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An Atheist in Church? Why Christians Should Listen to Their Atheist Neighbors

Atheist in Church

A few years ago I was preparing to debate an atheist on the existence of God at my home church. One lady came up to me, curious about the posters she was seeing advertising the event, and asked about the individual I was debating. “He’s an atheist,” I explained. Immediately her expression tightened and a look of confusion came over her as if to say, “Why would you talk to an atheist?

Forming opinions about the atheist community

To be honest, it’s not an unusual reaction. Indeed, in my experience Christians have a lot of negative assumptions about atheists. For many, the attitude is summarized in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’.” “You see?” the argument goes. “Atheists are fools!”

Alleged biblical proof-texts aside, the biggest catalyst for this negative perception may be the words of atheists themselves. The new atheists in particular have led the charge in ratcheting up the rhetoric and thereby deepening the divide between Christians and atheists.

Consider the case of Christopher Hitchens (d. 2011) who was widely lauded as one of the so-called Four Horsemen of the New Atheism. While Hitchens always called himself an atheist, he also frequently insisted that he is an antitheist. That is, not only did he disbelieve in God’s existence, but he insisted that he was positively against the idea of God’s existence. He didn’t want there to be a God.

For many Christians, the antitheism of Hitchens is the face of atheism. And this, in turn, allows the Christian to conclude that atheism is not so much an intellectual issue as a moral one: that is, atheists are simply in rebellion against God. And to come back to that lady’s look of confusion: why would you invite a rebel against God into church for a chat? Isn’t this tantamount to casting pearls before swine?

Unfortunately, it is common for Christians to form their opinions about the atheist community based on the declarations of some of the loudest and brashest atheists. But this is no better than atheists forming their opinions about the Christian community based on the declarations of some of the loudest and brashest Christians. (Who among us in the community of faith wants to be identified with Pat Robertson, for example?) In short, it’s simply unjustified to dismiss an entire community, Christian or atheist, based on a few loud voices.

Atheists who want there to be a God

In fact, Hitchens himself recognized that many atheists do not share his antitheistic sentiments. In his 2001 book Letters to a Young Contrarian (Basic Books, 2001), Hitchens lays out his position as follows:

“I am not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.” (55)

Note that even as Hitchens stakes out his own antitheism, he also recognizes a type of atheist, he calls them “sentimental materialists,” who hope that God does exist and that something like Christianity is true. In other words, even if Hitchens is himself against God, he concedes that many other atheists are not.

This is significant for at least two reasons.

To begin with, the existence of so-called sentimental materialists means that Christians cannot dismiss atheism as always arising from a sinful rebellion against God. And that means that it is disingenuous at best to highlight the more provocative passages of antitheists like Hitchens as if they represented the true spirit of atheism.

This leads to a second point. What is the Christian to do with these so-called sentimental materialists? Philosophers of religion describe a non-theist who is not opposed to the idea of God as a non-resistant non-believer. I have met many non-resistant non-believers, and more than a few of these even bore that more positive disposition Hitchens describes of positively hoping that God does exist. So how should we think about these people?

Conceding the existence of non-resistant non-believers and sentimental materialists in particular presents a practical problem for the theist. In short, if there are atheists who want there to be a God, we must ask, why doesn’t God reveal himself to them? Philosophers call this the problem of divine hiddenness and they have offered several responses to address this problem. (For a brief introduction to the problem see John W. Loftus and Randal Rauser, God or Godless (Baker, 2013), chapter 20.) However we propose to address the problem, at the very least, we should concede that the existence of non-resistant non-believers makes things significantly more complicated for the Christian theist.

To sum up, not all atheists are against God, and some even hope that God does exist.

Antitheism: It’s more complicated than that

But what about those atheists like Hitchens himself who endorse explicitly antitheistic convictions? Do they really hate God? Do they embody the consummate rebel of the popular Christian conception of atheism?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. To see why it’s more complicated than that, we can return to Hitchens’ own words. Immediately after insisting that he hopes the whole religious story is false, he goes on to explain why:

“Well, there may be people who wish to live their lives under a cradle-to-grave divine supervision; a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque. It would be worse, in a way, if the supervision was benign. (I have my answer ready if I turn out to be mistaken about this: at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy.”(55-56)

I agree that Hitchens’ words look bad at first blush. But a closer examination calls to mind that old saying “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, because I probably don’t believe in him either.” And once we factor that in, things do indeed begin to look more complicated.

The first problem concerns Hitchens’ uncritical anthropomorphism. In short, he describes God as akin to a Big Brother government that is engaged in permanent surveillance of its citizenry. But this crude image fails abjectly to grapple with the concept of God in Christianity, namely as the creator and sustainer of all things who is essentially omniscient from eternity. Indeed, if you really want to get technical, in the classical theist view of God as Pure Act, his knowledge of creation derives not from external observation of creation but rather from his knowledge of his own decrees. It certainly doesn’t derive from God monitoring our ongoing activity like an eavesdropping government official. Consequently, Hitchens’ analogy is a complete and unmitigated failure.

This brings us to the second related problem concerning the divine goodness. We would all rightly be unsettled by the notion of a government monitoring our activities, not least because governments are fallible and can become corrupted and even despotic. In short, a government might use information on its citizens for nefarious ends. So it is no surprise that we cringe at the thought of living out our lives in the spotlight of a “cradle-to-grave” government supervision.

But God isn’t a fallible (still less a despotic) power. Rather, he is (to borrow a line from Anselm) that being than which none greater can be conceived. The only reason we might be unnerved at the prospect of a maximally good being observing our activity is if we are behaving in a less than maximally good way. The Christian might be inclined to assume that Hitchens doesn’t want God observing him because he wants to sin with impunity behind the back of the Anselmian deity. But the fact remains that Hitchens never seriously considers God is perfectly good in the first place.

Finally, let’s turn back to Hitchens’ parting words in which he boldly opines how he would respond to God should it happen that God does exist. As he boldly puts it, he claims that he will plead his case by noting that “at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy.”

Once again, it must be said that the conception of God that Hitchens assumes in this hypothesized interaction is such a crude caricature that he hardly seems to grasp what he is really proposing. His flippant commentary at this point strikes me as akin to a ten year old boy scout who boasts to his friends around the campfire that he would boldly chase away any grizzly bear that should happen upon their camp. If an 800 lb bear did find its way into the camp, we can predict that a confrontation would be the last thing on that little boy’s mind. In short, that boy never seriously considered what he was proposing.

It seems to me that Hitchens is like that boy in that he is utterly failing to grapple seriously with the scenario he is proposing. This fact complicates things somewhat. You see, when a person doesn’t understand the significance of what they are proposing, we tend not to hold them to the commitment in the same way we would if they did fully understand that significance. For example, let’s say that I ask my friend Don to cut my grass while I’m out of town. He looks at my house, sees that I have a small yard, and readily agrees. Unbeknownst to him, I’m also expecting him to mow the vacant ten acre field beside my house which also happens to be my property. Since Don had no clue what he was getting into, it would be inappropriate to hold him to his initial commitment.

To be fair, not all commitments are qualified like this. For example, we don’t exempt folks from their marriage proposals when things get tough simply because they didn’t anticipate all that was implied by “for better or for worse”. So I’m not claiming Hitchens is not at all responsible for his flippant response. Rather, I’m simply pointing out that it isn’t obvious he is fully culpable for his words given his obvious failure to grapple seriously with what he’s proposing.

At this point it is probably also worth noting that atheists like Hitchens aren’t the only ones to make trite and silly comments about God. Christians frequently do so as well. In her book Bait and Switch Barbara Ehrenreich (who is an atheist, by the way), describes encountering a Christian man at a conference who suggested that the best way to get a job and build a business is to network with others … beginning with God! Ehrenreich was incredulous at the suggestion:

“If the Lord exists, if there is some conscious being whose thought the universe is—some great spinner of galaxies, hurler of meteors, creator and extinguisher of species—if some such being should manifest itself, you do not ‘network’ with it any more than you would light a cigarette on the burning bush. Francois is guilty of blasphemy.” (Barbara Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (New York: Henry Holt, 2005), 139).

I don’t know if Francois is guilty of blasphemy or not. But if he is, I suspect God will go easy on him given that he never really grappled with the audacity of his advice. If God will extend some grace to Francois, might he do so for Hitchens as well?

Rethinking Atheism (and Antitheism)

I started this article with the widespread and deeply negative perceptions that many Christians have about atheists. These perceptions are often driven by a selected range of experience with particular vocal atheists. But, as I noted, judging the atheist community based on the words of a self-described antitheist like Christopher Hitchens is no better than forming opinions about the Christian community based on a fundamentalist like Pat Robertson.

Next, I noted that even in the case of the most combative of new atheists like Hitchens, the issues are often significantly more complicated than a cursory reading of their rhetoric would suggest. Indeed, in some cases one suspects that the target of their vitriol has less to do with the God of Judeo-Christian faith than a caricature of their own making. (And lest we become too smug, let us remember as well that Christians are often guilty of similar misunderstandings.)

So where does this leave us? For that I return to that debate at my church. The event went over very well. We had a packed audience of Christians, atheists, and many folks of other persuasions as well. One man at the end of the night stood and identified himself as a Hindu. He then went on to observe how his temple would never sponsor a debate like this. He then added, “Neither would the Sikh gurdwara or the Muslim mosque. But because you Christians have hosted this debate, it tells me that you really care about truth.”

Rather than allow our presuppositions about other people to settle our perception of them, it is always better to invite them into our space so they may share their perspective. Doing this values our interlocutor as a neighbor, and that man observed, it also demonstrates our commitment to truth.
 
 
AtheistNeighbor
 
 
(Image credit: MySanAntonio.com)

Dr. Randal Rauser

Written by

Dr. Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary where he has taught since 2003. He is the author of many books including What on Earth do we Know About Heaven? (Baker, 2013); The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (InterVarsity, 2012); Is the Atheist My Neighbor? (Cascade, 2015); and his most recent book, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything (Prometheus Books, 2016). Randal also blogs and podcasts at RandalRauser.com and lectures widely on Christian worldview and apologetics.

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  • No, theists should not summarily dismiss atheists because they lack a belief in any gods, or that they would not want to believe in any gods, or that they think no one should believe in any gods (anti-theism).

    Nor should atheists summarily dismiss theists because they believe in any gods, want to believe in gods, or think that all should believe in the god they believe in (anti-atheist, anti-[insert competing religion here])

    We should dismiss those whose beliefs are not well-thought through or who are being disingenuous. Peter Popoff is an outed fraud and should be ignored and shunned. I would say that atheists who malign theists as stupid or inherently immoral should be treated the same.

    But that is not what is described by Hitchens. Hitchens is responding to, I would say, a reasonable apprehension of what people believe in, which is not the god of classical theism, "Pure Act". He is responding to the God my grandfather believed in the one who "...walks with me, talks with me, and tells me that I am his own..." A personal being that sees all and judges all. A god that says involuntary thoughts or lust, are just as bad as adultery. Hitchens saying he finds that repugnant, and, I would suggest, it is. Even if this deity is perfect and would never use his knowledge of your worst thoughts against you. I would suggest that Hitchens was aware of this conception of Classical Theism. He and I both find such a god repugnant compared to one that provided humans with an element of personal sovereignty and privacy. At least for our own thoughts.

    I think Hitchens' response to a god, should he be wrong, is perfectly reasonable and indeed admirable. He is saying that he would not kneel and start lying, saying that he really always believed in God and mercy, have mercy! on this poor sinner. He was not boasting that he would be brave and stand up to God like a boy scout to a bear. He is saying that the convictions he held were genuine, they were reasonable, given what was presented to him. He is saying that he will tell God he didn't believe in him because he wasn't given evidence. He is saying that such a god should recognize this and understand that it was in no way immoral and not punish him for this.

    • A god that says involuntary thoughts or lust, are just as bad as adultery.

      Who said that committing adultery in your heart is "just as bad as adultery"? Instead, it seems like Jesus was arguing that thoughts lead to actions, that there is an inner world over which we do have control, which produces the outer world. And so we have: "Out of the heart the mouth speaks." The idea of there being a rich inner world was not well-established in Jesus' time, even though it may be hard to imagine (Sources of the Self, 111–112).

      Note that the word translated 'lust', epithymeō, connotes more than a passing interest. To call a dedicated, focused covetousness 'involuntary' seems completely unwarranted. If you meant to call something else 'involuntary', I'd like to know precisely what it is you are picking out. Note that James 1:14–15 lays out thoughts which are not in and of themselves sin, but can manifest in sin.

      • Jesus said that you have heard it said that adultery is sin but I say to you he that even lusts after a woman has committed adultery in his heart. Or something to that effect. You can interpret that as you like big I take it to mean, lusting is just as bad as adultery. But the main point is that this is thoughf crime or sin and repugnant to
        Me.

        • Alexandra

          Doing something bad in your heart is different from doing something bad in action, so it doesn't automatically follow that they are equally bad. But both are bad.

          • Sqrat

            Catholicism traditionally divides sins into two categories, venial and mortal. According to the Catechism, a mortal sin must be a "grave matter", which is something that, as "specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.'" One must note here, though, that three of the Ten Commandments, the ones that have to do with coveting, pertain to thought-sins, or at any rate sins that somehow take place inwardly rather than being expressed in outward actions. So at the very least we must absolve Jesus of the charge, sometimes brought by atheists, of being the inventor the concept of the thought-sin -- that goes back to the Ten Commandments.

            There is, however, another way that Christians have had of classifying the gravity of sins, and this one does owe its supposed origin to Jesus. According to this latter classification, sins are either forgivable, or unforgivable: "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” In one pile, we have every possible type of sin, up to and including mass murder. Any and all of those are forgivable. In the other pile, there is only one sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and that one's not forgivable.

            What "blasphemy against the Spirit" consists of is a matter for debate, but it is worth asking here whether Catholics think that Christopher Hitchens was guilty of it (if so, how?), and whether he therefore committed the one unforgivable sin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If Hitchens said Jesus was inspired by the devil, then I think he would be guilty of the unforgivable sin.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Go to heaven for the climate, go to hell for the company. - Mark Twain

          • Sqrat

            He didn't say that, of course, but are you sure that you have correctly characterized the unforgivable sin? Saying that Jesus was inspired by the devil is not saying anything about the Holy Spirit.

