Poking at a Dead Bird with a Shovel

He who defines, wins. He who successfully redefines, wins. And this is why Christians are not faring well in the current battles over homosexuality. We will not reverse this trend without some imaginative warriors.

Not only do our adversaries want to redefine marriage, they want to do so because they have already claimed the right to be able to redefine absolutely anything they want.

It didn’t start with marriage. It started with other terms, with which Christians went along, more or less, thinking something along the lines of “what could it hurt?” And there were, in our midst, various shills and apologists for allowing these terms to be messed with like that.

I have in mind terms like “hate,” and “public,” and “freedom,” and “religious liberty.” None of those things now mean what they meant when I was born, and while the shift has been attended with some controversy, it has not been nearly enough controversy. The pathway for all this was smoothed by the slow and steady degradation of educational standards — which failed miserably as a form of traditional education, but succeeded spectacularly as a way of preparing good little drone bees for life in their coming Hive.

This is what lies behind the popular scoffing at the notion that the religious liberties of American Christians are in any way being threatened by the homosex rebellion. This includes professing Christians who have decided, for whatever reason, to go along with the broader redefinition project. We have seen this from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and we have seen it from Christians on the web protesting conservative objections to what they taunt as “paper cut persecution.” But our religious liberties are in genuine peril, and it is not a little deal.

As our public definitions of marriage are being redefined, the ruling elite is not protecting the religious liberties of the Christian opposition in the old sense, but rather are doing so by redefining what religious liberty means.

They are like a manufacturer who gives you a “lifetime guarantee” for their product, and you find out when you return it busted after six months, that by “lifetime” they now mean, not your lifetime, but the lifetime of the product. When you bought it, lifetime meant one thing. Now it means another. The product is now guaranteed for as long as it works.

This is how the trick works. You have the right to free speech, but you don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. Everybody in the old Christian order understood this — human liberties are precious, but not one of them is absolute, and we do have to balance them against the rights of others. So far, so good. The judges of Christendom, steeped in biblical law, common sense, and the light of nature, were up to that sort of challenge. And every citizen who was not a sociopath could see the sense in it.

But in the new order, every word you speak can be interpreted as fire, and every place you go is interpreted as a crowded theater. You have has much freedom to speak “in your space” as you used to, but now your space has about as much square footage as a 6 x 8 prison cell. It used to run from Delaware to Oregon.

They will maintain stoutly that they are defending our liberties as much as they used to, and if you are a total rube, you just might buy it. They are defending your rights within your territory as much as they used to — but are they defending your territory? Ha.

Do you doubt what I say? What have you been redefined into? You who dutifully sort out your garbage now! You who can’t buy the kind of light bulb you want! You whose phone calls are all stored up by the NSA! You who can’t light up on a windy bluff overlooking the ocean because of the second-hand smoke danger to the residents of a town half a mile away! You who can’t refuse catering services to homosexual celebrations! You who can’t get on an airplane without a federal representative feeling you up! You who can’t donate significant money for political causes! You who can’t buy ad space for certain passages out of the Bible! You are as free as a bird! It is a dead bird, but at least you are as free as it.

We need a better strategy than the one we are using right now. We are currently poking at the dead bird on our lawn with a shovel, telling it to soar.

Walter Kirn recently summed the whole problem up for us:

“Their ultimate goal, of course, is to read our minds, and our final defense will be not to have them.”

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93 thoughts on “Poking at a Dead Bird with a Shovel

  1. In fairness, though, Reformed Christians define an awful lot of terms in ways that nobody else defines them. Which doesn’t justify leftists doing it; two wrongs don’t make a right. But if you want to be taken seriously, don’t complain about liberals using tactics that you yourselves have used for years. If you want examples, I can give you plenty. For example, defining “religion” so broadly that it includes atheism.

  2. I don’t think the definition of religion that includes atheism is really any different from most people’s definition, it’s just that most aren’t willing to admit that atheism fits their own definition quite well.

  3. Applying the definition to the negative (atheism) really isn’t difficult or unreasonable. The atheist (the one who allegedly holds to the ACTUAL Truth) gets to define “religion” since he’s the one truly in line with Truth, according to himself (or should I capitalize the H for “Himself”?).

  4. People have always sorted out their garbage for composting, animal feeding, things to reuse, things to burn, etc. It’s only fairly recent that the government or private garbage truck companies offered refuse pick-up. If the people who offer it prefer it separated I’m not certain what the hubbub is.

    Are you implying that the concept of recycling things instead of putting them in a landfill is somehow based upon a redefinition of terms? I understand the logistical problems of recycling, I just don’t know how it relates.

  5. The problem with defining religion to include atheism is that it necessarily renders religion a meaningless concept. If every belief system is religious, then the term “religion” is superfluous; what you really mean is “belief system”. Could anyone then give an example of a non-religious belief system? In other words, the term “light” is only meaningful if you have the absence of light (darkness) to compare it to. Likewise, “religion” is only meaningful if you have absence of religion to compare it to. So I think conceptually the better approach is to say that religion encompasses theist-based or supernatural belief systems.

  6. However, the broader point here is that the real political agenda in calling atheism a religion is because that then places reason and superstition on the same plane, with one no better than the other. And is therefore a perfect example of conservative Christians doing precisely what Doug complains about secular liberals doing.

  7. When “religion” is popularly spoken of, it’s usually with regard to the foundational propositions which (at least) accompany what you might consider the iconic “religious” features – devotion, worship, tithes, congregational singing. They’re more readily identified by such eclectic practices. But people don’t exactly object to DOMA, for instance, on the basis that Christianity has people sing silly songs on sundays and sit quietly together while a man reads and explains a book to them. On the contrary, the foundational principles driving such laws or acts is generally in view, though not quite consistently. But this is where the ground-shift happens, precisely. While Christianity possesses principles which, followed out, will determine specific laws, atheism is no different. (Some people might not say that atheism should be the basis for the laws any more than Christianity, but this implies neutrality which, drawn out, denies Christianity.) But point this out to any particular vocal atheist, and he’ll refer to the “accidental” features, as it were, of Christianity, and deny any similarity.

  8. Eric, what would be your definition for religion that does not include atheism, but does include Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and neo-Paganism?

