

      In addition, Jesus declared in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. This too would have to be explained if institutionalized Christianity were to disappear. One could explain that by identifying the invisible church as the referent of the text, but conceding that even the invisible church had disappeared would be a pretty big pill to swallow if one wanted to retain any plausibility to the claim that Christianity is true.

    • Aaron

      I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, I’m just following up on a conversation I had earlier last week….that said….

      I don’t think the flat earth idea was held by many people…ever. It certainly wasn’t held by Columbus or any other explorers before or after. I think it’s a fun myth about a bygone time…what say you?

      • SpruceGroveSteve

        Maybe, but it’s not the central point of my argument, so I don’t care to put a lot of thought or research into. My point was; Truth is truth whether or not anyone recognizes it as truth.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    I like to pose this kind of argument in diffrent way. From the perspective of a Christian, what would happen if all the Bibles in the world were destroyed and all human memories relating to the contents of the Bible were destroyed? I realize that this would require erasing a fair bit of cultural history but I would think that a thought experiment could incorporate a massive erasure of Biblically related/inspired artistic works followed by a collective amnesia.

    • randal

      What would happen? That depends on whether one believes the Christian description of God is largely correct. If it is (and thus the Bible is God’s revelation, etc.) then the consequences of that scenario would likely be different then if it is not.

      And what would happen if all the Coke on earth were destroyed? Pepsi would sell more soft drinks of course.

  • Steyn

    What if atheism disappeared?

    • randal

      Then many people would have one more true belief than they have at present.

    • David Evans

      Atheism is the null hypothesis. You can only make it disappear by replacing it with a positive belief. So the answer is “It depends what you replace it with.” And, Randal, you have no guarantee that what replaces it will be true.

      • randal

        Atheism, as traditionally defined, is the belief that God does not exist.

        Historically in the West most atheists have defined themselves over-against classical theism, the predominant model of God shared by the western monotheisms. As such, atheism in the West typically means an affirmation of the positive claim that all that exists is ultimately due to a non-agent cause.

        That is a very robust thesis and one well in need of defense.

        • David Evans

          If atheism, defined in that way, were to disappear, it does not follow that any positive belief would replace it. However many atheists define their position as a simple absence of belief, or a feeling that the concept of God is too ill-defined to be a proper object of belief.

          Personally I would never claim to know anything about the ultimate cause of existence, or even whether there is such a thing. What I do say is that I see no evidence that anyone else knows about it.

          • randal

            “many atheists define their position as a simple absence of belief”

            I’m aware that some agnostics call themselves atheists. I’ll repost an article I wrote at the Christian Post in response to that position.

            “a feeling that the concept of God is too ill-defined to be a proper object of belief.”

            Any person who would take that position is simply ignorant as to the precise and clear definitions available in philosophical theology. It is quite ironic really, since most of those same atheists probably believe in things like “matter” and “mind” and yet these things have no clear and agreed upon definition.

            “Personally I would never claim to know anything about the ultimate cause of existence, or even whether there is such a thing.”

            Lawrence Krauss believes he can show that the universe came from nothing. Are you saying categorically that he could not have made a case that would persuade you?

            “What I do say is that I see no evidence that anyone else knows about it.”

            That’s a curious claim to make. Do you really think you’re in the position to say with confidence that Lawrence Krauss or his detractors are simply not in a position to have convictions about the ultimate cause of the universe?

            • David Evans

              I’ll think about the agnostic/atheist issue later.

              “…the precise and clear definitions available in philosophical theology.”

              There are, indeed, many. That’s part of the problem. Are we talking about:

              The Trinity
              The Unity (Islam)
              The most perfect being that can be conceived (a)
              The omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being (b)
              or something that cannot be described in words?

              (a) is problematic. It reminds me of “the largest prime number” which is, as we know, self-contradictory. The same has been argued for (b). Do you have a single preferred definition?