            Jesus is quoted as saying, " And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." Was Jesus, as is generally assumed, referring to himself in the third person when he spoke of the "Son of Man," or was he talking about someone else?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He was referring to himself as the Son of Man. Some of the Jewish authorities just said that Jesus cast out devils by the prince of devils.

            Like just about everything else, a lot could be said about the unforgivable sin. Generally it means a sin that excluded the possibility of repentance. If the proof that Jesus is savior is the miracles he performs and you claim that his power actually comes from the devil, then you will never be able to accept that Jesus is the savior.

          • Sqrat

            Well, but if some of the Jewish authorities said that Jesus cast out devils with the help of the devil, and if Jesus was speaking about himself when he referred to the Son of Man, then Jesus himself was saying that what the Jewish authorities had done was not an unforgivable sin: "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven."

            Moreover, if "not accepting Jesus as the savior" is what is actually meant by the unforgivable sin of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," then being an atheist is in and of itself an unforgivable sin, since atheists do not accept Jesus as a savior. In addition, either Pope Francis must be wrong about atheists being able to get into heaven, or it must be possible to get into heaven in spite of having committed an unforgivable sin -- in which case, is it really unforgivable?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. Let's try again. Jesus performed miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. They said he did them by the power of a devil. The evil spoken about was directed at the Holy Spirit.

            Think of it as a permanent refusal to do what you need to do. For example, God will forgive any sin if you just ask him to. But what if you refuse to do that (not because you don't think God exists). How can you be forgiven if asking is a requirement? That is an unforgivable sin. Not because God won't forgive it but because the person won't do his necessary part.

          • Sqrat

            I am afraid I am not following, Kevin.

            First, it seems to me that the evil spoken about was directed at Jesus, not against the Holy Spirit. Suppose I say that Jesus never performed any miracles (and I do say that). Have I committed the unforgivable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit because, if I say that Jesus did not perform any miracles, by implication I am also saying that he did not preform any miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit?

            Second, if God will forgive any sin if you just ask him to, how can one speak of an unforgivable sin? Wouldn't an unforgivable sin be one which God will not forgive even if you ask him to? I claim that Jesus never performed any miracles. I further claim that he never performed any miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. If that constitutes the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, do you think that God would forgive that sin if I asked him to, or would he not?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Those guys thought Jesus *did* perform miracles but he did it with the supernatural power of a demon. Therefore, they were saying the Holy Spirit was evil. So long as they thought that way they could never receive forgiveness because they would never repent, never ask for it.

            I don't think a person has committed an unforgivable sin so long as he is open to changing his mind if he sees he is wrong. The bottom line of what constitutes an unforgivable sin is the sin a person will never repent of.

            Does that make more sense?

          • Sqrat

            Nope.

          • Kraker Jak
          • Kevin Aldrich

            From now on, call him Bishop Barron!

          • Alexandra

            Thank you for your comment, I appreciate what you are saying.

            I think we can both agree that sin and moral culpability is much more complex than what the athiests who are criticizing this as "thought sins" give us credit for.

          • Sqrat

            I don't know if we agree or not. Certainly it does seem to be the case that the Church thinks there are sins that are not actions. Some of these we might call "thought sins," while others might possibly be called "feeling sins." Among the latter are jealousy and anger, while among the former is unbelief (from the Catechism, 1851: "It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief..."). Thus it seems to me that, according to the Church, Christopher Hitchens' unbelief in the existence of God was in and of itself a sin (although, I think, venial rather than mortal).

          • Alexandra

            Before changing the subject (and I will address Catholic views on sins if you want me to.)

            When Hitchens said (on Christian morality) :
            "Thought crime. Thought crime. Totalitarianism again. Thought crime. We know what you're thinking, and we can punish you for it. Totalitarianism defined!"
            (Source: npr.org)

            Do you agree?

          • Sqrat

            It does seem rather totalitarian, but, that aside, correct me if I am wrong that the Catholic Church holds that:

            1. There are such things as thought sins,

            2. God knows what your thought sins are, and

            3. At least under certain circumstances you can and will be punished for your thought sins.

          • Alexandra

            (Sorry for the delay in responding.)
            Sin is a complex subject, that I don't think I can do it justice. I recommend reading the catechism for a fuller account of what I am describing, especially the sections on moral culpability and virtue.

            > "...the Church thinks there are sins that are not actions."

            That is incorrect. All sins require BOTH intent/thought/assent of the will AND an action. (Wrong/bad actions). If you do a bad action without intent, it is called an accident and not a sin.

            > "Some of these we might call 'thought sins,' while others might possibly be called 'feeling sins.'"

            That is incorrect and makes no sense from the Catholic point of view on sin.

            > " Among the latter are jealousy and anger, while among the former is unbelief ..."

            That is incorrect. Anger in and of itself is not a sin. (Eph 4:26 "Be angry but do not sin...)
            Jealousy is more complex. If it leads to envy, it can be a sin. But a "feeling" of jealousy in and of itself is not necessarily a sin. "Feelings" can lead to sinful behavior like envy when it leads to actions that violates love for another.

            Unbelief in and of itself is not necessarily a sin. You can be unintentionally ignorant of belief and that would reduce your moral culpability. If you are willfully and with full knowledge denying truth , it is sinful, especially if you are leading others astray.

            > "1. There are such things as thought sins."
            ALL sins involve a thoughts/choices/intent - there is no such thing as sins of thoughts alone - it still requires an action.

            An action can be a mental one. An example of a positive mental action is when an alcoholic chooses to stop drinking. Although it has external consequences the choice is internal. Yet it still is an action. There is a difference between thinking you should stop drinking and choosing to stop drinking. The latter involves an assent of the will and a good mental action.

            And so it is with sin. It requires both an assent of the will and a bad action (which can be mental).

            Note the Hitchens version. "Thought crimes, you will be punished for your thought" is a complete mischaracterization of what we believe.

          • Sqrat

            Alexandra,

            Thank you for your reply. Are you sure that your characterization of the Catholic view of sin is correct? When I wrote that the Church considers jealousy, anger, and unbelief to be sins, I was taking that straight out of the Catechism:

            There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness,
            dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

            Moreover, a couple of paragraphs farther down in the Catechism, we read, "[Sins] can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission" [emphasis added]. And a few paragraphs above, it says, "It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred...." [again, emphasis added].

          • Alexandra

            Yes, I'm sure. I am referring to moral culpability. Anger become a sin when it involves ACTIONS that violates the law of love. The "feeling" of anger in and of itself is not necessarily a sin.
            So yes, the Catechism is listing these things as sins, when they are committed as sins.

            What these lists indicate are that which are bad actions that should be avoided. An action in and of itself can be wrong, neutral, or good. You should try to avoid bad actions to the best of your ability. A bad action becomes sinful when you are choosing willingly to do the bad action. Moral culpability involves intent and action and secondarily the circumstances. For example, you can do a "good" action but if you have a bad intent - it is still a sin.

            The question and argument is - can you sin involuntary?The answer is No.

          • Sqrat

            Alexandra,

            Again, I would ask you, are you sure that what you say actually reflects the position of the Church? I do so because the Catechism certainly does not say, as you do, that thoughts are not sins unless they involve actions. What is the authority for your assertion, if not the Catechism?

            I find in the Catholic Encyclopedia the following:

            That sin may be committed not only by outward deeds but also by the inner activity of the mind apart from any external manifestation, is plain from the precept of the Decalogue: "Thou shalt not covet ", and from Christ's rebuke of the scribes and pharisees whom he likens to "whited sepulchres... full of all filthiness" (Matthew 23:27). Hence the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. v), in declaring that all mortal sins must be confessed, makes special mention of those that are most secret and that violate only the last two precepts of the Decalogue, adding that they "sometimes more grievously wound the soul and are more dangerous than sins which are openly committed". Three kinds of internal sin are usually distinguished:

            delectatio morosa , i.e. the pleasure taken in a sinful thought or imagination even without desiring it;

            gaudium , i.e. dwelling with complacency on sins already committed; and

            desiderium , i.e. the desire for what is sinful.

            I realize that the text quoted above is now a century old, and the teaching of the Church may have changed since then. However, I certainly get no sense from the Catechism that it has.

          • Alexandra

            From your source.

            "Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act (St. Thomas, "De malo", 7:3), an act not in accord with reason informed by the Divine law. "

            Morally bad ACT.

            "That sin may be committed not only by outward deeds but also by the inner activity of the mind apart from any external manifestation,...

            Inner ACTIVITY.

          • Alexandra

            My information is from the catechism:

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm

            Note the object in CCC 1751 "it is the matter of a human act"

          • Jack

            Have learnt a lot from this conversation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics definitely believe there are "thought" sins. In the Confiteor at Mass each person ackowledges he has sinned "in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do." I think that covers all the bases.

        • Surely not all thoughts lead to sinful actions. Would you agree that those thoughts which do lead to sins could be said to be sinful, themselves? Or do you insist that a person is 100% free of sin until he/she acts, at which point sin suddenly springs into existence, ex nihilo?

          • Andrew Y.

            In general, a thought which does not ultimately lead to a sinful act would not be a sin itself. "Lusting after a women" is a special case where the thought itself can be a sinful act if the lust is in the form of impure thoughts, and these thoughts are "carried out" in the mind. I think this is specifically what Jesus was referring to.

          • My first goal was (and still is) to see whether @briangreenadams:disqus would allow any thoughts to be considered 'sinful'.

          • Kraker Jak
          • Michael Murray

            Interesting.

            -Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?

            Wouldn't participation make it awkward to get to confession ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "Participated in" means facilitating it for someone else. Which I think you knew.

          • Kraker Jak

            ..

          • Kraker Jak

            ...

        • Kevin Aldrich

          To have a thought or an impulse is involuntary and so it is impossible for it to be a sin.

          To sin, you need to make an act of the will.

          Mental lust is due to the choice you make to entertain such thoughts or impulses. You can say no to them if you want. That is hard, of course, since sex is pleasurable.

          But if you say no--and often you have to say no, no, and no--you begin developing the virtue of chastity and reforming your mind, will, and even memory and imagination.

          • William Davis

            This is true and backed up by science.

    • David Nickol

      A god that says involuntary thoughts or lust, are just as bad as adultery.

      I had 12 years of Catholic education, and I was never taught that anyone would be judged for involuntary thoughts.

      • The author of Mathew reports Jesus as teaching that.

        "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29"If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."

        To me this passage suggest that the sin occurs before one has time to reflect on it.

        I have heard at least one story of a Christian, because of this verse literally afraid to walk around college campus because he would see attractive women and unwittingly commit the sin of adultery. Sure you can interpret it differently, so can other theists. The book is not clear. It could have been. Jesus could have said. Though you may feel lust, because of Adams sin or whatever, when you see an attractive woman, that is okay as long as you don't intend adultery. But he didn't he said just looking with lust is adultery.

        In any event the point that Hitchens often made in this regard is that this is thought crime, or thought sin. Even your own private thoughts are not private from God, and you will be judged for them.

        • Alexandra

          Notice Jesus said in your heart - not in your thoughts. If you really want to delve into these things, I mention nuance. What does it mean to lust? Is it a choice? What does it mean to be unfaithful to your wife? And at the heart of this- what does it mean to be loving to your wife? Does a good man LUST - not just think, not just find someone attractive, but lust after women and can still say he is loving to his wife?

          • Phil Rimmer

            " Does a good man LUST - not just thoughts, not just find someone attractive, but lust after women and can still say he is loving to his wife?"

            Yes. Jimmy Carter a man of unimpeachable honesty and, for me, on nine out of ten moral issues of unimpeachable morality, recognises the reality of thoughts and desire and how willful control of the unconscious beast is a daily struggle.

            " I try not to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I'm going to do it anyhow, because I'm human and I'm tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, 'I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.'

            "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do--and I have done it--and God forgives me for it."

            This is still Christian, Minority Report, pre-crime. And "already committed adultery" is an attitude of harm creation that damages marriages. I note the honest strength of those relationships that acknowledge serious temptation, but find, "he/she still chose me!" can be a reinforcer of relationships as the problem is overcome.

          • Alexandra

            My point is if you are lustfully desiring or coveting other women, it is disrespectful to your wife.

          • David Nickol

            What about married women who lust after men who are not their husbands?

          • Alexandra

            It is just as wrong. (My comment is in relation to dialogue with Brian)

          • Phil Rimmer

            I understood your point but it needed rather more fleshing out. So no, it is not necessarily disrespectful of your wife. It is, only if you solicit opportunities for temptations and do nothing to avoid them after you stumble into them. But lusting in your heart after other women (or men or women after men etc.) in non-contrived situations, just the result of happenstance is what beset Jimmy Carter, we may imagine, when some devastating someone not knowing you to be married, dotes on your every word and he or she reminds you of that certain someone when you were seventeen and thought you might die for loss of that love.

            There are no such hard and fast rules for guilt as you claim. And as a storyteller I know there is a possible story that could make you weep for every so-called sinner. Judgments can never be so facile, nor even at my more extenuating circumstances. Besides a Jesus-Life is poetry-free...

          • Alexandra

            It sounds like we have a different definition of lust.

            And I make no judgement on the guilt or innocence of someone. We distinguish between action and intent. Intent is between you and God.

          • Phil Rimmer

            "And I make no judgement on the guilt or innocence of someone."

            And I think we must...on the basis of harmful actions. That is how we manage our moral discourse, by forming our own judgments.

            Lust is simply to have a strong sexual desire for someone. Surely we agree? This may spring, unbidden, as it were. Unbidden is the point. We cannot get disrespect from unbidden. Or are you saying in fact that the unbidden feeling is a source of human weakness and in some sense culpable?

            The problem with the concept of a mind reading God, otherwise innocuous, is the human weakness of assuming that role and insight as they would for another human. These sticks are used widely and disgracefully.

