The Slippery Slight of “Fundamentalist”

The Slippery Slight of “Fundamentalist”

The thing to do in an attempt to slight Christian beliefs is to call someone a “fundamentalist”. That term seems to have lost any meaningful definition and has become more of an insult than an accurate or even applicable adjective. What does the term even mean?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines fundamentalism as,

[a] type of militantly conservative religious movement characterized by the advocacy of strict conformity to sacred texts.

Even then you have to define what ones means by “conformity to religious texts“. In the context in which it arose, in early 20th century American Protestantism, the article continues, saying,

[…]Christian fundamentalists vigorously opposed theological modernism, which, as the “higher criticism” of the Bible, involved the attempt to reconcile traditional Christian beliefs with modern science and historiography.

I think that there’s a certain amount of historical naïveté, while it is somewhat accurate, in that representation because historically fundamentalism is about taking the Bible seriously in what it says. The “higher criticism” that fundamentalism was responding to was simply an attempt by unbelieving scholarship to dismiss that anything that the Bible said was true. An online copy of The Fundementals: A Testimony to the Truth which describes historical fundamentalism can be found here.

The article continues,

Associated with this idea was the view that the Bible should be read literally whenever possible and that believers should lead their lives according to the moral precepts it contains, especially the Ten Commandments.

Well, yes. And then the article goes on to identify the most severe problem with the kind of fundamentalism had,

–A basic theme of Christian fundamentalism, especially in its early years, was the doctrine of separation: real Christians must remain separate from the impure and corrupt world of those who have not been born again.

Yep. That was the problem, because it violates Scripture, specifically Paul’s warning to the church at Corinth, where he writes

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10, ESV)

I think that such an attitude of detachment can rightly be attributed to the rise of dispensationalism and Arminianism and the decline of Reformed postmillennialism that had driven Christians for centuries to spread the gospel. I believe that such an assertion can be demonstrated historically, and the Britannica article insinuates it, but I don’t really have the time in this post, but Paul’s point was that he was differentiating from those who claimed to be Christians and those who actually weren’t and how believers were to respond.

So what is the point of this post? Two articles really, one reporting on a study dealing with fundamentalism and brain damage and another an essay on ones experience growing up in fundamentalist communities.

The first article titled, Study Finds Link Between Brain Damage and Religious Fundamentalism, begins,

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex.

Now, that may sound concerning, but the study, which lies behind a paywall, may not necessarily be as cut and dried as it sounds. The abstract begins,

Beliefs profoundly affect people’s lives, but their cognitive and neural pathways are poorly understood. Although previous research has identified the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) as critical to representing religious beliefs, the means by which vmPFC enables religious belief is uncertain.

Okay, so there’s a certain part of the human brain that seems particularly linked to religious beliefs, but how it works isn’t clear. The authors continue,

We hypothesized that the vmPFC represents diverse religious beliefs and that a vmPFC lesion would be associated with religious fundamentalism, or the narrowing of religious beliefs. To test this prediction, we assessed religious adherence with a widely-used religious fundamentalism scale in a large sample of 119 patients with penetrating traumatic brain injury (pTBI).

The authors hypothesized that damage to this area of the brain would affect religious beliefs making them more static and to test it, measured religious beliefs of 119 patients. Now, I have an immediate question that comes to my mind in such a situation, namely, what were their beliefs like before the injury? Are they arguing  that the beliefs post event are more entrenched or that the beliefs have less nuance? The problem with the language is evident. But they continue,

[We] predicted that pTBI patients with lesions to the vmPFC would exhibit greater fundamentalism, and that this would be modulated by cognitive flexibility and trait openness. Instead, we found that participants with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) lesions have fundamentalist beliefs similar to patients with vmPFC lesions and that the effect of a dlPFC lesion on fundamentalism was significantly mediated by decreased cognitive flexibility and openness.

So, what they discovered was that those with the particular injury that they were studying has similar beliefs to those who had injuries to a different part of the brain and both are affected by the openness of the individual to new experiences. Going back to the article that references the study, the author writes, after adding more details on the study (119 Vietnam-era injured vets to 32 healthy vets, a comparison that is itself bothersome),

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

Um, any damage to the brain can impair its functioning. I’d love to see a similar study on brain damage and atheism, but there’s something that seems to be ignored by the study and the author, who is tacitly implying that there’s something wrong here, namely by his characterization of “religious fundamentalism”, which he describes as,

[…]an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues.

Sounds like the author of the article is a fundamentalist too. Rather than actually presenting an argument that can be analyzed, he just dismisses what the opposition believes, thereby doing exactly what he is accusing the other side of doing, by trying to attribute it to “brain damage”. Genetic fallacy? Ad hominem? You decide.

The second article titled An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America, the author writes,

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

I would say that they misunderstood a lot given the demographics of the 2016 election compared to previous elections is that it just wasn’t “white, working class, fly-over America,” they didn’t get. The author continues,

It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete BS. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to draw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t East Coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural Americans don’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out.