  9. Jane, I realize it’s rude to answer a question with another question, and I apologize, but doing so is the best way I can think of to make my position clear. A good definition has two parts: The genera, and the differentia. The genera tells us which general category something belongs to; the differentia tells us what distinguishes it from other things that are in the same category. So, for example, a “fork” is a “kitchen utensil with tines.” “Kitchen utensil” is the genera; “with tines” is the differentia that distinguishes it from other kitchen utensils such as spoons and knives. Furthermore, the definition must take in all forks, and only forks. If you can find a fork that doesn’t fit within that definition, or something that isn’t a fork that does, then it’s not a good definition. For “religion,” the genera is “belief system.” Now, my question to you is this: What is the differentia? What distinguishes religion from other belief systems? If there isn’t one, then it’s an unnecessary concept.

  10. I’ve already given you what I believe to be the differentia: Religion is a belief system that involves theism or the supernatural. By that definition, if Buddhism doesn’t involve deities or the supernatural, then it’s a philosophy rather than a religion. It may be treated like a religion for First Amendment purposes, but as a matter of taxonomy, it’s a philosophy. I’m willing to be persuaded differently if you have a good contrary argument.

  11. “Religion: [I]ncludes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of His will to man, and in man’s obligation to obey His commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life with the practice of all moral duties. … [T]he practice of moral duties without a belief in a Divine Lawgiver, and without reference to His will or commands, is not religion.”
    – Noah Webster,”An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).

    I agree that there has been an attempt to redefine the word religion to include Atheism. I do believe that this is primarily in response to the redefinition of the first amendment though. The first amendment has been redefined, by those who wish to exclude “religion” from the public square, into something meant to push religion into the margins rather than something meant to protect religious expression. Then those being pushed to the margins tried to point out that they were being pushed out (Christians) while others were being exalted (Athiests). I also believe that the current defintion of religion is not at all what was the common understanding at the founding of this country. Everywhere that I have read the word from writings of that period it seems to refer specifically to Christian sects. So basically there has been a whole lot of redefining going on.

  12. The slight of hand here is simply switching ‘sins’ (homosexuality etc) for ‘Sin’ (our fallen nature) -“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the SIN of the world.”
    While we are busy focusing on the sins, we forget the true offence of the cross: that Jesus died for these people just as He died for us.. We, The Church, continually fall into the error of judging the world by Christian standards and judging The Church by the worlds; legalism without and liberalism within, when the exact opposite is required.
    Our Lord said “in the last days the love of most will grow cold, but he who perseveres to the end will be saved.”
    Persevere in love: mercy, grace and forgiveness..

  13. Atheism involves the supernatural; it just says that it doesn’t exist. Sounds like a doctrine to me, with all do respect. And I don’t mean to have an argumentative tone, Eric, I just think that if atheism is treated purely as a philosophy rather than as a religion as well, you get to open doors with the 1st Amendment to allow tacit or assumed atheism within the state to the detriment of theists. That is to say what Wilson states: it’s not IF religion is enforced, but WHOSE religion.

  14. What is truly baffling to me is that as Christians we profess to follow a man who gave up all of His rights and should think at any point this will not be required of us. Any freedom that any culture poses in the first place (including the constitution) is a list of temporary privileges. The only true freedom that exists is in Christ. No one can take from me what was never mine in the first place.

  15. Ianopolis –“I would also point out that by Mr. Webster’s definition of religion Athiests would have no 1st amendment protections.”

    That is likely, considering John Locke’s opinions: “Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated.”

  16. Under the First Amendment, I don’t think the government can prefer religion over non-religion; I think it is supposed to be neutral on the subject. Even if I’m wrong about that, atheism would still be protected speech.

  17. Well, Eric, you started this by raising the issue of definitions not widely shared. (I believe Pastor Wilson’s concern is more with definitions that alter the longstanding understanding.) I would humbly submit that if the dictionary definition and/or the common understanding is to be preferred over idiosyncratic definitions then any definition that does exclude Buddhism is doubtful by your own standards: the dictionary definition cited above includes it, and nearly anyone you ask will tell you that Buddhism is a religion.

  18. “Any freedom that any culture poses in the first place (including the constitution) is a list of temporary privileges” I think you may have missed the point of unalienable rights. The whole point is they are not “temporary privileges”. They are given by God. So if the government decides to remove my “privilege” of the free exercise of religion and asks me to bow down before a statue of (insert name here) I am not obligated to follow them. In other words I have the RIGHT to disobey that law. I have that right because God trumps the government. The government can certainly punish me for it, but they are not acting justly and have overstepped the authority that has been given to them by God. It is certainly true that real freedom comes through Christ and that we shouldn’t mistake this world for our eternal home, but our prayer should still be “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. As a Christian I am called to suffer as did the Christ, but I think I am also called to suffer like He did so that others may be free. I don’t think voicing my opinions and fighting in some small way for the temporal freedoms of my children and my children’s children is disrespectful of the work of Christ, quite the contrary.

  19. So the problem is that as much as you might make a convincing case that “Eric’s definition” is a good one, it is using a word “in ways that nobody else defines [it],” since nearly everyone would tell you that Buddhism is a religion, therefore by deduction, everyone else uses the word in a way that includes Buddhism. So if that’s your objection, then Eric’s definition doesn’t forward the project much, either.

  20. Mr. blowes,

    With what I hope is an intramural question, you say: ” While we are busy focusing on the sins, we forget the true offence of the cross: that Jesus died for these people just as He died for us.. We, The Church, continually fall into the error of judging the world by Christian standards…”

    That begs the question of why bother to identify behavior sets and make proscription against them. For example “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And not only the list, but “I warn you”.

  21. Eric the Red: “Under the First Amendment, I don’t think the government can prefer religion over non-religion; I think it is supposed to be neutral on the subject.” You have illustrated my point, you’ve redefined the 1st amendment.

  22. I wouldn’t say that atheism per se is a religion, since its just the negation of a single doctrine, but secular humanism is a religion, materialism can be a religion, or whatever the positive beliefs and practices are that give the individual atheist meaning: they constitute a religion.