          • Alexandra

            (Sorry for the delay in responding.)

            Thank you for the kind words.

            Regarding "unbidden feelings" -they are morally neutral.

          • Phil Rimmer

            It's nice to find the common ground...

          • "What does it mean to lust?" to me it is to find someone sexually attractive. it is an involuntary feeling, an instinct to want to be sexually active with another. I can't control that feeling, I can control what I do with it. I can control my actions. So lust would not be a choice.

            Unfaithful to a spouse would be to break the agreement you have with respect to sexual relations. If you have agreed to be monogamous, having any sexual contact with another would be being unfaithful.

            Being loving to a spouse is extremely complex. If means being supportive, caring, helpful, critical, sexy, and many more things.

            "Does a good man LUST - not just thoughts, not just find someone
            attractive, but lust after women and can still say he is loving to his
            wife?" I would say absolutely. It would be ridiculous to think one can turn off being attracted to someone else.

            I don't know what lust can mean other than a feeling attracted to someone.

          • Michael Murray

            Or it could mean encouraging that feeling in yourself by fantasizing about the person in a sexual manner, maybe while masturbating or having sex with someone else.

            According to Krakerjak's Confession Guide for Adults all of the above would give you something to talk about in Confession.

          • Well, I think masturbating or sex with someone else is already covered by adultery.

            I would say the proper interpretation of Matthew is that Jesus is saying that sin goes further than what the law from the OT has set out expressly. He is saying the sin of adultery is more than just having sex with someone who is not your spouse, but even thinking about it.

            But it is more than just intending to cheat. It seems he is saying it is sin to even want to cheat. This is why he uses the language of "everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY with her in his heart"

            Certainly it could mean a conscious acceptance of the lustful feeling (which I wonder why would be a problem or considered immoral.) Okay, but then what is the non sinning version of this? You have the feeling of attraction and suppress and feel ashamed of it?

          • Okay, but then what is the non sinning version of this? You have the feeling of attraction and suppress and feel ashamed of it?

            How about realizing that there are better ways to use your precious brain cycles to build others up, be loyal to your spouse if you have one, etc.? If we use the race metaphor from Heb 12:1–2, sin keeps us from doing the excellent thing. The point is not to simply "not sin", but to build others up (agápē).

            You don't seem to want to consider that perhaps epithymeō means more than a passing attraction. Perhaps it involves wanting to have sex with a person regardless of whether he/she would also like that—thereby objectifying the person. Perhaps it involves thinking that you will be incomplete until you have your way with that person. The tenth Word (commandment) is to not covet, which involves deep desiring; it seems that epithymeō means something like this. It seems like a cultivated desire, something extensively dwelt upon.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How about realizing that there are better ways to use your precious brain cycles to build others up, be loyal to your spouse if you have one, etc.?

            To me, philosophizing about thought crimes and condoms seems like a giant waste of brain cycles.

          • Alexandra

            Agreed. Do you agree or disagree with what Luke is proposing. Are you opposed to the idea of Agape?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What exactly is Luke proposing? He has said quite a few things, so I am not sure what you are asking me to agree of disagree about.

            It all seems rather silly. To me discussing whether or not it is a sin to lust and what constitutes lust is like talking about whether or not unicorns have wings.

            I don't see the need to get all worked up about thought sins and other trivialities that Catholics think offend God. It seems better to focus on living and making the world a better place.
            Honestly, I think Catholics are much more focused on sexual thoughts than the rest of it.

            With regard to Agape, I am not really sure how I feel. It doesn't seem to be particularly healthy to love someone regardless of what they do.

          • It all seems rather silly. To me discussing whether or not it is a sin to lust and what constitutes lust is like talking about whether or not unicorns have wings.

            Lust could easily not be one of the top ten problems you struggle with, making it seem unimportant to you, given your anecdotal experience. Perhaps you struggle instead with sloth, or rage, or arrogance. In all these cases, surely we can note that actions are preceded by thoughts, and consider that perhaps some examination of thoughts would be prudent?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think letting thoughts run their natural course and letting them pass is much more productive than guarding the mind against sinful temptations. Lustful thoughts were a bigger deal for me when I was Catholic.

            People don't do everything they think about doing. People who focus too much on bad thoughts, usually have or end up with some type of obsessive disorder.

          • I think letting thoughts run their natural course and letting them pass is much more productive than guarding the mind against sinful temptations.

            You would never say such a thing to a pedophile. Perhaps your Catholic education caused you to overly emphasize certain mental discipline over and above other mental discipline; I find that sexuality is frequently put over and above e.g. abuse of power. What is especially dangerous is the idea that one merely needs to continually think of not doing the bad thing. That's not how you treat an addict; you point out that his/her addiction is actively preventing him/her from obtaining much better things in life. It is taking up mental cycles and physical time which could be better spent. Likewise, with lustful thoughts chewing up precious time and opportunity.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I have no idea on how to counsel a pedophile. The church apparently doesn't either. But such statements are analogous to bringing up Hitler in an internet conversation.

            Lustful thoughts don't chew up precious time and opportunity. They come and they go. Philosophizing about them is a giant waste of time and opportunity. Confessing them is a giant waste of time and opportunity. Catholicism is a giant waste of time and opportunity.

          • But such statements are analogous to bringing up Hitler in an internet conversation.

            The argument under examination is that treating 'lust' as 'thought-crime' is ridiculous; that the idea of policing one's own thoughts is anathema. When the signal is weak, this is believable. Similarly, when things Hitler did are done at 1/1,000,000 the intensity, their badness can be doubted. Only when the signal is strong enough is one forced to acknowledge badness. Therefore, bringing up pedophilia or Hitler is sometimes warranted, and I claim this is one of those times.

            Lustful thoughts don't chew up precious time and opportunity.

            But clearly they do, for some people. Whether you are one of those people, or struggle with different characteristic sins, is something for you to figure out, hopefully with the help of others to cover your blind spots. Dorothy Sayers has a wonderful essay in The Whimsical Christian called "The Other Six Deadly Sins", which seems apropos—she means "other than lust".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The argument under examination is that treating 'lust' as 'thought-crime' is ridiculous; that the idea of policing one's own thoughts is anathema.

            It is ridiculous. The Catholic Church teaches that a lustful thought that is willed and consented to is mortally sinful. This consent could take place in a manner of minutes, even seconds. Enough of the obfuscation. The Church does teach that passing lustful thoughts are sinful.

            Tangentially, I would point out that the punishment does not fit the crime.

            More to the main point, lustful thoughts are part of the human experience. They are not bad. Consenting to them does not cause any harm, but rather some momentary pleasure. Focusing on their "forbiddeness" only increases the intensity of the thoughts, causes anxiety and pain, and wastes great amounts of time.

            People do not go and have sex with everyone they fantasize about. People do not commit adultery because they fantasized about someone other than their spouse. You have a slippery slope fallacy going here as well.

            When the signal is weak, this is believable. Similarly, when things Hitler did are done at 1/1,000,000 the intensity, their badness can be doubted. Only when the signal is strong enough is one forced to acknowledge badness.

            This does not follow. For instance, it is healthy to eat three good meals, but it is unhealthy to eat 6 Big Macs a day. When you scale down the "badness" the "badness" could disappear. It would be wrong for a parent to go out every night and never see his kids. However, it would not be wrong for that parent to go out occasionally.

            Rarely it is it helpful to consider the extreme cases.

            Therefore, bringing up pedophilia or Hitler is sometimes warranted, and I claim this is one of those times.

            I explained to you above why this is not the case. It would be much better if you could just explain why you think consenting to a lustful thought is wrong.

            But clearly they do, for some people. Whether you are one of those people, or struggle with different characteristic sins, is something for you to figure out, hopefully with the help of others to cover your blind spots.

            You guys are really obsessed with this whole sin thing. Is it a sin to fantasize about being lazy?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics are not obsessed with sex but our culture is.

          • David Nickol

            Catholics are not obsessed with sex but our culture is.

            From the New York Times, September 19, 2013

            Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control

            By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

            Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

            His surprising comments came in a lengthy interview in which he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized. He articulated his vision of an inclusive church, a “home for all” — which is a striking contrast with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the doctrinal defender who envisioned a smaller, purer church.

            Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

            “We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

            The pope’s interview did not change church doctrine or policies, but it instantly changed its tone. . . .

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The NYT distorts everything.

          • David Nickol

            The NYT distorts everything.

            That is such a lame response (although I suspect you are not all that serious and shifted into Archie Bunker mode to needle me). The same story was reported in Reuters, The Independent, The Associated Press, and the full interview from which the pope's remarks are taken was printed by America Magazine.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            America magazine is the NYT for progressive Catholics.

            But this is what he actually said:

            “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

            “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

            “I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”

            I think he is saying that the proclamation of the Gospel comes first, and then catechesis, and that catechesis includes teachings on morality, but all this must be done pastorally, that is, taking into account the person you are speaking with.

            The thing is, in *this* country, Catholics don't *lead* with sexual ethics. Maybe it seems like that because American culture and maybe the folks at America magazine are obsessed with sex.

          • William Davis

            The Catholic Church has been obsessed with sex since it's inception. One obvious example, England left the Catholic church over sex...the king's marriage (there are a ton of others I could research, but I'm suspicious you might call them a distortion).

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VIII_of_England

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Henry VIII was obsessed with sex and left the Catholic Church because of his obsession. Most of the Catholic bishops and the nobles at the time were obsessed with keeping their heads on their shoulders and so went along with it.

          • It is ridiculous. The Catholic Church teaches that a lustful thought that is willed and consented to is mortally sinful.

            I'm not a Catholic and do not know whether you've properly represented their actual position. Josef Pieper's discussion of mortal vs. venial sins in The Concept of Sin makes me think you have not. Anyhow, recently I found “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1, which seems (i) plausible; (ii) very different from the version you have perhaps rightly called 'ridiculous'.

            Tangentially, I would point out that the punishment does not fit the crime.

            Why think that Jesus believed "committing adultery in your heart" merits capital punishment? If you're talking about physical adultery, that would seem to depend on how important it is to maintain families intact and how important people's solemn oaths are. I would also note that sundered families probably had much more severe consequences before the modern welfare state, not to mention the ANE socioeconomic situation vs. ours, today.

            People do not go and have sex with everyone they fantasize about. People do not commit adultery because they fantasized about someone other than their spouse. You have a slippery slope fallacy going here as well.

            These are straw men.

            When you scale down the "badness" the "badness" could disappear.

            True. One of the aspects of wisdom is to be able to see badness at smaller and smaller signal levels, including those signal levels where sometimes it's badness "in the bud" and sometimes it's harmless or even good. One central aspect of Christianity is against coveting, for coveting indicates that God does not really love me as well as he could, and that life really would be much better if I had that thing—or person—I covet. I'm not sure whether there have been good studies on coveting, which would mean that the anti-coveting interpretation of Mt 5:27–28 may be something people have to try out in their own actions and thought-life, to see whether the results seem better than the alternative.

            You guys are really obsessed with this whole sin thing. Is it a sin to fantasize about being lazy?

            If the result is that you think it would be better if you spent less time loving others and more time loving yourself—and then act this out—I would say "yes". As to obsession about sin, that could be due to (i) focus on the wrong things and/or with wrong emphasis; (ii) focus on sin in general. I suspect that (i) is the reason. I prefer to look at sin through the Hebrews 12:1–2 lens: sin weighs us down and prevents us from "running the race", where a crucial aspect of that race is loving others. Sin gets in the way; it isn't the primary focus.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not a Catholic and do not know whether you've properly represented their actual position.

            May I ask what belief system you ascribe to?

            Josef Pieper's discussion of mortal vs. venial sins in The Concept of Sin makes me think you have not. Anyhow, recently I found “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1, which seems (i) plausible; (ii) very different from the version you have perhaps rightly called 'ridiculous'.

            I think I have accurately represented a Catholic position. I think it also the most common one in conservative Catholic circles.

            Why think that Jesus believed "committing adultery in your heart" merits capital punishment?

            I think he believed it merits something much worse, namely infinite and eternal punishment in hell. Certainly that is the Catholic interpretation.

            If you're talking about physical adultery, that would seem to depend on how important it is to maintain families intact and how important people's solemn oaths are. I would also note that sundered families probably had much more severe consequences before the modern welfare state, not to mention the ANE socioeconomic situation vs. ours, today.

            Whether or not I agree depends on whether or not divorce and remarriage counts as adultery.

            These are straw men.

            I do not think so. I was trying to point out that most fantasies are passing and of little consequence.

            True. One of the aspects of wisdom is to be able to see badness at smaller and smaller signal levels, including those signal levels where sometimes it's badness "in the bud" and sometimes it's harmless or even good.

            I agree.

            If the result is that you think it would be better if you spent less time loving others and more time loving yourself—and then act this out—I would say "yes".

            It seems odd that Christians are most focused on sexual thoughts, while one never hears about how horrible it is to think gluttonous or slothful thoughts.

            sin weighs us down and prevents us from "running the race", where a crucial aspect of that race is loving others. Sin gets in the way; it isn't the primary focus.

            If sin is something that prevents us from loving others, I think Christianity is going to have to reevaluate what actions it considers to be sinful. Things like drunkenness and condom use.

          • May I ask what belief system you ascribe to?

            I'm a non-denominational Protestant who believes that God created reality, loves his creation, and continues to act in reality—but in that special way I described, where he does not just unilaterally impose his will on it like we think of dictators doing to their countries. The insistence of cooperation over imposition by power makes things really freaking messy (like dying-on-a-cross messy).

            I think I have accurately represented a Catholic position. I think it also the most common one in conservative Catholic circles.

            It would be interesting to compare what is taught by your average Catholic priest, in comparison to what the Magisterium promulgates. What I do know is that one Catholic theologian, Josef Pieper, seems to have some very sensible thoughts on what constitutes 'mortal' vs. 'venial' sins, thoughts which clash with your own representation of Catholic thought. On the other hand, I do have the sense that they overemphasize sexuality. Perhaps I could find a Jesuit sometime and grill him/her. :-)

            I do not think so. I was trying to point out that most fantasies are passing and of little consequence.