              I have read Krauss. He does not claim to know that the universe came from nothing. In fact he is quite remarkably tentative. From his introduction (his italics):

              “I stress the word could deliberately, because we may never have enough empirical information to resolve this question unambiguously. But the fact that a universe from nothing is even plausible is certainly significant, at least to me.””

              I said “I see no evidence that anyone else knows about it.” I’ll stand by that. I have not seen anyone produce sufficient evidence or argument to convince me that they know anything about the ultimate cause of the universe.

              • randal

                “There are, indeed, many. That’s part of the problem.”

                As I noted, the western monotheisms share a concept of God. Briefly put, God is a maximally perfect being, a necessarily existent, non-physical agent, creator and sustainer of all things, omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. That’s a precise and meaningful definition which represents the mainstream of Jewish (e.g. Maimonides), Christian (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) and Muslim (e.g. Avicenna) opinion.

                “I said “I see no evidence that anyone else knows about it.” I’ll stand by that. I have not seen anyone produce sufficient evidence or argument to convince me that they know anything about the ultimate cause of the universe.”

                Your statement is problematic as it stands. I have no problem with you saying that you have seen no evidence to persuade you. How could I argue with that. But what you state is that you’ve seen no evidence that anybody knows “anything about the ultimate cause of the universe”. That’s far too strong.

                • David Evans

                  “That’s far too strong.”

                  It’s easily corrected. Give me an example of someone who knows something about the ultimate cause of the universe, what it is they know, and how they know it.

                  About your shared concept of God:

                  Are you sure that “maximally perfect being” is any more meaningful than “largest prime number”?

                  Are you sure that omniscience and omnipotence are compatible? For instance, if God knows the future of the world, is he free to do anything that would change it?

                  That also seems to be a rather large set of properties to constitute a definition. I’m sure there are people who don’t think that God sustains everything in being – it’s an idea I encountered quite late in life despite a lot of churchgoing. Are such people atheists?

                  • randal

                    “Give me an example of someone who knows something about the ultimate cause of the universe, what it is they know, and how they know it.”

                    Sure, I believe that the cause must be an agent for the reasons William Lane Craig describes.

                    Of course you may disagree. But so what? You may also disagree with a leading economist about how Greece should avoid a default. That doesn’t mean you are warranted in concluding that the leading economist doesn’t have a better grasp on the issue than you. So in the case of economics the better part of wisdom is to hedge your bets. Why doesn’t the same apply in metaphysics?

                    “Are you sure that “maximally perfect being” is any more meaningful than “largest prime number”?”

                    Yes. I have blogged a number of times on the concept of a most perfect being and there is a large literature in philosophical theology on the concept. I typically recommend Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God as a way into the literature.

                    “That also seems to be a rather large set of properties to constitute a definition.”

                    The essence of the definition is that God is the maximally perfect being. I’ve never met a Christian who disputed the definition. I unpacked it more than was required to illustrate to you how substantial the shared agreement in the western monotheisms is.

                    • David Evans

                      I think we disagree on the meaning of the word “know”.

                      I haven’t read all of Craig on the subject, but it seems clear that he is in debate on just the issue of whether the first cause must be an agent. I maintain that as long as there is a live debate between opponents of roughly equal stature, one should not say that either knows himself to be right.

                      Similarly there is an ongoing debate among professional economists on the best way to handle the economic crisis – in the US and UK certainly, and I presume in Greece as well. How can I say that one side knows the answer – implying that the other side does not?

                    • randal

                      I’m glad I asked about your epistemology.

                      You write: “I maintain that as long as there is a live debate between opponents of roughly equal stature, one should not say that either knows himself to be right.”

                      I take it that you don’t know that since opponents of roughly equal stature disagree with you on it.

                      Since there are philosophers of roughly equal stature who disagree on the existence of free will, personal identity through time, intelligent design, causation, the existence of the external world, the existence of objects like chairs and trees, then you presumably don’t know anything about these topics either?

                      “How can I say that one side knows the answer – implying that the other side does not?”

                      With great ease. You consider the arguments carefully and draw your conclusions by saying “I think Joe Smith is right and Fred Jones is wrong.”