    What annoys me is when certain Christians redefine “religion” to *not* include Christianity. Christianity is a religion. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody has a religion, even if it’s a self-made one; it’s part of being human.

    The same people often say that they “love Jesus, but hate the church.” That’s clearly an unbiblical attitude.

  23. Jane, I’m still waiting for you to tell me what distinguishes religion from other belief systems. Ionopolis, the clear and unambiguous text of the First Amendment forbids both an establishment of religion, or a prohibition on the free exercise thereof. That sounds like neutrality to me. In any event, before you go knocking down that wall of separation between church and state, it may be what saves you if, say, Muslims achieve political power in this country. I’m sure they’d like to impose their religion on you just as much as you’d like to impose your religion on them. Unless you are guaranteed to always have political power, maybe neutrality isn’t such a bad idea.

  24. Christians need to engage this battle over words. We’ve abdicated a lot of ground, but the conflict is related to Jesus’ questions, “who do men say that I am?”, and, “who do you say that I am?”.

    Atheism is as much of an -ism as theism. This is inescapable. In fact, atheism is entirely derivative and dependent upon theism. Atheism has no independent meaning without its reference and relation to theism. One could say that atheism is parasitical on theism. If theism were to disappear, so would atheism and atheists. So the atheist owes us for his (anti-)worldview. That is, unless he actually has a belief system that doesn’t reference theism. Most atheists I know don’t want to put those cards on the table. They prefer to define themselves by what they do not hold, rather than by what they affirm. Sharing their actual commitments is risky and downright dangerous. It requires defense and justification in a world of competing ideas. They find themselves in the role of apologist, or in retreat.

    This is because truth is not neutral. It never was, and never will be.

  25. Religion pertains to one’s core or foundational beliefs, aka worldview. This is what distinguishes religion from other belief systems, such as one’s beliefs about last season’s X Factor, or how to operate a hot air balloon. Religion informs those other belief systems to some degree, but they aren’t core. Atheism is portrayed as a core belief system, which is what presses it into the category of religion. However, for some reason atheists like to label themselves in relation to what they oppose, so atheism is actually just a negation of someone else’s religion. What sits behind the atheist’s atheism is his true religion. Atheism is just the cover name for it.

  26. Eric the Red: “the clear and unambiguous text of the First Amendment forbids both an establishment of religion, or a prohibition on the free exercise thereof. That sounds like neutrality to me.” Of course it sounds like neutrality to you that’s the whole point I’m making. That is what you see when you read it, but that is not what it meant when it was written. Are you seriously suggesting that at the time that was written it was intended to prohibit government institutions from showing preference to Christianity over Islam or Atheism? Even to this day vestiges of the preference towards Christianity exist that the ACLU is trying to drive out of the system. Long ago people learned that it was a lot easier to change the dictionary then to change the Constitution. You grew up reading their dictionary so of course it is “clear and unambiguous text” to you. I’d be careful though about redefining things willy nilly though, lest the Muslims gain a majority and determine they get to define things for themselves.

  27. @RFB:
    You are quoting Galatians 5:19, so let’s go to the beginning of the letter to see to whom it is addressed;
    Gal 1:2 ‘To the Churches in Galatia;’
    But perhaps by chapter 5 Paul has switched tack and is now addressing the world?
    Gal 5:13
    ‘You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.’
    So the passage you refer to is specifically addressed to believers, an exhortation to live by the spirit and not the flesh. Paul could not very well exhort the world to live by a spirit they do not posses, that is, after all, what makes them the world.
    Elsewhere Paul states ‘I do judge the world but The Church, who am I to judge the world?’
    Judging the world makes us feel cozy because we are good in relation to it; SELF righteiousness is NO righteousness at all.
    God bless you and yours.

  28. Katecho, lack of belief in Santa Claus is entirely derivative and dependent upon Santa Claus. Lack of belief in Santa Claus has no independent meaning without its reference and relation to Santa Claus. One could say that lack of belief in Santa Claus is parasitical on Santa Claus. If belief in Santa Claus were to disappear, so would disbelief in Santa Claus. So the person who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus owes us for his (anti-)worldview. That is, unless he actually has a belief system that doesn’t reference Santa Claus. Now, do you see how silly you’re being?

  29. But the thing is, I am no more defined by my atheism than I am by my disbelief in astrology, palm reading, or weather predictions by groundhogs on February 2. The only practical difference is that there are far more theists who think that everything is about them than there are adherents of palmistry. The one thing katecho is right about is that people should be defined by what they do believe than by what they don’t believe.

  30. “Jane, I’m still waiting for you to tell me what distinguishes religion from other belief systems.”

    I’m still treating your question as irrelevant since your premise is that generally accepted definitions are to be preferred, and under both the generally accepted definition found in the dictionary, and the generally accepted usage that the things I listed are religions, atheism fits — it is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices,” and lacks only the characteristic of including a deity that many other widely acknowledged religions lack. I don’t know why we need to make up and analyze new definitions in order to make the point that atheism is only not a religion if you *change* the common definitions according to your specifications, when that contradicts your prior point that common definitions shouldn’t be changed.

  31. Mr. Blowes,

    Continuing sir: I think that any catalog of sin is omni-directional: for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them…”
    One of the purposes of the law is to expose behavior for what it is. There is a classic list of behavior in Romans 1 that specifically describes the actions of those who are reprobate, and that “that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” Indeed, then immediately turning to those inside of the commonwealth Paul also levies guilt upon those “who judge practice the same things.” I think that the guilt that he imposes is not based upon the act of judgment, but upon those who “judge those practicing such things” while practicing the same things themselves. He then admonishes (those inside the covenant community) to repentance for those acts and says that those who do not have “impenitent heart[s]“. I think that entire admonition and exposure of sin and condemnation is foundational for Paul as He first points to their depraved behavior (which demonstrates depraved hearts), and then to the remedy: “Jesus Christ, according to my gospel… But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets…”
    Repentance requires “putting off” the behavior repented of, and “putting on Christ”. It is not an act, it is an action.

  32. In my experience, atheism can mean everything from believing in no gods to not believing in any gods to believing in only one God (“I contend that we’re both atheists…”). If only there were some book of Atheism to help us make sense of them. I guess there is one, but it’s not one atheists would use.

