The following is a collection of short responses to various questions and arguments on a wide range of topics I’ve encountered in correspondence outside this blog (Facebook / Youtube / E-mail). Most of these issues that have been introduced, however, are rather fundamental to concepts of reason, truth, meaning, scientific methodology as well as revealing of a bit of my eccentric and grumpy personalities (just 2 of many). This should provide a more precise understanding of my philosophical position.
The questions have been paraphrased, and my response may have been honed.
INDEX: For the links to work, the full post must be visible.
01. Phil, you say “human minds are not well-equipped to assess what is true.” Then why would anyone’s conclusions have any more credibility than the conclusions of someone else?
02. By what criteria do you determine the credibility of a proposed religion?
03. Phil, how can you say so dogmatically that god does not exist?
04. Phil, my relationship with Jesus is personal. If you ever had a real personal relationship with Jesus, you would not be denying him now.
05. The complexity of the world around us is incredible! And scientists have uncovered evidence to prove genetic design. How can you reject Jesus with all this amazing evidence around you?
06. But that Bible verse you quoted does not mean that! You are misquoting scripture to set up straw men!
07. You are obviously dogmatic and emotional in your arguments. You’ve lost all credibility.
08. Phil, you were never a genuine christian. / Phil, you left christianity because you want to live an immoral life. / Phil, you left christianity because secretly you are a homosexual and want to live a gay lifestyle.
09. Phil, I know that the bible is real. God has given me this knowledge.
10. Phil, If what you are saying is true, and there is no personal god, then there is no objective morality.
11. Phil, If what you are saying is true, and there is no personal god, then there is no reason for living.
12. Phil, why do you spend so much time and energy criticizing religion? Me thinks thou doth protest too much.
13. So, if you admit you don’t know whether there is a god that exists. Why do you say I’m unwarranted in my belief in a god?
14. But, Phil. The resurrection of Jesus is well-documented by eye-witnesses!
15. You do not completely exclude the possibility of a creator, so how can you call moral obligations irrational?
16. How can you make this irrational attack on the Gospel? Your position of materialism itself contains many irrational concepts.
17. Why can’t we keep an open mind about alternatives to the theory of evolution?
18. I don’t understand why you are saying christianity is illogical. Can you give examples?
19. Phil, God has given me so much peace and comfort throughout some very difficult times. Are you claiming God has no power?
20. No matter how you may try to reason around it, there is a God, and He is a God of love.
21. Phil, are you actually rejecting God because you think what he did in bible stories was evil? God can do what he pleases!
22. If you reject Jehovah, what is your alternative?
23. I don’t understand why you want refuse God’s gift of forgiveness. Do you want to go to Hell?
24. Was Jesus’ message hell? Were any of the 10 preachings in the book of Acts based on hell? Why do you insist in creating this straw man?
25. The Bible is vague in some areas, but is by no means a “free-for-all” as you infer. People regularly become Christians on opposite sides of the world and come to the same belief in Jesus.
Yes, our minds are innately not well-equipped to asses what is true. But to end there is to ignore our capacity to remedy this deficiency.
The next step is to acquire all the tools that will overcome this deficiency. These tools include an understanding of logic, the scientific method, general critical thinking, statistics, probabilities and most importantly, the limits and weaknesses inherent to the emotional human brain.
Once we have acquired these tools, our conclusions will have a greater approximation to truth. To arrive at correct conclusions on everything is not possible, but to be able to arrive at much better conclusions a year from now than you do now certainly is.
Those who acknowledge their cognitive deficits, yet do not acquire the tools to overcome these deficits, can still say to those who have “well, you might be wrong too”.
But who would you put your money on to arrive at the best conclusion?
These mental deficits can be overcome. But not through shortcuts such as claims to divine revelation. There are no shortcuts.
I believed any religion should be judge by its logical coherence1, the promises it keeps or breaks2, its predictive power3, its pragmatic efficacy4, and material evidence5, and largely in that order.
1. Test of conceptual logic; i.e., a “loving” god who eternally tortures a misbehaving “child”?
2. Test of internal logic; i.e., broken promises of healing or answered prayer?
3. Test of its source of knowledge; i.e., has it to added to the body of scientific knowledge?
4. Test of its real-world value; adherents live lives that are superior in an unimagined aspect?
5. Evidential test; i.e., harvests of adherents are demonstrably superior to the harvests of non-adherents?
I don’t say that a god is an logical impossibility. There an an infinite number of possible gods that are logically possible. I don’t believe in any such god simply because the evidence is not there. I could change my mind in the future, but given the history of god-claims, I’m not expecting any change of mind.
