Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Comment Thread to a Christian Nation



Last year, when I criticized
C.S. Lewis (arguably the most famous Christian apologist of the 20th century), I wrote, "If [his book] Mere Christianity is the best defense of Christianity today, then that religion (at least the way it’s practiced today) is in even more trouble than I thought."

One of the aspirants to Lewis' throne is Vox Day, author of The Irrational Atheist, and host of the popular Vox Popoli website. As the title of his book implies, Vox sees himself as a proud, unapologetic defender of Christianity and an ardent foe of atheism. To that, I say: "Good." We need more rational defenses of faith - and while I myself am not a Christian - I welcome a rational defense of that religion. In fact, I've always kept the door open to that religion (or any religion) based on the facts and the evidence that comes with it.

Well...Today, Vox posted a new new essay,
Letter to Common Sense Atheism. And based on that essay - and the discussion which unfolded afterward - I can safely say that Mr. Vox is not the man who will successfully convert atheists to God, or theists (like myself) to Christianity.


This was my original comment...

Vox writes, "Why am I a Christian? Because I believe in evil. "

I don't know to what extent Vox wants to persuade his non-Christian readers , but if that is his mission, I, for one, am not persuaded.

As I wrote in my essay, "Why I Am Not A Christian (At Least Not Yet)"...

The 'truth' of Christianity rests on the validity of Revelation - the numerous Revelations of the Old Testament (in which God plays an active role in human affairs) and the Revelation of the New Testament (in which the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to redeem humanity). The fact that Jesus was a nice guy or that the 10 Commandments are 'good principles of living' are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the Revelation...

Where is the evidence for God’s Revelation? Yes, I think it is fair to ask for some evidence – some fact that can be identified by the senses, and integrated by our rational brains – something like say, the existence of the Ark of the Covenant, or an independent, non-Biblical account of Jesus' ministry (even the Gospels were written at least 3 decades after his death). There is none.

But the issue goes beyond sensory, historical evidence. Perhaps we could accept 'on faith' that Christianity is true – even if the physical evidence was lacking – if we had strong reason to believe – through experience - that God’s Word (as expressed through the Bible) was valid. In other words: Is it reasonable to affirm that the practice of Christianity (just the practice) leads to morality, happiness, and success? Again, the answer is 'no.' And in many cases, Christianity leads to just the opposite: immorality, despair, and failure.

Why?

Well, that’s a complicated issue. But in the interest of time, I will simply say, “Because it is not consistent with Reality.” There are too many Christian teachings that are either contradictory or flat-out wrong to lead people to a better future. It is not unreasonable of us to expect that God’s Word would be better than Christianity what has delivered thus far (more understandable, more universal, and certainly more positive in its results).

How did Vox reply? Very rationally and convincingly...

Another non-reader of TIA, I see. This is a remarkably ignorant argument. Like far too many atheists, you clearly don't understand the word "evidence". I suggest you consult a dictionary.

This didn't sit well with me. So I replied..

Number one, I'm not an atheist. I believe in God. And number two...um...Wow...your rebuttal is to suggest that I "consult a dictionary." That's pitiful, man. Seriously.

VD:
No, Todd, what is pitiful is that you need to consult a dictionary because clearly you do not understand the meaning of the word "evidence". Now, you may not be an atheist, but it is a VERY common atheist error to confuse "scientific evidence" with "evidence". And that is all that is required to rebut your very common and very ignorant argument.

You see, it is totally irrelevant how unconvincing you may personally find the evidence to be, the indisputable fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of evidence supporting the claim of God's Revelation. And the Bible is itself historical evidence, by every historical standard very reliable historical evidence, which makes the statement that there is no evidence of God's Revelation downright absurd. And, as has already been pointed out, there are numerous independent, non-Biblical accounts of Jesus Christ's ministry.

Of course, this won't cause you to change your mind because a complete absence of evidence is not the real reason you don't believe, that's merely your ex post facto rationalization for an absence of belief. It's entirely normal, of course, but don't fool yourself. Now that you know your stated grounds for belief have been disproved, you don't feel any need to believe, so you'll simply move your personal goalposts to "scientific evidence" or something. Which is fine, and again, entirely normal.

