A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Thursday, March 18, 2010



In my many conversations with apologists, Bible thumpers, and the extremely pious; I've found that the most effective way to "win" starts off by showing that the argument for a) the existence of god, and b) the god they believe in, require completely different proofs. Former apologist John Loftus writes about it in his blog 'Debunking Christianity' as well. Numerous nonbelievers, like Sam Harris, successfully use the same strategy.

The Proof for Deism

Arguing for the existence of god is called "natural theology", or deism. This god relies on gaps in scientific knowledge. We should have no problem on a practical level with this. Until those gaps are filled, this god will always exist. So, arguing against deism is basically useless because either way it won't matter.

The Proof for Christianity

But Christianity is something completely different. Christianity does not rely on gaps in scientific knowledge. It relies specifically on whether the Gospel accounts of miracle stories attributed to Jesus are true. Just establish this obvious distinction first.

Soon, I will place another post up for the next step, which is simply the basic argument for why we should reject Christianity. But if you want to watch a short version of it, here's how Sam Harris did it at the La Ciudad de las Ideas debate earlier this year.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Continued from Previous Discussion

Andrew answered:
"“I have not missed the point. The Nazi example was spot on.”

Yes, you’ve definitely missed the point. All I’ve said is that people only treat fairly those whom they think are part of their group, but set boundaries on whom can not be treated with fairness and compassion. Any individual Nazis who killed retarded Germans obviously did not see these people as part of their group. They saw them as a sort of poison to their group. In their case, their “group” was “genetically perfect Aryans”. Ask yourself, Dennis, if your morality was guided by the belief that only genetically perfect Aryans were part of your group, would you include genetically imperfect Aryans? I can answer that question for you. Of course not."

Dennis responds, I am indeed dense. I believe I finally get your point. You have defined the group who are always treated with "fairness and compassion" as anyone who is treated with "fairness and compassion." Your argument is a tautology. If a man abuses his wife, by definition, she is not part of his group. If a woman abuses her child, by definition, the child is not part of her group. By definition, it is impossible to offer any example which violates your rule. I get it. I'm still mystified. What relevance does your tautology has in the real physical world? How can you establish anything like a moral imperative by this tautology?

Until now, I have thought that the Deist God was a modified version of the Christian God. As I understand Deism, God is one, just like in Christianity. He is the almighty creator, who exists outside of our time, just like the Christian God. The only difference between the Gods is that the Christian God is active in his creation both through the laws of nature and through his active interventions (possibly using the laws of nature). The Deist God only operates through
the laws of nature. Because the Gods are so similar, evidence for the existence of the Deist God is also evidence for the existence of the Christian God.

I have obviously missed your point again. Undoubtedly, your argument about the evidence for the Christian God and the Deist God also contains a hidden tautology. Perhaps you can help me out here.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

It seems to me that the only tautology floating around is that the God of the Bible is the deist God because the Bible said that God created the world.

Besides, I mentioned the caveat that a person’s ideas basically shape who to include under the fairness and compassion universal principle.

It almost sounded like you were implying that because some husbands beat their wives, that Judeo-Christian morality is true. I might actually agree with you that Judeo-Christian values have had some influence on domestic violence.

I still don’t think Judeo-Christian morality is a better explanation of morality then the fact that human brains are hardwired in a certain matter to favor those within a perceived group. The man/woman problem you bring up about domestic violence still sticks with the general theory, given the caveat that ideas can trump instinct.

Do you think domestic violence is wrong? I hope so. But do you think it’s wrong because the Bible tells us it’s wrong? Or do you think it’s wrong because when a husband hits his wife, it’s unfair and you feel compassion for the woman (or if it happens vice versa). Nobody should be treated that way.

Dennis said, “Because the Gods are so similar, evidence for the existence of the Deist God is also evidence for the existence of the Christian God.”

No it isn’t. The deist god is contingent on philosophical arguments like the cosmological argument. The Christian concept of God is much more detailed than that, and therefore relies squarely on whether the Gospels are true.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:

"It seems to me that the only tautology floating around is that the God of the Bible is the deist God ...

Besides, I mentioned the caveat that a person’s ideas basically shape who to include under the fairness and compassion universal principle...that human brains are hardwired in a certain matter to favor those within a perceived group. The man/woman problem you bring up about domestic violence still sticks with the general theory, given the caveat that ideas can trump instinct."