  • Steyn

    Loftus is now bragging that he has introduced a “new” argument.

    Nonsense. it was used over at
    Ex C.net a couple of years ago.

    Of course, we all know John’s bragging is not to be trusted.

    • physphilmusic

      Why the hell is Loftus such a pompous ass? He’s always bragging about how his latest work is a magnum opus which will spell the end of Christian intellectual thought. I don’t understand why Randal still chooses to engage this megalomaniac. In fact, the troubling thing is that others, such as Carrier, are no better.

  • Steyn

    Oh heck…I should have realized.

    All this flurry of supposed activity between Rauser and Loftus is Hype For the New Book!

    Of course!

    And I bought into it. sheesh

    Oh no, Randall, you are not a collaborator.

    • Walter

      Those of us who are in the employ of the devil appreciate Randal’s help in destroying the One True Faith from the inside. We couldn’t do it without him. A hearty thanks goes to out to our sheepskinned wolf.

      • Walter

        “A hearty thanks goes to out to our sheepskinned wolf.”

        Oops! should read:

        A hearty thanks goes out to our sheepskinned wolf.

      • randal

        Thanks for this. I was looking for blurbs for my new book.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Steyn aka Goldstein aka KC_James aka Andrew aka so many other names I lose track, says Randal is not a “collaborator,” which he uses as a reference to people who worked against the Allied nations and for the Axis nations during WII. This is war rhetoric and he is at war with me. During times of war anything is permitted so he scares me, being the borderline straitjacketed person that he is. Randal doesn’t appreciate me saying this but then he doesn’t have to deal with this idiot every few days almost everywhere I go either.

    One of the points in my “Christians on Strike” post was that Steyn aka Goldstein aka KC_James aka Andrew aka so many other names I lose track, does not really believe God.

    Randal, care to comment on this? That is an important part of my whole argument.

    • randal

      “One of the points in my “Christians on Strike” post was that Steyn aka Goldstein aka KC_James aka Andrew aka so many other names I lose track, does not really believe God.”

      Huh? Your argument was partly about the doxastic state of “Steyn”? How’s that exactly?

      John, this entire post is a critique of your argument. Care to comment on this?

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        Randal, the practical specific of how this might take place don’t matter. Walter is defending it just fine. What if Christians kept their faith to themselves? What if no Christian shared their faith with anyone else?

        Grant this and then ask yourself if there is anything about the Christian religion that would last into the future. We all think others would die out. Why then do you suppose that yours would not? In order to suppose that your faith would not die out you need to provide some objective evidence that your God is doing something now that would help convert people if Christians stopped sharing the gospel.

        So, what is your God doing now?

        • randal

          “the practical specific of how this might take place don’t matter.”

          Actually it does as I explained because the survival of the church on some scenarios would be more extraordinary than on others. I can see that you’re not a details person but the details do matter.

          “We all think others would die out. Why then do you suppose that yours would not?”

          Didn’t you read my critique? I pointed out that the church’s dying out would be fully compatible with the existence of the Christian God. Therefore your argument isn’t worth the hyperspace its taking up on the internet.

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            Randal said: “I pointed out that the church’s dying out would be fully compatible with the existence of the Christian God.”

            Ahhhh, yes, now I remember. Which leads me to ask along with Antony Flew what would count against your faith?

            It seems you use that escape way too often don’t you think? Just replace the following phrases with X in your sentence: “I pointed out that X would be fully compatible with the existence of the Christian God.

            Evolution

            if scientists came up with a theory of everything…

            the evolution of concepts of God and morality…

            the revelation found in the Bible is indistinguishable from God not revealing himself at all…

            So really, be serious and practical with me.

            Answer Flew’s question.

            • randal

              “Which leads me to ask along with Antony Flew what would count against your faith?”

              The bones of Jesus.

              • John

                I imagine you mean “the bones of Jesus” as a joke. It’s the canned response so many evangelicals use. But wouldn’t this just cause a shift to the interpretations of “spiritual” resurrection and “spiritual” bodies. Additionally this is said because no such collection of bones could even be proved to be belonging to a specific first century Palestinian. So I feel such a reply is disingenuous.