I would agree with that statement somewhat because there are a number of factors that contributed to the decline of “fly-over” country, some of which there is a measure of blindness to, but that doesn’t change the facts that both political parties have made certain assumptions over the years and one in particular overplayed its hand in the election. The author writes,

I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

We’ll see if he actually understands what the problem is as he continues,

In deep-red America, the white Christian god is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, or change. When you have a belief system built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power.

I think that it needs to be pointed out that all belief systems are shaped by religious fundamentalism of one kind or another. To say that fundamentalism is the problem ignores ones own fundamental beliefs and assumptions. But he goes on,

The problem isn’t that coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans. The problem is that rural America doesn’t understand itself and will never listen to anyone outside its bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views will be automatically discounted. (Emphasis original)

Notice that he’s doing exactly what he is accusing the fundamentalists he’s blasting of doing. He’s discounting what they view automatically. He sees them as outsiders and doesn’t seem to be listening to them.

Pot, kettle on line 3.

The heart of his argument is buried deep down in the article in a typical misrepresentation,

When a 2,700-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, and edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, respect or evidence is going to change their minds and assuage their fears.

First, his own bigotry against those whose worldview informed every thing that we know and have today: if they aren’t like him, their insights and opinions don’t matter. Second, his ignorance of the origin and transmission of the text that informs the worldview of those he is attempting to criticize. Third, his false assumptions about his own worldview.

The author demonstrates that he hasn’t moved away from fundamentalism he’s just changed what he’s a fundamentalist about. He’s just as uncritical in his thinking as those he’s lambasting. And I think that it deserves to be pointed out that his “intellectual authority” is worthy of questioning.

Keep thinking critically.

Mark 2:26: Blunder or Grand Slam

Mark 2:26: Blunder or Grand Slam

Atheist Bart Ehrman has pointed to Mark 2:26 as evidence of an error in the Gospel of Mark, an error that led to the ultimate destruction of his faith. But is it an error or simply ignorance of the biblical text as a whole? I will argue that it is not an error on the part of Mark, working as Peter’s scribe to record his testimony, therefore making it eyewitness testimony, but it is also ignorance on the part of the critic. 

Let’s look at the text in question,

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, ESV, emphasis added)

The reference is to an event recorded for us in 1 Samuel 21 that begins,

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. (v1, ESV)

This verse identifies the particular priest that David interacted with as he was fleeing from King Saul. Critics will immediately assume that Jesus, or Mark in recording Peter’s testimony, was making an error. Not so fast. If one reads the rest of the story we find out that Saul, angered at the priests having aided David in his flight orders their execution. The only one to escape the slaughter is a priest named…wait for it…Abiathar (1 Samuel 22:20ff). Abiathar eventually becomes…wait for it…high priest, a prominent high priest whose service spans until the rule of Solomon. Jesus/Mark/Peter is simply referring to the most well known individual in the life of David as his point of reference. Since what is referred to occurred during the lifetime of that high priest, it makes sense, considering that there were no chapter and verse divisions and “Samuel” wasn’t the official title of the work that was being cited. 
So, what we have is not an error on anyone’s part except the part of the critic who is clearly not thinking critically. 

Don’t Tell Me What I Think

Don’t Tell Me What I Think

It’s terribly tempting to try to crawl into someone’s head in an attempt to psychoanalyze them, to cover your criticism, whether it is justified or not, with a patina of professional jargon to make your own argument look better (see this as an example). Atheists, especially those that want to come off as rational and reasonable, even though they often fail to provide grounds for what is or is not rational and reasonable, will often take pot shots, like this post over at Atheist Republic by Michael Sherlock titled, Inside the Mind of a Believer —Part 1: The Ego

He begins,

Now, I do not presume to know the specific cognitions of every single believer, nor do I pretend to understand the contents of the billions of individuals infected with the plethora of religions that plague our chaotic planet, but there are some common psychological and neurological phenomena that present us with sufficient grounds to generalize, albeit cautiously.

There’s a few things that need to be observed here, namely that he claims that he is not omniscient, that there are things that he is ignorant of, but he does admit that certain generalizations can be made. Let’s see if his generalizations, if true, can be truly generalized.

Religious people arrive at their psychological dead ends via a variety of means.

Gee. Be honest about what you think.

Some, perhaps most, are indoctrinated from childhood, well before the age of reason, by role models who believe they are teaching, rather than warping their children’s fragile and suggestive minds.

This also poses a problem for atheists who raise their children as atheists. Careful, that sword cuts both ways, Michael.

Others grow up in one faith and through the intervention of a missionary or friend, become re-programmed into a new religion; others still, are persuaded by some form of media, and so on.

Again, the atheist has the same problem.

Notwithstanding the numerous ways in which people adopt a religious belief system, we already we have sturdy grounds upon which we may establish our first generalization.