            Well, I might just disagree with you, and perhaps the Catholic Church, that what you are calling 'fantasy' is what Jesus was describing with epithymeō. It makes much more sense that the problem is thinking that "If I had my way with that person, my life would be better."—this is coveting, and it seems quite dangerous.

            It seems odd that Christians are most focused on sexual thoughts, while one never hears about how horrible it is to think gluttonous or slothful thoughts.

            Well, I did say this:

            LB: Dorothy Sayers has a wonderful essay in The Whimsical Christian called "The Other Six Deadly Sins", which seems apropos—she means "other than lust".

            :-) Note that when one focuses on coveting as the problem instead of 'fantasy' or what typically goes by the word 'lust' these days, it easily generalizes past sexuality. It might be worth noting that the law which tripped Paul up and showed him to be a sinner in Romans 7 is "You shall not covet." In Paul's famed Rom 1:18–23 passage (I won't stop at v27, but I will stop at 2:24), one of the two causes of all sin is lack of thankfulness, which has deep connection to coveting.

            If sin is something that prevents us from loving others, I think Christianity is going to have to reevaluate what actions it considers to be sinful. Things like drunkenness and condom use.

            Oh I definitely agree with drunkenness and probably with condom use (if for no other reason than I'd prefer people live longer to be able to hear the Gospel). Here though I wonder if Catholics have an edge on Protestants in terms of having deep beliefs on how to contribute to the good of others, grounded in natural law and teleology. What is it that makes another person more than [s]he was before, better than [s]he was before? The political liberal answer is to free him/her from oppressive social forces and let him/her do whatever [s]he wants as long as it doesn't violate some nebulous harm principle, but I don't buy that: it is incredibly individualistic and is awfully skeptical that we could contribute to some ever-growing, ever-more-complex, ever-more-awesome 'common good'. On the other hand, Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) have a history of squashing God-created aspects of individuals, which I suspect provoked the pendulum swing in the other direction.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Perhaps I could find a Jesuit sometime and grill him/her

            Jesuits tend to be rather unorthodox.

            It makes much more sense that the problem is thinking that "If I had my way with that person, my life would be better."—this is coveting, and it seems quite dangerous

            I agree that this could be a line of thinking that could lead to bad outcomes. Although most people about to get married, not doubt think that their life will be better with their spouse than without.

            Oh I definitely agree with drunkenness and probably with condom use (if for no other reason than I'd prefer people live longer to be able to hear the Gospel).

            I think it was Lewis who said something to the effect that the vice of drunkenness at least also increased fellowship and friendship. I think it is a rather silly thing to prohibit considering all the benefits.

            What is it that makes another person more than [s]he was before, better than [s]he was before? The political liberal answer is to free him/her from oppressive social forces and let him/her do whatever [s]he wants as long as it doesn't violate some nebulous harm principle, but I don't buy that: it is incredibly individualistic and is awfully skeptical that we could contribute to some ever-growing, ever-more-complex, ever-more-awesome 'common good'.

            I think this stems more from wanting individuals to chose their own happiness rather than having others chose it for them.

          • Jesuits tend to be rather unorthodox.

            I'll bet they will tend to know just how unorthodox they are, though.

            Although most people about to get married, not doubt think that their life will be better with their spouse than without.

            This in no way entails the objectification I explicitly picked out. Indeed, I surmise that those marriages built on objectification tend to be unhealthy and short-lived.

            I think it was Lewis who said something to the effect that the vice of drunkenness at least also increased fellowship and friendship. I think it is a rather silly thing to prohibit considering all the benefits.

            I think there is danger of the good becoming an enemy of the perfect (or heading further toward the perfect). Furthermore, drunkenness is especially insidious, given that it involves the compromise of one's judgment. Finally, drunkenness has caused terrible damage; I know some children with drunks for parents who have tremendously deep scars due to verbal abuse. I think the Bible speaks harshly of drunkenness (≠ drinking) for very wise reasons. I get the self-medicating aspects, but there are frequently multiple ways to treat a problem, some much better than others, especially in the long term.

            I think this stems more from wanting individuals to chose their own happiness rather than having others chose it for them.

            It's not clear that such a statement makes any sense. Consider the power of advertisers and government propaganda (e.g. compare the uproar over the Charlie Hebdo attack to the virtual silence over the 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station). Or just look at how Facebook was able to manipulate its users; I'm sure they all subjectively evaluated themselves to be having free will during that manipulation.

            Can you distinguish, on the basis of ontology instead of subjective perception, between individuals having what makes them happy being chosen for them, vs. individuals making those choices themselves? Humans are tremendously plastic beings, and what they have considered as "contributing to my happiness" has varied greatly through history. Perhaps you could comment on whether it is acceptable for the federal government ought to ban ingredients and foods deemed to be bad for people's health; I'm sure some folks are made unhappy by not being able to purchase ultra-large sugary drinks. If the reasoning is that the person's future self will prefer to have temporary appetites be curbed, then you're entering waters typically occupied by religious authority!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then why are you wasting time commenting here?!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because I am quite annoyed with all of the obfuscation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is obfusce?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The luster might say it is trivial until he becomes a slave to it or wounds the object of his lust or deeply harms his children by his behavior. Lust does not make the world a better place.

          • Michael Murray

            Many things taken to excess are damaging.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Lust is not excessive enjoyment of sexual pleasure. It is consent to the acts which lead to sexual enjoyment that a person should not make. It is different from eating and drinking in which you can certainly get too much of a good thing.

          • Phil Rimmer

            " [Lust] is consent to the acts which lead to sexual enjoyment that a person should not make."

            I'd love to see the etymology of that transmogrification of feelings (intense desire) into behaviours. Intense desire can arrive unbidden. It can be a source of great distress. We are not a single mind but an emotional brain stem and its primitive adornments and a deep thinking cortex wrapped over it, deep but slow. Passions burst out before we can engage our wiser selves. Our spindle cells unique to the humans and the physically big brains like elephants and whales do the best they can to take our wiser judgments back to our error detector, the anterior cingulate cortex, with all possible haste (they are the fastest neurons on the planet) to stop us doing foolish things. What is the RCC view on this neural wiring and its efficient operation to net our better moral behaviours? Is the primitive stuff, the emotional stuff for which we have far less servo control still culpable for these priapic sins?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is the RCC view on this neural wiring and its efficient operation to net our better moral behaviours? Is the primitive stuff, the emotional stuff for which we have far less servo control still culpable for these priapic sins?

            The Catholic Church does not have any views on neural wiring. Impulses are never sins in themselves. It is only behavior that can be morally evaluated.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Thank you. That is what you were saying clearly.

            But what of God's judgement? There are Catholic comments here that suggest otherwise. That some internal brain states ("what is in your heart") becomes sin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            When you become aware of a brain state and say yes or no to it then you have performed a human act, even though no one besides you can observe it. This is why thoughts can be morally good or morally evil.

            What is in a person's heart is a great mystery. I know in everyone's heart is the desire for happiness. But we form, reform, or deform our hearts by what we repeatedly choose.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Aquinas said something interesting along these lines. He said we should act keeping in hand (or mind) the rule of reason and divine law. We *should,* but a person can always completely skip that step and act recklessly.

            Some people don't think at all. Some are clever and think up ways to get what they want. Others try to come up with what would be right. And, any individual could be doing all three at different times.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This is not something that happens very often. Most lusts are passing interests that are trivial in the grand scheme of things. There wouldn't be any children if not for lust.

          • The Great Porn Experiment indicates that lust can greatly damage one's quality of life (and you can do something about it), so it's not at all clear that this matter is a waste of brain cycles.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            nYou just shifted goalposts. We were talking about lustful thoughts not porn.
            There is a lot wrong with your link. Most importantly it deals in antidotal evidence and perhaps mistakes cause for effect. The vast majority of people watch internet porn. Usually, it is the extremes that have issues. So, on one hand we have our sexual addicts and on the other we have our ridged puritan types. Neither function very well.

          • Porn does not invoke lustful thoughts? I realize my link is not a double-blind peer-reviewed study, but surely it counts for something in a conversation like this. It's not like my interlocutors are overflowing with scientific evidence. You note that it deals with extremes, and yet it is frequently at the extremes that we first see signal that rises above the noise. In this case, the extremes demonstrate that lust can be damaging and that people can control their lustful thoughts. From here, we can work our way toward less severe situation, with the knowledge that we will have to be more sensitive in our measurements because the signal levels will be lower.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            One can have lustful thoughts without porn. It is an everyday occurrence.

            There is no evidence to suggest that porn is harmful because it causes lustful thoughts. Without lustful thoughts none of us would be here anyway.

          • It would be entirely consistent with the results of The Great Porn Experiment to find that certain kinds of what you are calling 'lust' are indeed detrimental to optimal human thriving. Furthermore, it would be entirely consistent for these "certain kinds" to match up with the meaning of epithymeō (look at the other uses of the word: it is almost certainly talking about inculcated, habituated desire, not spur-of-the-moment stuff).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And what is the greek word for fleeting lustful thoughts?

            I think you should brush up on your fallacies:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirming_the_consequent

          • You are refusing to distinguish between fleeting thoughts and inculcated desire. I don't know what the Greek word is for 'fleeting thoughts', but Ja 1:14–15 deals with the transition from non-sinful thoughts to sinful thoughts/actions ('desire' in the ESV is epithymeō, here).

            I am well aware that correlation ⇏ causation (obligatory comic) and related matters. What seems to be the case is that you are so certain of your own position that I must be engaged in logical fallacy, instead of articulating a very plausible position, given extant evidence, textual and empirical.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You are refusing to distinguish between fleeting thoughts and inculcated desire. I don't know what the Greek word is for 'fleeting thoughts', but Ja 1:14–15 deals with the transition from non-sinful thoughts to sinful thoughts/actions ('desire' in the ESV is epithymeō, here).

            And you are refusing to distinguish between consenting to lustful thoughts/briefly fantasizing and obsessive stalkerish behavior. The Church considers consenting to a lustful thought to be a sin worthy of eternal fire. There is no mention of long term coveting or obsessing.

            I am well aware that correlation ⇏ causation (obligatory comic) and related matters. What seems to be the case is that you are so certain of your own position that I must be engaged in logical fallacy, instead of articulating a very plausible position, given extant evidence, textual and empirical.

            Anecdotal evidence about how extreme pornography has effected the lives of a self-selected group of men is not evidence that garden variety lustful fantasies are harmful. Your position may have all sorts of evidence, but you haven't given any. Your porn experiment is a giant misdirection. And you committed at least one logical fallacy.
            Your argument goes:

            1) Watching porn --> the watcher has lustful thoughts
            2) Some people have bad outcomes when they watch a lot of extreme porn.
            3) Lust is the reason for the bad outcomes.
            4) All lust is bad

            I just don't see how you have made an argument. I am reasonably certain that most lustful thoughts and fantasies are harmless. You have not said anything to convince me otherwise.

          • And you are refusing to distinguish between consenting to lustful thoughts/briefly fantasizing and obsessive stalkerish behavior. The Church considers consenting to a lustful thought to be a sin worthy of eternal fire. There is no mention of long term coveting or obsessing.

            My recent comment deals with this matter.

            Anecdotal evidence about how extreme pornography has effected the lives of a self-selected group of men is not evidence that garden variety lustful fantasies are harmful.

            I'm becoming increasingly convinced that what you mean by "garden variety lustful fantasies" may not be at all what Mt 5:27–28 is talking about. What I will say is that I believe there is a point where such behavior becomes unhealthy, and that it manifests as addiction, with all the cognitive distortions which arise. Furthermore, taken too far, lust objectifies, by asserting that my life would be better if I had my way with that person, which treats him/her as a means instead of an end. This is very different from observing that a person is beautiful or handsome.

            Your argument goes:[...]4) All lust is bad

            Yeah, I think what you mean by 'lust' and what Jesus meant by 'epithymeō' are quite different.

            I am reasonably certain that most lustful thoughts and fantasies are harmless.

            I'm curious; how do you know this with "reasonable certain[ty]"? It strikes me that you'd need to have data of at least the following level of complexity:

            1. Those who happily engage in lustful thoughts.
              a. Those who don't do it to a damaging level.
              b. Those who do do it to a damaging level.
            2. Those who think lustful thoughts are damaging.
              a. Those who struggle rather helplessly to avoid lustful thoughts
              b. Those who successfully avoid lustful thoughts.

            Note that how exactly 'lustful thoughts' are defined (e.g. hormonal at one extreme, severe coveting at another) is important. With this schema you could, for example, show that there is no benefit of 2.b. over 1.a. You could show that 2.a. is too likely in shooting for 2.b. You could show that the vast majority avoid 1.b. But to simply assert there is no problem seems to reveal that you just don't know whether you're in the position of an alcoholic denying that [s]he has a problem, or whether you really don't have a problem.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm curious; how do you know this with "reasonable certain[ty]"? It strikes me that you'd need to have data of at least the following level of complexity:

            We have studies which suggest that masturbation is healthy. It also seems that very few people actively try to avoid lustful thoughts, while they remain happy, healthy, and loving. Anecdotally, I would argue that group 1 is healthier and happier. As a former Catholic, I can say that I prefer to be in group 1. It seems nearly impossible to do a study of the complexity that you suggest, because nearly everyone engages in lustful thoughts and because it is nearly impossible to determine who belongs in group (a) or (b) especially for group 2.

            Lustful thoughts are very natural and I think trying to repress what is natural often leads to neurotic behavior. So I do not see the good in trying to stop thinking lustful thoughts.

          • We have studies which suggest that masturbation is healthy. It also seems that very few people actively try to avoid lustful thoughts, while they remain happy, healthy, and loving.

            It is possible that this is just true. It is also possible that the practiced alternatives to these have gotten so bad, that the 'cure' is worse than the 'disease'. There is also the danger that we accept a pitiful standard of living as good; I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis' famous quotation:

            It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)

            Note that whatever the general level and character of 'thriving' is in a society, that is what most people will accept as "the best that is possible". So if pretty much everyone engages in some bad behavior, it might be incredibly hard to even label it as 'bad'. Only if enough people start fighting that behavior might one see that when you do this, and then only when you get over that uncomfortable hump of breaking a bad habit where everything seems worse (like the pain that comes from setting a bone).