                • randal

                  I talk about this in my chapter on liberal Christianity in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think. If the bones of Jesus were discovered some Christians would abandon the Christian faith and others would revise it in keeping with one or another of the accounts of resurrection that don’t require Jesus to have been bodily raised.

                  But so what? That’s the same with ANY major belief system or theory. You can always make adjustments in any system of thought to accommodate prima face disconfirming data. That is true of Christianity and it is true of naturalism as well. Some definitions of naturalism have been strictly materialist. Others have redefined naturalism to allow for supervenient non-material entities on the material. The intractable problem of consciousness has been a major stimulus in this regard. (Still others redefine naturalism from being a thesis about what exists to what can be known. And so it goes.)

                  If Loftus wants to suggest that this is something unique to Christianity or “religion” (whatever that is defined as) then he’s just showing his ignorance.

                  He’s also engaging in a classic diversionary tactic to get the spotlight off the problems I raised with his argument.

                • Walter

                  “Additionally this is said because no such collection of bones could even be proved to be belonging to a specific first century Palestinian. So I feel such a reply is disingenuous.”

                  I am pretty underwhelmed by that response as well. It’s not like Jesus’ DNA is on file over at CSI Jerusalem. We don’t even know where the supposedly empty tomb was with any degree of certainty.

                  • randal

                    Walter, are you seriously claiming that it is not conceivable that evidence could arise which could corroborate first century remains as being that of the person Jesus?

                    • Walter

                      Can you explain what method would be used to identify any set of bones as positively belonging to Jesus? Maybe I am not up on my forensics but I don’t see how it would be possible.

                    • randal

                      Oops, I forgot to respond to this.

                      There are many ways to establish human remains as belonging to a particular human person. Let’s say the remains were of a Jewish male and dated to the first century, they showed the marks of crucifixion and they were in an ossuary that listed the name of Jesus son of Joseph on the side. That’d be some pretty serious evidence.

                    • Walter

                      Let’s say the remains were of a Jewish male and dated to the first century, they showed the marks of crucifixion and they were in an ossuary that listed the name of Jesus son of Joseph on the side. That’d be some pretty serious evidence.

                      How would you rule out a possible hoax perpetrated by enemies of Christianity? How would you know that someone else’s bones weren’t shoved in there sometime in the last 2000 years, even if those bones also dated to around the same time period?

                    • randal

                      How do you “rule out” the possibility that the US government staged the 1969 moon landing or took down the Twin Towers?

                      Heck, how do you rule out the possiblity that you’re a soccer mom who is wearing the alternative virtual world “Walter” (AVWW) goggles at the 2024 world’s fair in Dubai?

                    • Walter

                      How do you “rule out” the possibility that the US government staged the 1969 moon landing or took down the Twin Towers?

                      Oh please!

                      Randal, you know as well as I do that if we ever found an ossuary with the bones of a crucified man and the name Jesus on an engraving, that Christian apologists everywhere will be advancing some of the same arguments that I just thought of off the top of my head. William Craig has already stated that he would not stop believing no matter the evidence due to the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. That is a close as you can come to pure fideism without actually admitting it–and I suspect Craig wouldn’t be the only one.

                    • randal

                      Walter, you just now lurched to a completely different topic.

                      Your original topic was concerned with how we can establish that particular human remains are identified with a particular historical individual. You seemed to assume that the only way to establish this connection is through forensic science. I pointed out that this is false. You can do so as well through circumstantial evidence.

                      You then asked how I could know that some other hypothesis might not also fit that evidence. Well of course this is possible with any probabilistic reconstruction of a past event, and thus my reference to the moon landing and Twin Towers. But the point is not that an alternative reconstruction of the events is possible. The point is which is most plausible. And you’ve done absolutely nothing to establish that in principle it could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt that one particular set of human remains from the first century are, in fact, the remains of Jesus. Thus you’ve done nothing to establish that Christianity isn’t as falsifiable in principle as any other reconstruction of past events.