Never mind, of course, that science can't even seem to decide if butter is healthy or unhealthy based on the evidence.

Me:
VD: “There is a great deal of evidence supporting the claim of God's Revelation.”

TW: Fine. Then say that, dude! Don’t tell me to “consult a dictionary to define evidence” which is not only rude, but also blatantly unwarranted based on what I had written.

VD: “There are numerous independent, non-Biblical accounts of Jesus Christ's ministry.”

TW: Really? Name one.

VD: Of course, this won't cause you to change your mind because a complete absence of evidence is not the real reason you don't believe, that's merely your ex post facto rationalization for an absence of belief.”

TW: Dude why are you so angry at me? I’m trying to have a good-faith discussion with your readers, and you inject by projecting a negative psychoanalytical fantasy on me. Do you really think that helps build your credibility, either with me or your readers?

VD replies (and then I reply again), but you get the point. Obviously, VD is very eager to question my motives without ever addressing the concerns I raised in my original post. And his demand that I "look up the word 'evidence' in the dictionary" is downright bizarre. I'm tempted to say it's a sign of a pretty mediocre mind. But that wouldn't be very Christian of me!


Anyway, what I said about C.S. Lewis last year applies equally to Vox Day: If Vox is the best Christian apologist alive, then Christianity is in more even more trouble than I thought.

The rationale of the "Voxsphere" can be summarized by what I wrote regarding Andrew Sullivan's blog a while back...

The basic atheist argument is: “There’s no proof for the existence in God; it’s irrational.” And the typical Christian response is: “There’s no proof that God does NOT existence. Thus, I have the right to believe whatever I want.” While the words change, the basic argument is repeated over and over again.

I keep waiting for the NEXT email to actually be interesting and informative, but it never happens.

I can only bow my head and ask: We can do better than this, can’t we?? Can’t we??

Vox, if you're reading this: It ain't nothin' personal, dude. I'll still swing by your website periodically (it's still on my Blog Lost), and I'll comment when the mood strikes me. But as an apologist for Christianity, you ain't that good. Sorry.

Anyway...The whole comment thread is worth reading - if only to experience the futility of Christian fundamentalist logic...I try to ground my arguments in reason, but it doesn't faze them. I ask for responses based on reason, but I never get them. Oh well. They're better than the Gamers, but not by much.

To be continued...


Note: The title of my post is a spoof of Sam Harris' best seller, Letter to a Christian Nation.

Note: This recent blog post by
Will Wilkinson contains some good info regarding debate skills. When I see those skills exhibited by Mr. Day, I might start taking him more seriously.

-Todd


**UPDATE, SEP. 22, 2009**



Oh dear! It looks like a lot of my comments on Vox's thread were deleted. I'm guessing that's not a accident.

Eh, whatever. I already cut and pasted the old thread (with all of my comments) into a separate Word document (Yep, I ain't kidding). Sometimes it pays to be paranoid!


**UPDATE, SEP. 22, 2009, PART 2**



Yep, Vox confirms it. My rational, thoughtful questions and answers were deleted without provocation. Needless to say, this confirms my earlier statement above...

Vox, if you're reading this: It ain't nothin' personal, dude. I'll still swing by your website periodically (it's still on my Blog Lost), and I'll comment when the mood strikes me. But as an apologist for Christianity, you ain't that good. Sorry.

And that was BEFORE my comments were deleted.

A good Christian apologist would never engage in such a malicious behavior to stifle a debate. I can see no justification for it.

Needless to say, I won't be returning to his website anytime soon.


30 comments:

Justin said...

In my experience and analysis as a professor of comparative religions, with a specialty in cross-religious apologetics and polemics, I have come to realize that you can't logic yourself (or anyone else) into belief. In fact, I have found that two people can look at the exact same piece of data and come to opposite conclusions.

Quite simply, we lack ultimate knowledge. Some things we can never have any hope of truly knowing. Many things we CAN know, or at least gather evidence for, and I can assure you, the historical and rational basis of Christianity is about the strongest of any religion (for the record, I came to appreciate Christianity after I got my religion degrees from a secular university, I was not raised Christian, nor given any pro-Christian education).