  33. Jane, my premise is not that generally agreed definitions are to be preferred. My premise is that the purpose of language is to communicate, so if you are defining words in a way that most other people don’t define them, you need to make it clear that that’s what you’re doing, and have a legitimate basis for doing so. In the case of Buddhism, you may very well be right that many people consider it a religion (though not all; if you google it you’ll find that a great many people don’t consider it a religion for the reasons I’ve already given). However, I both explained that I don’t consider it a religion and why. Now, can you do the same for the claim that atheism is a religion? Tell me what distinguishes it from non-religious world views. For that matter, can you even tell me what a non-religious world view would look like? If not, then we are back to the whole concept of religion being superfluous, since you are apparently using it as a synonym for “world view”.

  34. Matthias, the central problem with your argument is that atheists don’t have a central belief system, any more than people who don’t believe in the easter bunny have a central belief system. “I disbelieve X” is not a belief system. Other than not believing in deities, atheists are all over the map in terms of what they actually do believe, as evidenced by the fact that Ayn Rand and Joseph Stalin were both atheists.

  35. “what a non-religious world view would look like?”

    How about a widespread consensual faith/belief in a universe that exists as a result of ex nihilo self-creation.

  36. And it is more religious than not. It is a “central belief system” that is religious by its faith in tenets that it proselytizes in almost every government school system. And, if spoken against, is immediately defended with polemic religious fervor.

  37. “But there are some people, nevertheless–and I am one of them– who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. ” –GKC “Heretics”

  38. Eric, perhaps not a “system” per se (how can they have one, really?), but there is a presumed “neutrality” (a central presupposition, as it were) which sets atheism up to be anti-religion par excellence, with a condescending nod here and there to the “value” of “religion.” You might say it’s the most detrimental belief/belief system/lack of belief system/whatever that can exist in any community, as most people consider themselves “religious.” But in any case, I’ve actually composed a small rant wherein I lament the lack of definition in such things. Public Display of Religion

  39. The relevance of the GKC quote is this: Religion–being about God, or at least the “supreme Being”–is the chief molder of worldviews, and consequently EVERYTHING about us. Theism and atheism are therefore serving the same purpose, as it’s your belief about God (existing or nonexisting) and His authority over you (or lack thereof) that decides your actions. There is no “secular” ground to stand on, but that’s not to necessarily say that the prevailing religious attitude will absolutely force itself upon those who disagree. A mayor opening a municipal meeting with a prayer (Christian or not) is NOT preventing an atheist’s being a city councilman; however, an atheist’s forcing a mayor to refrain from praying (provided the mayor hasn’t forced those who disagree to participate) is forcing functional atheism upon the mayor.

  40. RFB, if people who believe in the easter bunny had done as good a job at organizing politically and pushing the government to insert the easter bunny into everything, I’ll bet you’d see some push-back from people who don’t believe in the easter bunny, but that wouldn’t make non-belief in the easter bunny a religion.

  41. I think that it is hard to conflate “some push-back” with the ex nihilo self-creation belief and proselytizing that permeates virtually all government sponsored education. I would call such people adherents.

  42. Eric, I think, (and I am saying this with no bitterness, but kindly with a trace of a wry (as in dryly humorous) smile) that your professed belief or anti-belief, however you want to define it, is mostly based upon the implication(s) that attach to the existence of God.

  43. RFB, there is a consensus among those who do science for a living that the evidence backs up what you call ex nihilo self creation, and you shouldn’t be surprised that science is what gets taught in science classes. I realize that for religious reasons you disagree. As far as the basis for my own belief system, I’m ex-Reformed who continued going to church long after I’d stopped believing just because I still wanted it to be true. If you go to gatherings of atheists, you’ll find lots of people who did their darndest to keep believing even as they became increasingly convinced that the evidence just wasn’t there. But all of this is irrelevant ad hominem anyway; whether any deities exist is a question of fact that has nothing to do with whatever reasons someone may have for wanting or not wanting to believe.

  44. Then again, ad hominem is only fallacious if the aspects of the person’s character or being which are questioned have nothing to do with his take on an issue. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say even logical fallacies aren’t neutral. As an example, take an atheist accusing a Christian of “special pleading” for arguing for Christianity. Put simply, since “special pleading” assumes that all conditions are equal (neutrality, anyone?), the atheist accuser is himself begging the question, even by accusing the Christian of special pleading.

  45. RFB, no apology necessary. Matthias, for purposes of this discussion, let us assume that I am of bad moral character. In fact, let us assume I am Hitler, Now, assuming all of that, that has nothing to do with the yes-or-no fact question of whether God exists. That is a question that is resolved by evidence, not by whether the speaker is someone you’d want to have a beer with.

  46. @RFB: as you have not addressed my central point of Sin vs sins, nor conceded that the scripture you first quoted was aimed solely at believers, I see no value in engaging with you further.. Good day to Sir!

  47. Eric, but if you, by virtue of your rebellion against God, therefore have a vested interest in his non-existence. You’re right that whether you’re Hitler or Mother Theresa has nothing to do with whether God exists, but it has everything to do with whether you say (or affirm) God exists. It has everything to do with what you recognize as evidence that God exists. Do you disagree that a person’s “worldview” can color even what he recognizes as evidence for or against a particular thing?

  48. 2 asides: 1) In my second comment on this thread, I meant “eccentric,” not “eclectic.” 2) I would enjoy having a beer with you Eric, so long as you promise not to eat my children. (I’m only kidding. I don’t have any children.) But I do wonder. Do you say there is no for God’s existence, or not enough evidence? And what would you consider to be evidence for God’s existence?

  49. The great Victorian John Henry Newman said, “We can believe what we choose, but we are responsible for what we choose to believe.” I don’t really understand Calvinism at all, but would this statement conflict with the Calvinist view of the sincere atheist? If belief comes only from grace, how could the human mind perceive God without that grace? Isn’t the atheist in the same position as someone who is tone deaf in a musical world? Unfortunate, but not personally blameworthy because he was created without that grace? Or is the Calvinist view that natural reason used honestly should adduce evidence of the existence of God? I think my sticking point is in interpreting atheism as rebellion against God. I think the Catholic position is that, short of invincible ignorance, the honest seeker of truth will find God. But that’s not true for Calvinists?