                      Now you shift to a completely different topic by complaining that even if the remains of some particular individual could, beyond a reasonable doubt, be identified as being the remains of Jesus, some people would still believe. So what? Some people now believe that the moon landing was staged. Others believe 9/11 was an attack by America on America. Assuming you dismiss both those positions, you could just dismiss the position of these hypothetical Christians who maintain their belief despite falsifying evidence.

                    • Walter

                      Now you shift to a completely different topic by complaining that even if the remains of some particular individual could, beyond a reasonable doubt, be identified as being the remains of Jesus, some people would still believe. So what?

                      The scenario you provided is far from providing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but if you would drop your faith and leave your job at a theological institute if you ran across such evidence, then I applaud your integrity.

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        And please tell me what your God can be seen objectively doing now.

        • randal

          John, rather than change the topic (your default modus operandi) try to stay focused on my specific rebuttal to your argument.

          I explained that if Christians en masse stopped doing evangelism then that would be evidence that the visible church is not the true church. Consequently, if that church then went extinct as a result of this mass “strike”, it would not count as evidence against the truth claims of Christianity.

          If you want to be serious about your argument you need to address rebuttals to it.

        • Brad Haggard

          Simple, John.

          In the 1950′s Communist China expelled all missionaries and forced the existing Church of a few thousand people underground. Today, Christians make up anywhere from 3-10% of the Chinese population, or approaching 100 million Chinese people.

    • Goldstein

      Typical Loftus smears, which he spews out without proof.

      I think this one is called “guilt by association”.

      Tell me, Loftus, how many names have you posted under?

      Have you ever faked a blog?

      Come on now…tell the truth! …snicker…

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    I think Steyn aka Goldstein aka KC_James aka Andrew aka so many other names I lose track, will be a test case for us.

    Here’s my prediction about our co-written book Randal. He will get it and read it.

    If he thinks you did a great job of taking me to task he will recommend it. If he thinks you trashed me he will tout it everywhere he goes.

    If however, he thinks otherwise then he will do an about face and denounce this book everywhere he goes as coming from a collaborator.

    I don’t suppose you would want him going around saying you were a “collaborator” then, eh, Randal?

    • randal

      He’s been calling me a collaborator ever since this project was announced. All things being equal I’d prefer that people not think ill of me, but it is hopeless to try and be everybody’s friend.

    • Goldstein

      Loftus, you little coward.

      Are you suggesting Randall got the better of you in the arguments?

      Then quit lying on your blog and bragging that you won.

  • Chris

    Another example of people having absolutely no clue what is going on in Christianity outside of the west.

    Muslims are coming to Christ by the thousands through dreams and visions. Men and women in places where the only thing they know about Jesus is what the Koran is telling them are meeting the Creator in a dream or vision and turning from the false religion and turning on everything they were brought up believing once they came to knowledge of the truth.

    Iran is the fastest growing evangelical church in the world. There are churches with more than 1000 members.

    Egypt is exploding. Syria is exploding.

    Jesus Christ is alive and well and since we (the church) are sitting on our butts behind the computer and debating semantics He is doing the Great Commission that we are ignoring.

    • Walter

      “Muslims are coming to Christ by the thousands through dreams and visions.”

      Where is your source for this claim?

      • Chris

        Walter I have DVDs of their testimony (in arabic and other foreign languages) as well as the testimony and several missionaries who have been and are currently there.
        One of which is this man who I’d be happy to arrange a personal meeting with for you so you can se the pics and videos and hear the testimony:

        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112066036

        I have also met several Christians from various countries in the middle east who had had Christ come to them in a dream and reveal who He really is and they thus had to flee the country.

        • Walter

          So it would be safe to say that in your opinion if Christians stop evangelizing then Jesus will continue spreading the good news through “dreams and visions,” correct?

          Do you suppose that Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians had “dreams and visions” of Christ before the introduction of human missionaries to those areas? I have never read anything to that effect.

