Why they don’t believe: Justin Schieber

Posted on 05/27/13 124 Comments

Today I’m initiating a new series simply titled “Why they don’t believe.” Each is borne out of an invitation to a well-established internet atheist and/or skeptic to share his reasons for rejecting Christianity (or theism). I invited each to write a paragraph on the topic with my initial intention being to collate them in a single post.

Bad idea. Well, more like an “unreasonably-ambitious for a blog-post” idea.

So the single post morphed into a series. In each case we’ll begin with an introduction to the atheist and/or skeptic. Next, we’ll consider his reasons for his position in his own words. And finally, I’ll offer some preliminary reflections.

* * *

First up we have Justin Schieber, an important presence on the skeptical scene as one of the hosts of the “Reasonable Doubts” podcast. Justin loves to get in the thick of debate and he’s done several of them including his appearance on the radio program “Unbelievable” debating the Amalekite genocide. Justin was the first to get back to me. But not only did he get back to me: he sent this response within an hour of the initial request. Now that’s fast. Even better, it’s thoughtful and articulate. So let’s give Justin a listen and come back for some discussion afterward.

I’ve been asked by my friend Randal Rauser to write a short summary of some of the reasons why I do not call myself a Christian.  I will take this as not merely a request for pointing out that I have yet to come across what I think are compelling positive arguments/evidence that make Christian theism more probable than not, rather I will take is as a request for reasons I think make the traditional Christian story is improbable.

First, I think the prior probability of the specifically Christian story being true is very low.  Christianity posits several complex and counter-intuitive entities that I think are better understood as liabilities.  For instance, under Christianity, there exists a non-material being capable of any logically possible physical (and non-physical) feat and who exists as a strange collection of 3 separate but distinct modes of consciousness.  Distinct enough to ask for requests from one another yet uniform enough to be referred to as a single agent and have its intentional actions being claimed as ‘best explanations’ of things in our world..  Among its abilities is the idea that this being can create something out of absolute nothingness.  Non-theists are often criticized for believing something as counter-intuitive as a Universe popping into being from nothing.  I don’t subscribe to that view but I have always found this complaint coming from Christian theists a bit strange. It may be the case that, say a grand piano popping into existence from absolute nothingness is wildly counter-intuitive but I certainly see no reason to think that a piano maker ‘causing’ a piano to exist without any building materials or tools is any less counter-intuitive.  If the first scenario is absurd, so too is the second.

Second, I also think Rowe-style evidential arguments are a big problem for Christian theism.  If I am not mistaken, a basic theological truth of Christian theism is that God would only permit an instance of suffering (Or an evil, if you prefer) if it was logically necessary for some greater Good to obtain or for the avoidance of some other equal or greater instance of suffering.  Though, many of the sufferings we know of don’t seem like they have a justification in the form of that particular suffering being logically necessary for some greater good or avoiding greater suffering. I think a rational person should look at the entire history of life on this planet and think, probably, there is at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary and so conclude that, all else being equal, probably, God does not exist.  Of course the common rejoinder is to deny that we are in a position to place probabilities on what kinds of things God is willing to permit because we are in such an unfortunate epistemic position compared to God.  The Christian will say that we simply have no good reasons to think that the goods, evils and entailment relations between these things that WE can think of are representative of those that actually exist.  This does seem to undermine the key inference in the Rowe-style argument but not without taking away our ability to place probabilities on God’s having morally justifiable reasons for lying to us about the nature of Jesus and the necessary/sufficient conditions for achieving (or being granted) salvation.  If we take this road, we can’t ‘know’ that what Lewis referred to as Mere Christianity is actually true in even the most liberal sense of what it means to ‘know’ something.

* * *

I am struck by Justin’s opener: “the prior probability of the specifically Christian story being true is very low.  Christianity posits several complex and counter-intuitive entities….” When I read this I thought of an article I once wrote called “Naturalism and the ole’ swimming hole”. Since the article is brief I’ve quoted it in full here:

Picture yourself taking your kids to the community pool with your favorite yellow inner tube when your friend retorts: “Community pool? That’s disgusting! Do you know what they have in that water? Crap and pee and barf, all floating around in particles too small to see.”

Taken aback at this rather bold affront, you ask your friend: “So where are you taking your kids?”

Your friend smiles. “The old swimming hole” he says over his shoulder as he and the kids walk away.

The old swimming hole?! How hypocritical is that? Here this guy is obsessively concerned about every nasty particle in the community pool but he never bats an eye that he’s swimming in the bodily waste of uncountable numbers of forest creatures (and a few kids besides) and all of it untreated by even a single shot of chlorine.

I can’t help but think of this image every time I take a hit from an atheist/skeptic/agnostic/humanist who snorts about the problems s/he sees with Christianity while never bothering to test the water at the ole’ naturalist’s swimming hole.

I’m not saying Justin “snorts” about the problems with Christianity. I am saying, however, that he has not provided any reason to think that naturalism provides an account of reality the prior probability of which is anything other than “very low”. In his favor, as the first paragraph continues Justin recognizes that these two different pictures (Christianity and naturalism or atheism) each appear counter-intuitive or even “absurd” to the individual not committed to the belief system in question. But the question remains: to what extent does this recognition undermine his opening point?

Next, let’s consider Justin’s comments on evil. He writes:

“a basic theological truth of Christian theism is that God would only permit an instance of suffering (Or an evil, if you prefer) if it was logically necessary for some greater Good to obtain or for the avoidance of some other equal or greater instance of suffering.”

The phrase “basic theological truth” begs for definition. It is certainly a commonly held truth but it is not a dogmatically required truth and there are many Christian theologians and philosophers who reject it including open theists, process theists, and several prominent contemporary Christian philosophers. (See, for example, Peter van Inwagen’s classic essay “The place of chance in a world sustained by God.”)

Justin continues:

“I think a rational person should look at the entire history of life on this planet and think, probably, there is at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary and so conclude that, all else being equal, probably, God does not exist.”

Just as “basic theological truth” begs definition, so does “rational person”. Rational persons have a background set of beliefs and the new beliefs they form are considered reasonable in part due to their fit with those background beliefs. Rational persons also have different experiences (which help to form those different sets of background beliefs). As a result, two different individuals may find themselves in a very different position when assessing p. It may be rational for Jones to assent to p based on his background beliefs and experiences, but it may be rational for Smith to assent to not-p based on his background beliefs and experiences.

So let’s say a bit more about Jones and Smith. Jones is an atheist and he believes God doesn’t exist based upon a range of personal experiences and a set of powerful arguments. Smith is a theist and he believes God does exist based upon a range of personal experiences and a set of powerful arguments. Jones and Smith both seem to pass muster as rational, Jones perhaps more so than a fundamentalist backwoods Christian and Smith perhaps more so than a fundamentalist gnu atheist. It may be rational for Jones to “look at the entire history of life on this planet and think, probably, there is at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary and so conclude that, all else being equal, probably, God does not exist.” But why think it is rational for Smith?

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  • TheAtheistMissionary

    I hope you asked Stephen Maitzen and I hope he accepts your request.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Dude, this is Schieb’s moment!

      But to answer your question: no. My list was drawn up based on the criteria stated above and the fact that I’d interacted with all these people within the last week or two. However, if I do another series he’d be a great choice.

  • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    Both naturalism and Christianity have to deal with the “something vs. nothing” problem, and Scheiber looks like he’s arguing that on that point, the two are basically even. But Schieber also lists many aspects of a Christian God that are burdens that naturalism doesn’t have. This God is omnipotent, tri-une, and an immaterial mind, aspects which have no precedent or analog in any other area of our knowledge. All of these seem to uniquely lower the Christian God’s prior probability to next to nothing.

    Schieber listed liabilities that Christianity has and naturalism doesn’t, so I think unless one can provide similar liabilities for naturalism, the swimming hole analogy doesn’t yet apply. Of course, I’m sure Randal has plenty of unique burdens for naturalism in mind, so I’ll be interested in finding out what those might be. Maybe conscioussness and morality?

    • Jeff

      A good point Nolan. Something I’ve wondered but haven’t asked until now is what liabilities Randal sees for the non-Christian theist–such as Kerk, who comments here quite a bit. I understand why someone would posit general theism–even though I don’t see how theism adequately addresses the mysteries it is called upon to address–but the further step toward specifically Christian (or Islamic, etc.) theism puzzles me. Randal, what mysteries does Christianity address over and above general theism? The evidence–such as it is–for Jesus’ resurrection?

      On a different but related note, isn’t there a disparity here between atheism and theism, in that all the atheist need say–when confronted with some ostensible mystery–is, “I don’t have a good answer for that.” (Implicit in that statement is that the atheist doesn’t consider “God” to be a good answer.) By contrast, the theist says, “Yes I certainly do have a good answer (God) for that, despite certain appearances strongly to the contrary (problem of evil, etc.)”

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        That’s actually a really important point (your second one). Atheism is the belief that a god or gods does not exist. That gets confusing because our degree of agnosticism might vary depending on the definition of god. I’m a “strong atheist” with regards to the Christian god, because I think the theology is nonsensical, the properties of the Christian god are self-defeating, and the historical accounts aren’t supported by the evidence.

        I’m more agnostic about a vaguely defined higher power of some sort, but I always say that the only thing worse than a god who probably doesn’t exist is one who might as well not exist. Making a god’s existence relevant to the human experience requires some pretty specific and bold claims, which I’ve always found to be unsubstantiated.

        But given the track record, I have little hope that believers will recognize that a/gnosticism and a/theism are not mutually exclusive positions – they simply answer different questions. In the meantime, they continue to demand that atheism should be able to conclusively disprove the existence of any sort of higher power, which is of course both impossible and trivial.