You haven’t differentiated atheism from any other religion in order to make any meaningful generalization.

Religion is a social virus, contracted and spread via social interaction between human minds, whether directly or indirectly.

I like playing word games too. So let’s play. “Atheism is a social virus, contracted and spread via social interactions between human minds, whether directly or indirectly.” The generality seems applicable, so far. So, let’s continue,

Having demonstrated the ability to make certain generalizations, let us proceed from the point of infection, and examine some of the common psychological strategies employed by believers to reconcile their unnatural beliefs with the natural world, as well as investigate how they shield their minds from evidence that comes into conflict with their socially acceptable delusions.

(Raises hand) Upon what basis do you draw to assert what is or is not natural, Michael? Or, what is or is not a “socially acceptable delusion“? Just have to ask.

After giving a brief lesson on the origins of the term “ego” he finally gets down to some brass tacks, talking about doomsday cults, which I would point out as being religious outliers to begin with, and Young Earth Creationism, which can be just as cultish. Of course he doesn’t give any meaningful grounds for responding to such, he just ridicules them with psychological lingo. The real meat comes in part 2, titled Psychological Storms, where he writes about egocentrism,

Egocentrism describes a preoccupation with one’s own beliefs about the world. Put simply, it enunciates the immature failing to understand that the world appears differently to different observers.

Hmmm.

Although many adult believers appear capable of understanding that the world appears differently to different observers, they seem incapable of understanding that the world may well be different to the way in which they have been indoctrinated to observe it; but why?

Good question. Better question, why does it matter? Can he answer that?

Despite strong prostrations to the contrary, open almost any religious book and you will find the soil in which unhealthy egocentrism is sown, particularly within the insane compendiums that form the foundations of the exclusivist Abrahamic faiths.

I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life… ~John 14:6

Surely the true religion with Allah is Islam…and whoever disbelieves in the communications of Allah then surely Allah is quick and reckoning.  ~ Quran 3:19

So you, Michael, aren’t making claims of exclusivity?

The mentality seems to be; “My beliefs, my god, my religion, my, my, my; me, me, me.” I think it is fair to say that this crude preoccupation with such stagnated, and stagnating beliefs, has been at the heart of much of the chaos wrought by both Islam and Christianity throughout their sordid histories.

What about your beliefs Michael? What’s wrong with “chaos”?

The Muslim conquests, the Christian Crusades, the Spanish and Goan inquisitions, the Fatwas, the apostasy-inspired murders, the oppression of women, the execution of heretics and homosexuals, the religious wars; all of this chaos can be explained by the psychological immaturity of exclusivist, and false-certainty-producing faiths.

History is an interesting subject and it is a very illuminating subject when approached through primary sources. All of his complaints require a grounding, one that can provide certainty to meaningfully say that any of those things that he lists were certainly wrong. History can tell you what happened, but it cannot give you any meaningful justification to pronounce moral judgement. That comes from somewhere else, by faith. Michael is tacitly expressing belief in a certain sense that he believes that those things were wrong, but what makes them wrong and why is he certain of it?

He continues, after giving a (self-serving) quote by Will Durant

Tolerance requires understanding, and understanding, in turn, requires psychological maturity.

No debate there.

I imagine this is why we don’t see too many scientists strapping bombs to their bodies to defend Darwin’s theory of evolution, or why not too many secular humanists lobby their governments to strip the human rights from same-sex couples.

We can debate this, but not here, and I find this debate between Andy Bannister, of Solas-CPC, and a secular humanist rights activist Peter Tatchell to be rather interesting in regards as to what human rights are and who can meaningfully define them.

According to the Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science:

“All psychological development may be described as a progressive loss of egocentrism and an increase in ability to take wider and more complex perspectives.” [2]

To which he then asks,

But how can a true believer ever truly tolerate other points of view if they have as their central or core belief, the perfection of their own “divinely inspired” worldview, particularly if that worldview has as inbuilt defense mechanism, i.e., the belief that any contrary worldview is inherently evil? How can they possibly take on wider and more complex perspectives about the world?

That’s a question that you have to answer, Michael. You are quick to talk about tolerance, but you refer to the beliefs of others as “psychological dead ends“, “socially acceptable delusions“, and “immature“, so you’ll pardon me if I hold you to your own standards and ask you to provide a justification for those conclusions? It seems like you’ve already made up your mind and don’t want to be confused by any facts.  I don’t think that you really know what “tolerance” means. He continues,

Short of realizing that their beliefs are wants, not necessities, they can’t.

Do you need to believe that, Michael, or do you want to? I think that Michael is making certain category errors and won’t own up to his own presuppositions.

So what happens in the mind of the believer when someone presents them with facts that come into conflict with their core beliefs? The believer, as we saw in the previous piece, will be forced to reconcile such dissonance-producing information with rationalizations, denial and other psychological strategies.