            By the way, I claim that Romans 2:24 is the punchline of the first two chapters. Those who claim that there is a better way to live, but don't actually live that better way, promote the idea that the very existence of a better way is a myth. This blasphemes God, because he says (i) there is a better way; (ii) he wants to help us toward that way. (see Is 55:6–9)

            It seems nearly impossible to do a study of the complexity that you suggest, because nearly everyone engages in lustful thoughts and because it is nearly impossible to determine who belongs in group (a) or (b) especially for group 2.

            One would not need to engage in zero lustful thoughts to see benefit, though. As to distinguishing members of a. vs. b., yes it is hard, but I don't think it is "nearly impossible". There is, however, a key I don't often see discussed. That is: one cannot merely fight an evil desire, but one has to replace it with an unperverted, or at least less perverted desire. I'm reminded of Ezek 16:49–50, which notes that the first sin of Sodom was not aiding the poor and needy, not the [homosexual] rape. It is as if we want to get some enjoyment out of life, that God created reality to enjoy it in excellent ways (give to others), and that sexual perversions take root when we refuse to do this.

            Lustful thoughts are very natural and I think trying to repress what is natural often leads to neurotic behavior. So I do not see the good in trying to stop thinking lustful thoughts.

            I'm going to have to disagree with you on "very natural", if you mean that to be normative instead of merely descriptive, just like it is "very natural" for some to feel the impulse to rape others. We "repress what is natural" all the time. In other situations, we channel and hone impulses, so that we can do stuff like science. Christians would generally argue that channeling sexual desires and thoughts to a single other person is better than letting them go scattershot. They would argue that the benefits of monogamy (and everything which aids monogamy) are worth the costs of commitment.

          • Michael Murray

            The vast majority of people watch internet porn.

            That is an amazing difference from when I was a young teenager in the early 70s and lingerie advertisements in women's magazines were about the height of pornography. I suspect there is an issue here and we will have to deal with both young men who become addicted to masturbation watching pornography and also start educating young people that normal sex is often quite different to pornography. Both of these issues can be dealt with and neither will be helped by the bizarre Catholic sexual morality rules.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with this except, of course, the last sentence. Catholic sexual morality is certainly countercultural but it is not in the least bizarre, unless you are in the bizarro world.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I suppose it depends on the type and quantity of pornography. If a few people develop a problem that does not meant that porn in general is bad.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is not a waste of time because the rule of reason should guide our actions.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think that is true in theory or practice. Reason does not tell me to eat when I am hungry or drink when I am thirsty. An artist does not compose a great symphony or write a great novel because reason tells him to. Much or our decisions involve human intuition and emotion. Does reason play a part? Yes. But morality and living is not simply the cold reasoning of a logician. It is much more than this.

            Ethics is about how we choose to live our life. Worrying about thought crimes and condoms seems like a very trivial and superficial ethical concern.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. I said the rule of reason should *guide* our actions.

            Reason may be the source of some actions, but desire and emotion are more often their origin.

            When I write novels, I have to use my reason to judge the quality of what I have written and how to revise and when it is adequate.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are what you think about and do.

          • Sure, but the question really is, why does god need to know our thoughts in the first place? Why can't he actually allow some privacy?

          • Why is privacy from God important? I can understand privacy from people who would use your thoughts against you, but God (by definition) does not do that. Another reason for privacy is that people might respond stupidly to you exposing some aspect of yourself, but again God does not do that.

            Are you alluding to Hitchens' "God is worse than Kim Jong-il" sketch?

          • Alexandra

            Brian, you will know (or should) when you've crossed the line into lust. It betrays your wife and disrespects the woman you are desiring.

          • My wife doesn't trust that I will not be attracted to others nor do I expect it of her. I don't see any betrayal in feeling attracted to others.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that we use the word lust loosely to mean sexual desire. This desire can both arise involuntarily or voluntarily.

            But when we talk about lust in moral theology we are talking about the act of lust, which is deliberately calling for sexual desire to arise and consenting to it or deliberately consenting to it when it spontaneously arises in a situation in which we should not. An act of lust in this sense is a sin. To act in this way repeatedly results in the vice of lust. This would be an ingrained habit of consenting to sinful sexual desire.

            Lest this all sound too negative, sexual desire is good in itself. It is naturally oriented to the life-long and exclusive unity of a man and a woman (fulfilling their sexual, mental, and emotional complementarily) *and* the creation of a new human being, their child.

            Sexual desire is so powerful that it goes wrong in all sorts of ways. Our culture as a whole seems to have adopted the stupid principle which Debbie Boone made famous in "You Light Up My Life": "It can be wrong if it feels so right."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Major typo: "It *can't* be wrong if it feels so right" is what Debbie Boone really sang.

          • I don't see how anyone can consent to desire. I don't any problem with sexual desire. The problems arise only when we act on it without the consent of others. I don't see it as good or bad.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "I don't see how anyone can consent to desire."

            You see a chocolate eclair at the bakery. You desire to eat it. You consent to the desire by buying the confection and eating it.

          • This is my I whole point! Take issue with the actual adultery not the desire for it!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ask your wife is she has any problem with you sexually fantasizing about other women all day and she'll smack you upside your head.

            The problem is not in the thought or impulse or image that pops into your consciousness but in making the choice to to entertain any of them. The former is pre-moral. The latter is moral. So is actual adultery.

          • Well I don't fantasize about it all day, but both of us are attracted to others and we have spoken about it. We watch porn together and have a great time. We both had sex with dozens of others before we met and aren't naive enough to think that desire just ended when we met each other.

            Making the choice to entertain them? What do you mean? Entertain adultery or being attracted to someone who is not my spouse. I don't entertain the option of adultery, I do feel lust for other women.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know you are interested in Christianity--maybe Catholicism especially--but you say it does not make sense to you or your can't believe it.

            Jesus Christ said "Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God." A corollary to that is the impure of heart will not see God or cannot see God. Chastity is a key Christian (and I would say human) virtue. An early Christian writer said that Christians are just like other people in most respects but "We share our board but not our beds."

          • I know you say it is a virtue, but I can't imagine why, other than it is what you are told to believe.

            I see no reason to view chastity as a virtue. In my view this position is responsible for much harm in telling people that sex for pleasure, masterbation, homosexual union is in any way problematic.

            To be having a healthy, consensual, and expressive sex life is a virtue.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A virtue is a stable habit of the will. In the case of chastity, it is the power and so the freedom to rule yourself when it comes to the acts that will result in sexual pleasure. It is the key to a healthy sex life.

          • Well, the virtue you seem to be referring to is restraining yourself from pleasure, generally. I don't see that as a virtue, exercising will to restrain yourself from pleasure when it will reasonably harm you or others, never engaging in non-consenting sex, sure. But these are more general virtues, not just for sex. This not chastity.

        • D Rieder

          And of course the entire dialogue on this topic is one reason why I doubt Jesus was divine, part of the Godhead, the Son of Man. The admonition on lust was poorly thought out and has left millions in wonder whether they are adhering carefully enough to "the will of the Father" because of thoughts in their heads.

          What the heck is lust? Oh to be sure we can all manufacture some definition, some mental construct, that ensures Jesus wasn't putting unreasonable demands on us humans. A just God would never apply unjust judgement because some wayward thought flitted through the mind, right? But who knows...and then what? But more importantly there are words that could have made it clearer. He wasn't forced to talk in riddles,hyperbole or parables. A divinely powered person could've just told it like it is if the "divine" is "all that". Many posts even on this thread would've made for a better explanations if those were what Jesus had actually meant.

          But we don't know and some people will forever feel in the cross hairs of judgement. That is, unless they've manufactured some finer definition of "lust" that ensures they can abide by the commandment of Jesus.

          It's akin to, Matt. 26:"27And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins." So did the cup really contain blood, representing yet another "liquid change" miracle? Or does the wine just represent blood? It's pretty barbaric and gross either way, but...

          And Jesus often supposedly referred to hell as a place of eternal fire and worms where there will be gnashing of teeth. Real fire? Hyperbole? Real worms? Figurative speech? There seems no logical reason for not being crystal clear on what the afterlife looks like unless he didn't know or was being devious But regardless, children and mothers of the unsaved will forever be waking up imagining themselves or their child writhing in torment surrounded by flames. I know my mother did. So what is this eternal resting place of the damned...where the bodies of the unsaved will be resurrected solely for the purpose of tormenting them forever? I mean, really? That's what this God of classical theism is on about? Toasting saints and Roasting sinners?

          Why was he so incapable of just saying what he meant? It makes for great hermeneutics and exegesis and even gives words like that an honorable reason to exist. But it's an absurd way to instruct folks about what is true. Indeed, despite his many supposed good admonitions about loving and doing good, he sometimes sounds like Lewis' lunatic. It's almost like he's schizophrenic. Or maybe it reflects that he was being scripted by many different storytellers who each had their own favored ideas they wanted to put in Jesus' mouth. And that maybe the gospels are a compilation of these sayings, stories and anecdotes from who knows who, when or where.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Thank you.

    • Alexandra

      Everything your grandfather said was right. It's just there is nuance in what he is saying so more information is useful to understand what he means. To understand what a man says about his own faith, it's helpful if you understand his Faith. Otherwise you can misrepresent him.

      So no, you are not responsible for involuntary thoughts. If something pops in your head, you can't help that. It's the choices after that that matters.

      And so yes, he's a God that sees all and judges all. But he is also a God that is loving, merciful, good, and strengthens you with Grace. Your grandfather would know all this.

      "He walks with me, talks to me, and tells me I am his own." What a remarkably beautiful thing to say, and I will carry this in my heart.

      • He didn't say that, it is from a hymn he would sing when drunk. We played it at his funeral. He loved it. The point is, that it is a conception of God that is at odds with classical theism. This idea that what is meant by "God" is not a being that walks and talks with people, but an abstract immaterial source of being, "pure act".

        Walking and talking with people would be great from a God, but this never happens. Being "his own" does not sound so good to me. Neither does being judged.

        My grandfather believed all this as truly as anyone. So why was he so desperately afraid to die in the end?

        • Alexandra

          The hymn is called "In the Garden". Thanks to your grandpa through you, I now know this. :) I will keep your grandfather in my prayers, I know he'd like that. Catholics always ask to pray for each other. As to his fear, that is quite human and normal, even if you have Faith. I hope he found peace and didn't suffer emotionally. I hope your family is doing well, after the loss.

          Ah, ok. You're asking about contradictions.

          How can a powerful judging God also be a personal loving God?

          Or others I've heard:
          How can the God of the OT be the God of the NT?

          How can God be all good and allow evil?

          Well I hope you and I can talk more about it. For us, it's not contradictory. But I can see why it might be for you.

          But I'm not sure how to give a simple answer about this. Is - it just is - too unsatisfactory? Maybe.

          > "Walking and talking with people would be great from a God, but this never happens. Being "his own" does not sound so good to me. Neither does being judged."

          The way I see it, walking with me means He's by my side, and talking is our prayers together, and I'm his own because He's my Father. Yay grandpa, he chose a good one.

          Judgement is more complex- but I think it exists for justice.
          But I don't have all the answers.
          On anything related to God. Our understanding is limited.

          Anyway, the first question is does God exist at all? Then we can have fun as to what He's actually like.

          It's good that SN focuses on the first question.

          • Sure you can interpret these things as you like to me this sounds at odds. We have god described as someone who walks, talks, meets with people, prays together, sits together. Sure this might be metaphorical, but a metaphor for what. This is not the kind of language one expects in describing an entity that is not a being at all, but the ground of being, pure act itself, not material.

            But at the same time this entity is fully human, lived, died, suffered. An understanding of this being is so convoluted that it suggests the various descriptions are not describing an actual entity but various approaches to deity that that for theological reasons are being called the same thing.

            The Jewish tradition worshipped a God who was one. The Trinity is not described anywhere in the Bible. What I see is an attempt to hold on to the vague, immaterial god of classical theism and Judaism, but also the corporeal son of man -god. As well as the invisible friend. Do these seem at odds, yes. How is it explained? It isn't. It's just the mystery of god that he is all this. I think this incongruity is evidence against this entity from existing. But there are better arguments.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          How could anyone except your grandfather know why he was "desperately afraid to die" (and even he might not be able to articulate why)?

          But here is one pretty universal reason he might have shared in:

          18. It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person.

      • D Rieder

        You can do better than that...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzzqhaLl_8w

        • Alexandra

          Yeah, Brian had to explain to me it's from a hymn. Thanks!!!

    • Well put Brian. And I would like Randal to produce a post that fully unpacks the view that "in the classical theist view of God as Pure Act, his knowledge of creation derives not from external observation of creation but rather from his knowledge of his own decrees."

      • Alexandra

        If you are interested in God as pure act as Classic Theists view it, it's in the very first part of the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas.

        The OP is on misrepresenting views, not an exposition on what those views are. So why would he explain God as "pure act"?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Problem is that God as Pure Act has several issues. It is not sufficient to hand waive in that direction and say problem solved.
          For instance, can God be affected by the universe? When our first parents sinned, did that not cause God to send his son?

          • Alexandra

            Ok. But the discussion isn't over whether the Christian view is right or wrong. It's when and whether people mislead you as to what view Christians actually hold about themselves.

            (For discussions on God as pure act there are several articles on SN on Classic theism.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Most Christians are not classical theists. Plantingna is not a classical theist. When I was Catholic, I would not have considered myself a classical theist. It is simply not true that Christians conceive of God as a being of Pure Act. Some do, but it is utterly disingenuous to pretend that classical theism is the Christian view on God.

            Yes, there are many article on SN about classical theism, and I am not convinced that the classical theist conception of God is the conception that closest maps to the Abrahamic God, nor am I convinced that such a being even exists.