        • Jeff

          They continue to demand that atheism should be able to conclusively disprove the existence of any sort of higher power, which is of course both impossible and trivial.

          Amen! The atheist can be perfectly justified in saying “God does not exist” in the same way s/he can be justified in saying “my cat exists.” “Aha,” the reply comes, “but you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist!” “Yeah, buddy, and you haven’t proven that my cat isn’t actually an alien battleship in feline disguise mode.” If I saw certain considerations weighing decidedly in favor of God’s existence, thus rendering the final verdict undecided, then I would consider myself an agnostic. But I don’t, so I consider myself an atheist.

          Making a god’s existence relevant to the human experience requires some pretty specific and bold claims, which I’ve always found to be unsubstantiated.

          Again, amen. I know Randal has expressed dismay that some intellectuals of the stature even of Noam Chomsky respond “Meh” to the question of God’s existence. But the God hypothesis has been very carefully constructed and quarantined by theologians so as to render it an uninteresting and largely irrelevant hypothesis, so far as I can see. It doesn’t offer any non-trivial explanations or yield any testable predictions, and thus it’s a stagnant hypothesis. It’s only when we get into the realm of revealed religion that things get a bit more interesting, but revealed religions tend to have precious little evidential support, with plenty of severe probability/plausibility demerits weighing strongly against them.

          • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

            I think that’s why I’m really careful not to declare, “God does not exist” (unless I’m talking about a specific deity) as opposed to “I don’t believe God exists”. It’s that non-trivial distinction between belief and knowledge.

            But the God hypothesis has been very carefully constructed and
            quarantined by theologians so as to render it an uninteresting and
            largely irrelevant hypothesis, so far as I can see. It doesn’t possess
            any non-trivial explanatory power or yield any testable predictions, and
            thus it’s a stagnant hypothesis.

            QFT. I’ve found similar responses in discussions on dualism.

    • Kerk

      Since I’ve been mentioned here, allow me to add to the list of liabilities for naturalism: The problems of composition and colocation and scientific anti-realism.

      • David

        Kerk, could you explain those things. I have not heard of them before. Thanks.

        • Kerk

          The problems of composition and colocation arise when you take naturalism to its logical end and postulate that all there is is fundamental particles. Call it physicalism or reductive naturalism. Simply put, if that’s true, then tables, buildings, persons do not exist. All you are is a bunch of particles put together is a specific way. There’s nothing beyond that.

          Scientific anti-realism arises from the old and the new problems of induction by Hume and Goodman. It has been on the rise lately. The main claim is basically that science hasn’t been shown to get us any closer to the objective truth, rather what it’s good for is simply making our lives more comfortable. This view is also called Instrumentalism.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      The most basic liability for naturalism is definition: what does naturalism even mean? See, for example:

      http://randalrauser.com/2012/07/not-even-wrong-the-many-problems-with-naturalism/

      Assuming we can define naturalism, it has a justification problem: why believe it is true?

      And then there are all the dimensions of reality that seem to say naturalism is false, of which you list two.

      • Daniel Stenning

        Naturalism is an “ism” which it seems has a variety of definitions. But hey – so does atheism !.

        But for sakes of argument I find it easier to first define Supernaturalism. And my definition would be something like “The view that reality consists of the material world – investigable by scientific means – PLUS other worlds and realms in which there are immaterial invisible agents – some of which – in some mysterous way occasionally impinge and can influence events in our material world.”.

        If not in the dictionary – I content this definition at least is one which a vast majority of those who believe in the supernatural would agree with.

        And naturalism would be the view that we dont need any form of invisible-immaterial agents to explain our world.

        It makes matters more complex.

        • Kerk

          Since I love nitpicking:

          – What if I believe that there is a physical world, but it is not investigable by scientific means?

          – what if I believe that all there is is immaterial reality?

          – what if I believe that the immaterial part of reality never contacts with the material part?

          – what if I believe in God and soul, but that they are a part of the material world and cannot be accounted for by scientific means?

          – what if I believe that the world is composed of matter and abstract entities, which are inert?

          – what if I believe in panpsychism?

          • Daniel Stenning

            Those are all actually good questions to chew on and many atheists of a philosophical inclination could agree with some of the what ifs too.

            But spending so much time on metaphysical ideas is hardly what either atheists or most god believers ACTUALLY do or consider a top priority on a daily basis. Nor do any of those what ifs have anything to do with the assertions of xtianity.

            Humans in fact spend most of their time thinking about things that could – if desired – be tested scientifically, and certainly if no human can experience what is being asserted why give it such a high priority.

            Exactly how much exciting stuff can be said about those parts of the material world that science can never access ?

            Panpsychism is something i’ve only recently gotten into but it does seem a cop out in the same way that claiming God just IS qualia is a cop out.

  • TheAtheistMissionary

    I wasn’t asked but my answer would be a succinct: .. because I live my life relying on the balance of probabilities.

    • Steve Gascon

      Really? You live your life that way? So you don’t wear sunscreen or put on a seat belt because it’s not probable that you will get skin cancer or in a car accident? You mustn’t buy insurance, enter any raffles, contests or lotteries then. You certainly wouldn’t have an issue golfing in a thunderstorm either and obviously you don’t vote.

      • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

        I don’t know if his comment necessarily implies that. Relying on the balance of probabilities can apply to confidence in beliefs, and not (by itself) to actions.

        For example, say a doctor tells me my headache is 95% likely to be nothing serious, and 5% likely to be a rare and deadly brain parasite that an inexpensive pill will get rid of. I’ll definitely take the pill and avoid the 5% chance of death. But I’ll still believe, and reasonably so, that my headache is nothing serious.

        In this way, my belief “relied on the balance of probabilities” but my actions took other considerations into account.

        • Steve Gascon

          So by that logic, even if there is a 5% chance that Christianity is the truth, you would be wise and prudent to adhere to it? (This sounds a lot like Pascal’s Wager)

          I was merely making the point that no one lives a life relying on the balance of probabilities. You may rely on it in one area or instance, but to say that your life is lived that way seems to present a generality that isn’t necessarily true.

          • Adam Gerhart

            Making a choice based on a % is more nuanced than you’re making it seem. With the given example, a 5% chance of dying of a parasite is eminently more persuasive than a 5% chance of going to hell because we see death. We see people with parasites. We know for sure that death will occur, and parasites are terrible route to take. On the other hand, we do not see hell or heaven. It’s maybe in the center of the earth? Maybe another dimension? It’s talked about in an old book that describes the earth as being still and the sun as moving.
            So being an atheist is not like ignoring a health threat; its more similar to ignoring a witch doctor threatening to have us attacked by a flying monkey. Until the witch doctor demonstrates that he has flying monkeys and that he can make them attack it won’t be taken seriously.

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        Steve, I insist that my children wear sunscreen and seatbelts because there is more than sufficient evidence to prove that those actions will (on average) prolong their life expectancy. I’m less worried about my own life expectancy but I try to avoid sunburns. I have a personal experience of my seatbelt saving my life when I rolled a Tercel on a Saskatchewan highway in 1992. There is no question in my mind that I would be dead if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt that day.

        I don’t buy lottery tickets but love to gamble when the odds are more in my favor (see blackjack and poker).

        When thunderstorms interrupt my golf games, I avoid taking shelter under trees. While the odds of getting hit anywhere are slim, you are much safer sitting in a golf cart with rubber wheels.

        Statisticians, as a rule, don’t vote. I understand the reasoning behind this but also appreciate the problem that would result if everyone adopted that “free rider” approach. The real problem with voting is that the vast majority of voters are stupid. This is why negative advertising is so effective. I pine for philosopher kings …

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      TAM, there is a trivial reading of your statement: Every rational persons seeks to live their life based on what they see as true or likely to be true. You’re not that special in that regard.

      But if you mean something more robust than this you could be getting yourself into a whole lotta epistemic trouble. Using the language of “balance of probabilities” implies that you make some sort of calculation in your beliefs (e.g. the likelihood that I am awake now rather than dreaming is .954), but that would be absurd. So your statement is likely to collapse back into the less impressive but more sensible trivial reading.

      By the way, I take it you believe this “I ought to live my life relying on the balance of probabilities.”

      What is the probability that that epistemic maxim is true and how did you calculate its probable truth?

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        Whether we are conscious of it or not, I believe that we are constantly making balance of probability calculations.
        I’m not sure how you moved from my “is” to your “ought”. However, if you are using human flourishing as the basis for your ought (a la Sam Harris), I would agree that relying on the balance of probabilities would promote evolutionary fitness. Making decisions based on what is most likely to be true (after considering all relevant criteria) seems to be the best way to make decisions. If anything is axiomatic, isn’t that proposition?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “Whether we are conscious of it or not, I believe that we are all constantly making balance of probability calculations.”

          So in other words, you were just making the innocuous observation that people believe what they think likely to be true. Okay, but then why act like this is some special view of yours?

          “I’m not sure how you moved from my “is” to your “ought”.”

          Based on the charitable assumption that you think the way you believe is rational and thus ought to be emulated by those who don’t follow it.

          • TheAtheistMissionary

            I’m now on your next thread and await your explanation of why you consider [deity that actively intervenes in human affairs, original sin, virgin birth, NT miracles, resurrection, atonement and ascension] to be more likely than not. Childhood indoctrination, vocational strictures and “because the Bible tells me so” don’t qualify.

            • Daniel Stenning

              Occams Razor comes to mind.

              It is one thing to conclude there is some kind of creator that kicked off things. Quite another to pile on assertion after assertion ( or dogma after dogma ) in what historically can be shown to be a pretty ragbag fashion – and then have to resort to complex theological reasoning to somehow tie every doctrine together into a “systematic theology” – and Abracadabra ! see !! it all makes perfect sense !