Andrew, I appreciate your willingness to respond. We are obviously not communicating, and perhaps never will. From my perspective, it is obvious that your "fairness and compassion universal principle" which is supposedly "hardwired" into the "human brain" is a tautology. You have not established your "principle" as an actual fact of nature, there is no such universal principle in nature, you have simply defined it into existence. Because for you it is a tautology, it is impossible to offer any examples of actual human behavior which can possibly disprove your "principle."

If you wish to establish your "principle" from nature, perhaps you should start from a premise that we can both accept. I am willing to stipulate that people are social animals. Perhaps you can explain the steps, how you get from that premise, to your "universal principle"? In your argument, please remember, that it takes only one counter example, to disprove a universal principle.

Since, I did not say that the God of the Bible "is the deist God", my statement can not be a tautology. What I said is that "...the Deist God was a modified version of the Christian God." I base that statement on history, not on definition. Here is how Deism arose:

"Deism became prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in what is now the United Kingdom, France, United States and Ireland, mostly among those raised as Christians who found they could not believe in either a triune God, the divinity of Jesus, miracles, or the inerrancy of scriptures, but who did believe in one god...."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism

In history, the early Deists began with the Christian God, and dropped some of his attributes, to arrive at their God.

It may be counter intuitive, but it is logically correct, that any positive argument for the Deist God, is also a positive argument for the Christian God. That is because the traits attributed to the Deist God are a subset of the traits attributed to the Christian God.

Andrew said:

"Do you think domestic violence is wrong? I hope so. But do you think it’s wrong because the Bible tells us it’s wrong? Or do you think it’s wrong because when a husband hits his wife, it’s unfair and you feel compassion for the woman (or if it happens vice versa). Nobody should be treated that way."

Since you made this statement, if I agree with the sentiments in it, perhaps we can agree on something? This statement demonstrates the difference between our approach to the question of morality. I derive my morality from universal moral principles, you base your morality on feelings. If I were to respond, "no, I don't feel it is wrong to beat my wife", you would have no logical recourse. It would be your feelings against my feelings. Who is to say that your feelings are better than my feelings?

Form personal experience, I know that this is not just a hypothetical difference. There are many men and women who feel that husbands have the right to beat their wife if she disobeys him. They feel that this right is just as self evident as the right for a parent to punish a disobedient child.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

There is no question that our ability to empathize is at the root of our morality. There is also no question that justice also is at the root of our morality. These are just other words for fairness and compassion.

According to modern neuroscience, this type of stuff is hardwired into our brains largely because we are social animals.

I found an interesting article I think you'd enjoy:

http://mises.org/daily/1893

It's basically saying that there are two moral systems at work. I'm not sure how connected it is, but like I said. i think you'd like that article.

The way I envision how morality works is that we are more or less constrained to do certain choices given circumstances. The context of the situation is what makes the choice moral or immoral. In chess, for example, a good principle to operate from would be "Don't lose your queen." But there are times when losing your queen is a brilliant move, or the only move.

Dennis said, "Here is how deism rose ..."

I guess that statement illustrates one of the things I've been trying to say. You're still stuck in the past, as if today is still the 17th century.

I'm not advocating forgetting the history of such concepts, but please remember that in the 17th century it was difficult for a theory NOT to come out of the church. I suppose you'd also conclude that plucking chickens is a religious activity because most people plucking chickens throughout time were religious. Or perhaps you also think that Isaac Newton's physics was a Christian theory of physics.

These examples are absurd, I know. But so is the attempt to say that the deist god is the same thing as the Christian god. As you said yourself, deism is attempt to get away from the Christian god. They took the parts of god they thought were good, and kept them.

And that argument from history, as if the 17th century is today, completely ignores my point that the Christian concept of God lies exclusively on the Gospels. I could care less about the deist god. People aren't voting on presidents or on creationism being taught in biology class because of deist beliefs. They're doing it for Christian beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I found an interesting article I think you'd enjoy:

http://mises.org/daily/1893
"

There is much to like about that article, but brain scans can not contribute much to our discussions on morality. Brain activity means nothing more than that the brain is active. If there were anything in neuroanatomy which could contribute to the question of "hardwired" morality, it would be the mirroring neurons. They are what makes it possible for us to empathize. Unfortunately, there are other important parts of the brain which enable people to be unfair and uncaring.

It is interesting that people who brag that they are more scientific than Christians, completely ignore one of the best established scientific laws, evolution. Evolution often rewards those who indulge in bullying and injustice with reproductive advantage. The welfare state can not survive because it is against the principles of evolution.