          • Alexandra

            I don't follow your point. Are you saying the Classical God is misleading? To an Athiest or to a Catholic?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am saying that most Christians and Catholics are not classical theists. This includes philosophers and public intellectuals. It is terribly disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

            Personally, I do not think classical theism is the best conception of God. It is certainly not the one that I would use.

          • Alexandra

            Ok. I think I agree. (I think the classic God is pretty amazing- so it helps me.)

            What concept of God would you use?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            As a Catholic, process theism.
            If there is a God, which I don't think there is evidence for, I doubt he is all-powerful and all-good. If there is a God, I highly doubt he revealed himself through Christianity or any of the Abrahamic religions. For me, even if I was a theist, I would not be a Christian, if that makes sense.

          • Alexandra

            Ok. Thanks.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What does saying God is Pure Act mean to you?

          • Alexandra

            That He is pure act and not potency. This concept exists in physics, that's why it kind of makes sense to me. And He's not potency because he is existence itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Usually, when we say something is actually or potentially we have another descriptor. For instance, we say that a log is potentially hot, while the sun is actually hot. To say something is pure actuality, without saying what it actually is (i.e. actually hot) changes how the words actually and potentially are used. Saying that God is pure act seems to be an improper definition.

          • Alexandra

            Why is it an improper definition?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because when we say something possesses actuality, we say what actuality it possesses. For instance, the sun is actually hot.
            We are not told what a being of pure actuality is actual with respect to.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      "he would not kneel and start lying, saying that he really always believed in God and mercy, have mercy! on this poor sinner."

      A second distortion of Catholic belief. If you didn't believe in God before and now you do, both you and God know that. God does not expect you to pretend. Where did you get such an idea.

      However, you are correct that God has mercy on poor sinners.

      • Then what do you think Rauser was criticizing?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          My comment was criticizing you, dude! God is not looking for craven sycophants.

          In regard to the boy/bear analogy, I think Rauser was saying that if Hitchens actually had a chance to see God face to face he would be too busy processing the new information to have much to say.

    • Alexandra

      I don't think I would like Hitchens God either. The point of the OP is that he misrepresents Christianity. Hitchens God is a misunderstanding of the God of Christianity.

      The bear story isn't criticizing Hitchens attitudes or sincerity of his beliefs. It is an example of how Hitchens misunderstands God.

      Simply put, if you really want understand what Christians believe about God, Hitchens is not a good source.

  • David Nickol

    Who among us in the community of faith wants to be identified with Pat Robertson, for example?

    I don't see Pat Robertson as that much of an outlier when it comes to Christianity in America.

    • Alexandra

      Hi David, Do you see him as an outlier when it comes to Catholicism?

      • David Nickol

        I am not sure what that means, since he is not a Catholic. There are more Evangelical Protestants in the United States than Catholics, so I am not quite sure how to determine who is in or out of the "community of faith" Randal Rauser refers to.

        • Alexandra

          Thanks. I asked because many Christian Americans are Catholic (even if as you say- not the majority.) So if you say Christian Americans, it includes Catholics.
          But it seems like you are saying Robertson represents evangelicals. I think I can preliminarily agree with that - but don't know enough to say.

          • David Nickol

            I wouldn't say Robertson represents Evangelical Christians. I think he can be classified as one. I think Dr. Rauser is absolutely correct that no group wants to be judged by its "loudest and brashest" members. From my point of view, Pat Robertson is loud and brash. But I do think there are probably millions of Christians in the United States who wouldn't consider him an outlier and who believe he speaks for them.

          • Alexandra

            Ah, the inner scientist in me, if it's not an outlier it's a representative. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Doug Shaver

            I used to be an evangelical. That was years before Robertson became famous, but I haven't heard him say anything I would have disagreed with in those days.

            One exception: He's a trinitarian, and I was a Oneness Pentecostal. Oneness Pentecostals are definitely outliers.

        • bdlaacmm

          "There are more Evangelical Protestants in the United States than Catholics"

          Debatable. 22 percent of Americans are Catholics. Figures for "Evangelical Protestantism" are harder to come by, since the definition of the term varies so greatly. The upper end estimates do exceed Catholicism by as much as 3 percent, but other sources cite figures closer to 20 percent.

          How about we call it a statistical tie, within the margin of error?

          • Michael Murray

            I assume you are counting all who call themselves Catholics not the 6% of the population who apparently attend Mass weekly:

            http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html

            When I was a kid and still attending Mass it was regarded as a pretty minimum standard for being a Catholic that you had to attend Mass weekly and take the Eucharist as well as the Sacrament of Confession. Otherwise your soul shrivelled up. Or was this like the fires of hell another story that was apparently incorrect ?

            I only ask because sometimes here we are told about Cafeteria Catholics who many regard as not real Catholics.

          • bdlaacmm

            "I assume you are counting"

            I'm not counting anything. I cited Pew Research Center figures from their website.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is apologists' math. When we need to emphasize the amount of Catholics, we include everyone who has ever looked at a baptismal font. When we want to talk about the true believers who go to heaven and behave like proper Catholics, the figures come up differently.

    • Sqrat

      Well, it's obviously intended to be a rhetorical question, but there's an obvious answer -- the many followers of Pat Robertson. Or are they not in "the community of faith"?

  • David Nickol

    But God isn’t a fallible (still less a despotic) power. Rather, he is (to borrow a line from Anselm) that being than which none greater can be conceived.

    What seems ironic to me is that a great many people who question Christianity do it based on their "Christian" values. Anyone whose faith is challenged by the "problem of evil" is, after all, just trying to recognize the alleged goodness of God with the terrible things that happen in the world while God stands by doing nothing. It is not as if those who lose their faith because of the problem of evil were never taught what goodness was. They just can't reconcile many of the things attributed to God with the idea that he is "all good."

    Likewise, those of us who are appalled by some of the actions of the God of the Old Testament are merely applying the values we learned as Christians to the "darker" parts of the Old Testament.

    I can remember when my sister and I were in elementary school saying "It's not fair!" when we were taught that we were all allegedly suffering the consequences of the actions of Adam and Eve. I still feel the same way.

    • Darren

      David Nickol wrote,

      Likewise, those of us who are appalled by some of the actions of the God of the Old Testament are merely applying the values we learned as Christians to the "darker"
      parts of the Old Testament.

      I can remember when my sister and I were in elementary school saying "It's not fair!" when we were taught that we were all allegedly suffering the consequences of the actions of Adam and Eve. I still feel the same way.

      This is why I say that it was not exposure to David Hume that was ultimately fatal to my faith, it was exposure to Immanuel Kant. Holding God to the same standard of Good that I was expected to meet* is an impossible task and with Kant’s Categorical Imperative in mind, how then is one to call God Good?

      (*) - Nor is this judgement limited to the more horrifying episodes of the Old Testament. Looking only at the words and deeds of Jesus and of the conception of God the Father as described in the New Testament, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Christ was not very Christ-like and GtF was not far removed from the wrathful, petty, jealous, proud, and vindictive Jehovah of the OT – IMO)

      • Kevin Aldrich

        What are some of the un-Christ-like words and deeds of Jesus?

        That there is a hell and that we could end up there?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Do many actually lose their faith over the problem of evil?

      • David Nickol

        Yes, I think so. I think some people (like Bart Ehrman) think it through, but others just more or less drift into an intuitive conclusion that there is not an omnipotent, all-good God running the show.

        As with practically every other issue of importance, I am fence sitting on this one. There may be some way to reconcile God's alleged power and goodness with all of the evil and suffering of the world. It is not clear to me what it is.

        • Doug Shaver

          There may be some way to reconcile God's alleged power and goodness with all of the evil and suffering of the world.

          Yes, that is possible. But knowing that something is possible does not oblige me to believe that it is actual. The world as I observe it seems inconsistent with what Christians say about God. That suffices to justify my disbelieving what Christians say about God.

      • lapona

        So, do you think I'd lose my faith because I may think that God is not omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You certainly could sincerely conclude that God does not exist because of the evil you see (I think you would be intellectually wrong but if you did it in good conscience you would be morally right to do so). I had a college friend who (temporarily) said he rejected God when his very devout Catholic mother was diagnosed with cancer.

          I'm just asking how often do people really reject God because of the problem of evil. Only people who have actually done so know and many of them do not really know because they have not adequately thought it through. At least, that was my experience.

          • Sqrat

            As a matter of terminological clarity, I'd like to suggest that "rejecting God" and "concluding that God does not exist" are not necessarily the same thing. One might "reject God," even though believing that he exists, because one believes that he allows gratuitous suffering, or indeed that he causes it. In other words, one could believe that God exists, but he's an SOB.

            As to what causes believers to cease to be believers, I'm inclined to think that the "problem of divine hiddenness" that Dr. Rauser refers to in his article is probably more of a factor than the problem of evil, but that's just my speculation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with your distinction and think it is the key to understanding the unforgivable sin.

            To put it very crudely, I think the unforgivable sin is basically some form of looking at God and flipping him the bird.

            It is *not* looking at God and saying, "Why did you let X happen to me?"

          • Sqrat

            To put it very crudely, I think the unforgivable sin is basically some form of looking at God and flipping him the bird.

            God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is only one God. If you say the person of the Holy Spirit is evil, you are saying the Father and the Son are also.

          • Sqrat

            Well, Kevin, all I can do is point out yet again that Jesus reportedly said, "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." That implies that you could call the Son of Man evil, and your statement could be forgiven. So if Jesus was the Son of Man, you could call Jesus evil, and it would be forgivable. Are you saying that Jesus got it wrong? Does the one God make mistakes?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

            1864 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

          • David Nickol

            The first two references I quoted regarding the saying of Jesus under discussion merely said that attributing the work of God to Satan was the one sin that was unforgivable. Here is the verse and the gloss:

            Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

            [12:31] Blasphemy against the Spirit: the sin of attributing to Satan (Mt 12:24) what is the work of the Spirit of God (Mt 12:28).

            I am sure there a great temptation to interpret this saying as making distinctions between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But it would hardly make any sense for Jesus to be saying, "Anything you say against me, God the Son, may be forgiven, but anything you say against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." But that would hardly make any sense.

          • Sqrat

            The first second contradicts the second. The first sentence, attributable to Jesus, basically says that there is a limit to the mercy of God, and declares what that limit is. The second sentence says that there is no limit to the mercy of God, and thus in effect asserts that Jesus got it wrong.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is no contradiction.

          • Sqrat

            OK, well, you think about it some more, Kevin. Perhaps you will change your mind.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is no limit in God's mercy. There is a limit in man's response to it.

          • Sqrat

            And so an unforgivable sin is forgivable?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes, in the same way that a unconcedable point is concedable. One can always refuse to concede it.

          • Sqrat

            Is your point unconcedable? if it is, please concede it.

          • lapona

            I think it would be wrong to conclude that God doesn't exits because I will die anyway, and that thought bring suffering. Suffering is part of God existence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't understand your comments.

          • lapona

            I used "I" as in "ergo", not as "I" personally. The fact that we know that we (or "I") die, it brings suffering, but that's how you know that God exists. You cannot deny the existence of God just because...well, there's suffering, so why God, who's omnibenevolent, allowed that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Doesn't "ergo" mean "therefore"? I still don't understand what you are saying.

          • lapona

            It was a typo. I meant "ego" or "self". "I", "ego", "self" give a meaning to what is the end of life, and we suffer because of that. Cancer is pointing to the end of life, it is not death itself, but we already see "death" and we suffer.
            Animals do not suffer, animals have pains, we have pains AND the concept of suffering, If suffering is real then also God is real.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay. I don't get the argument, though. How does knowing you will die prove that God is real? Do you mean that knowing one will die focuses one's attention of the God one already (to some extent) believes in?

          • lapona

            When one knows that he/she will die, it can come up as suffering. As I mentioned, pain is different from suffering, one is natural the other is made up.To alleviate that suffering, that can became pain, one has to come up with God. If suffering is real, so is God.

            Kevin, I don't believe in any kind of God, I'm just trying to create a God in which I would believe if it would alleviate the suffering I would feel because I know I will die.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I take this to mean we need God because death is so evil:

            Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
            I fear no evil;
            for thou art with me;
            thy rod and thy staff,
            they comfort me.

            Of course, just because we need not to die does not mean there is a Good Shepherd to rescue us, but that is what I'm staking everything on.

          • lapona

            "I take this to mean we need God because death is so evil"
            ===
            No. God exists because we made suffering so evil. God exists because we created it in order to alleviate created sufferings.
            As we created sufferings we created God. Do sufferings exists? Well then, God exists.
            Remember that I do not equate pain with suffering. Pain is natural, suffering is a human concept.
            You cannot say that if suffering exist, God doesn't exits, so I lost my faith in God because there's suffering. That was my point I tried to convey, since you wrote "Do many actually lose their faith over the problem of evil?"
            The "problem of evil' is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of a deity, not to deny the deity because there's evil.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have a hard time understanding you. But some people have a hard time understanding me, so I should not talk . . .

          • lapona

            It's all talking about abstract things like God, suffering, etc.
            At least talking exists, you should talk :)

          • D Rieder

            "I'm just asking how often do people really reject God because of the problem of evil. Only people who have actually done so know and many of them do not really know because they have not adequately thought it through. At least, that was my experience."

            I don't think it's that simple. And perhaps this answers the earlier question, "Do many actually lose their faith over the problem of evil?" Answer: Probably not exactly.

            Sometimes it's hard to remember exactly what I was thinking then, but I don't recall the POE being a big part of my leaving Christianity. But I think it became a bigger deal once I had decided that Christianity was probably not true. But it was probably a big deal throughout. It chips away. It cast long shadows of doubt over the light we were tryng to follow. The path become murky and dark. Just like reading the Bible (OT horror stories) or observing folks calling themselves Christians and we wonder why they don't seem to have any special power. They become questions that demand answers.