However, I do say unequivocally that the god of the bible does not exist. Jehovah, as commonly defined, is a logical impossibility due to incoherent concepts such as eternal punishment for finite lives of sinning. Jehovah also fails the internal logic test. Conventional interpretations of biblical promises to answer prayer are demonstrably false. This makes Jehovah a liar, something the bible says he is not. Therefore Jehovah and his bible fail this test of internal logical consistency.
There are other failures of Jehovah such as no identifiable advantage as determined by studies on divorce rates, obesity rates, incarcerations rates, and so on. In addition, claims of material collaboration with biblical accounts of miracles, and scientific verification of recent claims of miracles are also dubious at best.
Allah is another god I dismiss on these grounds.
Those would have been precisely my words to an unbeliever 15 years ago.
I had absolutely no question that God was real, and that I was enjoying daily communion with Jesus. I went door-to-door on my own to share the love of God. I read through the Greek New Testament more than eleven times in pursuit of biblical truth. I spent much time on my knees in earnest humility before the God I knew was real.
The human psyche is an incredible thing. It allow us to dive into self-deception to a degree that makes extraction nearly impossible. Once you have invested years of your life to a lie that makes you feel comfortable and joyful, no bit of evidence or cogent argument can convince you to abandon your delusion.
I was lucky in several respects. I have a deep obsession to follow truth in spite of the destination. I take more risks than most people which allows be to abandon my comfort zone to honestly assess the assumptions that under-gird my comfort. I also went through a divorce at about the age of 33, which reset my social vested interests to zero. I was then able to dismiss all my assumptions about myself and notions of god, sin and godliness. The full deconversion took about 3 years since I was initially hoping to find some coherent version of god. However, as I began to learn more about critical thinking and science when I re-entered university, answers came flooding in at such an amazing pace that I developed the confidence to relax my grip on the notions of god I once so strongly believed, and began to enjoy a godless life very much unlike the miserable godless life the bible portraits. Not only did I uncover truth, I also found a very satisfying new identity and meaningful relationships.
Now here I am! Not all people are a fortunate as that, but I do know many who had been deeply immersed in religion and have found similar routes to truth.
Here are others hoping you’ll develop a personal relationship with Allah as they have.
Anyone who uses the word “prove” in the context of science does not understand science. Science is about evidence. And evidence normally arrives in incremental degrees that warrant tentative belief in terms of probabilities, not certainties. In my mind, the evidence gives evolution a considerable edge over other competing theories of the genesis of humans.
But Jehovah is not a candidate for the genesis of humans since a god of this sort is illogical. You cannot resurrect an illogical concept by appealing to evidence. If it is illogical, no evidence can revive the concept. If you tell me you are younger than your child, I can dismiss your claim without examining your child. If a woman who has been bloodied and broken by her “loving husband” comes to me with a valentine given to her by her husband as validation of her term “loving husband”, I don’t need to examine the valentine in my assessment of her claim. Here is a list of posts on the incoherence of the biblical god.
Then I ask only one thing. Give me the detailed standard of interpretation by which you decide what any particular verse means.
Once I have that standard in hand, I can then determine whether or not you yourself use it consistently. If I quote scripture, I am normally defaulting to the most common evangelical interpretation. If you don’t like the interpretation, give me your standard of hermeneutics. I have been asking for such a standard for years, and no one has even attempted to provide me with one. It’s no wonder that the world of Christianity appears to be an doctrinal free-for-all in which you choose the interpretation that best suits your mood, your culture, or some other arbitrary agenda. This post elaborates on this point.
If emotions arrive without an argument attached, then we have a problem. However, if an argument arrives that is embellished with emotions you don’t care for, forgive me, then gently scrape the emotions off the the argument as you would mustard from a sandwich. Then assess the argument that remains. I’ll do the same with your “mustard”.
Dogmatism is quite warranted in cases of illogicality. If a concept is conceptually illogical, I can dogmatically and with extreme prejudiced dismiss it. I don’t need to go over to your place to assess the “square triangle” hidden in your garden. And I am warranted in ridiculing your belief. But I’ll try not to.
Phil, you were never a genuine christian.
Phil, you left christianity because you want to live an immoral life.