          • Chris

            Walter -

            My person opinion is that Christians cannot stop doing evangelism. Being a Christian (IMO) by biblical standards is describing someone who has had a supernatural change take place in their life in which they really are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that God begins and good work on that person to conform them to the image of Christ and that He will continue that good work until the end of their life. There is nothing more “Christ-like” than doing evangelism in it’s many various methods so for “Christians” to stop doing evangelism is not possible.

    • randal

      Chris, the church is growing very fast in some regions in the world even as it dies out in others. In the last century the church in Africa grew from ten million to over three hundred million. That’s an extraordinary shift. But at the same time the church in much of Europe has disappeared. When I lived in London dozens of churches had been converted into apartment blocks and church attendance was 4%. Over all the percentage of people that are Christian on the earth has remained relatively stagnant over the last century. So I think we have to be careful about triumphal narratives that cherry pick the data.

      We also need to be careful about making claims like this: “Muslims are coming to Christ by the thousands through dreams and visions.”, unless we have the statistical evidence to back them up. This is an extraordinary claim and it deserves to be supported by statistical documentation.

      • Chris

        Randall-

        “This is an extraordinary claim and it deserves to be supported by statistical documentation.”

        Considering the countries and persecution in which this is happening, “statistical documentation” is going to be hard to establish. Its just like in China where the vast majority of Christians are in “underground” churches so the “statistical” numbers are virtually impossible to ascertain.

        • randal

          I recognize that statistical documentation is difficult to come by. But it is not impossible. I know several missionaries working in closed access countries who can provide specific documentation of the success of their efforts. Most of them are working in Muslim countries. And their visible successes have, by and large, been meager at best.

          So when I hear extraordinary claims about mass conversions of Muslims, and with a supernatural element, I am duly skeptical. To say the least, such claims should be carefully documented to the extent that that is possible both to answer skeptical concerns and give glory back to God.

          (Incidentally, one of the most interesting, and controversial, areas of some growth is found among Messianic Muslims who are followers of Isa within their Muslim context. Radical contextualization or syncretism? Time will tell.)

          • Chris

            Randal,

            ” I know several missionaries working in closed access countries who can provide specific documentation of the success of their efforts. Most of them are working in Muslim countries.”

            As do I, however this is not what we are talking about. Their success or lack thereof of our brothers in the field has absolutely nothing to do with this, nor does their ability to document their work.

            You are missing the entire point. These are people groups who have not been reached. These are conversions that did not come about from a missionary. There are converts who had previously never (knowingly) met a Christian. These are converts who when asked by missionaries, friends and families members about their conversion and how they came to the knowledge of Jesus that is contrary to and not included in the Koran, are giving testimony of dreams and visions. These brothers and sisters are here in the states after escaping these countries and there are many many more staying behind to save their friends and families.

            This is not publicized for many reasons but mainly because there are no mainstream media that are Christian owned and our adversary is doing absolutely everything he can to keep this quiet so that we continue to have these petty discussions and arguments with non-believers who have no interest in the truth, rather than trusting in Him and obeying Him. If the (true) church were to really know what is going on it would make us much stronger.

            • Walter

              This is not publicized for many reasons but mainly because there are no mainstream media that are Christian owned and our adversary is doing absolutely everything he can to keep this quiet…

              Yes, those of us on the dark side have bought CNN, and we are conspiring to keep the supernatural conversion of Muslims a secret because it suits our nefarious purpose of empowering skeptics by denying any evidence of the miraculous. (insert evil laugh here)

              • Chris

                ..it suits our nefarious purpose of empowering skeptics by denying any evidence of the miraculous. (insert evil laugh here)

                I know it might come as a shock to you Walter but our society lives in, promotes, loves and even basks in evil. I mean seriously, watch the news on TV (since thats where the majority gets it from) or as you are looking at the popular websites (google, yahoo etc) as their news sections and notice the most commented on, most read and most forwarded stories. 9 out of 10 are stories about rape, murder, fraud and high-level corruption. There is very, very little about the positive things being done by people. Why? Is this an accurate depiction of good/evil being done in our society? Of course not! However our society loves it. We literally feed on it. The news does not report good news because nobody cares about that stuff. So the problem is 2-fold…

                • Walter

                  There is very, very little about the positive things being done by people. Why?