He doesn’t realize that what he is doing is a demonstration of his own cognitive dissonance. He wants to believe that what he believes is true, however when he is presented with something that contradicts it, his mental clutch slips and smokes in an attempt to hang on to what he believes is true. 

He continues, trying to demonstrate that there are problems that induce cognitive dissonance,

The earth is 6,000 years old Vs. Geology shows the earth to be billions of years old.

Both are assumptions based upon interpretations of evidence using unspecified presuppositions. The problem is that there are geologists who are Young Earth Creationists (YEC) and there are geologists that believe that the earth is billions of years old. So he’s simply being dishonest.  Geology doesn’t “show” anything, geologists do. If you’re convinced, by the arguments and evidence presented by YEC, great, wonderful. If you’re convinced by the arguments and evidence that the earth is billions of years old, likewise. However, as I’ve discussed here, even those arguments require a justification.

The bible says God created humans separately from other species Vs. The theory of evolution shows that humans are the descendants and relatives of non-human species.

Again, this is simply dishonest argumentation. The theory of evolution “shows” nothing, it is merely a theory of origins, among other competing theories.

Sins, witches and demons cause disease Vs. The germ theory.

“Sniff” “Sniff” Is that a straw man I smell?

Theistic evolution Vs. Obvious imperfections in nature.

Yep. It’s a straw man.

God is Good Vs. Epicurus’ problem of evil.

Epicurus’s “problem of evil” isn’t really a problem. It’s most modern formulation comes from David Hume’s, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, which says,

Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

Just think about it for a minute. The skeptic asking the question, has to be able to provide a justification by which to call anything “evil” apart from a Good God, within his own worldview. Even in the context of Hume’s own dialogue, which can be found here, on page 44, Philo, who is making the argument and raising the question, makes a common, yet erroneous assertion, saying,

[It] might be suggested, you still stick to your anthropomorphism, and assert that the moral attributes of God—his justice, benevolence, mercy, and uprightness—are of the same nature as these virtues in human creatures?

No Christian, with a biblical foundation for knowledge, would make such an argument. The truly Christian, i.e., biblical, argument is that the qualities of “justice, benevolence, mercy, and uprightness,” are qualities that are present in humans as his image bearers, and that is to say that evil is detected when those qualities that ought to be present aren’t. And, as simply a fact of human existence, we live in a fallen world. God is both willing and able to prevent evil, and he does, but at the same time, being upright, he also allows evil creatures to do evil to one another, and is just in doing so. At the heart of the assumption is that evil is meaningless, rather than the fact that it only has meaning, and is only evil if there is a Good God.

He continues,

To further illustrate the effects of cognitive dissonance, one need only reflect upon the reaction of the Church when Copernicus first published his; ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies,’ in which he correctly put forth the idea of a heliocentric solar system in contradiction to the biblical and ecclesiastic model at the time; the trial of Galileo; the execution of Giordano Bruno, or observe the continuing controversy over the fact of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  If history has taught us anything about the antagonistic relationship between religion and science, it is that if a scientific fact cannot be reconciled with scripture, and that fact strikes at a core belief incapable of being rationalized, it will be rejected and denied for belief’s sake.

I need a moment to recover to this absolutely ridiculous, a-historical nonsense. You can check out this playlist over at godnewevidence on YouTube which sets the record straight.

I find it rather interesting, and demonstrative of his own fideism, that Michael quotes the father of cognitive dissonance theory, especially this part of the quote,

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point…We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief.

There is nothing that I can say or do to change Michael’s mind, especially if he has made up his mind to believe something contrary. But there’s something telling about the quote, something that a real skeptic would automatically agree with: the questioning of sources, which goes to bias both in the gathering of the “facts and figures” and the handling of their sources.

All told, substitute “believer” for “atheist” and the argument still works. He was correct, he made some generalizations, and the problem is that they are so generalized that they apply to his own position.

I’m Guessing That They Didn’t Use the Dewey Decimal System 

I’m Guessing That They Didn’t Use the Dewey Decimal System 

How were books stored and accessed in the ancient world? Matthew Nicholls explores what the surviving evidence of ancient books can tell us about libraries in antiquity.The British Library holds many fragments of ancient books which can tell us something about how Greek literature was written down, read, and transmitted, from individual books to large libraries like the famous library at Alexandria.
– See more at: https://www.bl.uk/greek-manuscripts/articles/ancient-libraries#sthash.Qkuow5OC.dpuf

The Problem of Explanation

The Problem of Explanation

Sorry that it has been a while since I posted anything. The end of the semester has been rough. With teaching my class at church (the class begins here), finishing school projects and finals, my brain needed some downtime as well as the opportunity to look for new projects to start, like a potential book to write.

Something caught my eye, as is usually the case, that I thought needed a review and a response to: a post over at the Godless Mom blog titled, “How Do Atheists Explain Anything?” I thought that it might shed some light on how atheists think and I can say that I was not disappointed with what I found.