  50. Jill, the Calvinist understanding of man’s stance in God’s presence is derived from passages such as:

    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

    Notice the terms which express intentionality: suppress, changed, dishonor, exchanged, worshiped and served (the creature rather than the Creator).

  51. Matthias, I’m not sure it’s possible to rebel against something that one doesn’t believe exists. People sometimes claim atheists are angry at God, and it’s the same issue: How can you be angry at something you don’t think exists? (By the way, I only eat children with mustard sauce; you don’t happen to have any mustard sauce handy, do you?) In answer to your second question, I don’t find the evidence I’ve seen thus far persuasive, though I would be willing to reconsider if someone showed me some evidence I hadn’t seen yet. I would find persuasive either some form of direct evidence (i.e., he steps into my living room and introduces himself), or, alternatively, some phenomenon that requires a deity for its existence.

  52. Jill, Calvinism is essentially a heads-God-wins, tails-you-lose shell game. You are born with a sin nature that you didn’t ask for and can do nothing about. You can only be saved from it by faith, which God has a monopoly on dispensing, but God will still punish you for not having what he himself didn’t give you. You lack free will but everything is still your fault. My sister once had an abusive boyfriend like that too.

  53. Matthias, I’m not sure it’s possible to rebel against something that one doesn’t believe exists.

    I am in 100% agreement. But since you don’t merely “not believe” but in fact actively suppress the truth of God, it’s irrelevant, no?

    you don’t happen to have any mustard sauce handy, do you?

    As long as you’re impartial to Wasabi…

    I would find persuasive either some form of direct evidence (i.e., he steps into my living room and introduces himself)

    Do you doubt the existence of eveyone you haven’t seen walk into your living room?

    or, alternatively, some phenomenon that requires a deity for its existence.

    Alright. An example?

  54. Really? If all that we as humans can apprehend of goodness or justice comes from God, how could we attribute to God qualities which God-given reason tells us are unjust? Wouldn’t this require us to love God’s power rather than his justice and mercy? I smiled at your description, Eric (not about your sister’s BF), but I think you must have oversimplified a little.

  55. Indeed he has, Jill, and not a little. The thing about using God-given reason is that man has a knack for using good gifts in the wrong way. God-given reason cannot comprehend how God can sovereignly declare things to come to pass (Isaiah 46:10; Acts 4, verse 27 to summarize; Isaiah 10:15 in particular, but the entire chapter), and yet hold men responsible for their actions. We must simply take God’s Word for it, by faith, if you will ;) Besides, there’s no example in nature or in Scripture where God’s Sovereignty nullified man’s responsibility. So if someone believes that, he really has no reason to. Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving, as Luther would paraphrase himself.

  56. Wesley, I don’t have to believe that Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin actually existed to say that he was a thoroughly unpleasant character. Nor do I have to believe the characters in the Charlie Brown comic strip actually exist to say that it’s not very nice for Lucy to keep yanking the football away from poor Charlie Brown every time he tries to kick it, and that that’s not an example of how other people should be treated. Nor does my disbelief in the God of the Bible keep me from commenting that that system of theology known as Calvinism (which, by the way, is not the only system of theology within Christendom) is a shell game.

  57. Matthias, I believe in the existence of the current pope, even though to my knowledge I’ve never met him, because if I wanted to take the trouble to find direct evidence of his existence I could. I could schlep over to the Vatican and stand in line for one of his Wednesday public audiences. I could travel to Argentina and find direct evidence of his life there before he was elected pope. In point of fact I don’t actually care if the pope really exists so I‘m not going to go to the trouble, but if for some reason I did care, such direct evidence is out there. Do you have any comparable direct evidence for the existence of God?

  58. As far as indirect evidence is concerned, find me some phenomenon in nature that requires a God. Something that could not have happened on its own. (Not merely that you don’t think it happened on its own, but something that conceptually could not have happened on its own.) Something that only God could have done. And bear in mind that I can’t tell you what your God is like and how he acts; since you’re the one who believes in him, you’re the one who has to tell me what sorts of things only he is capable of doing.

  59. Eric, quick question that may seem quite off-topic: is there an ought placed on goodness? As in, does the existence of goodness compel us to conform to it? I’m just trying to grasp your overarching philosophy.

  60. Wesley, I’ll look forward to your explanation when I’m able. It depends on how you define “ought”. Based on past conversations, I think most regular readers of this blog define it in such a way that it necessarily requires a God, and if that’s how you’re defining it, then obviously my answer would be no. My morality is based on utilitarianism — figure out what kind of society you want to live in, and then how people have to act in order for that society to come about. And the fact that almost everybody wants to live in the same kind of society strongly suggests that our ethics are hard wired; you would say by God, I would say by evolutionary psychology.

  61. (Just don’t tell my friend Richard Dawkins I said that, because he considers evolutionary psychology to be complete arrant nonsense. Oh well, even the smartest people can’t be right about everything.)

  62. Eric the Red wrote:

    The one thing katecho is right about is that people should be defined by what they do believe than by what they don’t believe.

    Fear of being defined by what one actually believes seems to be the motivation for hiding behind the label of “atheist” in public forums in the first place. So the term atheist is the place holder for the actual religion underneath (which is often materialism of some dogmatic form). How do we get atheists to come out of the closet and stop hiding their religion behind the negation of our religion?

    Religion pertains to one’s core or foundational beliefs, aka worldview. This is what distinguishes religion from other belief systems, such as one’s beliefs about Santa Claus or Global Warming. One’s religion informs those other belief systems to some degree, but they aren’t core.

    Atheism is frequently portrayed as a core belief system by atheists themselves (see atheist organizations and websites), which is what presses it into the category of religion. For some reason atheists like to label themselves in relation to what they oppose, but atheism is actually just a negation of someone else’s religion. What sits behind the atheist’s atheism is his true religion. Atheism is just the cover name for it.