              Simplicity Randal. Simplicity.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

    While it’s an admirable project, I think a far more interesting question would be to ask atheists why they reject even Deism, or the barest theism of a mental or personal agent being responsible for our universe’s creation.

    • cyngus

      “Reject” indeed.
      Everything that is imposed should be rejected when analyzed and found false.

      I reject Santa Claus, now that I have that capacity to think for myself. I reject any deism or “Deism” for I find supernatural or “transcendental” a view of insecure people who try to manipulate other people.

      Insecure people think that their “creator of universe” is the one who helps them live by, so now they have the “power” to impose others their delusions.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        Everything that is imposed should be rejected when analyzed and found false.

        Wonderful – you can demonstrate theism, even deism is false? I await the demonstration.

        I reject Santa Claus, now that I have that capacity to think for myself.

        Is this a recent development? ‘Now that I have the capacity to think for myself’. So you didn’t have that capacity before?

        Did you think you did at the time?

        I reject any deism or “Deism” for I find supernatural or “transcendental” a view of insecure people who try to manipulate other people.

        So, your argument here against deism or the existence of God is ‘people who believe that are insecure’?

        Insecure people think that their “creator of universe” is the one who helps them live by

        You think deists believe the ‘creator of universe’ is ‘the one who helps them live by’?

        • cyngus

          My disbelief is true.

          Yes, recent as from about 40 years ago.

          When I was a kid, as other kids born under their respective religions, they do not have the capacity to think “before”.

          People are born a-theist (no theists nor atheists) then they have the religion of their parents imposed upon them. Later on they think, they can use theism to control and manipulate other people, or just become atheists as they disbelieve any god(s).

          I don’t think that theist or deists “creator of universe” help their insecurity, but that’s what they say.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            My disbelief is true.

            Awaiting the demonstration.

            People are born a-theist (no theists nor atheists) then they have the religion of their parents imposed upon them.

            Are rocks and empty bottles of soda also a-theist?

            Later on they think, they can use theism to control and manipulate other people

            They ‘use’ theism? What, they don’t believe in it? If I tell someone not to do X because I think it will harm them, am I controlling and manipulating them?

            • cyngus

              You affirm a belief in something that you cannot demonstrate. My disbelief in your belief is more than you can demonstrate.

              Do you think that rocks and empty bottles are non a-theist?

              No, you are harming them not because you tell them “not to do X”, but because you DO tell them to do X.

              “X” being requirements to be deist, “Deists”, or theist.

              • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

                You affirm a belief in something that you cannot demonstrate.

                I have arguments and evidence. Do you? Anyone who says ‘there is no God’ is affirming a belief. I await the demonstration.

                Do you think that rocks and empty bottles are non a-theist?

                I am willing to concede the clumps of feces are atheists for the sake of this conversation.

                No, you are harming them not because you tell them “not to do X”, but because you DO tell them to do X.

                Arguments are made, which people can accept or not. This is ‘harm’?

                • David

                  Arguments are made, which people can accept or not. This is ‘harm’?

                  —————
                  That is a good point. No matter what kind of home you grow up in, you are going to have some kind of belief system taught to you.

                  • Jason Thibodeau

                    What do you mean by “belief system”?

                    • David

                      I think I just meant that you are going to be taught things from your parents that ultimately you may or may not agree are true. My parents taught me that God exists, which I accept. My parents also taught me that swimming after eating is dangerous, which I rejected.

                    • Jason Thibodeau

                      But believing that swimming after eating does not amount to a belief system, does it?

                      If all that you mean is that children are indoctrinated with certain beliefs, that seems uncontroversial. But I took it that a “belief system” is more robust than a merely a collection of beliefs.

                    • David

                      “Belief system” was probably the wrong choice of words on my part. I think I just meant a general set of beliefs about the world. Although I don’t have a precise definition, I think of belief system more as a religion or a political affiliation. I assume that you would disagree that in all homes, children are taught a “belief system”?

                    • Jason Thibodeau

                      Well, it depends on what “belief system” means.

                  • cyngus

                    “Some kind of belief” (system or not) is irrelevant to the discussion.

                    • David

                      Fair enough.

                • cyngus

                  “I have arguments and evidence. Do you?”

                  ==========

                  You do not grasp what is atheism.

                  Atheism at its core is just people disbelief in others people beliefs.

                  In order for atheists to prove their disbelief, there is supposed to be a belief, your Christian belief for example.

                  Firstly, you affirm your belief in your fabricated Jesus. Why fabricated? Because you do not have proof that your Jesus was a supernatural being.
                  Secondly, as an atheist, to support my disbelief, I take your “argument and evidence” for a supernatural Jesus, and demonstrate that you’re using your “Jesus” as a tool to manipulate people with religion, deism, “Deism”, theology, or simply that you’re deluded.

                  • David

                    What exactly are we using Jesus to manipulate people to do? To help the poor? To stop lying? To be faithful spouses? To perform business transactions with honesty?

                    • cyngus

                      Jesus said that the poor are to be always there, but go and spend your money to wash his feet (or give the money to your religious leader)

                      Stop lying? You cannot stop lying for Jesus since you found out that the bible is flawed.

                      Would you be cheating your wife if you wouldn’t become a Christian? Well then, be Christian!

                      “Business transactions”? What are you talking about? The multi billion dollars religious industry? That does not imply honesty since the invention of Catholics indulgences.

                    • David

                      God coming to earth as a man was a significant event, and the lady with the perfume correctly acknowledged it as such. I do not have to believe that the Bible is inerrant in order to teach people about Jesus and the forgiveness that he offers. No, I would not cheat on my wife (if I had one lol) because I have moral intuitions that were given to me by God, whether I want to admit to them or not. I don’t see anywhere where Jesus taught that you could pay money to get people out of purgatory, so I do not subscribe to the Catholic concept of indulgences.

                    • cyngus

                      I already told you that acknowledging that the bible is errant, you have to lie until you construct an inerrant Jesus.

                      If you are not married, how do you know being Christian would make you not to cheat on your spouse? Reality shows that Christians cheat on their spouses more than animals. Did you see the ducks or finches flying always in the same male-female pair for all their lives? And they are a-theist animals (I mean no theist nor atheist)

                      Well, I answered to your “business transaction honesty” use of Jesus, the terminator of the business in the temple. I guess by that you understand that Jesus does not help “business transactions” be there honesty or not.

                    • David

                      I don’t have to lie to teach people about Jesus because the Bible may be errant any more than I have to lie about the life of George Washington because my history book may be errant. I don’t know if being a Christian would necessarily prevent me from cheating, but at least I have some objective reason to believe that cheating is wrong. If I go by nature alone, then mating with as many people as possible may be the way to go. Jesus’s behavior in the Temple has nothing to do with honesty business dealings. If you believe it does, please explain.

                    • cyngus

                      You can lie about George Washington, like he was saying “I cannot tell a lie”.

                      But you lie about a Jesus to make a Jesus look like “supernatural” when the bible is errant and its fabricators unable to be convincing about that. You hope to lie better than bible ignorant writers.

                      The bible says be fruit-fly and multiply, from where do you take that cheating is “objective reason”?

                      Well, then you have no idea why do you inserted ‘honesty business dealings” as being a biblical trait. “Listen to your master, slave”. That’s what the bible is saying about “honesty business dealings”

                    • David

                      To me, lying means deliberately telling someone X is true when I know that X is false. I’m not sure how this applies to my Christian faith. I explain what I believe and the evidence that I believe supports it. If a person does not find the evidence convincing, he is free to disagree. Where is the lying?
                      Sure, God said be fruitful and fill the earth, why does that mean it has to occur through cheating? God says not to commit adultery in both the Old and New Testaments in many places.
                      The kind of slavery that existed when the instruction, “Slaves, obey your masters” was written was nothing like the slavery we experienced here in this country. It was not race-based and there was little distinction between slaves and free people. Slaves were mostly long-term employees.

                    • cyngus

                      Your lying is the type of lie when you want to make a fat lady feels that she is not fat, by telling her that she looks great.You lie for Jesus by telling people that if they are Christians they will live an eternity singing hymns to the god father.Santa Claus, unicorns and fairies are lies, but they are OK. Your lies are not OK because after people start thinking critically you still bullshit them with Jesus.

                      Yes, you’re right, the bible does not condone cheating, but incest. That’s how multiplying works according to your god.

                      Slavery, I just mentioned it sarcastically to your “business transactions with honesty” according to your bible.

                    • David

                      So obviously you have a lot of hostility towards Christianity. If you don’t mind me asking, how did this come about? Was it shoved down your throat by someone?

                    • cyngus

                      When is not Christianity shoved down your throat when you are born in a Christian controlled society?
                      Yes, I was brainwashed in my childhood, forced by my parents to go to church, insulted with hell and eternal crap.

                      Sure, writing that Christianity, as well all religions are delusions, makes you feel threatened. Don’t worry, paranoid feelings of religious people is a common thing, they always feel martyred or “hated” for their faith.

              • David

                No, you are harming them not because you tell them “not to do X”, but because you DO tell them to do X.

                —-
                If a person is in a position of power and enjoys harming people, what basis does the atheist have for telling him that he is wrong? After all, if there is no God, then harming someone is no more than rearranging molecules into a different configuration.

                • cyngus

                  A person in a position of power to use religion in harming people is not “rearranging molecules into a different configuration.”

                  • David

                    Why not? If you believe your mind can be reduced to nothing more than the interactions of atoms and energy, then by indoctrinating you with different beliefs, I have simply rearranged some of the atoms in your brain. There is no mind or you..just atoms and energy.