Skipping down from her profane introduction centered on the lyrics of a song, Godless Mom Courtney writes,

I’ve got this line in my head, because nothing is more fun than when theists demand an explanation for the unexplained, or the insufficiently explained phenomena that saturates our world, and that’s what’s on my mind. You’ve heard the questions before:

“As an atheist, how to do you explain consciousness?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain miracles?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain thoughts?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain all these amazing coincidences I experienced with no witnesses?”

You see? So much fun.

I think that she doesn’t see the problem, but she continues,

I think the absolute saddest thing about these questions – we’re talking a level of sadness that compares to Johnny Football’s pro career – is that with just one moment of reflection, you’ll see the flaw in them pretty quick. Asking said questions, is, for the theist, a willing admission that they believe that in the current moment in our unfolding history, we should be able to explain everything.

Um, no.  But she continues,

Not some things.

Not most things.

Everything.

I would argue that she misunderstands the nature of the questions. But she goes on,

Imagine that… seriously, just for a moment, imagine living as though there is no mystery left in our cosmos. Imagine living as though we know the answer to everything and there’s nothing more to learn or explore. No more frontiers, no more breakthroughs, no more mind-bending discoveries. I don’t know about you friendly folks, but to me, that worldview is devastatingly empty.

Seriously? Is that what she thinks?

I mean, think about it: If we, collectively, know everything already then this is the best we’re ever going to do. The state of the world right now is the best it will ever be. There will never be any new understandings that will allow us to cure the world’s many woes. There will be no further tech to help us help each other. No new medical breakthroughs, no new clean energy sources, no new ways to feed our growing human population and overcome famine.  How completely devoid of hope that idea is. That worldview is so bleak and depressing, I don’t know how anyone who actually believes this can even begin to cope with it.

Okay. She continues,

The theist who asks this question, of course, doesn’t really realize that this is what he is saying when he poses this question. He also doesn’t realize that he’s trying to assert that the only way he, himself, can be stumped about anything, is if something magical was the explanation. Instead, he’s caught up in vacuous gotchas. What he thinks he is so cleverly pointing out is that in an atheistic worldview some things cannot be explained, therefore said things must be attributed to god.

Skipping an unnecessary and condescending paragraph,

The goal here, of the theist, is to have the atheist suddenly realize that without god, there are some things we can’t explain. What the theist has not prepared for is that atheists don’t mind not knowing things. Atheists are okay with admitting there are gaps in our knowledge. Atheists don’t need to fill those gaps with illogical nonsense and magic creatures from the great beyond. Why? Because atheists prefer the feeling of hope, wonder and mystery that occupies those gaps.

Straw man, aisle 3.

Theists are missing the mark with these sorts of questions because the fact is, even if I couldn’t explain anything, it still doesn’t prove there is a god.

As I said, she doesn’t even understand the question being asked. It’s a question of epistemological grounds. What are “woes” and why do they need a “remedy” and why does it matter? That is what needs to be explained. The atheist might appeal to evolution, the problem is not that it doesn’t explain anything, rather it explains too much, and doesn’t provide the necessary justification for any beliefs, much less the belief in and of itself. Hence, it’s not that, “…without god, there are some things we can’t explain,” rather it’s that apart from God we cannot explain ANYTHING. All explanations, even an explanation for the ability to make an explanation, presuppose the existence of God, the Christian God, as the rational creator and sustainer of the universe to make such things possible.

Courtney continues,

Asking, “as an atheist, how do you explain…” in any form, is intellectually lazy because with just a moment’s thought, even the most devout theist can see the flaws.

Oh?

It’s an indication that the asker has not questioned anything to do with their own beliefs really – they’ve not thought them through on any real, meaningful level.

Pot, I’d like you to meet kettle.

Courtney believes that the person asking the question hasn’t questioned their own beliefs. Has she thought through her own beliefs? She needs to provide a meaningful grounding for being able to ask or answer any questions at all.

She continues,

In reality, we will never be able to explain everything – the atheist has come to terms with that and the sort of theist who poses these questions has not.

How about explaining why we can explain anything? I’ll take just that.  Why does the atheist have to come to terms with an inability to explain everything? Why do they have to come to terms at all? How does she explain what “reality” is or is not? She accuses the theist of not accepting this, but she doesn’t explain why that matters.

It’s sad, because saying “I don’t know” can be freeing and it opens up a path to discovery. If you admit you don’t know, you can still seek the answers. If you admit today that you don’t know, perhaps one day you will know.

Why is it sad, Courtney? Explain why saying “I don’t know” can free you to find a path for discovery. Explain why seeking answers matter. Explain why anything matters, given your worldview.

In closing, she wants her readers to let her know about the most absurd, “how do you explain” question that has been posed to them. Given the atheist worldview, her entire post is absurd. Ultimately, she fails to answer her own question, but then maybe she did, admitting that atheists cannot actually explain anything without admitting that they need God, confirming that they are actually suppressing what they know to be true.