            Seeing the evil and suffering in the world makes us wonder why. And it's when the answers given...and there are many...no longer satisfy that inner sense that something's not quite right about the conflicting ideas that serious doubt creeps in. We actually begin to think we understand it well enough to draw our own conclusions...to fight the current. Or more precisely we begin think those making up those answers might just be the ones who are wrong. THEN is when the doubts turn into positive beliefs. We no longer doubt that a good God did thus and so and allows this or that, we begin to think that maybe the reason for thus and so and this and that is because...there's no God who "did" or "allows." It is one of the steps in a thought process. Considering that maybe there isn't really a God become a pretty useful and inviting conclusion that seems to fit the data better than the alternative even with the explanations and with conundrums that might arise as a result.

            And, while it might not have been the reason for my "deconversion," it is a huge roadblock to ever return to any concept of a personal, worthy-of-worship God. Since I've thought about it "with my blinders off" (or perhaps the theist would say I've been thinking "with blinder on") I feel like all the reasons, explanations and theodicies are complete failures. Simply alluding to the mysteries of a God, claiming suffering helps build character, claiming evil will make us appreciative of the good, claiming it is all the result of free will, or imagining God has a greater good in mind that somehow justifies him allowing things to proceed as they are, all sound just so...ad hoc. And I realized that when I began to assert that there probably isn't a God...all those explanations were simply unnecessary.

            And as an aside, it is odd to read contemporary apologists and theologians trot out the same tired old "10 explanations for evil" as if they think they are informing us of something we've not already heard. We've heard it all and are unimpressed. In fact I imagined most of them on my own during my journey away from Christianity. I now look back and see them as almost an intuitive defense mechanism.

            So if anyone is going into the field of apologetics...PLEASE find something new because the old is getting old. They only serve to perhaps convince the already convinced, to circle the wagons and keep the sheep in the fold. I would say that any atheist who becomes impressed with explanations for theodicies is the one who hadn't adequately thought it through to begin with.

            But one thing the theist should understand is that all the atheists who refer to the problem of evil and suffering aren't talking about the troubles and suffering in their own lives. And it is frustrating for the theist to approach it with such a cavalier attitude. We think..."projecting much?" Sometimes we're just looking at what others are going through and sympathizing. We're asking ourselves if this represents the best a "that which none greater can be conceived" can do. IF it's not the best he can do, why didn't he do better? We think a "that which none greater can be conceived" would always do the best he could because it would be in his nature to always do the best he could do. See? That's the problem with classic theism...it invites us to conceive. And it's the conceived part that gets us then frees us. We can conceive of something greater than the God who planned, designed and created this world. We think a God which none greater can be conceived not only could have done better (omnipotence) but would have done better (benevolence) because he would have known how to do it better (omniscience). We can conceive of something better and we wonder that theists who buy into that concept of classical theism can't. IOW, we don't see it as our shortcoming or lack of imagination, it's the theist who lacks imagination in what they are willing to conceive. And it is this arbitrary unwillingness to deal with it as an open ended conception activity that we think suggests they are allowing bias into their thinking of what a "that which none greater can be conceived" really should be doing. They seem to be intentionally shielding their own thinking.

            So we think that perhaps you (not the personal you, but the rhetorical you) haven't thought it through. So the best way to respond is to actually show us that you care and have thought through the real obstacles rather than caricatures and straw obstacles that disappear before your eyes with a whimsical breeze of an explanation. It you think you can answer the problem of evil easily...you're not dealing with the problem of evil!

            I personally would find the best and proper explanation for evil and suffering in the world to be a simple, heartfelt, "I don't know." THEN I would imagine the person understood what I understood about it. My opinion of them as a person would rise and I would NOT imagine them any less committed to their respective believes...just more thoughtful and caring. As it is, when I listen to Swineburn or Craig elaborate on the various explanations I begin to wonder if they care at all..they sound like philosophical automatons, trained to parrot the company line at all costs. Please don't ever do that{:

          • Michael Murray

            Great post.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for this.

            In my opinion it should be an OP published in its own right. How about it, Brandon?

            I'm working on something right now (I don't know if I'll be able to accomplish it) based on Jacques Maritain's lecture "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil."

            Both of them agree with the "I don't know" in the sense that evil is a mystery. But by mystery the Catholic means we can actually know some things about it but not everything.

            This habit of questioning everything is a good thing and I think basically given to us by the Jews whose religion led them to question everything about God to the point that many of them abandoned God altogether.

          • Ladolcevipera

            In my opinion it should be an OP published in its own right.

            Please DO publish it as an OP!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You'll have to ask the people who run SN.

          • I'm definitely open to it. D Rieder, can you send me an email at contact@strangenotions.com? I'll also need a headshot picture and brief bio. Thanks!

          • D Rieder

            I don't mind, but let me go through and correct a bit of grammar that found its way in. And if you want to remove the references to specific apologists, go ahead. It's not necessary to get my point across.

          • Ladolcevipera

            I think the underlying, fundamental problem is whether God exists. Even as a very young child I worried about the problem of evil until I decided that the stories (for me they were and are only stories) I was told about God couldn't be true. The stumbling block was and still is that I cannot except that God would reveal himself only in one person, in one moment in time.
            Evil on the contrary is very real, but has nothing to do with God. Natural evil exists because we are finite creatures who suffer the slings and arrows of an indifferent universe. Moral evil exists because we do not exactly love our neighbour. Homo homini lupus...
            Should we accept the existence of God, and believe that moral evil is possible because God has endowed man with free will, the inevitable conclusion will be that ultimately God is responsible for evil. No apologetic author succeeds in refuting this claim.

      • Michael Murray

        Bart Ehrmann. Of course he was the wrong kind of Christian to begin with.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree that we should be appalled by many things in the OT based on the NT.

      • David Nickol

        That seems to me to imply that God, in inspiring the Old Testament, did a less-than-adequate job of explaining right and wrong. And, in fact, he either commanded things that were wrong (genocide), or in inspiring the biblical authors, he allowed them for some unfathomable reason to depict him as commanding atrocities.

        I have never really seen an adequate theory of divine inspiration that explained away the "dark passages" of the Old Testament while leaving the entire New Testament intact. I think the whole idea of the inspiration of scripture must either be dramatically rethought or simply left behind. Modern scholarship doesn't seem to leave much room for it—certainly not for the old picture of a biblical author, quill in hand, writing a manuscript with a bird hovering over his head.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm beginning a MA in Theology with an emphasis on Sacred Scripture, so I'll be able to answer you better in a few years.

          "Seems to imply" is a pretty soft assertion. Here is one scholar's answer to your objection: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2008/bashley_dvmorals_feb08.asp

          • D Rieder

            IT seems that article could've applied to any ancient text that one was determined to make look good.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Really? For example?

          • D Rieder

            The gospels, letters and older documents relating to Jehovah/Jesus worship that were not included in the Bible.

            Also Quran, Vedas, Tao Te Ching, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist Sutras.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You can read those works in light of the Gospel. That is partly what the Church does in ecumenism and in inculturation.

          • D Rieder

            No, that's not what I meant.

            I mean the strategy supplied by the website that the author seems to say allows one to continue to see the Bible as presenting the good and divinely inspired despite the passages that do not seem to do so could be applied to any and all ancient...or current...religious books and make them seem good and reliable and divinely inspired.

            The last sentence summarizes, "With this kind of
            guidance difficult texts of the Old Testament need cause no scandal."

            The same kind of guidance would allow someone to interpret difficult texts from any holy script to "cause no scandal."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I guess. People are great rationalizers.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It is as unfair that we suffer the consequences of the sin of Adam as it is unfair that we enjoy the consequences of the Redemption of Christ.

      • Doug Shaver

        It is as unfair that we suffer the consequences of the sin of Adam as it is unfair that we enjoy the consequences of the Redemption of Christ.

        Yes. And therefore, what?

        • D Rieder

          ...therefore there is unfairness in the doctrine of Christianity.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          One therefore is the solidarity of the human race which can be lived out in practical ways, like trying to understand and pray for those who came before us, serve those now living, and leave good things for those who will come after us.

          Another therefore is that we can be saved and sanctified by what another has done for us, namely Christ, the New Adam.

          • Doug Shaver

            One therefore is the solidarity of the human race

            I don't see how that follows. If God has dealt with humanity unfairly on two occasions rather than only one, then that is something all humanity has in common. It is hardly our only commonality, though.

            Another therefore is that we can be saved and sanctified by what another has done for us

            That is not an inference. It is a repetition. It is alleged that we enjoy the consequences of the redemption of Christ. Salvation and sanctification just are those consequences. The stipulation that the consequences are unfair does not imply that they actually occur.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David said he and his sister felt it was unfair to experience the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. The reason we do suffer them is that in God's plan (as Catholicism sees it), the human race is in solidarity whether we like it or not. However, due to this same solidarity, we can all benefit from the Redemption won by Christ. This redemption includes both salvation and sanctification.

          • Doug Shaver

            What you say suggests not that we are in solidarity because we all suffer, but that we all suffer because we are in solidarity.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think both are true.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your argument supports only one, and it's not the one you tried to defend with your argument.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We suffer because we are human beings (ontological solidarity) and our heart goes out to other human beings who suffer (moral solidarity). [I think I just made up some new concepts.]

          • Doug Shaver

            We suffer because we are human beings (ontological solidarity)

            That leaves a lot of this world's suffering unexplained.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Did you think I was intending to explain all this world's suffering?

          • Kraker Jak

            ..

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The oracle of PBS.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't pretend to read your mind. I can only read what you write, with the charitable assumption, considering the venue, that you are attempting to demonstrate the reasonableness of your faith.

  • Kraker Jak

    ..

    • lapona

      An agnostic would say that something cannot be known.

      It would be a skeptic that humorously would say: "I think I might be a skeptic, but I'm not sure."

  • Michael Murray

    Is the Atheist my neighbor ?

    Surely the central point of Jesus ethical teaching was the radical assertion that all humans are our neighbors ? Even people who can't spell neighbour properly :-)

  • Michael Murray

    Alleged biblical proof-texts aside, the biggest catalyst for this negative perception may be the words of atheists themselves. The new atheists in particular have led the charge in ratcheting up the rhetoric and thereby deepening the divide between Christians and atheists.

    Really? So prior to they rise of new atheism atheists were held in high regard in the US and it was commonplace for US politicians in the US to say they were atheists ? My impression, from outside, was that many in the US believed either the old testament line about atheists being fools or that atheists deliberately denied a God they knew existed so as to pursue an immoral lifestyle.

    The so-called ratcheting up of the rhetoric is just a belief by new atheists that religious ideas did not deserve automatic respect and could be publicly criticised, challenged and even ridiculed with the same vigour that political ideas have always been. A belief based, if my memory serves me correctly, on concerns over the global rise of Islamic extremism particularly 9/11 and the US centred issues of the rise of the religious right during the Reagan era and the creationist challenge to science teaching.

    It's perhaps worth remembering also what the rhetoric used to be like. As josh commented over at Estranged Notions it wasn't a rather old atheist who said

    Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

  • Sqrat

    Next, I noted that even in the case of the most combative of new
    atheists like Hitchens, the issues are often significantly more
    complicated than a cursory reading of their rhetoric would suggest.
    Indeed, in some cases one suspects that the target of their vitriol has
    less to do with the God of Judeo-Christian faith than a caricature of
    their own making. (And lest we become too smug, let us remember as well
    that Christians are often guilty of similar misunderstandings.)

    The claim that Dr. Rauser is trying to make here seems a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he is accusing atheists such as Hitchens of attacking a "caricature of their own making," while at the same time acknowledging that "Christians are often guilty of similar misunderstandings." But, if what Hitchens is attacking is a caricature, would it not be fair to presume that this caricature was created by those very Christians, "guilty of misunderstandings", of whom Dr. Rauser speaks, and not by Hitchens and his fellow atheists? How much of what Hitchens attacks was not actually and originally advocated by adherents of the "Judeo-Christian faith", and is not being advocated by some -- or many -- of them today? Does not Rauser in fact stand side-by-side with Hitchens, the "flippant ten-year-old boy," in opposition to at least those Christians, the ones "guilty of misunderstandings"?

  • BobC

    There are many good reasons to be an anti-theist. For example the religious attack against America on September 11, 2001, 3,000 innocent people murdered, an atrocity that would have been impossible if not for the cowardly magical heaven fantasy American Christians share with terrorists. When I watched on TV as it happened these towers turning into dust I said right there "enough is enough", religions have to be eradicated from this planet. Then later I noticed a Christian war against science education in America, especially evolution which is my favorite branch of science. The Islamic State is also trying to suppress the teaching of evolution. It's obvious both of these disgusting cults, Islam and Christianity, have to be thrown out.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    "The fool say in his heart there is no God."

    I have always understood this to have nothing to do with what we call atheism today but to the mistaken belief that the scoundrel will never face God's judgment for the evil that he does.

    • Ladolcevipera

      Psalm 14 goes on to say that all people are corrupt and there is not even one who does good. So it is not a verse against atheism, I think.

  • Sqrat

    Finally, let’s turn back to Hitchens’ parting words in which he boldly
    opines how he would respond to God should it happen that God does exist. As he boldly puts it, he claims that he will plead his case by noting that “at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy.”

    Dr. Rauser accuses Hitchens of being flippant here, and implies that God would deal with him as an 800-lb. bear might deal with a ten-year-old boy. Pope Francis, on the other hand is on record as saying, “The question for those who do not believe in God is to follow their own conscience. Sin, even for a non-believer, is when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen and to follow your conscience means that
    you understand the difference between good and evil." I am inclined to give Hitchens the benefit of the doubt and say that he did follow his own conscience. Indeed, I would say that Hitchens' outspoken advocacy of atheism was precisely an act of conscience on his part. So it seems to me that Dr. Rauser is saying that Hitchens' plea would fail, while Pope Francis is saying that it would succeed.

    • One question you might ask is whether Hitchens would like his views dealt with according to the populist version instead of the best version possible. Otherwise, one runs the risk of dismissing quantum physics because Deepak Chopra says some crazy things. If Hitchens would have preferred that one criticize the best version of the view available, then he would be a hypocrite for not extending the same courtesy to [some] others.

      • Sqrat

        If by best version possible, you mean the one most likely to be true, I suspect that Hitchens might have said that there is no "best" version, because he found no evidence worthy of the name for any of them.