We investigate with our reason to make sure we aren't falling for something false or destructive. But in the end, it comes down to choice and allegiance.

Jesus is the best thing to ever happen to this planet, on so many different levels. I'll stand with him.

Todd White said...

J: "I have come to realize that you can't logic yourself (or anyone else) into belief."

T: In principle, I disagree. It's rare, yes. But it can be done. Heck, I did it.

J: "Jesus is the best thing to ever happen to this planet, on so many different levels."

T: Well, personally, I think the historical evidence makes that conclusion debatable (the Incas and the Aztecs, in particular, may beg to differ).

Having said that, I do consider modern American Christianity to be a force for good in the world. I don't think it's "the truth," but it's better than atheism.

Justin said...

Todd, you should look into the pre-Christian religions of Central America before you use them as an example. As rough as the Spaniards treated them, the cruelty content of their world went way down after the conquest.

Todd White said...

J: I'm aware that pre-Columbian America was no picnic, but the behavior of the Spaniards was abominable.

The logic you're using would imply that the Eastern Europeans should be grateful that Russians imposed Communism on them during the Cold War, because it was slightly better than the Nazi warlords they suffered under before them.

Justin said...

Let's be careful to define our terms. I am not defending the behavior of the Conquistadors. I am saying that the elimination of the native paganism was a huge positive gain for the natives themselves. Additionally, the work of the people devoted to the Gospel was another huge positive.

It is standard anti-Christian rhetoric to lay all the negatives of Western Civ at the feet of the religion of Christ, which is not only unfair, but rather absurd.

Todd White said...

J: "I am saying that the elimination of the native paganism was a huge positive gain for the natives themselves."

T: "A huge positive?" I would say it was substituting one terrible yoke for a less terrible yoke.

J: "It is standard anti-Christian rhetoric to lay all the negatives of Western Civ at the feet of the religion of Christ, which is not only unfair, but rather absurd."

T: I certainly don't blame all of the negatives of Western Culture on Christianity. I only examine things that were done specifically in the name of Christ. Hence, I used the example of the Spanish Conquistadors.

Anonymous said...

"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason." - GK Chesterton

Todd White said...

Chesterton: "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason."

It's not? Really? Actually, that's the very definition of madness.

Madness = the losing of one's mind; the loss of one's rational capacity.

Anonymous said...

Actually Stalin was quite rational. His rational capacity was astounding. To methodically and systematically slay 60 million people while oppressing millions more is a feat requiring the highest focus and intelligence.

"Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." Gilbert K. Chesterton

Todd White said...

"Actually Stalin was quite rational. His rational capacity was astounding."

Stalin used rational means to achieve an irrational end. Communism is irrational. It is contrary to human nature. And it is deadly for that very reason.

"Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."

Oh God, that's horrible! If Chesteron (or any person) actually believes that nonsense, they are cursed to a life of existential despair and anxiety. No exceptions.

Anonymous said...

It is human nature to oppress one's fellow man to gain advantage (perhaps it's evolutionary advantage for one's genes). Stalin was simply following his nature. How is this irrational?

If you believe Chesteron had "existential despair and anxiety" then you have obviously never read Chesteron.

I suspect that for some reason you have a problem with the word "faith" -- since in your mind it means "blind faith" or "magical thinking" or some other nonsense (when really "faith" simply means "trust" -- pi'stis in Koine Greek of the Bible).

Very well, let's rephrase the quote:

"Reason is itself a matter of trusting an axiom. It is an act of presupposing to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."

Since you are a fan of Rand's epistimology you might want to read this:

http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/without_a_prayer.htm

Better yet, read the actual book reviewed.

Todd White said...

It is human nature to oppress one's fellow man to gain advantage (perhaps it's evolutionary advantage for one's genes). Stalin was simply following his nature. How is this irrational?

TW: A life philosophy which encourages people to "just follow their genes" is by definition irrational because it denies and precludes the possibility of human reason.