Rethinking Noah’s Flood

Rethinking Noah’s Flood

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you have probably noticed that I have a unique perspective when it comes to presenting my faith and how I understand the Bible.

I am strong on inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. I just am not willing to place my eggs in the basket of a particular translation, or our modern understanding of the words chosen by the translators, which is why I have, from time to time, produced careful yet easy to understand exegesis of key texts that are often twisted in an attempt to make twist it (here, here, and here for example). And there’s no more misunderstood and misrepresented text than the flood account found in Genesis 6-11, and I’ve written about it.

Skeptics often claim that it never occurred. However, if we actually think about what the ancients wrote, with  and they seemed to write an awful lot, and think logically not with an a priori dismissive attitude, but actually look at the evidence, especially what we are finding in the ancient near east in regards to archaeology and geography, an I recently discovered a video produced by someone who seems to have done some homework and presents some compelling evidence and arguments. I will say that I disagree with some of his assumptions, especially the fact that he’s a theistic evolutionist, but he’s up front and honest and, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t let them override his presentation.

Watch, listen, examine for yourself.

 

How Much Evidence Does it Take to Believe?

How Much Evidence Does it Take to Believe?

That’s a valid question.

I guess it ultimately depends on what you are being asked to believe and that should be the foundation of the question. That’s what seems to be reasonable. And we want what is reasonable, at least that is what some claim, but as I’ve argued, reason and being reasonable requires grounding.

Neil, over at the blog Godless in Dixie, asks such a question in a post titled, “Faith: Believing Without (Enough) Evidence“. Neil describes himself as having, “spent two decades of my life passionately pursuing the ideals of evangelical Christianity“, before having abandoned it.

Neil begins,

Nobody likes having their intelligence insulted, so it’s not hard to see why Christians push back when they are told that faith means “believing without evidence.” On the contrary, Christians very much believe they have evidence for the things they believe in (e.g. the resurrection of Jesus), although what they consider “evidence” may look quite different from what skeptics want when they use the word.

Right off the bat he begins insulting the intelligence of the thoughtful reader by committing the quite common logical fallacy of atheists who simply assert as a fact that faith just means, without question, to be “believing without evidence”. Anyone with a meaningful grasp of how language works knows that words often have more than one definition, and definition is ultimately determined by the usage of the word in a particular context. He’s correct in stating that we “believe [we] have evidence for the things that [we] believe in”, just as he’s correct in saying that, “[it] may look very different from what skeptics want when they use the word [evidence].” That’s true, because different types of claims require different types of evidence. There seems to be a tacit admission, on his part, that there are differences in such things, but the question is can he be consistent? We shall see.

He mentions Peter Boghossian’s caricature in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists of faith as an epistemology, something, I think, Tim McGrew handles wonderfully in this discussion with Boghossian on the Unbelievable podcast. But he goes on to say that,

Leaving aside the slippery semantics of the word “faith” for a moment, I’d like to address this issue of believing without evidence. I’ve argued elsewhere that the kinds of evidence which the Christian faith envisions should satisfy us fall into two basic categories: the Bible and personal experience. (link removed)

His “argued elsewhere” is dependent upon making distinctions without a difference, which is just more of those “slippery semantics” and the fact that he’s assuming that the definition that he insists on using is based on a fallacy of logic. I, personally, downplay personal experience of most Christians as they sometimes put it forward, especially when it comes to feelings simply because they are so subjective; however, as much as he wants to, again, assert that somehow the Bible is not evidence, especially when he later will use it that way to support an assertion, makes my inconsistency meter peg out.

Under the heading “What Kind of Evidence?”, Neil writes,

First and foremost, we are told again and again that the testimony of the writers of the Bible should be enough for us. Presumably that’s because the writers themselves were supposed to have been eyewitnesses to the events they detail therein.

Yes, if they were indeed men who had, “seen His glory”, then that, logically should “be enough.” There’s no doubt in the minds of the 2nd generation writers, Clement, Ignatius, or Polykarp to name a few, themselves claiming to be taught by the apostles, that they aren’t. The only reason to doubt that would therefore be on the basis of certain presuppositions rather than any evidence to the contrary. He continues saying,

That is far from a settled matter, I’m afraid, as the New Testament writings with the most clearly discernible authorship come from a man who never even met Jesus in the first place.

Actually, he (Paul the Apostle) does claim to have met him, so that is simply false.

Referring to what many New Testament scholars classify as a primitive credal statement found in 1 Corinthians 15, Neil says,

[That’s] second-hand or even third-hand information, as he wouldn’t have even been among those people himself two decades earlier, not to mention the fact he didn’t even give the names of any of them so that anyone could go interview them for themselves. Given that it would have taken weeks for that letter’s recipients to travel from Corinth to Jerusalem, it wouldn’t have been a practical possibility, anyway.