Phil, you left christianity because secretly you are a homosexual and want to live a gay lifestyle.
I’ve heard all of these claims. If you grew up with me, then you know better. If you don’t know me, then your claims are evidence of an extreme deficiency in critical thinking, and I’d just as soon not dialog with you.
As far as I know, knowledge is an emotion that corresponds to a high degree of likelihood based on adequate evidence. Voices in your head could be evidence, but you’d have to vet them to make certain they are not hallucinations, self-delusion and the like. How have you done this? Can you demonstrate that this personal relationship with “God” gives you superior powers of predictability? Are there others that you disagree with making the same “God-in-head” claims? How do you respond to their claims?
Come to Japan or go to Sweden to experience all the horrors of a godless society.
That’s what I had been taught. When I was going through my deconversion and attended a philosophy seminar full of godless philosophers, I pointedly asked why there was such a high suicide rate among such philosophers. I was met with blank stares. My christian indoctrination had blinded me. I was certain that a godless life was miserable. (I was actually expecting to be miserable the rest of my life after I left christianity, but I was intent on following truth wherever it led.)
A few weeks later, after both researching the statistics and talking with a few more real godless individuals, I shamefully realized the extent of my christian indoctrination and my credulous acceptance of it.
And now? Wow! I think I am happier than even most philosophers. But much of that euphoria may be my ability to contrast this life with my christian life.
I spent many years believing I was a sinner. This stunted my personality and emotional growth. I lost several years to delusion when I could have been exploring reality. There is also the fear-mongering by those who employ the concept of hell to encourage salvific belief. This is a concept that enormously hinders an honest reevaluation of fundamental assumptions since doubt itself often carries with it the threat of eternal torment. I do not wish these false notions of fear and guilt on anyone, and I’m doing my part in denouncing and shaming those who promote such debilitating concepts.
On the whole, I think a life based on the lies of religion is significantly inferior to a life free from superstition.
The mere fact that a god is a logical possibility does not make that probability 50/50. Based on my assessment, there is a very low probability of an impersonal god that set the universe ticking as Einstein believed. But I could be wrong. If you have more evidence on this, I’d like to hear what you have to say.
The probability of a personal god is even lower due to all the extra assumptions that are contingent on the notions of “personal”, but remains a very remote possibility in my mind.
The possibility of an illogical personal god such as Jehovah existing is zero. You are unwarranted in believing he does.
In respect to eye-witness accounts, think about the way you treat the notion. One blog about the resurrection says, “we have more than 500 eyewitnesses who testify that Jesus was and is alive and well.”
No. This is not 500 witnesses. This is one very old document allegedly written by a man named Paul who alleges that there were 500 persons who were eye-witnesses of the resurrection, but who oddly did not themselves testify to that claim. How is this presented by christians? It is presented as 500 eye-witness reports of the resurrection! How dishonest! Christianity is inherently dishonest as seen by its claims of “evidence”. (Read more on this.)
Imagine trying to convince a judge you were not driving drunk by producing a document that you say was written by someone reputable that claims 500 saw you sober at the time. Then imagine a case more paralleled to the resurrection claim. You hand the judge an unsigned document that you allege was written by a good guy. The document claims that 500 eye-witnesses saw you riding home on a broom in the sky, thereby proving you could not have been driving drunk.
The source of the document is questionable. The claim of the purported writer that he was an eye-witness is dubious. His claim that there were 500 witnesses is his claim and does not constitute more than 1 dubious witness. And the claim of a resurrection itself if of the sort that is extraordinarily suspect. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not a “this says that he said that they said” document.
There are those with a degree of credulity that think such ephemeral evidence is sufficient. You’ll find other emotional motivations behind their faith that bridge the gap between the flimsy (that seems too generous) evidence, and the magical claim that rivals even the most fantastical alien abduction story. And with the eye-witnesses of recent alien abductions, we can at least make further inquiries into their experiences.
And by what consistent criteria do we dismiss the fantastic accounts of miracles by proponents of other religions, and leave our own untouched? It once again comes down to that insidious of all concepts – faith.
So while many preachers are unabashedly claiming undeniable evidence that 500 witnessed the resurrection, what do we actually have? What makes preachers make such false claims? Is it an underlying deceit? Perhaps in some cases. However, it seems in most cases that the concept of faith has distorted the concept of evidence. It is all a house of cards.
Faith is an insidious trap.