    Most atheists I know prefer to go out in public under the label of atheist (see Eric the Red as a case example). They prefer to define themselves by what they do not hold, rather than by what they affirm. Sharing their actual commitments is risky and downright dangerous. It requires defense and justification in a world of competing ideas. They quickly find themselves in the uncomfortable role of apologist, or else in retreat.

    Eric the Red is highly motivated by a core system of belief, as evidenced by his visits to this website to evangelize for atheism. The particular tenets of his religious core are something he is not eager to get into. He would rather sit in his seat as critic of our religion, since all our commitments are widely available in written form. Eric is not so interested in defending his religious system or opening it to similar critique. The term atheist is his primary label for himself here in this forum. It defines him in a way that is sufficiently undefined.

  63. Katecho, please provide me with a link to any atheist Web site that says that atheism is a core belief. I very much doubt you’ll be able to. That aside, there are many, many things in which I don’t believe — palm reading, astrology, necromancy — and the disbelief on that entire list that you think defines me is disbelief in God. So perhaps that’s why we keep talking past one another; I don’t give God special billing; he’s simply one more thing on the list of what I don’t believe in, between hobgoblins and All Father Odin. You, on the other hand, seem to think he’s a special case. Well, other than the irrelevant fact that you, personally, do believe in him, perhaps you could tell us why he’s a special case rather than just one more thing on the list.

    And I do have a core belief system, and I’m not at all bashful about sharing it, except that there’s never been a thread here where I thought it was appropriate. And atheism has little to do with it.

  64. And Katecho, while we’re on the subject of thought experiments, here’s one for you: I could claim that I have an invisible elf on my shoulder named Fred, and that everything in the universe is defined by Fred. There is no basis for morality apart from Fred, disbelief in Fred is a core belief system — basically everything you say except substituting Fred for God. Now, I think you would soon see that the claims I was making were very silly, but what makes those arguments any better simply because you substitute God for Fred? Apart from the irrelevant fact that you, personally, believe in God?

  65. Eric the Red wrote:

    My morality is based on utilitarianism — figure out what kind of society you want to live in, and then how people have to act in order for that society to come about.

    Or: ‘Figure out what kind of god you want to live for, and then how people have to act in order for that society to come about.’ Eric will immediately object to making up gods according to our wants, but for some reason he has no problem simply making up morality according to our wants. Fundamentally, Eric has no problem with ordering society around the make-believe, so long as that make-believe is not theistic.

    Eric the Red also wrote:

    And the fact that almost everybody wants to live in the same kind of society strongly suggests that our ethics are hard wired; you would say by God, I would say by evolutionary psychology.

    I would challenge the idea that everyone wants to live in the same kind of society. For example, at various stages of history, the majority has swung between small government, and big brother totalitarian Statism. Such swings tell us nothing about which should be the case. Also, what the majority wants is often overridden by dictators of various sorts anyway. What then? What “almost everybody wants” is not relevant to the tyrant. Eric’s utilitarianism fails to address what the tyrant should or shouldn’t do about that. The tyrant is doing what he wants.

    What about the fact that almost everybody wants to be theistic in their religion? Does that strongly suggest that theism is hard wired? If something is hard wired does that make it right or wrong? Should it be hard wired, or is our wiring just a cosmic accident with no prescriptive value of any kind?

    These are the exciting questions that come into play when the atheist steps out from behind the label and starts to put their cards on the table.

  66. Eric the Red wrote:

    I don’t give God special billing

    If this is the case, then Eric must spend as much time hanging out on the palm reading, astrology, and necromancy blogs as he spends here on Doug’s blog stumping for atheism. If Eric is not doing so, then I would like to be the first to request that he get busy and stop giving God special billing. Or at least stop pretending that he doesn’t.

  67. Eric the Red wrote:

    Katecho, please provide me with a link to any atheist Web site that says that atheism is a core belief. I very much doubt you’ll be able to.

    Atheism functions as the stand-in or cover label for the set of core beliefs. This is what enables atheists to even organize themselves, as atheists. It is those core beliefs (individual or collective) that press atheism into the realm of religion. We can readily see how the term operates by looking at almost any atheistic association organizing themselves under the label of atheist (for example, see here, here, here, and here).

    Notice that I am not suggesting that atheists are consistent or unified. Some of them are clever enough to denounce any shared beliefs with other atheists except the rejection of God. But when you see atheists organize and join together, as atheists, or present their agenda in the form of bullet points, or stage “Atheist Pride” marches on state capitals, they are revealing something about the nature of a central devotion. Modern pop atheism, as a movement, is functionally operating as any other religion. From one of the links above, we read, “American Atheists is dedicated to working for the civil rights of atheists”. Notice that it doesn’t say “the civil rights of Americans”. So are there distinctly atheistic rights? What are they? Could those distinctly atheistic rights be listed as core tenets of atheism?

    Perhaps Eric needs to let judgment begin with the house of atheism, and get his fellow unbelievers in line with his tenets of what atheism should be. When it comes to the core tenet of not having any core tenets, some of them seem to have it wrong.

  68. Theism may very well be hard wired, which is a separate question from whether it is true. I also think racism is hard wired, as is a desire for foods that make us fat and unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s desirable or that it shouldn’t be suppressed. Humans live and thrive in community, which means that stuff that makes communities more cohesive would offer an evolutionary advantage. Having a religion to base a community around, and being hostile to outsiders who aren’t members of the community, would have made for more cohesive communities. And food that’s high-fat and high-carb helps with survival if you may not have a meal for days at a time, unlike today when there’s a McDonalds on every corner, but which was true of our primitive ancestors.

    Oh, and tyrants will do as they please whether morality is based on the Bible or utilitarianism or something else. There will always be people who think they shouldn’t play by the rules if it advantages them. The sad reality is that the only thing society can do is protect itself as best it can, which historically has often times not been very well. But that’s hardly a problem limited to atheism.

  69. I don’t hang out on palmistry or astrology blogs, but I do hang out here, for two reasons. First, I’m ex-Reformed and I still haven’t succeeded in completely getting it out of my system (which, come to think of it, may relate to my comments about about unhealthy foods). Second, astrologers and necromancers aren’t trying to organize politically to impose astrology and necromancy on the rest of us. If and when they do, I’m sure there will be some push back even from those of us who haven’t seen a need to bother with them to this point.