First, can we ask Paul himself? Why yes, we can!

…after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Print.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is dated about 3-4 years earlier than 1 Corinthians, and he pointedly states that he went to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion and met withcount them— TWO other witnesses. Second, 1 Corinthians is a letter of correction to an established church and he falsely assumes that the recipients would have to travel to Jerusalem. We know that the apostles traveled to various churches, so they wouldn’t have had to travel there anyway. They could, and some did, especially if they were observant Jews or curious. People moved around all the time. It was the Roman Empire at the height of the Pax Romana, there were roads and regular ships traveling there. Time is simply an irrelevant factor. Third, the fact that he does not name them in the letter does not mean that they weren’t known to the Corinthians already or that their names could not be found out, it is simply assumed.

Neil continues by saying,

The whole Bible keeps going this way once you really dig into what we know that we can know about the reliability of this religious text. All things considered, ancient writings leave an awful lot to be desired where external validation is concerned (cue the apologist’s itchy fingers).

Consider them “cued”: I would like to weigh the reliability of the Bible as a historical text based on the amount of textual witnesses against any other historical document from antiquity, which it simply blows any other competition out of the water in terms of accuracy and availability of evidence. However, this is again a question of consistency that is being begged since he is making an assertion based upon a misrepresentation of the facts, since what is argued by scholars is that the credal statement is being repeated by Paul to the Corinthian believers as a reminder of what they have believed, not as an exhaustive list of witnesses, that can be constructed from Paul’s other letters.

Just check this graphic which compares just the New Testament documents to any other comparable historical document.2013.10.20.X Reliability of New Testament – Dr. James White – 102613135517

On the issue of “personal experience”, Neil states,

[We] are told that the resurrected Jesus can be known directly through personal experience, and I will have to confess that for many years I believed I was experiencing a relationship with him myself. To make a long story short, I now believe I was responsible for conjuring that experience myself through my own creative imagination. I would submit the same is true for everyone else who believes they are experiencing a relationship with an invisible person who somehow lives inside of them, but I’m not going to spend very much time trying to convince them that’s the case because, quite frankly, some people need Jesus in their lives. Who am I to take him away from them? (author’s emphasis)

Let’s just dispense with the straw man: no Christian, that I know, argues that they are, “[…]experiencing a relationship with an invisible person who somehow lives inside them…” There is a necessary distinction between the inward reality of regeneration, brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit and that subjective experience must be measured against the objective standard of Scripture. So when Paul says,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Print.

Given the context of the preceding verse and the end of the statement, what Paul is referring to when he says that “Christ…lives in me”, what Paul is arguing is that Christ’s righteousness that has been imputed to Paul by his faith, only made possible by the Spirit of God himself regenerating every believer. So, on the contrary, his claim is therefore false since it is Christ who creates and maintains the relationship to believers by his salvific act, and believers simply have to live in light of it.

Neil complains,

But they won’t afford me the same courtesy. They will not—they cannot—simply let me get on with my life without trying to convince me that I am missing out on a life far better than the kind I could ever live without knowing this person who lives inside their heads.

Again with the straw man? Just refer to my previous statement.

Neil continues,

So from time to time I have to stop and point out a couple of things that they keep forgetting.

The Christian faith demands we believe things without sufficient evidence to believe them. (author’s emphasis)

Who determines what is or is not “sufficient evidence”? Again, this simply depends on what one is trying to prove or support. But let’s see how he supports this assertion.

Neil writes,

It’s not that we’re supposed to believe them without evidence of any kind, it’s just that the kinds of evidence we’re supposed to accept isn’t really enough, nor should it be for anyone possessing the most basic critical thinking skills. (author’s emphasis)

Let’s be clear: ANY evidence gives a reason to believe something based upon the arguments derived from a meaningful and consistent interpretation of it as a task of the most basic critical thinking skills. He continues,

We are often told that all truth is God’s truth, and that he made us to be thinking creatures, so we shouldn’t have to check our brains at the door of the church.

Yes.

Neil says,

But then we are told we must become as little children, which means among other things that we should trust the word of those who tell us that Jesus really is (or was) who he says he is (or was). We are to put aside our demand for evidence and believe that whatever the Bible says without further ado.

facepalm1

Um, no. We trust on the basis of the evidence provided by their testimony. Former atheist J. Warner Wallace, in his book Cold Case Christianity, writes,

As a skeptic, I believed that the Gospels were penned in the second century and were similarly worthless. If they were written that late, they were not eyewitness accounts. It’s really as simple as that; true eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus would have lived (and written) in the first century. The first criterion of eyewitness reliability requires us to answer the question “Were the alleged eyewitnesses present in the first place?” (p.160)

After setting out a case involving 11 points of evidence, Wallace concludes,

The reasonable inference from the circumstantial evidence is that the Gospels were written very early in history, at a time when the original eyewitnesses and gospel writers were still alive and could testify to what they had seen.(p.171)

As for what it means to “become as little children”, it refers to their innocence, humility, and lack of prejudice, something that the disciples, in the incident that the phrase is derived from, were not acting like. Sheesh.