Do you really not see the jump you make from a “creator” to a “moral legislator”? Consider how many hidden assumptions are contained in this leap. To become a moral legislator, your creator need to be…
- a creator of free will
- morally aware
- morally inclined
- capable of communicating his moral law to humans
Plus, if you want to argue for the god of the bible, you’ll have to demonstrate that he is an emotional god that becomes angry when we sin. No shortcuts based on sentiment. You’ll have to use evidence and/or arguments to cover these assumptions.
How can you make this irrational attack on the Gospel? Your position of materialism itself contains many irrational concepts.
(I may have been a bit annoyed during this exchange. See #7.)
An irrational attack on christianity? Aren’t you listening? Christianity is irrational! You are promoting a square triangle by invoking fictitious moral guilt and an infinite punishment for fictitious finite sins. Your christianity is absurd. It is despicable in that it diminishes the only life that we will live in lieu of a fictitious after-life! What you are doing is shameful!
Now, how is the infinite punishment that this angry god demands for a single sin, multiplied by the number of sins of a lifetime, then the number of sinners, suddenly traded for a few hours of temporary suffering and 3 days of temporary death by a single man?
Your christianity is a falsehood. If you can effectively argue that anything else is a square triangle, it also is a falsehood. Finding something else incoherent does not eliminate your own incoherency. Both must be rejected.
Note the absurdity in supposing an invalid argument is somehow made valid by referencing another invalid argument.
As long as people are not defaulting to a supernatural cause to explain phenomena, I am not worried. But if people are positing “god” or some other supernatural entity in the face of the long history of failures of immaterial theories of causation, then we have a disturbing departure from science. Science starts with a commitment to induction. Induction gives us little expectation of immaterial causation.
Credibility is earned. Those trying to assert a spiritual realm have offered a dismal track record, and the granting of credibility is not warranted. Methodological naturalism has more than adequately earned its medals, and we would be foolish to listen to the theists once again who promise us that, “this time”, we’ll turn up an immaterial cause. They’ve had their chance. They’ve had a thousand years of chances to uncover some evidence for the supernatural. Must we once again say “alright, I take it on faith”? I think not. Belief follows evidence. My belief that there will be material causes to future questions about material phenomena is based on the weight of precedent, something some would just as soon forget so as to promote their own faith-based agenda. Rather shameful.
If there is no evidence for something, we wait. We say without shame “I don’t know”. We do not offer up mythical entities to make the question go away or to make people feel better. And we certainly do not stoop to fear-mongering such as introducing eternal torment to make people who were not born evil (in contrast to the absurdities of some book) accept our agenda.
Skepticism is attempting to limit belief to the strength of the evidence. If that means we don’t believe in space aliens, so be it. If that means we don’t accept claims of panaceas, so be it. If that means we do not choose one from among the many proposed gods, so be it. Every belief must be based on evidence. Faith is a failed concept, and has been deleterious to far too many far too long.
The theological incoherence in the bible contributed to my deconversion. One point to start with is the notion if infinite punishment for finite sins. Another is how the finite 3 days of death for one man saved the world from infinite damnation. Another is the eternal condemnation for the consequences of an unavoidable sin nature. Another is the requirement of “accepting Jesus” placed on people who have no access to the concept of a christ.
You’ll note that these questions which most apologists admit need to be answered are never even asked by the average christian. Instead, the average christian is encouraged to take an emotional route to truth, and ignore any cognitive dissonance and doubt that they may confront by employing faith. This faith is one of the most insidious and debilitating obstacles to truth.
Christians who do attempt to answer these questions end up cobbling together some “systematic theology” based on vague bible verses examined with vague and biased hermeneutic principles, and is ultimately dependent on concepts such as “god’s ways are not our ways” and “how can a finite mind understand the infinite?” The circularity of such a position is ignored.
The average christian is not encouraged to be careful about what they place their faith in. It is suggested that faith is virtuous, truth is emotionally accessed, then they are emotionally steered into one particular unsubstantiated belief system.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the placebo effect. When a Muslim is comforted by the idea that he has virgins awaiting him in heaven, and by the presence of Allah in his daily life, does the falsity of his idea make the comfort any less real? How might we tease out the real effect from the placebo effect in this case? Is there some way to verify the existence of Allah or the awaiting virgins by assessing the quality or quantity of his emotions of comfort and peace?
Then I’ll direct my response to persons who are rational. I don’t have much time for persons not committed to reason.