                    • cyngus

                      I am talking about real harming that is done by religion, deism, theism,etc. that is imposed before someone can start thinking critically.

                      Santa Claus, for example, I understand. Kids are insecure by their nature, but grown up still using inane supernatural “powers” to control other people , that’s what I am telling you is harming and not “rearranging molecules into a different configuration.

                    • David

                      Do you think that all religions are used to control people for selfish ends or do you think that some sincerely believe their religion to be true and believe it is best for everyone?

                    • cyngus

                      The purpose of religions is to control people.

                      I am against people “sincerely believing in their religion” when they “sincerely” impose their views in the governing of a secular state, when they “sincerely” are blowing himself up killing people of different religion than theirs (or not having any religion), killing people of other religions because they were chosen by god (see Bush wars), when “sincerely” believe that prayers are better than giving medication to sick children… do you want a bigger list? Give me a short list of what religion accomplish or accomplished.

                    • David

                      I don’t like any of those things either, but if there is no God, then there are no objective morals. If there are no objective morals, then there is no reason why someone who is in power should not control and take advantage of others if he could do so with impunity.

                    • cyngus

                      Still chasing your own tail, are you?

                      And when you stop you see things that you “don’t like any of those things either”

                    • David

                      How is believing in objective morals “chasing my own tail?”

                    • cyngus

                      Let’s say that this parasite called “objective morals” has attached to your brain and is making you run in circles: “if there is no God, then there are no objective morals. If there are no objective morals there is [no god] no reason why someone who is in power should not control and take advantage of others if he could do so with impunity.

                    • David

                      Well, at least you are being consistent now in that you are offering a purely natural explanation of my behavior rather than comparing the actions of religious people against some objective moral standard that does not exist.

            • Guest

              No, you are harming them not because you tell them “not to do X”, but because you DO tell them to do X.

              ——————-
              If a person is in a position of power and he enjoys harming someone, what basis does the atheist have for saying that he is wrong? After all, if there is no God, harming someone is no more than rearranging molecules into a different configuration.

      • Walter

        I reject any deism or “Deism” for I find supernatural or “transcendental” a view of insecure people who try to manipulate other people.

        I consider myself to be a deist, but I don’t proselytize my beliefs, so I don’t know what you mean when you say that we attempt to manipulate others?

        I am also not sure what you mean when you claim that people like me are insecure? Deists tend to believe in a hands-off deity, which means that we are not the types to cast all of our earthly worries onto a transcendental father figure. I would imagine that most contemporary deists do not even believe in an afterlife.

        • cyngus

          “I consider myself to be a deist, but I don’t proselytize my beliefs”

          ===

          Good to know that about you. Some people manipulate others by making them believe “even” deism, but you don’t. Good for you.

          However, the discussion had started because Crude cannot understand why atheists reject “even” deism.

          If you read Crude’s replies, you can see why he/she is “even” a deists:”I am willing to concede the clumps of feces are atheists for the sake of this conversation.”

          That’s why I reject “even” deism, people like Crude use deism to “heal” their insecurities by insulting people who are not accepting “even” deism.

          • Walter

            Crude is a Catholic Christian, not a deist.

            • cyngus

              I figured that out, but she’s using “even” deists question to find out and manipulate deists into her religion.

              I think that Daniel already pointed that out:

              “Deism for sure has far less thorny issues to contend with than the theistic monotheistic religions – which add on top of a basic premise of a creator all manner of stories and dogma out of which clever apologists and theologians then have apply ther intellectual resources
              in order to weave a complex web in order to rationalize it all.
              The old Catholic doctrine of Limbo is just one ridiculous outcome of this.”

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      They have that option. As I said each is invited to explain why they reject Christianity or theism. Typically the reasons for rejecting Christianity will include but not be exhausted by reasons for rejecting theism.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        I predict that the overwhelming majority of respondents, possibly all, will give arguments for rejecting either Christianity specifically or theism of the ‘omnibenevolent’ variety, while leaving a barer deism untouched.

    • Jason Thibodeau

      It is an interesting hypothesis. But the evidence is ambiguous at best. Our best scientific understanding of the mind indicates that there is a tight relationship between nervous systems and mental phenomena. Thus, at present, there is little reason to suppose that a disembodied mind is a physical possibility.

      This does not mean that we know that deism is false, just that there is little evidence that it is true and some evidence that it can’t be true. One other factor that is relevant here is that it is difficult to see how it really matters all that much. If deism is true, that would be interesting, but I don’t know that it has much practical import. About even this, however, we should keep an open mind.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        Deism doesn’t demand a disembodied mind.

        • cyngus

          Did you read anything about the inane “objective morality”?

          It is disembodied deism ready to parasite on humans and show them the “good way”… hah!

    • Daniel Stenning

      Deism for sure has far less thorny issues to contend with than the theistic monotheistic religions – which add on top of a basic premise of a creator all manner of stories and dogma out of which clever apologists and theologians then have apply ther intellectual resources in order to weave a complex web in order to rationalise it all.

      The old Catholic doctrine of Limbo is just one ridiculous outcome of this.

      It all reminds me of the basic problem with pursuing a decision to lie.

      Once one does this one ends up having to conceive a more and more elaborate story – or account/defence if you like – merely to support the original lie.

      Evangelical apologetics shares a lot in common with this. It ends up weaving a hell of a thorny and tangled web. All in order – not to deceive – but instead merely to believe.

      Occams razor – it could be argued at a push – might lead some to deism. But once one enters the Abrahamic faiths it sure as hell isnt simplicity that prevails.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        What’s ridiculous about limbo? It’s an attempt to understand God’s justice in light of revelation and theology. It’s about as ridiculous as house arrest.

        • Daniel Stenning

          Good grief – you’re now going to defend the doctrine of Limbo ?

          Wow!

          Nothing more needs be said.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            “Good grief”?

            Yo, is that Charlie Brown in the house?

    • Daniel Stenning

      I think these things can be put on a scale of “credulity”.

      Lets be kind and assign a generous arbitrary probability of 90% to each in a line of claims that are necessary to lead one to a typical Christianity. Each one of these claims was hotly disputed at the time the claim was originally made.

      Then we will multiply the probability as the theological assertions get piled on top of each other:

      1) Deist God ( 0.9 )

      2) Theist God ( 0.729 )

      3) The god of the Israelites: Yahweh is the ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD and the OT is his only written revelation to them ( and US ) !!!

      ( 0.66 )

      4) Jesus rose from the dead and is the true Messiah/Son Of God
      ( 0.59 )

      5) Jesus is God ( 0.53 )

      6) The N.T. Is gods word as well as the O.T. ( 0.47 )

      7) The Holy Trinity doctrine is true ( Holy Spirit is 3rd person ) ( .43 )

      8) The Protestant reformed version of xtianity is true along with the CURRENT OT/NT CANON ( as opposed to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox )

      ( 0.39 )

      ( one could of course go on – depending on denominational differences )

      So even attributing a percentage of 90% to every premise down the line towards a final protestant theology one still arrives at a percentage of 39% !! ( 0.9 multiplied by itself eight times )

      And that is giving a 90% “benefit of doubt” to each assertion !!!

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        Yes, now do that with respect to a list of naturalistic claims. What is the likelihood of a life permitting universe coming to exist uncaused? Of consciousness emerging? Of self-consciousness emerging? Of our cognitive faculties being largely truth-producing instead of merely adaptive? Et cetera…

        • Daniel Stenning

          Those likelihoods quickly rise to near 1 once one makes one simple “faith claim” about the existence of multiverse ( or omniverse even ) .

          Thats it. No more tenets of belief needed.

          And as to the of consciousness emerging issue – christian philosophers are none the wiser as to what qualia is and how it comes about ( and your view that God just IS qualia is merely another form of panshyicism – which explains nothing too )

          Finally bringing EEAN into that list is a red herring. EEAN has been rebutted by Stephen Law and others. And personally I find it fails for the simple reason that for any life form to actually HAVE beliefs requires extra resources – energy for example. Beliefs are costly. So of we have Animal A and a close relative B – and A always runs away from tigers but due to a false belief – whereas B always runs away from tigers because of the correct belief – one would find that over a period of time B would win out in terms of natural selection because true beliefs carry benefits other than merely running away from tigers. Hence even if the energy costs of
          A and B are the same in forming their beliefs- the fact that B’s true beliefs carry extra utility means that the true belief will win out in the end.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            Even better: an Omni-multi-maxi-verse!

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    The phrase “basic theological truth” begs for definition. It is
    certainly a commonly held truth but it is not a dogmatically required
    truth and there are many Christian theologians and philosophers who
    reject it including open theists, process theists, and several prominent
    contemporary Christian philosophers. (See, for example, Peter van
    Inwagen’s classic essay “The place of chance in a world sustained by
    God.”)

    Given that you (correctly) like to appeal to background assumptions often when it comes to evaluating claims, there’s a point here.

    A lot of us atheists who engage in this debate on god are former believers, and what Justin (or anyone else) was raised in will color how he argues against Christianity.

    The bigger issue here is that whether or not you think it’s significant, there are more denominations of Christianity than there are sentences in the bible. What we were raised in will inform our understanding of Christianity. Some of us may have deconverted later, having changed major denominations, or at least became aware of nuances between interpretations of the different branches.

    The issue here is that sure, there are some types of theology (liberal ones) that wouldn’t hold to the doctrine Justin is arguing against, it is a pretty mainstream piece of theology, and I think the argument holds strong in light of that set of beliefs.

    Sure, we could go to one of the other 33,000 denominations that reject that particular bit, but then other problems come up.