Under the heading, “Thomas: Patron Saint of Skepticism”, Neil writes,

At first glance, the story of Thomas doubting the resurrection appears to teach us that asking for evidence is okay. Thomas had to see for himself that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and he wouldn’t be satisfied until he could touch the places on Jesus’s hands (I assume he meant wrists) where the nails used to be.

Well, he didn’t exactly ask.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  (John 20:25, ESV)

It’s downright impudence. He was essentially calling his closest friends “liars”, to their faces, saying in paraphrase, “Unless I see…, I will never believe.” This is not some gentle skepticism, it is a downright refusal to believe.

Neil writes,

At last, a person in the Bible with whom the modern skeptic can relate! This story would seem to relay that it’s okay for us to be the way we are, demanding the evidence we need, in order to accept a claim that strains credibility to say the least. People just don’t come back from the dead (have you ever seen it happen?), even though I must add that it wouldn’t have been so difficult for Thomas to accept if the city of Jerusalem only a few hours earlier had been inundated with people long dead but recently emerged out of their graves.

Actually, this “inundation” is something of a misnomer since we don’t have a number to define who these “saints” were. There’s argument over whether or not the passage in Matthew that he’s referring to is original to Matthew, if he’s making some point with a known literary device, given his penchant for taking pot-shots at various people, or if this is something that actually happened. The fact that we find no evidence outside of the Scripture that either denies it or supports it, given the fact that ancient writers, if they agreed with something would let it stand unchallenged, just puts a big ol’ question mark on it for me. If it happened, fine, if not, if it is not some interpolation, then it meant something else, maybe referring to the apostles, who were raised in faith. But, Neil continues,

But that’s not how the story ends. Whoever wrote this gospel couldn’t help but take a parting shot at the very critical thinking skills we are told God gave us in order to use for everything else except for examining the claims of the Bible.(link removed)

He quotes John 20:29, which reads in the English Standard Version,

Have you believed because you have seen me?

The question itself should cause the person who does think critically to stop and think about what Thomas has said in the past, in his abject refusal to believe. If anything, Jesus’ question puts Neil on notice: is this what it takes for you to believe? Now, whether the next statement are Jesus’ own words, or the conclusion drawn by John, is something worthy of debate, but it is telling,

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.

To that, Neil writes,

Well, it was nice while it lasted. For a second there, it almost seemed as if the Bible were going to affirm critical thinking skills and acknowledge the validity of asking for evidence before one believes. But it was too good to be true. In the end, we are told, the greatest virtue lies with those who believe what they are told without demanding further evidence.

What does Neil mean by “evidence“? He just pointed his audience to the evidence: the testimony of John. It’s that lack of self-reflection that causes me to question his critical thinking skills. The question that Neil seems to be avoiding is whether Thomas’ demand was for evidence or simply a reason to not believe?

Neil continues,

Credulity, it would seem, is a cardinal virtue for the Christian faith. In fact, if there were enough evidence to simply know something were true, it wouldn’t be called “faith” at all, would it?

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source: http://www.bing.com

The lack of self-reflection is absolutely stunning. Neil, buddy, if you accept something to be true based upon evidence, you believe it, and “belief” is a synonym for “faith“. You’re simply playing semantic games here. Neil’s own credulity should be subject to question. But he goes on,

Believing just a little bit further beyond the point at which empirical evidence trails off is precisely what faith is about. That’s why we have a different word from it in the first place. (Emphasis added)

This is simply a word game. The instant that he has enough evidence he will believe, he will have faith, not in something for which there’s no evidence, but based upon the evidence. He simply denies what he empirically has access to, right now. He’s, in effect, undermining his own argument. I have to wonder if this guy skipped chapter 16.

The Christian points to the Bereans who,

…examined the Scriptures every day to see if what [was] said was true.(Acts 17:11, ESV)

They had a high demand for evidence, sought it out, and concluded, based upon the evidence available to them, what they were hearing was true. Does Neil question their critical thinking skills? No. Why? He doesn’t because it would undermine his thesis. It’s not that Neil is a thoughtful skeptic, rather he’s a willful unbeliever.

This is something that needs to be considered, and considered thoughtfully: do you believe, based upon the evidence, that Jesus is Lord, and Lord of all, and Savior of all that believe now, here and now, without seeing Him, or will you believe when you stand before Him as your judge, which the evidence also testifies to? One belief leads to salvation from sin and the judgment that accompanies it, extended in mercy today, by living in repentance and faith in the evidence. The other belief results in accountability for sin and incurs the wrath of a holy and just God towards sin.

For further reading, see my post on epistemology and check out the debate below which centers on 1 Corinthians 15