If there is a loving god, he is not the one in the bible. According to the bible, Jehovah’s wrath over one sin is so intense that he has decided that only eternal torture in hell is sufficient punishment. When your son disobeys, what does your love do to your anger? How do you decide the appropriate punishment? (See also Jehovah And Rape.) Opposing verses that claim Jehovah is loving sound like mockery in the light of Jehovah’s own words and actions, and further illustrate the incoherency of a bible so vague that extreme opposite opinions can be extracted and be offered to believers so gullible that they accept both as true. A god that eternally tortures a human for a single sin is in no way imaginable a loving god.
No. My disbelief in Jehovah is not due to believing that a Jehovah that does exist is evil. If Jehovah did exist, he can do anything he wants. I disbelieve in the existence of Jehovah because the notion of Jehovah is based on a bible that claims to contains no mistakes. It says that Jehovah is love, while at the same time saying that Jehovah’s wrath over one sin will result in eternal torment. Who cares if it’s fair. A god has the right to be malevolent. But the concept of this Jehovah is derived from a bible that claims he is loving. He’s patently not as demonstrated by what he’s decided to do to you out of anger over your sin. Therefore the bible is not true, nor any of its dependent notions such as Jehovah.
What do we propose as an alternative to Santa when we finally tell a child the truth? What do we replace cancer with?
The bible clearly states both that Jehovah is a god of love, and that Jehovah’s anger over a single lie makes him necessarily send us to eternal torment for that lie.
Now think about how you would forgive your son if he did something much worse than lie such as sell drugs. Which of the following is a close match to what you would have to do before you could forgive him.
- Torture him in your basement forever?
- Whip him and hang him on a cross?
- Simply decide you love him and forgive him without shedding any blood?
Tell me just how great Jehovah’s love is when it cannot even soften his wrath even to the degree that a human father loves his son. Your Jehovah and his Hell are both incoherent fictions.
Let me allow a Christian to answer this question.
However, God’s anger at sinners is so severe that the Bible says He hates them (Ps. 5:5; Hos. 9:15; Amos 5:21; Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13; Rev. 2:6). Additionally, God’s wrath is mentioned nearly 600 times in the Old Testament by some 20 different words and these concepts are also found in the New Testament, though less frequently (e.g., John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10). Jesus is also said to have wrath (Rev. 6:16-17). Some people greatly struggle to accept the truth that God’s anger is personal, while hypocritically having no reservation in accepting the personal love of God. Still others will say that a loving God could not get angry, but a loving God is by definition required to be angry at sinners who destroy that which He loves, such as widows and orphans (Ex. 22:22-24), faithful spouses (Ezek. 23:20-25), and innocent people (Ezek. 16:38). Indeed, the Bible speaks of God’s anger, wrath, and fury more than His love, grace, and mercy.
I have no idea why a loving god is “by definition” also an angry god. When I love someone, I don’t need to also hate them or hate someone else. Yet, this is the logic behind Jehovah it appears.
People on opposite sides of the world can afford to claim agreement. However, place christians side-by-side such as in Ireland, and even though they claim to be using the same bible and to believe in the same Jesus, you have killings for decades. Then there are Luther, Calvin and Zwingli who tortured those who worshiped a different-flavored Jesus. Just how many denominations and sub-denominations do you find in the US, all claiming to have the most accurate doctrines? Consider doctrinal issues such as speaking in tongues, the end times, masturbation, prosperity gospel, liberation theology, divorce, salvation by faith alone, infant baptism, female leadership, homosexuality, faith healing, allegorical genesis, and chain of authority.
Your vague bible is a free-for-all, and a close examination of the Jesuses floating around in credulous heads will uncover vastly different homunculi. It’s like trying to start a global school of psychology based on a David Lynch movie. Why would Jehovah author a vague “book of truth” without also providing a reliable way to extract its truth? Christianity propagates well due to this vagueness. Disagree with a verse your pastor quotes? Simply find another that says the opposite and start your own church.
“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Charles Darwin to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin (1897; repr., Boston: Elibron, 2005), 1:285.
This quote by Darwin highlights the need to move the process of building a corpus of science away from subjective and fallible minds towards more objectivity through the personal methods mentioned above, as well as proven methods of science such as peer review and replication of experimentation. However, to despair after simply looking at the origins of our still feeble minds is to ignore the successes resulting from learning and working to transcend our humble past.