    I know for myself and others, the main reason we’re atheists is because we don’t find any evidence to believe in a god. These theological problems are likely the ones that got us to question our faith and to try and examine the evidence, which we found wanting.

    Now when it comes to arguing against Christianity, I don’t think it’s exactly fair to have us come up with something that refutes every branch of what has become an amorphous belief system. We can hit the big points that most ascribe to, and if necessary deal with corner cases for the branches that get rid of problematic pieces of theology.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “The issue here is that sure, there are some types of theology (liberal ones) that wouldn’t hold to the doctrine Justin is arguing against, it is a pretty mainstream piece of theology, and I think the argument holds strong in light of that set of beliefs.”

      First, Justin doesn’t provide an argument (from William Rowe or elsewhere) to demonstrate that it is likely God does not have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil of the intensity and distribution that we currently find in the world. So while his point undoubtedly has great emotional appeal, that is in itself not sufficient to push the argument over the finish line.

      Second, meticulous providence is not in the major creeds and is not often part of the defining confession of an ecclesial body (though you’ll certainly find it in documents like the Westminster Confession). Nor is it explicitly taught in scripture. It is, instead, a theological extrapolation based upon reading some control texts in light of others while being informed by principles drawn from classical theism. All this means that it is simply improper to label Christians who deny meticulous providence as “liberal”. I know conservative evangelicals who deny it.

      “I don’t think it’s exactly fair to have us come up with something that refutes every branch of what has become an amorphous belief system.”

      Christianity is much better defined than naturalism, and yet naturalism is de rigueur today for atheists, so this charge rings hollow.

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        One thing I keep messing up on is calling certain pieces of theology “liberal”, it’s been a few years, and I was in a pretty strict set of denominations, so “liberal” was just applied to theology that didn’t hold to all the strict stuff that our particular bit did (and the last church I was in was huge on the Westminster Confession). I realize that for those of you still in the fold, accusations of being “liberal” is like a thumb to the eye, which isn’t really my intention.

        As for Justin’s argument itself, I think he probably left the explicit parts of Rowe’s argument out in the name of brevity, so a discussion on it in this context probably isn’t the best idea (and it was in fact my fault for bringing it up as if it just worked, though I do think it does).

        Christianity is much better defined than naturalism, and yet naturalism is de rigueur today for atheists, so this charge rings hollow.

        That’s because naturalism doesn’t have the easy response of “God did it!” to any hard problem. :P

        That said, I can sympathize somewhat. Naturalism doesn’t have the pool and history that Christianity does, but one thing that I do find to be particularly annoying is having all atheists/naturalists described as reductionists who think all sorts of things are “mere illusions”.

        Are there harder problems we’ve yet to explain? Sure. But that doesn’t that mean that theism or Christianity wins by default because they can say “God is defined as X,Y,Z which solves the problem of X,Y,Z by definition”.

        • Jeff

          Are there harder problems we’ve yet to explain? Sure. But that doesn’t that mean that theism or Christianity wins by default.

          Exactly. The most basic question here is, “Is ‘God’ a good/the best explanation for anything?” Atheism says “no.” Questions of naturalism, consciousness, etc. may be interesting and difficult questions, but all the atheist need say is that there’s no reason to privilege “God” as the default fall-back option.

          • Daniel Stenning

            And as Hitches aptly put it – EVEN if one were persuaded that one needs some kind of creator to explain the existence of the universe etc, there is a huge chasm behind this deistic assertion and the pile of theological assertions that humanity then adds on top of basic deism to get to the Abrahamic religions we have today.

      • Daniel Stenning

        “First, Justin doesn’t provide an argument (from William Rowe or elsewhere) to demonstrate that it is likely God does not have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil of the intensity and distribution that we currently find in the world.”

        Here you go again – you ask your contributor firstly to submit their reasons for non belief. Justin did so in a manner that had to cater to brevity and maybe a self imposed limit on words, and something that i imagine would be nearer to conversational form than some analytically rigorous thesis capable of passing peer review in a philosophy journal . You attempt to pretend to a refutation by bringing up the obvious fact that Justin didnt actually launch into a full fledged describtion of Bill Rowes POE arguments. And you uncharitably dont even give him the benefit of doubt – namely that Justin probably DOES know his arguments but chose not – for sakes of brevity or readability to explain them all here.

        Randal – isnt’ it enough for you to assume that Justin knows Rowes work here ? You started this exercise as something intended as some form of irenic dialogue – yet it takes you no time at all before you are off, giving his words any form of charitable respect.

        And as others here mention – you throw the whole gamut of theological views out there – basically a kind of apologists “flak” – knowing for full well that Justin – given the space typical of a guest post – couldn’t possibly deal with all of them.

        Is it any wonder that other popular atheists find your tactics to be disingenuous and highly annoying.

      • gatogreensleeves

        “Justin doesn’t provide an argument (from William Rowe or elsewhere) to demonstrate that it is likely God does not have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil of the intensity and distribution that we currently find in the world” -RR

        A logical argument or an evidential argument? Should we only expect logical arguments to be sufficient? Why? Is that what we got from the mouths of Jesus or Paul? Even sufficiently rigorous evidential apologies and theodicies are sparse in biblical texts; there are mostly assertions. Any notion that Christianity requires a logical argument to sufficiently dismantle it is itself not an epistemic heuristic of biblical characters, including god himself.

        “Christianity is much better defined than naturalism…” -RR

        I’m not going to go into Dennett’s whole ‘crane and skyhook’ analogy considering the natural world, but I don’t even think that the ethics are “better defined” either. At best, it’s a wash. When one tries to establish “goodness,” for example, there are many ethical behaviors acceptable for Yahweh that are not acceptable for humans and we are not privy to any actual ethical justification for Yahweh’s actions that we can understand (i.e. we don’t get a crane, we get a skyhook). For example, to say that because god created us, the Great Flood is justified, is not an accessible ethic to us and we can’t explain why it would be acceptable for Yahweh. This is because for humans, a father isn’t justified in killing a child and/or creating a place for her to suffer forever merely *because he created her*, and especially not merely in order to access a second child that would worship him (i.e. using people as means to ends; knowingly creating a world full of people who would suffer eternally in order to get to a handful of eternal sycophants that would appease his ego). So we can’t understand the ethical justification for god’s actions nor explain them.

        And the free will defense doesn’t save you, because Yahweh’s responsibility is prior even to the very opportunity for human free will. If ultimate “goodness” is the main take-away message of Christianity, it’s hard to see how ultimately inaccessible ethical standards concerning its deity makes this religion “better defined” than any other ethical system, theistic or secular.

        The only ethical soteriological way out that I see for Christians (concerning god using people as means to ends), might be some kind of theology involving retroactive permission, but philosophers like Stephen Maitzen have argued well against that notion already and there’s no biblical justification for it. In addition to what he has written about it being impossible for any offense to be completely absolved retroactively, I would add that it would also require convoluted theology permitting the fabrication of identity. For example, a two year old who dies of bone cancer goes to heaven and Jesus/Yahweh says, “I will give you eternity with me if you give me permission to create you retroactively.” But the child is… two years old!! So there is an epistemic challenge in a two year-old’s/infant’s ability to even be able to answer this kind of question. Wouldn’t god have to create the child as adult to get an answer? In the same way that Jesus had to contrive the historical profile of the wine he created from water? Wine shows a history of experience, specific days of sun, soil types, influence of pests and growing techniques and aging; it’s not generic grape juice, yet he did it and no one questions the fabrication of identity. In the same way, god would not be able to ‘make’ a person ‘older’ and able to answer such a question without also fabricating the kind of experience/history necessary to do so. In the case of contrived grapes, we think, so what? but when we are manufacturing identity, that’s something else.

        This also leads to a deeper epistemic question of whether we all need omniscience in order to justify eternal judgment for anything. I think we would. Why would we need that? Because knowledge can radically change behavior. That’s a fact. Any sufficient judgment is only contextually based upon the knowledge of the actors. Can epistemically challenged beings act perfectly if they obey as best as they can? Good luck with that, because they can’t even understand the theology correctly to obey correctly. What’s important is that this does not change with salvation, as discussed in the comments your other blog post about the 33,000 sects of Christianity (and is exactly the problem with 33,000 sects of Christianity).

  • Reasonable Doubts

    Thanks for this Randal. I agree that Hempel’s dilemma sure is challenging but if it is a problem for naturalism, so too is it a problem for supernaturalism.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Sure, another way to put this is that the invisible gardener parable cuts both ways…

  • Daniel Stenning

    I was hoping for at least a smidgen of the philosophers “Principle Of Charity” here Randal, but instead I see you merely jumped in and took aim at every sentence – eking out issues of clarification and definition over it seems every word or phrase Justin used.

    You say Justin knocked out this reply surprisingly quickly. One could presume therefore that he used language and phrases that have commonly understood meanings. But instead – rather than taking his “gist” as for example “basic theological truth” and fleshing out what he intended – you instead launch into a dissection of this – as if Justin had intended this phrase to be rigorous.

    You could have at least done what good philosophers would have done – and graciously chosen to re-word this phrase charitable into a form and then address that.

    Do you seriously think “basic theological truth” was intended as any more than a summarisation of a position held by a significant number of reformed theologians with an evangelical bent ?.

    and to then bring up a litany of theologians who disagree with this position is just weasly. We all know that there are as many theological shades of opinion on the POE as there are pieces of string. Is Justin supposed to rebut EVERY position – even positions among christians which contradict ?

    This is why so much of liberal style apologetics is – as the RD team have put it themselves – like trying to hammer a nail into jelly.

  • Reasonable Doubts

    When Randal graciously contacted me to write about reasons for my rejection of Christianity, he asked for “a paragraph” (his words). Given this, I figured rigor was not his aim.