If you believe Chesteron had "existential despair and anxiety" then you have obviously never read Chesteron.

TW: I'm familiar enough with Chesteron to know that he was an above-average Christian thinker. Obviously, based on those 2 quotes you sent me, that's not saying much.

I suspect that for some reason you have a problem with the word "faith" -- since in your mind it means "blind faith" or "magical thinking" or some other nonsense (when really "faith" simply means "trust" -- pi'stis in Koine Greek of the Bible).

TW: Words matter. Faith has a meaning for which the statement you make shouldn't apply. For a good definition of faith (by a Christian, no less), see this quote by Lawrence Auster...

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/08/weekly-wrap-up_28.html

"Reason is itself a matter of trusting an axiom. It is an act of presupposing to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."

TW: But they DO have a "relation to reality." Thus, I have no need to trust it. It's like saying, "I trust that I'm typing at my keyboard this instant." The phrase is meaningless. I AM typing at this keyboard.

Since you are a fan of Rand's epistimology you might want to read this:

TW: I just bookmarked it. I'll try to read through it later today.

Todd White said...

OK, I was intrigued enough to read the essay.

A few points which I made at Vox's blog yesterday, which were then deleted...

1) The senses are not the only source of knowledge. However, they ARE the foundation of knowledge. In addition, we have a rational brain which can integrate the knowledge gained by the senses and make further deductions based on that knowledge.

2) I think the author is correct that Rand believed in a "tabula rasa," and if that's the case, I disagree with Rand and agree with the author. The human being DOES HAVE consciousness which has a non-material source (but is dependent on a material substance - namely the brain).

3) While the essay is above-average in critiquing Rand's philosophy, it is worth pointing out that the author never articulates an alternative philosophy. Of course, I presume his philosophy is Christianity. And if that's case, I seriously doubt he would be more persuasive in making the case for Christianity than Rand was for Objectivism.

In any case, I'm not an Objectivist, so I really don't have a dog in that fight.

Anonymous said...

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1

The evidence says that God spoke.

You choose to disregard the evidence.

I choose to accept it.

We have both made a rational decisions.

Your argument may be that I have NOT made a rational decision but made a decision on "faith," but that is your error. Either it's evidence or it is not. A is A. Rationally, there is only two choices, either He spoke, or He did not.

My Faith in God is not simply a recognition of the evidence of His existance and His Word, but is relational -- I trust Him, just as my faith in my wife has little to do with believing in her existance or not. I have the additional testimony of having communicated with God through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you can call me a liar, but you are simply making a faith-based judgment of my dishonesty.

Todd White said...

The evidence says that God spoke.

TW: I have not seen that evidence. And when I actively soliciting it yesterday at Vox's blog, I was told to look up the word "evidence" in the dictionary and then booted.

We have both made a rational decision.

TW: If you believe that Chesterton quote, I highly doubt that, because you believe that "reason equals faith" which negates the meaning of both terms.

There is only two choices, either He spoke, or He did not.

TW: My position, as of today, is that He did not speak.

I have the additional testimony of having communicated with God through the Holy Spirit.

TW: If that is the case, then the evidence for His existence - at least from your perspective - IS rational (using my definition of the word "rational"). However, unfortunately for me (and I guess everyone else) that experience can't be replicated, and thus I must continue to approach this issue with skepticism.

Anonymous said...

Evidence that God spoke:

- The Bible
- The Church
- The Holy Spirit

I actually said that I have faith in my reason. So do you. We both start with a priori assumptions and work our way up.

Regarding experiencing the Holy Spirit, that is something that all Christians have replicated following their conversion.

Unfortunately for you, you do have to take my word and the word of other Christians on it (unless you choose to accept Christ yourself, in which you will experience the Holy Spirit).

In other words, you would have to accept my word based on trust (faith) that I wasn't lying. This being the Intertubes, I don't expect you do that for me personally. But there are plenty of sources in the real world for you to interview.

There is nothing wrong with being skeptical. I was skeptical for 25 years myself. But if Christians are so blatantly irrational, why are you bothering to communicate with them?

Todd White said...

Regarding experiencing the Holy Spirit, that is something that all Christians have replicated following their conversion.

