Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 11

Continuing in this series of responses to J.H. McKenna’s post, we look at these jewels,

The heavenly Father is like an earthy father who continually watches over his toddler children and allows them to handle sharp knives and then blames them and not himself when they cut themselves and each other.

So, this is the “God-is-a-wreckless-parent” objection. It needs to be contrasted with the “God-is-the-overbearing-parent” objection. It is basically that God, having made positive revelation of his desires for his creatures, doesn’t step in and constantly pull his rebellious children apart and take them to task. Let’s take this apart: God told us who we are, what we’re supposed to do, and when we don’t believe and we rebel, God is at fault. Two words: yeah and right. Am I being a bit dismissive? Hell yeah I’m being dismissive because it’s a nonsensical analogy.

When a miracle is advanced as proof of the soundness of a religion, this says the religion cannot be believed as a matter of normal persuasion.

I’m sorry, it appears as if there’s a missing premise What is “normal persuasion”? I do notice one thing, and I’ve seen it commonly advanced, and it’s a common confusion of the term “religion”. Islam and Mormonism will often put forward miracle claims to say that one should be a Muslim or a Mormon, and I’m not equating these two, but this fundamentally causes a confusion of categories. Let me chase a momentary rabbit.

Historically, Christianity was first seen as a sect of Judaism, the Jewish religion, and it was not until there was a meaningful break sometime around the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century that Christianity, even though it still appealed to Jewish beliefs, it was seen as distinct. There’s a great deal of differentiation that took place in the 2nd century to make Judaism and Christianity appear as separate entities, and indeed they are. But you cannot point to Christianity and call it a religion, we can call religions “Christian” and we can call Christians “religious” but it’s hard to call Christianity itself a religion. Christianity is built on a miracle: the miracle of a man being raised from the dead as a positive justification of his claims, claims that he was God.

People don’t believe it as a matter of “normal persuasion”. Okay, so what? The Christian assertion is that whatever “normal persuasion” is, it doesn’t work. It takes a supernatural act to believe.

Geography is fate where religion is concerned. Almost no one chooses a religion but merely absorbs the local religion on offer in a geographic area at a given moment in history. As such, most people who have ever lived have never been Christians and the message of Christianity never reached them.

Yeah, so what? It doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the grave, which means that the Bible is true and why geography matters, and why  proclamation of Christ is so important. Abraham wasn’t a “Christian”. David wasn’t a “Christian”. It has nothing to do with “being a Christian” and all about man’s rebellion and God’s justice.

Without indoctrinating children, few people would have religion. Children are not ‘born believers’ anywhere.

Well, I’ve written briefly about the issue of indoctrination, but let’s employ a change of subject. Without teaching children to ride bicycles, there would be fewer bicycle riders. Justin Barrett, in his book Born Believers, which refutes that assertion, makes that parallel saying

[We] get some abilities through special training, instruction, using special tools, and lots and lots of practice. Consider riding  a bike. Once you’ve mastered riding a bicycle, your body seems to  just know how to do it. You don’t have to think about it—to consciously remember how to balance, steer, and control a bicycle’s  speed. You just do it.


Barrett goes on to say that this training gives the person who is taught a structure where they can operate in a variety of ways, that bicycle riding itself is not natural, but rather it serves to hone innate skills that we already have and give them a more specialized application. He calls this “nature vs expertise”, comparing the inherent religious nature of human beings to the difference between speaking and reading. You learn to speak by being around people who speak and being spoken to, but reading takes skill, and being able to understand what one reads is an entirely other skill. Religion operates in a similar fashion. The point being people are going to be religious; the question is, what are they going to be religious about?

I think this quote from chapter 8 of Barrett’s book is a sufficient refutation of the assertion though,

Foremost, cultural anthropologists, religious studies scholars, and  people raised in religious communities find the indoctrination hypothesis a caricature of what typically happens in religious communities. Rather than coerce, threaten, and bully children into belief,  adults simply believe in the forest spirits, ancestors, witches, or God  and act accordingly. They conduct the appropriate rituals, say prayers,  discuss the meaning of life events, wonder about the activities of  gods, and go about life as if gods were just as natural, normal, and certain as air, gravity, or germs. Ethnographies of religious belief and  practice in traditional societies often stress the commonness of religious discourse and how it is neatly woven into daily life. Not until  the past couple of hundred years, and only still in a minority of the  world’s societies, has religious thought or belief been treated as  something extra or added on to regular day-to-day thought and practice. (emphasis added)
Hmmm. Very interesting.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.



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