    Oops.

    Nevertheless, I attempted to fit as much rigor into a response that was already stretching far beyond the length parameters in the request.

    If I thought rigor was the name, Randal’s concerns would have obviously been addressed.

    Justin Schieber

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I’m not sure why Mr. Stenning is complaining. Everybody recognizes (1) the limitations of the medium, (2) the fact that your initial statement is meant as a CONVERSATION STARTER, and (3) we can make the comment thread discussing the issues you’ve raised as long as we like.

      • Daniel Stenning

        Sure. The thread could be as long as a piece of string. As would any rigorous post by Justin that would fully address the legion of positions held by all the typical theistic philosophers etc.

        But given your initial uncharitable response – and no evident willingness to take on board the “gist” of his brief paragraph, maybe rephrasing parts of his initial offering in a more clear form that put HIS case in the best possible way that still conveys the meaning behind the original words, can only infer that you are more concerned with scoring points than entering an honest dialogue. So why on earth should Schieber bother to give you any more time ?

        Such exchanges are meant to be pleasant and enjoyable. But your response to his brief post hardly augurs a convivial irenic debate.

        Do you not understand anything about the principle of charity ?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Uncharitable reading? A rather ironic charge coming from one such as yourself.

  • EtherealDreamer

    Had he defended the atheist position you’d attack him for not leveling any real evidence against Christianity but merely for his skepticism. Since he has instead decided to analyze the Christian claims you say, “ya but what about your crazy stuff?”. Unless he wrote you a book, you’d just point out where it’s not comprehensive it seems to me.

    There are a myriad more swimming holes than just the two my friend. You asked why he’s not in yours, not why he prefers his own. That would lead to a very different conversation imo

  • Jason

    Is this what I clicked over here to see? A pedantic non-response to eloquently articulated challenges to Christian theism. The response isn’t even remotely charitable and I find Rauser’s tone more antagonistic than conversational. Oh well. Saved me the time of reading any more in the series.

  • Daniel Stenning

    Randal Rauser Writes:

    “So let’s say a bit more about Jones and Smith. Jones is an atheist and he believes God doesn’t exist based upon a range of personal experiences and a set of powerful arguments. Smith is a theist and he believes God does exist based upon a range of personal experiences and a set of powerful arguments. Jones and Smith both seem to pass muster as rational, Jones perhaps more so than a fundamentalist backwoods Christian and Smith perhaps more so than a fundamentalist gnu atheist. It may be rational for Jones to “look at the entire history of life on this planet and think, probably, there is at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary and so conclude that, all else being equal, probably, God does not exist.” But why think it is rational for Smith?”

    Randal – dont you find it just a wee bit suspicious that the world we live in – POES and all – seems to be exactly the kind of world we would expect if there was no god ?

    A multi/omniverse of some kind without ANY kind of creative first cause DOES fit all our problems of suffering etc etc. Perfectly.

    We don’t have to conjure up any atheist theodicies to explain or “defend” the world we see. And sometimes ( and I mean only sometimes ) an evolutionary explanation will fit nicely for the “evil” – other times – “shit happens” explains things perfectly well given our non-theology.

    And we dont have to resort to ANY kind of sophist kind of skeptical non-theism, and all the epistemic trickery ( called Going Nuclear by Stephen Law btw ) to support our explanation for why bad things happen to good people.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Hi Randal, SOME “GOD” QUESTIONS

    How can a rational person not recognize that there are more questions than answers concerning the “God” question? What universally recognizable proofs concerning the kind of “God” that exists has science provided?

    The definition of “God” can range from some form of non-hierarchical finely-distributed pantheistic or even panentheistic “cosmic consciousness” to something that may be partly “like” and partly “unlike” human thought and personality. You can start with a definition of “God” and then argue in favor of it, but you have not proven it to start with, and arguments in the arena of “God talk” all involve questionable assumptions, so you have all sides questioning each others assumptions.

    Even if a theist starts with the argument that “an infinite regress is impossible,” and tries to prove that the cosmos could not be it’s own papa, they run into the unanswered question of what existed prior to the Big Bang? No one knows. Did “branes” exist prior to the Big Bang? (look up braneworld hypothesis, or brane cosmology) Did “time” exist prior to the Big Bang? What is “time?” (physicists and philosophers of science continue to debate that question, some say it doesn’t even exist) Did Big Bangs other than the one we know about exist in the past? Will others happen in future? Could a part of our own cosmos erupt into a Big Bang? And if the cosmos ends via the Great Rip (continuing it’s present rate of acceleration till space-time tear apart at the seams) what might that Great Rip initiate? We don’t know.

    Or you run into the question of whether it makes more rational philosophical sense to begin by positing pre-Big-Bang-forces “like those in the cosmos we know” that we can sense or conceivably find ways of measuring (if we could get to that pre-Big Bang place), or, whether it makes more sense to posit something “spiritual” “in the beginning.” So how do philosophers agree on which makes more sense?

    Or a theist might begin by asking, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but that merely prompts the further question, “Can ABSOLUTE nothingness exist?” Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there always has to be something. We don’t know either way. So the theist might continue with the question, “Yes, maybe something has to exist, but then you have to explain how it became orderly,” but that merely prompts the further question, “Can ABSOLUTE disorder exist? What would keep it absolutely disorderly so that no regularity ever appeared?” So maybe something has to exist, and some form of order has to exist. We don’t know either way. And so it goes.

    Of course if one relies on alleged “written revelations” (penned by humans on earth) as “proof” of what type of “God” exists, that simply opens another box of questions, some of which include…

    If God is a perfectly self sufficient infinite Being of absolute goodness lying outside time and space then “why would such a Being create anything at all?” That’s a serious question according to the pro-design philosopher Neil Manson himself, listen here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9079 ) There is no apparent need for a perfect Being to create things, let alone things that fail in their perfectability. Why indeed would such a perfect Being create things knowing they were, are, and will be imperfect, damned and annihilated? Also, does an Infinite self-sufficient Being need to hear praise? Does a Being that is infinitely above everything really need to dish out punishment to objects infinitely/immeasureably beneath it? And if God already knows what “was, is, and will be,” why run literal scenarios at all since they are a mere echo of fully perfect knowledge?

    Also, aren’t some of the depictions of “God” in the Bible the least philosophical one could imagine and rather resemble projections of human vengefulness or human insecurities leading to a wish for certainties and hence “divine laws?” Does God really get so enraged that all life on earth must perish, or, entire cities and peoples must be destroyed? Couldn’t a truly loving, just , all powerful, omniscient and omni-present God just pinpoint the most evil individuals and destroy them as a lesson to others, and also leave out the destruction of whole cities and all those animals? (Heck,instead of pinpointing individuals, why not pinpoint the most evil bits WITHIN each individual’s brain-mind and destroy those bits–or, work some healing magic on those bits over time, leaving the remainder of that person’s brain-mind intact? A loving, just, all powerful, omniscient and omni-present God would also know exactly what circumstances outside of the body affect each individual the most, and has the power to affect changes in circumstances which would also change those bits of the brain-mind over time, so internal changes could be effected via external influences.) And why the obsession with blood sacrifices?

    The questions about “God” remain, and classical theists will always be striving to come up with replies to each question that might hopefully lead one back toward “their” view of “God,” but their replies are not proofs, nor “inspired” in and of themselves. SO WHO HAS PROOF? And without proof that the replies MUST be true, how can anybody be damned for continuing to ask such obvious questions? If we don’t have the mind of God, then we simply don’t, and God can’t expect us to have it, or expect us to agree as to what the replies to various questions MUST be. Or expect us to love the “God of the Bible” in all his depictions and incarnations and different “inspired” ideas concerning the afterlife (of which there are several in the Bible).

    And why does an omni-present “God” of infinite resources need “apologists” at all? And why is the “devil” (a mere finite creature) able to “win more souls” than an infinite loving Being with infinite resources? Even forgetting about how weak the devil is compared with God, let’s ask, why is the power of “sin” able to win more souls than the power of God’s “grace?” Isn’t attraction to “sin” like being attracted to something of no genuine substance, since there is no “sin” in God and all things came directly and solely out of God “in the beginning,” so “sin” must be something relatively insubstantial, if not illusory. It was never part of an infinite God out of whom all things came, it’s only part of that God’s finite creation. But it’s “winning more souls” than God’s “grace,” a far more substantial and infinitely powerful thing? (Christian philosopher Vic Reppert wonders the same thing.)

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Hi Randal, You seem intent on trying to prove something concerning the “God versus non-God” question which to me is a question that does not feature either threats or promises, and, science has not been able to provide indisputable data for which kind of “God” one must endorse. Certainly the cosmos gives and the cosmos takes away, since life and death appear at most to be in equilibrium in this cosmos. Short lived organisms, and most species exist within limited time periods in geologic time, and sometimes there are mass extinction events (long before “man” or his “sins” ever covered the earth). So one wonders just how much the cosmos can teach us concerning the truth of “biblical Christian doctrines.” You should read and review the book, EVOLVING OUT OF EDEN. Maybe start with the section on “damage control,” which I found pretty interesting. I’m sure the authors will send you a free copy if they have not done so already.

    SOME “GOD” QUESTIONS

    How can a rational person not recognize that there are more questions than answers concerning the “God” question? What universally recognizable proofs concerning the kind of “God” that exists has science provided?

    The definition of “God” can range from some form of non-hierarchical finely-distributed pantheistic or even panentheistic “cosmic consciousness” to something that may be partly “like” and partly “unlike” human thought and personality. You can start with a definition of “God” and then argue in favor of it, but you have not proven it to start with, and arguments in the arena of “God talk” all involve questionable assumptions, so you have all sides questioning each others’ assumptions.