  70. Eric the Red wrote:

    And Katecho, while we’re on the subject of thought experiments, here’s one for you: I could claim that I have an invisible elf on my shoulder named Fred, and that everything in the universe is defined by Fred. There is no basis for morality apart from Fred, disbelief in Fred is a core belief system — basically everything you say except substituting Fred for God. Now, I think you would soon see that the claims I was making were very silly, but what makes those arguments any better simply because you substitute God for Fred? Apart from the irrelevant fact that you, personally, believe in God?

    This is just a version of the Fristianity Argument. The first problem is that Eric has admittedly just concocted Fred out of whole cloth, on the spot. This fact is important to Eric’s argument because he wants to suggest that we have done the same with the Triune God. But by admitting that Fred is a purely hypothetical made-up god, this is a fatal property that distinguishes Fred from the real historical God. In other words this impostor from a hypothetical universe can never escape into the real historical universe we live in, by definition.

    Overlooking that, the other self-stultifying problem with Fristianity arguments is that if the arguer must transfer so many of the essential properties of God to some other entity, then they simply end up with another name for God. In other words, if there could be a possible creation where Fred is God (has all of the properties of our God in this creation), then the conclusion would simply be that Fred is God, and the creatures of that hypothetical universe should worship Fred as such. Now what? Eric hasn’t accomplished anything with the argument.

    Note that Eric is tacitly assuming that our epistemology is similar to his. In Eric’s worldview (as demonstrated by his utilitarianism above) he feels free to fabricate moral values in a valueless accidental universe. The resulting morality is true because he (or society) believes it. The presence of the belief makes it true. It is valuable because it is valued. So Eric likewise assumes that we hold God to be true because we believe in Him, and this Fred would also be true if someone believed in him. But this just isn’t the Christian epistemology. God is still true even if none of us ever believed in Him. Unlike in Eric’s worldview, our belief is not relevant to God’s existence or truth. God is not contingent like Eric’s utilitarian value system.

    Finally, note the irony of Eric proposing an alternate god as an argument. It’s like watching an atheist offer up Zeus as an argument against Pascal’s Wager: “What if I should have wagered on Zeus instead of on Jesus?” Well, in that case atheism would still be….. wait for it….. wrong.

  71. Eric the Red wrote:

    I don’t hang out on palmistry or astrology blogs, but I do hang out here, for two reasons. First, I’m ex-Reformed and I still haven’t succeeded in completely getting it out of my system (which, come to think of it, may relate to my comments about about unhealthy foods). Second, astrologers and necromancers aren’t trying to organize politically to impose astrology and necromancy on the rest of us. If and when they do, I’m sure there will be some push back even from those of us who haven’t seen a need to bother with them to this point.

    In other words, in spite of his protest, Eric really does give God special billing. He just feels he is justified in doing so.

  72. I have too many questions to bother people for an explanation of Calvinism when I already suspect I would start nitpicking underlying premises. But quick thoughts. Wesley, I think that there is an ought on goodness, and that genuine goodness compels our admiration and love, even if we give it reluctantly. But first we have to have an opportunity to perceive it. I think that if I were an unbeliever, I would find goodness equally lovable and equally beyond my reach. I also think that an individual human who perceives this goodness and hates it is in a deplorable condition, but not the normal human condition. When I have met people who are truly good in ways I am not, the beauty of soul attracts like a magnet. When this stops working, or when the reverse becomes true, something has gone terribly wrong.

    The problem of divine foreknowledge and free will doesn’t really trouble me. It troubles me if the implication is that God has chosen (not foreseen but chosen) that specific individuals will be damned because he has withheld grace given to equally guilty others. But I may have misunderstood the doctrine. Stating God’s sovereignty as the reason does bring me back to the question of do we love God because he is actually just or is he merely just by definition (please understand that I mean no blasphemy) It is okay for me to smash this doll because I own it and I can. It is okay for me to torture children because I am King Herod and I can. The sovereignty in both cases is unquestionable, but who could argue for justice or goodness?

    I think that there are probably no evidences that will convince most unbelievers. Appealing to scripture is convincing only to those who already believe; and I think nature is an unreliable witness. A gorgeous sunset: yes, there is a God; a scene of devastation: there is no God, or if there is, he does not care for us. It is said that Wordsworth found sermons in stones but only those he had already hidden there. For me, a lifelong believer, belief came on the basis of authority. I believed in God because I loved and trusted my parents who believed. But I have always seen that belief as a gift of pure grace. It is merely the starting point and has little to do with my salvation. I think the Catholic position is that more is expected of me because belief was easy.

  73. Eric the Red wrote:

    Theism may very well be hard wired, which is a separate question from whether it is true. I also think racism is hard wired, as is a desire for foods that make us fat and unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s desirable or that it shouldn’t be suppressed.

    Notice the double-speak here. Evolution accidentally produces in us a “desire for foods…”, but somehow that, “doesn’t mean it’s desirable”, to eat them. Which is it? Is it desired to eat them, or not desired? If we desire junk food, then it is desirable, by definition. What possible metaphysical authority could Eric be appealing to in order to overrule our desires? Likewise, in Eric’s utilitarianism, the kind of society that we want (desire) to live in is the basis for its value. If we value it, it is valuable. If we desire it, it is desirable. How is Eric escaping the vicious circularity that he got himself into?

    Perhaps Eric means that some values and desires must be prioritized and ordered in relation to other competing desires? Okay, but who sets this ranking? If all our desires are accidents of nature anyway, by what authority do we think they ought to be arranged by priority? What priority? There is no intent in Eric’s universe. Perhaps the desire to prioritize is just another arbitrary desire in the soup.

    Eric the Red also wrote:

    Humans live and thrive in community, which means that stuff that makes communities more cohesive would offer an evolutionary advantage. Having a religion to base a community around, and being hostile to outsiders who aren’t members of the community, would have made for more cohesive communities.

    Would have? Is Eric hiding some contemporary evidence to the contrary? This almost sounds like a utilitarian argument for the pragmatic advantage of theistic communities. Yet more evidence that Eric is not a faithful practicing utilitarian. He should become a theist on purely utilitarian grounds. Take one for the sake of the cohesive community already. Take one for the team! It’s not like utilitarianism has principle to fall back on. What works, works.