                  Because good news is boring news. People love to be shocked and dismayed by horrible events–why do you think horror movies make so much money? Seeing the suffering of others sometimes causes us to count our own blessings.

                  • Chris

                    Because good news is boring news.
                    While that’s your opinion, and one shared by many, if not most, I personally disagree. I do not find positive, good things boring the in least.

                    People love to be shocked and dismayed by horrible events

                    Again, I disagree. Before I was saved I would have agreed with you. Now the types horrible events that used to being me pleasure and entertainment only sicken me and I do not want to read about it, hear about it or talk about. Everything changed for me when I was born again.

                    Seeing the suffering of others sometimes causes us to count our own blessings.

                    While there may be a glimmer of truth to this, it has absolutely nothing to do why the public and and the media feast on evil. If you polled people Id bet that maybe 5% would tell you that after watching something “horrible and shocking” they count their blessings.

                    The Bible clearly explains it. And my life is a testimony to it. People in general love evil. They are evil and they approve of those who do evil. However once someone is born again and receives the promised Holy Spirit then the darkness the world basks in becomes sickening. That is what the Bible teaches and that is my personal experience demonstrating the truth of the claims. I wasn’t raised religious, and I had no disaster or hardship in my life that forced me to look for a higher power. I just decided to investigate the claims of the Bible and as I did I discovered that what the Bible said would happen, did.

                • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

                  know it might come as a shock to you Walter but our society lives in, promotes, loves and even basks in evil

                  What a pure, unmitigated pile of BS.

                  Chris, let me offer you a suggestion: volunteer this summer as a coach for your local minor soccer association. Spend some time with 6 year olds and the people who come and cheer them on. That’s the society I live in – not the one with a media governed by the law of large numbers. While there are mothers of high school cheerleaders willing to assassinate their daughters’ rivals, the vast majority are working on the next bake sale. I like bake sales.

                  • Chris

                    TAM I appreciate your rhetoric but as a general rule these are the same soccer mom’s who take the teen daughters to Planned Parenthood to have the children murdered. These are the same parents who let their children run wild and watch the very crap I’m talking about on TV.
                    I don’t care how much time you spend volunteering, that does now anyone morally “good.”
                    And the fact is, those are the same mom’s who watch the despicable crap on the TV and keep the shows on the air.

                    Your comment reminds me of what Jesus remarks to the pharisees (you know, the self righteous people)

                    “Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy–full of greed and wickedness!”

                    • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

                      I’m now a Pharisee who likes bake sales.

                      I’m also an atheist who would like to dissuade abortions but would not support making the procedure illegal. If there is a better real world analogy for Sophie’s Choice than a soccer mom trying to decide whether their 12-15 year old daughter should have an abortion, I would like to see it.

  • Pingback: Loftus offers a rebuttal by making up a new argument (and this one’s even worse)!

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/05/is-atheism-religion.html John W. Loftus

    I dislike threaded comments. Sometimes it’s hard to find the one I want to reply to.

    But I have three posts you’d be interested in.

    How do we define religion? Hint:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/05/is-atheism-religion.html

    What about perfect being theology? Hint:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/05/occidental-vs-oriental-ontological.html

    And see this which goes to the point of the previous post where you might disagree by claiming not understanding something is to understand it:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/05/plantinga-is-is-grossly-monumentally.html

    Randall, all you pretty much do is play word games.

    Cheers.

    • randal

      John, thanks for providing another few dozen links to your blog. :)

      Your definition of religion is silly. That’s like seeing the guy in the cubicle next to you wearing a pink golf shirt and then saying “Idiots wear pink golf shirts!”

      In addition, nobody here has said atheism is a religion any more than theism is religion. But some religions are atheistic and some are theistic.

      And idiots are not limited to those wearing pink golf shirts.