    Even if a theist starts with the argument that “an infinite regress is impossible,” and tries to prove that the cosmos could not be its own papa, they run into the unanswered question of what existed prior to the Big Bang? No one knows. Did “time” exist prior to the Big Bang? What is “time?” (physicists and philosophers of science continue to debate that question, some say time does not “really” exist). Did “branes” exist prior to the Big Bang? (see braneworld hypothesis, or brane cosmology). Did Big Bangs other than the one we know about exist in the past? Will others happen in future? Could a part of our own cosmos erupt into a Big Bang? And if the cosmos ends via the Great Rip (continuing its present rate of acceleration till space-time tear apart at the seams) what might that Great Rip initiate? We don’t know.

    Or you run into the question of whether it makes more rational philosophical sense to begin by positing pre-Big-Bang-forces “like those in the cosmos we know” that we can sense or conceivably find ways of measuring (if we could get to that pre-Big Bang place), or, whether it makes more sense to posit something “spiritual” “in the beginning.” So how do philosophers agree on which makes more sense?

    Or a theist might begin by asking, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but that merely prompts the further question, “Can ABSOLUTE nothingness exist?” Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there always has to be something. We don’t know either way. So the theist might continue with the question, “Yes, maybe something has to exist, but then you have to explain how it became orderly,” but that merely prompts the further question, “Can ABSOLUTE disorder exist? What would keep it absolutely disorderly so that no regularity ever appeared?” So maybe something has to exist, and some form of order has to exist. We don’t know either way. And so it goes.

    Of course if one relies on alleged “written revelations” (penned by humans on earth) as “proof” of what type of “God” exists, that simply opens another box of questions, some of which include…

    If God is a perfectly self sufficient infinite Being of absolute goodness lying outside time and space then “why would such a Being create anything at all?” That’s a serious question according to the pro-design philosopher Neil Manson himself, listen here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9079 ) There is no apparent need for a perfect Being to create things, let alone things that fail in their perfectability. Why indeed would such a perfect Being create things knowing they were, are, and will be imperfect, damned and annihilated? Also, does an Infinite self-sufficient Being need to hear praise? Does a Being that is infinitely above everything really need to dish out punishment to objects infinitely/immeasureably beneath it? And if God already knows what “was, is, and will be,” why run literal scenarios at all since they are a mere echo of fully perfect knowledge?

    Also, aren’t some of the depictions of “God” in the Bible the least philosophical one could imagine and rather resemble projections of human vengefulness or human insecurities leading to a wish for certainties and hence “divine laws?” Does God really get so enraged that all life on earth must perish, or, entire cities and peoples must be destroyed? Couldn’t a truly loving, just , all powerful, omniscient and omni-present God just pinpoint the most evil individuals and destroy them as a lesson to others, and also leave out the destruction of whole cities and all those animals? (Heck,instead of pinpointing individuals, why not pinpoint the most evil bits WITHIN each individual’s brain-mind and destroy those bits–or, work some healing magic on those bits over time, leaving the remainder of that person’s brain-mind intact? A loving, just, all powerful, omniscient and omni-present God would also know exactly what circumstances outside of the body affect each individual the most, and has the power to affect changes in circumstances which would also change those bits of the brain-mind over time, so internal changes could be effected via external influences.) And why the obsession with blood sacrifices?

    The questions about “God” remain, and classical theists will always be striving to come up with replies to each question that might hopefully lead one back toward “their” view of “God,” but their replies are not proofs, nor “inspired” in and of themselves. SO WHO HAS PROOF? And without proof that the replies MUST be true, how can anybody be damned for continuing to ask such obvious questions? If we don’t have the mind of God, then we simply don’t, and God can’t expect us to have it, or expect us to agree as to what the replies to various questions MUST be. Or expect us to love the “God of the Bible” in all his depictions and incarnations and different “inspired” ideas concerning the afterlife (of which there are several in the Bible).

    And why does an omni-present “God” of infinite resources need “apologists” at all? And why is the “devil” (a mere finite creature) able to “win more souls” than an infinite loving Being with infinite resources? Even forgetting about how weak the devil is compared with God, let’s ask, why is the power of “sin” able to win more souls than the power of God’s “grace?” Isn’t attraction to “sin” like being attracted to something of no genuine substance, since there is no “sin” in God and all things came directly and solely out of God “in the beginning,” so “sin” must be something relatively insubstantial, if not illusory. It was never part of an infinite God out of whom all things came, it’s only part of that God’s finite creation. But it’s “winning more souls” than God’s “grace,” a far more substantial and infinitely powerful thing? (Christian philosopher Vic Reppert wonders the same thing.)

  • Justin Schieber

    I have several critical thoughts about Randal’s analysis of my submission. But, I will only give two because, well, I have laundry to do.

    FIRST, With sentences like…
    (1) “…Many of the sufferings we know of don’t
    seem like they have a justification in the form of that particular
    suffering being logically necessary for some greater good or avoiding
    greater suffering…”

    (2) “…I think a rational person should look at
    the entire history of life on this planet and think, PROBABLY, there is
    at least one instance of suffering that wasn’t logically necessary…”

    (3) “…God would only permit an instance of
    suffering (Or an evil, if you prefer) if it was logically necessary for
    some greater Good to obtain or for the avoidance of some other equal or
    greater instance of suffering…”

    (C) “…and so conclude that, all else being equal, PROBABLY, God does not exist…”

    …It becomes very difficult to see how Randal could write, as he does in a comment below, “Justin doesn’t provide an argument (from William Rowe or
    elsewhere) to demonstrate that it is likely God does not have morally
    sufficient reasons to allow evil of the intensity and distribution that
    we currently find in the world.”

    Of course I did, the sentences above are, to anybody familiar with Rowe’s arguments, clearly a combination of his two versions of the evidential argument from evil. If by ‘provide an argument’, Randal means provide a formal syllogism, then Sure…but who cares?

    Now, to infer from (1) to (2) simply requires an ability to make an inductive inference about the possible justifying Goods that exist in relation to our ability to ‘see’ (using ‘see’ in a broad sense here) them (akin to walking in a room, looking very hard for an elephant, not seeing one, concluding that PROBABLY one isn’t there).
    As I said in the OP, the usual response is to deny this ‘Noseeum’ inference with an appeal to skeptical theism but that is NOT to say I never expressed the argument.

    Now perhaps, when Randal looks in his room for elephants and doesn’t see them, he doesn’t feel warranted in concluding that, probably, no elephant is in his room, but I REALLY DOUBT THAT.

    SECOND, Randal appeals to the background knowledge (I.e. other arguments as reasons to believe in God) to escape the inference when he about God probably not existing all things being equal when he writes, “but it may be rational for Smith to assent to not-p based on his background beliefs and experiences.”

    But, of course this misunderstands the nature of the conclusion I am drawing. I am arguing that ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, God probably does not exist. In other words, if one believes the probability of God is .5, after the inductive inference from (1) to (2) and given the theological premise, he must adjust P(G I E) downwards if he is to be rational AND isn’t appealing to Skeptical Theism.

    SURE, Randal may have other reasons that he thinks more than make up for the probabilistic force of the argument (assuming he accepts the Noseeum inference), but that is irrelevant when we understand that the conclusion was assumed in isolation (All things being equal.)

    That said, I appreciate the commentary.

    Justin Schieber

  • gatogreensleeves

    You can see some of my reasons unanswered in the comments of your recent post about the “33,000 sects.” Namely, the evidenced inelegance and irresponsibility in the so-called ‘divine’ plan.

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  • Jeff

    The Christian will say that we simply have no good reasons to think that the goods, evils and entailment relations between these things that WE can think of are representative of those that actually exist. This does seem to undermine the key inference in the Rowe-style argument but not without taking away our ability to place probabilities on God’s having morally justifiable reasons for lying to us about the nature of Jesus and the necessary/sufficient conditions for achieving (or being granted) salvation.

    Justin, this is a very strong point and I’m disappointed Randal ignored it (maybe he mistook it to be the product of incredulity-gone-wild!). In fact, I think this move–necessary as it is for the theist to make–has wide-ranging, disastrous implications for classical theism.

    Assuming for a moment that the omnimax God of classical theism exists, we can see in light of such things as the Holocaust that our intuitions about divine behavior are radically disconnected from the reality of divine behavior. So we can go one of two directions. We can consider this a powerful reason to think that the God of classical theism does not exist. Or, we can say that there’s simply no reason to think that we finite humans would have valid intuitions about the reality of divine action (God’s ways are higher than our ways, in other words).

    This second move has some appeal, if we consider that the God of classical theism is the ostensible infinite, omnimax, immaterial ground of all being. But it carries a heavy price. If theists are to be consistent here, they should similarly disregard their intuitions about, say, God wanting to raise Jesus from the dead, God wanting to intervene here and there (gifting life, consciousness, and so forth). One *might* still be able to salvage deism or some such position, but this move certainly appears to be disastrous for classical theism.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Sorry, I don’t see a strong point here for a Christian theist. Is it conceivable that a maximally good God could have morally sufficient reasons to lie? Perhaps, but so what? I need to have some reason to think God did in fact lie. This is a case where John Loftus, were he consistent in his criticisms, would charge Justin with punting to possibility.

      • Jeff

        But the theist is the one who has “punted to possibility” in the first place, in the context of theodicy. In effect, the theist has said, “All bets are off re: divine action–all talk of probabilities is off.” So the theist has made his bed with “possibility” and there he must remain.

        Would a maximally good God have morally sufficient reasons to lie? Possibly yes and possibly no, and that’s all we can say. There’s no reason to prefer no to yes. We have no business talking of probabilities in the context of divine action.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “But the theist is the one who has “punted to possibility” in the first place, in the context of theodicy.”