The reason we are discussing morality is because the brain does NOT dictate our behavior. "Good" behavior is NOT hard wired in, it is learned. We have freedom, a choice, how we act. Morality is an attempt to learn "good" choices. A successful moral system must take Evolution into account. This is where the Bible morality starts, with a small group of people attempting to survive in a cruel environment, in which "survival of the fittest" is in full view. After they survive, they can worry about how they behave towards others.


Andrew posted:
"Dennis said, "Here is how deism rose ..."

I guess that statement illustrates one of the things I've been trying to say. You're still stuck in the past, as if today is still the 17th century.

I'm not advocating forgetting the history of such concepts, but please remember that in the 17th century it was difficult for a theory NOT to come out of the church. I suppose you'd also conclude that plucking chickens is a religious activity because most people plucking chickens throughout time were religious. Or perhaps you also think that Isaac Newton's physics was a Christian theory of physics"

I like your humor. The central theme in the Bible is good behavior, morality. Regulating moral behavior is what the church does. People often forget that theism arose as an attempt to solve earthly problems, not the other way around.

Newton's physics are not Christian physics, because he didn't discuss God in his formulas. However, he did have a definite viewpoint about God, and the cosmos, which guided him to his theories. Once Newton published his laws, people who didn't share his theism, found that his laws were useful, and adopted them. The fact that the laws work empirically, does not in any way lessen the very real possibility that they work because of Newton's God, whom he worshiped.

Andrew said:
"These examples are absurd, I know. But so is the attempt to say that the deist god is the same thing as the Christian god. As you said yourself, deism is attempt to get away from the Christian god. They took the parts of god they thought were good, and kept them."

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"These examples are absurd, I know. But so is the attempt to say that the deist god is the same thing as the Christian god. As you said yourself, deism is attempt to get away from the Christian god. They took the parts of god they thought were good, and kept them."

Although some Deists have considered themselves Christians, I didn't mean to say that the Deist God is exactly the same thing as the Christian God. The positive attributes of the Deist God are all attributes of the Christian God. Therefore, any positive evidence for the Deist God is also positive evidence for the Christian God. It does not always work in reverse. There can be positive evidence for the Christian God which does not support the Deist God. That is basic logic.

Andrew said:
"And that argument from history, as if the 17th century is today, completely ignores my point that the Christian concept of God lies exclusively on the Gospels...."

I agree that the Christian concept of God is derived from the Bible. It is derived from the entire Bible, not just the New Testament. Modern Christians often ignore the Old Testament, but it is just as important as the New Testament.

Philosophy has an important role to play in Christian theology. There are obvious limits to natural theology. If we wish to know the sentient being, God, we have to have direct communication. We don't try to know other people without communication, so why should we imagine that it is possible to know God without talking to him? Thus, philosophy alone can not replace the role of revelation.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

I noticed that the first sentence in the third paragraph of my previous post did not state my meaning exactly. Here is that sentence:
"The reason we are discussing morality is because the brain does NOT dictate our behavior. "Good" behavior is NOT hard wired in, it is learned. We have freedom, a choice, how we act. Morality is an attempt to learn "good" choices."

I meant to say, "the reason we are discussing morality is because the brain ANATOMY does NOT dictate our behavior."

This is a well known scientific fact. Behavior is a combination of inherited traits and environmental influences. Whether we have genuine freedom which transcends those factors is determined by our understanding of the nature of consciousness.

At one time, scientists believed that the physical world was completely determines by an unalterable chain of cause and effect. Quantum physics has laid that supposition to rest. So far as we can tell, the physical world in not determinate, so there is no reason we should assume that the human mind is completely determinate.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

For some reason, I didn't notice your responses here.

I'd have to disagree with some of the sentiment here, particularly about not being determined and that you derive your morality from universal principles.

I'm going to have to side with Spinoza on this one. The only thing that's really free about us is our mind. A drug addict can imagine not being an addict, but his desires will lead him to continue using.

As far as morality, the only person here that is saying "some people think beating wives are okay" is you. The universal principle that I'm operating on is fairness and compassion to all people.

This whole conversation, you're the one who has been practicing moral and cultural relativism, by apologizing for the immoral behavior of the Israelites.

"It's okay that Israelites kept slaves or killed people for arbitrary reasons given their historical time and place."

I, on the other hand, am saying "No, it isn't okay. They were wrong to do that no matter what time or place they were in."