Unfortunately for you, you do have to take my word and the word of other Christians on it (unless you choose to accept Christ yourself, in which you will experience the Holy Spirit).

TW: Ah yes. Thank you, Sir. I love that: "You do have to take my word and the word of other Christians on it."

Yes, now we are at the heart of the matter. In my book, Mark (the Christian) essentially says the same thing to Brian (the protagonist): "You must trust us. And once you trust us, you will FEEL the truth."

At the risk of spoiling the middle of the book, Brian DOES trust God and Mark and the Christians, and while it does FEEL good for awhile, that feeling is not sustainable because it is contradictory to his rational mind and his experience of Reality. Thus, he eventually abandons Christianity.

If Christians are so blatantly irrational, why are you bothering to communicate with them?

TW: A fair question. In fact, you might even say, "it's irrational for a rational person to try to communicate with an irrational person, and thus, he himself, becomes irrational!"

Whoa, my head is spinning!

But seriously, the real answer is that I am sincerely interested in how other people experience, understand, and justify their faith. I'm an intellectually curious person. Love me for what I am.

Justin said...

You said "I only examine things that were done specifically in the name of Christ. Hence, I used the example of the Spanish Conquistadors." But that is avoiding the issue. I said the improvement was from "the work of the people devoted to the Gospel."

People do all kinds of wacky things in the name of spreading Christianity, which CHRIST HIMSELF CONDEMNS:

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not ... done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

I understand people's problems with historical Christianity. Frankly, that is exactly what the enemy wants you to focus on... lest you encounter Christ.

Todd White said...

J: "People do all kinds of wacky things in the name of spreading Christianity, which CHRIST HIMSELF CONDEMNS."

T: I should clarify. Yes, if a crazy guy kills an abortion doctor because he said "Christ told me to" that does not discredit Christianity. Not at all.

However, that is quite different from the examples I used in my earlier post - especially the Inquisition.

When the Church itself is the instigator of the evil and does it in the name of Christ, then skeptical people like myself have a right to question how well Christian leaders truly understand their faith, or - if they DO understand it correctly - how beneficial that faith truly is.

Anonymous said...

I have a guess. You don't know very many Bible-believing Christians in real life. So you give the the standard "reasonist" answer than I am just a deluded idiot. It's insulting. And boring enough to make me move onto something more interesting.

But moving on: The Holy Spirit is NOT an emotional feeling. It's a real presence, as real as any other sensory data. That you present the Christian's experience as "contradictory to his rational mind and his experience of Reality" is simply begging the question.

Perhaps you label logical fallacies (such as question begging) as "rational." Perhaps logic plays no role in your definition of "reason."

Speaking of trust issues, I don't believe you are interested in how other people experience, understand, and justify their faith. I see little evidence of an intellectually curious person. I see someone with very little understanding of theology, the Bible and church history, standing on a soap-box and preaching about a make-believe conflict between "reason vs. faith" -- like it hasn't been discussed to death in 2000 years. It's boring.

Todd White said...

Anon: "I have a guess. You don't know very many Bible-believing Christians in real life."

TW: Actually, I do. I can think of at least 5 close friends. Plus most of my family.

Anon: "The Holy Spirit is NOT an emotional feeling. It's a real presence, as real as any other sensory data."

TW: I'm open to that possibility. But it's not a part of MY sensory data or MY emotional feeling.

And since in many ways what you're saying CONFLICTS with MY sensory data and emotional feeling, it's not good enough for me to take another person's word for it. That would be a dereliction of my rational, independent judgment which enables me to distinguish between what is true and false.

I'm not saying Christianity is false. Note the title of my original essay: "Why I Am Not a Christian (At Least Not Yet)."

"Not yet."

In other words, I am open to new knowledge and experiences. My interest is sincere.

Anonymous said...

"And since in many ways what you're saying CONFLICTS with MY sensory data and emotional feeling"

Where is the conflict? You don't see the Holy Spirit right now. Do you know where to look? If I went looking for elephants in my downstairs bathroom, is it a conflict that I don't see any?