          Jeff, you’re really confused here. There’s nothing illegitimate about defeating the premises of an argument that purports to show God doesn’t exist based on the evil in the world.

          “Would a maximally good God have morally sufficient reasons to lie? Possibly yes and possibly no, and that’s all we can say. There’s no reason to prefer no to yes.”

          That’s about as silly as “Am I a brain in a vat? Possibly yes and possibly no. Huh, I guess I don’t have to pay my taxes because possibly yes.”

          • Jeff

            There’s nothing illegitimate about defeating the premises of an argument that purports to show God doesn’t exist based on the evil in the world.

            As Justin originally said, by defeating this premise, you’ve committed yourself to the position that all bets are off re: divine action. Why do think it’s legitimate to then back away from that position when it’s convenient for you?

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              I’ve done no such thing. If I believe God is maximally good then I have reason to believe whatever evils he allows (including lying) would occur for morally sufficient reasons. That’s it. No problem.

              • Jeff

                If I believe God is maximally good then I have reason to believe whatever evils he allows (including lying) would occur for morally sufficient reasons.

                Of course. That’s not at issue here. But to quote Justin again:

                We simply have no good reasons to think that the goods, evils and entailment relations between these things that WE can think of are representative of those that actually exist.

                So presumably whatever God does, he does for morally sufficient reasons. Got it. No problem. But has God lied to us about about Jesus, salvation, etc.? Perhaps, if he has morally sufficient reasons for thus lying. What’s the probability that he has such morally sufficient reasons? Is it low? Is it high?

                What we see is that we can’t draw any justified conclusions here one way or the other–the probability is inscrutable. So there’s simply no reason to prefer the option that God hasn’t thus lied to us.

                • Jeff

                  Let me try this one more time, hopefully with the most clarity this time.

                  Let’s consider a horrific evil such as the Holocaust (though any evil will do). The theist says, “It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for having allowed the Holocaust.”

                  The reply comes, “Sure, I suppose that’s possible, but why think it’s probable?”

                  The theist replies, “We simply have no good reasons to think that the goods, evils and entailment relations between these things that WE can think of are representative of those that actually exist. Therefore, all talk of probabilities in this context is off.”

                  Fast forward to a new discussion, about God lying about Jesus, salvation, etc. The “skeptic” says, “It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for lying to us about these matters.”

                  The theist replies, “Sure, I suppose that’s possible, but why think it’s probable?”

                  The reply comes, “Listen buddy, you’re the one who insisted in the context of theodicy that all talk of probabilities is off, that all these goods, evils, and entailment relations are simply inaccessible to us. Therefore, you yourself have undermined any means by which you can validly claim that the non-lie option is better (more probable) than the lie option.”

                  • gatogreensleeves

                    Jesus promised believers “you will know the truth and the truth would set you free.”

                    Why Yahweh permits suffering: UNVERIFIABLE

                    Why Yahweh’s “goodness” allows for actions (e.g. wiping out a planet of people) unavailable to humans maintaining that same status: UNVERIFIABLE

                    Why the 33,000 Christian sects don’t line up on their theology: UNVERIFIABLE

                    How to know you are saved: UNVERIFIABLE (Mat. 7:21-23)

                    Why a belief component is necessary for a salvation plan based on ethics: UNVERIFIABLE

                    This is a formidable list of epistemic limitations and it’s obviously not exhaustive. Inaccessibility to the ethical standards of the Christian deity alone cashes out to an inability to evaluate any epistemology, ontology, and ethics related to its theology. As implied by Justin, one could never even know if he had/has a good reason to lie about any of it- even for our own good. Not only is there no good reason to elevate some ancient theology above and beyond the evidence of observable consequences, but we have no good reason to presume that that theology doesn’t have inaccessible relevant foundations anyway (*relevant*, as in not a genetic fallacy).

                  • Jeff

                    And how about this very similar argument that parallels the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, but which is leveled back at the theist:

                    Consider a horrific evil such as the Holocaust (though any evil will do). The theist will say something like, “It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for having allowed the Holocaust.”

                    The atheist replies, “That may be possible, by why think that’s likely to be the case?”

                    The theist replies, “We simply have no good reasons to think that the goods, evils and entailment relations between these things that we can think of are representative of those that actually exist. Therefore, all talk of probabilities in this context is off.”

                    Fast forward to a different conversation. The atheist may say something like, “It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for endowing us with heavily deficient cognitive faculties.”

                    The theist replies, “That may be possible, but why think it’s likely that a loving God would do such a thing?”

                    The atheist replies, “Listen, you’re the one who insisted in the context of theodicy that all talk of probabilities is off, that all these goods, evils, and entailment relations are simply inaccessible to us. Therefore, you yourself have undermined any means by which you can validly claim that God is more likely to have endowed us with adequate rather than deficient cognitive faculties.”

                    • Jeff

                      Insofar as I understand Plantinga’s warrant program, this consideration cuts right to its heart. Plantinga relies on the EAAN to undermine warrant on a naturalistic framework, but if my parallel argument here is successful, then warrant is undermined on a theistic framework. So is warrant undermined on both naturalism and theism? Or is the EAAN an unsuccessful argument? Or is my (rough, admittedly) argument here unsuccessful?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      The theist wouldn’t just think it is possible He’d think it likely based upon other things he believes about God. And he wouldn’t think the atheist’s scenario likely again based upon other things he thinks about God.

                    • Jeff

                      What “other things” are these exactly? The argument assumes the omnimax God of classical theism. In other words, the argument certainly does not stipulate that God might endow us with deficient cognition on the assumption that omnibenevolence or some such attribute is in doubt.

              • Daniel Stenning

                The problem with your maximally good God is that from the simple assertion that God is maximally good we humans are supposed not to be able to draw ANY conclusion or expectation about what kind of world one would expect to find oneself in. ( Thanks to sceptical theism )

                If the world we lived in had babies being raped and tortured 99% before puberty and every human spent the last decade of their life with ultra painful pustules on their face meaning that humans spent a decade in agony – all this would STILL not be any kind of defeater to the problem of evil.

                Sceptics have a big big problem with these kinds of assertions. Its to do with unfalsifiability.

      • gatogreensleeves

        “…but so what? I need to have some reason to think God did in fact lie.”- RR

        There are clear possible reasons, with which you are probably familiar, including biblical examples of Yahweh sending surrogate “lying spirits” in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Cron. 18 (and just as it is with mob bosses sending out a hit, culpability still exists), or Yahweh creating confusion and delusion in Ezek. 14 and 2 Thes. 2 (bearing false witness) or the false report of Joseph’s genealogy in Luke (because it’s supposedly really Mary’s genealogy) or 2 Kings 8 when Elisha tells a man to lie with Yahweh’s approval; that’s off the top of my head. There are verses showing that it is impossible for god to lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2; Num. 23:19), but to use those as evidence that the other verses are therefore wrong/misunderstood would be a presumption of staggering textual coherence concerning books written and redacted by so many different men over such a long time.

        You probably have an apologetic for each of these, but they are “some reasons” in the least. If only actual definitive answers will suffice as “some reasons,” then the whole “punting to possibility” comes back to you. The difference is really whether or not *probability* can be assessed in each possibility in question (which is to say that I think Loftus’ use of “punting to possibility” is a kind of possibility that is difficult or impossible to assess with probability [e.g. via Bayes]). I suspect you and Justin will have different standards for what possibility can be assessed in terms of probability, based upon the acceptance or dismissal of supernatural phenomena alone, so a resolution looks unlikely.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Am I currently in a vivid dream? It’s possible. After all, I’ve been in vivid dreams before where I was sure I was awake.

          Such skeptical scenarios can be replicated endlessly.

          For example, I seem to remember that I did x. But I’ve been wrong before.

          I seem to see a tree in front of me. But I’ve been wrong before.

          And so on.

          • gatogreensleeves

            “Am I currently in a vivid dream? It’s possible” -RR

            Sure, and that’s one of those possibilities that is less amenable to assessing probability, but assessments based upon agreed upon limitations (such as what methods best account for veridical historicity or a conflict in theological claims/coherence [either internally or with science]) would be more amenable to establishing probabilities in those possibilities. My point is to say that not all possibilities are the same and this is relevant to the use of “punting to possibilities.”

  • Rob Taylor

    First, thank you for this blog discussion, Mr. Rauser – I appreciate your willingness to engage in this type of open dialogue.

    Mr. Randal, you wrote at the end of your reply to Justin, “Rational persons have a background set of beliefs, and the new beliefs they form are considered reasonable in part due to their fit with those background beliefs.”

    But, don’t background beliefs have to be rational themselves, before one can declare any new beliefs based on them to be “rational”? If one’s “background beliefs” are irrational and/or reasonable, then it seems extremely likely that their “new beliefs” will be irrational and/or unreasonable as well.

    Using your example of Jones and Smith, wouldn’t it be more important to ask Smith WHY his beliefs are rational… Simply declaring them so based on his own past beliefs and/or experiences would not seem to “pass muster” (as you put it).

    One way to examine them might be to ask if Smith’s background BELIEFS in a God are consistent with our current / shared background KNOWLEDGE.

    If Smith’s “God belief” is a direct violation of virtually all our background knowledge – i.e., God is a “person” but does not have a body. God “thinks”, but no time passes. God “knows all”, but does not possess a brain – then, is it not reasonable to declare such beliefs irrational, regardless of what set of prior background beliefs they may be based on?

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  • Daniel Stenning

    Want to know the latest reason my atheism has just been reinforced ?

    Simply watch this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfuMn617dEc

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