    Eric the Red also wrote:

    Oh, and tyrants will do as they please whether morality is based on the Bible or utilitarianism or something else. There will always be people who think they shouldn’t play by the rules if it advantages them. The sad reality is that the only thing society can do is protect itself as best it can, which historically has often times not been very well. But that’s hardly a problem limited to atheism.

    Uh oh. What does Eric mean by “problem limited to atheism”? Is Eric suggesting that atheism is a core belief system that could be expected to stand alongside other religions, on its own merits, in the face of problems? And after working so hard to deny it. Plus, Eric continues to identify his system with the label of atheism, rather than by a label that is independent of theism. Short hand, perhaps?

    As for tyrants, Eric has acknowledged that he has no answer for them from his system. They are just features of the noise of intentionless space-time. There is no God to bring them to judgment. No final justice. Justice is absent from Eric’s atheistic faith. There is just coping.

  74. Well, Eric, by expressing that the God of Scripture (which is the God of Calvinism, though Calvinism is really just a system that seeks to have Scripture as the sole and supreme Standard, which other theological systems may be said to attempt the same, though I disagree) isn’t good, which is what you do via your tone of snark and derision, you’re saying that IF the God of Scripture were there, then He wouldn’t be good.

    Unfortunately for your logic, IF the God Scripture is there, then He is BY DEFINITION good, as God defines Himself by Scripture as good.

  75. Also, IF the God of Scripture IS there, then you have to borrow your standard of “good” from Him, and the God of Scripture defines the standard of “good” as actually being Himself–His very character.

    That is not true for the fictional character Lucy. True, IF Lucy WERE there, her action of pulling the football away from Charlie as he goes to kick it would define here, at least in this instance, of not being good. This is not a contradiction as her character places no ought on me as her morality has no authority over me.

    However, IF the God of Scripture is there, then He places the ought on me and He DOES exercise authority over me, so as to command me to conform to His likeness and character. If I decide that He ISN’T good, then the problem lies not with God, but with my definition.

  76. If He’s not there, then don’t make some value statement about Him as if He has to conform to you. It may just be that He desires a different type of society than you do (I might well remark that atheism is in the minority, for what it’s worth). Just say that you disagree with Him and that He isn’t useful to you for your pragmatic approach to life.

  77. I believe in the existence of the current pope…because if I wanted…to find direct evidence of his existence I could… such direct evidence is out there.

    I’d like to ask you to be precise here. Such evidence, that you admittedly haven’t looked at, is “out there,” and this is sufficient for you to believe he exists. And yet you don’t believe in God. The implication is that you believe there is no evidence, period. Do you in fact believe there is no evidence for God’s existence? And how do you know?

    find me some phenomenon in nature that requires a God.

    As if any any phenomenon in nature doesn’t. But this goes back to the above where you don’t believe there is evidence, doesn’t it? Why do you believe this?

    Something that only God could have done.

    Since nature cannot create nature from within nature, I offer the creation of Nature and everything it includes. (Pardon the redundancy. Some people forget.) I realize you said above that there is “evidence for ex nihilo self creation,” but lack of alternate explanation does not entail that it is evidence. It simply entails a lack of an alternate explanation. I don’t expect you to accept this as evidence for God’s existence, but I am curious what you do with it.

  78. Matthias, do I know for an absolute certainty that there aren’t shape-shifting hobgoblins, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? No. I can’t prove for a fact that they don’t exist. There may very well be evidence of them out there and I just haven’t stumbled onto it yet. However: (a) if they did exist, their existence would violate what we know of the laws of physics and biology; and (b) no one has made a persuasive case for their existence, I’m prepared to say that the odds heavily favor their non-existence. If someone comes up with actual evidence to support their existence, I’ll reconsider.

  79. At this point, we don’t know how the universe came into being (assuming it ever came into being; it may have been around forever, just in a different form). There’s the steady state view, under which the matter that makes up the universe has always existed. There’s the multiverse theory, the repeating big bang theory, and various other theories. But since none of them has been proven, nobody knows. What is known, however, is this: If God does exist, he’s shown himself perfectly willing to allow us to flounder about in the dark to try to figure out if he’s there or not. Most of the atheists I know are intellectually honest enough that they’d believe in God if they thought the evidence were there; rather than show himself, he leaves us to try to sort it out on our own. Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if, after death, he discovered that God existed after all. Russell’s response: I would ask him why he didn’t provide better proof of his existence.

  80. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

    It’s the same old story. The atheist thinks that God must come to him on his terms, rather than the atheist coming to God on God’s terms. This is not an information problem. It’s a heart problem.

  81. Right Eric, well, while lack of an alternate explanation doesn’t make any one we currently have any more viable, neither does a plethora of alternate explanations. That simply spreads the probablility out even further, lowering the chances that any one of the alternate explanations is correct, particularly if they conflict at all with one another. Then again, on your scheme probability has no basis because, to hold something is “more probable” than something else is to imply the former is more closely approaching a standard of truth – that you don’t believe exists. This is why atheism has no hope of ever finding “truth” on its own terms. He’s forced to regard every single explanation out there as equally true, even if he doesn’t particularly like one of them. This is the bankruptcy of skepticism.

    There may very well be evidence of them out there and I just haven’t stumbled onto it yet. However: (a) if they did exist, their existence would violate what we know of the laws of physics and biology; and (b) no one has made a persuasive case for their existence.

    As far as (a), how do you know you haven’t discovered some law of physics that allows for this to be the case? I understand you intended it as a comical example, but you seem to be exhibiting more confidence than your scheme allows for. For (b), well, proof is not persuasion. And you have a vested interest in God’s non-existence. Atheism simply does not have the tools available to regard any “theory” or any explanation of God. But it is overstepping its bounds to say there is nothing beyond the hand with which it is covering its eyes. I know you wouldn’t put it that way. Makes no difference. As an aside, Bahnsen has responded to Russell’s central criticisms of Christianity, and concludes that he’s a very selective and yet careless philosopher. (I believe there’s a section in Always Ready.) So take that for what it’s worth.

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