"it's not good enough for me to take another person's word for it."

Again, I wouldn't promise that anyway. As a sinner, I can't send you the Holy Spirit, only Jesus can. Trust yourself, for now, until you come to Trust God. But God won't enter your life unless you ask Him.

"In other words, I am open to new knowledge and experiences. My interest is sincere."

Have you ever read the Bible? I mean really read it, as you would read any other non-fiction work (I'm not saying you can't read with a critical mind, only that you must take it seriously).

Have you ever prayed? You can Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your mind and give you the Truth about God. Try it. Worse case, it does nothing.

Keep seeking and God Bless.

Todd White said...

Anon: Where is the conflict? You don't see the Holy Spirit right now. Do you know where to look?

TW: I'm looking right now. I twisted my head from side to side and turned around. Didn't see anything.

Anon: "God won't enter your life unless you ask Him."

TW: God is already in my life.

Anon: "Have you ever read the Bible?"

TW: I've read the New Testament.

Anon: Have you ever prayed?

TW: Yes. I pray all the time.

Anon: Keep seeking and God Bless.

TW: I will. God bless you too.

Anonymous said...

Challenge: I don't see the Holy Spirit.

Response: [hold hands over eyes] I don't see you.

Borrowed from: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2009/02/existence-of-god-next-2.html

Anonymous said...

This "god" you pray to:

Where is your physical evidence of this "god's" existance?

Is this "god" a person? Does this being have a mind? Has this "god" ever spoken? Is this being the Creator of the universe? Is this "god" omnipotent? Has this "god" demonstrated any interest in your life whatsover, much less any indication of love?

Who is this "god" anyway? Allah? YHWH? Zeus? L. Ron Hubbard? Perhaps it is the "god of this world"?

If this "god" is silent, how do you know this being hears your prayers? How do you know this being even cares about you?

Anonymous said...

Inquisition = Christianity?

Please show where the Bible authorizes the Inquisition.

Include chapter and verse, please.

Todd White said...

Anon: Please show where the Bible authorizes the Inquisition.

TW: I would wager to say that the genocide of heretics found in the Old Testament gave the Church's leaders of the Middle Ages the authorization they needed.

Todd White said...

Anon: "Where is your physical evidence of this "god's" existance?"

TW: I briefly state the case here...

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/08/best-evidence-for-god-in-one-paragraph.html

Anon: "Is this 'god' a person?"

TW: You'll have to clarify what you mean by "person."

Anon: "Does this being have a mind?"

TW: Yes.

Anon: Has this "god" ever spoken?

TW: Yes, I think there's a good possibility of that.

Anon: Is this being the Creator of the universe?

TW: Yes.

Anon: Is this "god" omnipotent?

TW: Yes.

Anon: Has this "god" demonstrated any interest in your life whatsoever, much less any indication of love?

TW: Yes. In addition to what I wrote in the essay I linked to above, I can think of at least one area of my life in which things had a habit of turning out in a way that made me think it was more than coincidental.

Anon: "Who is this "god" anyway? Allah? YHWH? Zeus? L. Ron Hubbard? Perhaps it is the "god of this world"?"

TW: I feel pretty confident saying that God isn't the Allah, YHW, or Zeus you find in traditional religious texts.

I simply call God "God." I don't have any better term in my vocabulary.

Anon: If this "god" is silent, how do you know this being hears your prayers?

TW: I don't know if my prayers are being heard (I think they are, but it's possible they're not). Even if they're not being heard, I think they have value in giving me an opportunity to express my relation to the divine.

Justin said...

TW: I would wager to say that the genocide of heretics found in the Old Testament gave the Church's leaders of the Middle Ages the authorization they needed.

Honestly, Todd, that is pretty lame. I am getting the impression you are not a free thinker interested in evidence, but simply anti-Christian.

Do you care at all about the actual reasons for the Inquisition, or the Church's role in New World colonization, or are you just interested in bashing the religion at every chance?

Todd White said...

J: "Do you care at all about the actual reasons for the Inquisition, or the Church's role in New World colonization, or are you just interested in bashing the religion at every chance?"

TW: The first two.