        • That is not what I mean by 'best version possible'. A major strategy employed by philosophers in refuting positions is to first make a given position as strong as they possibly can, before claiming that even that version falls pray to their refutation. This short-circuits a whole lot of tedious back-and-forth, helping humans more quickly figure out what is likely true and what is likely false.

          • Sqrat

            I hesitate to be the one to speak for the deceased Hitchens, but perhaps he might have responded that it's not a matter for philosophical disputation, but a question of fact. Hence his famous mot, "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

            "Don't give me 'strong philosophical positions,'" he might have said, "give me credible evidence."

          • Hence his famous mot, "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

            Given that he presented no evidence for this claim, I dismiss it. (Hello, logical positivism and your meaningfulness criterion, or Hume's fork which requires the book containing it be burned.)

          • Sqrat

            Fair enough. If I had been in his shoes, I might have phrased it thus:

            "Fact claims that one finds prima facie preposterous, and that are unaccompanied by credible evidence that would compel one to believe that they are nonetheless true, are going to be rejected as false, without any perceived necessity for having to prove them false."

            His version was far more memorable and more quotable than mine, but regardless of which version one prefers, I still think that Hutchens might have asked why he was obliged to refute the supposed strongest possible version of a philosophical argument for God (with what, a contrary philosophical argument?), in the absence of credible evidence for God.

          • Your reformulation protects a class of statements which do not need initial support by evidence in order to be taken seriously, merely on the basis that one has been socialized to believe that they are true. Arguably, nobody can avoid having such a class of statements, as is claimed in Reformed Epistemology. But why should your class be superior to mine?

            All evidence is interpreted, and if you get to set the baseline for how it is interpreted (with said protected class of statements) you can dictate what is reachable and what is not, in practice. Indeed, how you allow matters to be framed is arguably a defining aspect of power, as Bent Flyvbjerg argues in Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice (1800 'citations'). And so, if you can get people to see God like a repressive dictator—if you can make that conception stick—then you win by means of power, not truth.

          • Sqrat

            I had thought my reformulation merely stated rather simply that if, for example, you were to tell me that you raised someone from the three-days-and-stinkin' dead, I'm not going to believe you without some evidence that I find credible that you actually did so. It further states I would feel under no obligation to engage with either you or with anyone else in a philosophical debate against a "best case possible" for your claim.

            Now it's absolutely true that what I consider credible evidence is a "baseline" that "I get to set" -- because who else could set it for me? Thus, if you were to tell me that your feat of raising someone from the dead was witnessed by your brother, only he's dead now but did leave a written account of the event in handwriting that looks suspiciously like yours, I would have to tell you that my baseline is such that I would not be able to accept that as credible evidence. Not even if you were to insist that your baseline as to what counts as credible evidence is superior to mine and that I should accept your evidence.

          • Your reformulation says you will privilege your own plausibility structure over others', via "prima facie preposterous". Some people are willing to "try out" other points of view in a way you don't seem willing to. I think you have imposed upon yourself a tremendous weakness with respect to understanding others and seeing goodness in their points of view, precisely in those places where they deviate from your own, and can thus be used to correct or enhance your own point of view.

            As to setting your baseline, hopefully you realize that in fact, you set very little of it. (My "you get to set" most accurately applies to societies, as knowledge is social.) For example, in Blaming the Victim, William Ryan notes how many sociologists had been inculcated to see many ills of society as due to particular circumstances (bad choices of the individual, bad luck, etc.), downplaying and neglecting the role of societal structures. A major strategy Ryan points out which reinforces this point of view is portraying challenges to it as ludicrous and crackpot. One might say "prima facie preposterous". Note that this process involves the evidence being shaped to support that point of view. It is not clear that "more evidence" was the solution to the distorted way of viewing reality.

            Commonly, I find that the theoretical grids which people use to claim that God does not exist have lots of crud. A particular pattern is common: "If I had been in control of things, I would have done them differently, and better." Upon examination, it generally turns out that this person would be a very bad god. That isn't surprising: we are finite beings! However, the kind of reasoning in play all too often takes the infinite, God-perspective where my baseline really is better than all other available options, instead of considering alternatives which preserve all the good aspects of modernity, like science, without the interpretive framework which results in one concluding that a human-relevant deity probably doesn't exist.

          • Sqrat

            Your reformulation says you will privilege your own plausibility structure over others', via "prima facie preposterous". Some people are willing to "try out" other points of view in a way you don't seem willing to.

            Are you one of those people? If so, are there any limits to the points of view that you are willing to "try out"?

          • I try to take people seriously and if something seems prima facie preposterous, I ask why it seems so crazy to me and yet sane to the other person. Of course there are limits (otherwise one could spend months trying to make sense of what a psychiatric patient said), and each person will have to figure out what his/her limits are.

          • Sqrat

            And thus privilege his/her plausibility structure over that of others.

          • The question, I think, is whether at any points in time, are you attempting to privilege someone else's plausibility structure over your own? If you always do, that would seem to be something like codependence, destruction of [individual] personality, and/or slavery; if you never do, you're an arrogant prick.

            I hope it's obvious that there's no easy answer of when to do one vs. the other; the nature of wisdom is that you cannot have algorithms for choosing. What I will point out is that a major way to understand power is that it allows you to define [social] reality (see Bent Flyvbjerg's Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice); one can then look to see whether one is attempting to spread one's own plausibility structure out into the world and thereby exert power over it, or whether another explanation seems to better fit the evidence. For example, one could believe that reality was designed such that all plausibility structures have a uniquely excellent take on the world (though they will also have errors), such that one has to figure out how to stitch them together, not glorify some and exterminate others.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given that he presented no evidence for this claim, I dismiss it.

            So then, whatever you say, I must believe unless I can prove it false? Is that your position?

          • That is not my position, and I'm pretty sure nothing I have said implies such a position. Evidence is frequently very important. However, it is always interpreted, and I hold that the interpretation ought not be shielded from critical analysis.

          • Doug Shaver

            Evidence is frequently very important.

            But not always?

            However, it is always interpreted, and I hold that the interpretation ought not be shielded from critical analysis.

            I might agree with that, depending on what you mean by "interpreted."

          • LB: Evidence is frequently very important.

            DS: But not always?

            Consider whether "evidence is always important" is itself based on evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're asking whether I have evidence for my evidentialism?

          • Not really, and that would seem to be circular reasoning. Instead, I say we bring something not 100% derivable from the evidence, to the evidence. In the above case, this would appear to show up in what constitutes "importance".

          • Doug Shaver

            Instead, I say we bring something not 100% derivable from the evidence, to the evidence.

            But what if there is no evidence to bring anything to? If someone tells me something for which they offer no evidence, should I believe it or not, and if I should believe it, why?

          • Can you give me an example? I'll provide two of my own which might seem to qualify, but I claim don't.

            (1) Many Christians have argued that there is evidence of God, while others would respond that there are better ways to explain that evidence.
            (2) There is evidence that Jesus lived, was crucified by the Romans, was buried, and was resurrected. There are also competing explanations for that evidence.

            One manner of speaking which is popular these days is to talk as if any given piece of evidence really only has one possibly valid interpretation, and thus is only "evidence for" that interpretation. Sadly, I think it has greatly damaged public discourse.

            I will note that we moderns are actually quite aware of there being entities which are timeless, omnipresent, cause things to happen, and yet are made neither of matter nor energy: laws of nature. You cannot touch a law of nature. You cannot see one. And yet we're pretty sure they exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            Can you give me an example? I'll provide two of my own which might seem to qualify, but I claim don't.

            (1) Many Christians have argued that there is evidence of God, while others would respond that there are better ways to explain that evidence.
            (2) There is evidence that Jesus lived, was crucified by the Romans, was buried, and was resurrected. There are also competing explanations for that evidence.

            You and I might disagree about the sufficiency of your evidence, but I won't say you don't have any. They are not examples of what I was talking about. I was talking about situations in which the advocates of a belief either admit to having no evidence or, when asked to present it, decline to do so for one reason or another.

            There is a prevalent source of confusion on this point, arising from an ambiguity as to the meaning of the word "evidence." Many people are under the impression that evidence cannot exist for any false proposition. For these people, there cannot, by definition, be any evidence for something that they have made up their minds isn't so. If, for example, they don't believe Jesus existed, then they will insist that there is no evidence for his existence. I fervently disagree with these people. I do doubt Jesus' existence, but I have never denied that there is evidence for his having existed. I regard the evidence as insufficient to justify believing that the man actually lived, but insufficient evidence is still evidence. But for some people, as I said, insufficient evidence is no evidence at all.

            You cannot touch a law of nature. You cannot see one. And yet we're pretty sure they exist.

            I cannot touch or see anything that ceased to exist before I was born. That doesn't mean I have no evidence that it did exist at one time.

          • I was talking about situations in which the advocates of a belief either admit to having no evidence or, when asked to present it, decline to do so for one reason or another.

            I think I would prefer to work with something concrete. I'm glad we seem to agree on the whole "evidence for" matter.

            I cannot touch or see anything that ceased to exist before I was born. That doesn't mean I have no evidence that it did exist at one time.

            What if this thing that ceased to exist was made of neither matter nor energy? That's precisely the class of thing I wish to discuss, for God is also said to not be made of matter or energy, due to not having a body.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would not rule out there being evidence for something that was made of neither matter nor energy, just because it was made of neither matter nor energy. But it's up to whoever says it exists, or used to exist, to show me whatever evidence they think they have. And when they do, then I will evaluate that evidence and decide what, if anything it suffices to prove.

          • Hume famously argued that there simply cannot be evidence for causation; the idea of causation does not come in via the senses. Do you disagree with him?

          • Doug Shaver

            Hume famously argued that there simply cannot be evidence for causation; the idea of causation does not come in via the senses. Do you disagree with him?

            I'm not sure. I think he made a point that was well taken, which is that causation is an abstract concept that we apply to certain kinds of regularities that we observe. If he meant to further suggest, though, that we should doubt the actual existence of something we should call causation, then I think he was making a mistake, but I don't know that he meant that. Like any good anti-Platonist, I have a problem with reifying abstractions, but that doesn't mean we should pretend that there is nothing in nature to which they could correspond.

          • If he meant to further suggest, though, that we should doubt the actual existence of something we should call causation, then I think he was making a mistake, but I don't know that he meant that.

            Hume's position is disputed. My point here is that we ought not demand "evidence of" God with a standard which would preclude us from having "evidence of" causation. Too frequently, skepticism, empiricism, and evidentialism have ended up undercutting their very own foundations. What this means in practice is that they are standards applied hypocritically, as rhetorical devices to discredit ideas and people which and who are disliked.

          • Doug Shaver

            Hume's position is disputed.

            So what else is new? Every position advocated by every philosopher who has ever published his work is disputed by somebody.

            My point here is that we ought not demand "evidence of" God with a standard which would preclude us from having "evidence of" causation.

            I don't believe I have made such a demand. I don't deny that some people do make it.

          • So what else is new? Every position advocated by every philosopher who has ever published his work is disputed by somebody.

            As are positions in sociology, psychology, economics, political science, etc. We can't help but take stances on these matters, though. We can choose whether to make them explicit and thus open to examination, or implicit and hidden from easy analysis. So for example, exactly how a metaphysics of causation is permitted within some evidentialist epistemology seems important, to avoid special pleading. So, what is it that allows causation in, even though it doesn't seem to be delivered by the five senses?

          • Doug Shaver

            We can't help but take stances on these matters, though.

            I have made no suggestion that we either cannot or should not.

            So, what is it that allows causation in, even though it doesn't seem to be delivered by the five senses?

            That depends on how you're defining causation. In my philosophical lexicon, in most contexts, a cause of some event is any sufficient condition for the event's occurrence.

          • I have made no suggestion that we either cannot or should not.

            Excellent. The next question is whether the positions we take are simply 100% inspired by the evidence, or whether we add something in interpreting. If we add something, then when we talk about what we add, we are talking about beliefs not formed [100%] on evidence. Then we can talk about the source that isn't evidence.

            That depends on how you're defining causation. In my philosophical lexicon, in most contexts, a cause of some event is any sufficient condition for the event's occurrence.

            This doesn't answer how causation is allowed through the stringent grid of evidentialism, though. We use causation to tell us how things are connected and why things happen—two very important activities for humans. The very name 'laws of nature' is a riff on God as divine lawmaker, but at some point along the road, the laws became understood as static and permanent, in the sense of a machine instead of a person. This was a change in understanding of causation. But was it a change based on the evidence?

          • Doug Shaver

            The next question is whether the positions we take are simply 100% inspired by the evidence

            Some people say they form their conclusions solely according to the evidence. They deceive themselves.

            or whether we add something in interpreting.

            It's not a matter of adding anything. The facts in evidence have to be interpreted in light of background knowledge and assumptions. That background, and those assumptions, are always present in our thinking whether or not we acknowledge them. The evidence is being added to them, if anything is getting added.

            Then we can talk about the source that isn't evidence.

            Yes, we should be talking about the different assumptions we bring to our analyses of the evidence.

          • Some people say they form their conclusions solely according to the evidence. They deceive themselves.

            Well, the most naïve people say this. More sophisticated people argue something like the following, which is taken from my conversation with Ignatius Reilly:

            IR: In the end, intuition is not a good replacement for evidence or derivative proofs. Intuition should develop from evidence and derivative proofs.

            LB: The process you seem to be describing is as follows:

                (1) start with intuition
                (2) develop it with evidence
                (3) mature to depend only on the evidence

            That is, one weans oneself off of non-evidence contributions in one's understanding of reality. But this is precisely what I claim we cannot do! Or rather, if I really go through with this idea of maturation, I end up giving up causation.

            IR: I do not see how evidentialism necessitates that we give up on causation, but I could be wrong on this point. I do think that knowledge is often difficult to come by and if we hope to have solid knowledge claims we need to be very careful about our methods of seeking knowledge. Evidentialism seems to be the best method.

            The question is whether this move is like putting a band-aid on the problem, or has potential of resolving it. Note that Ignatius is very careful even here, to not explicitly derogate the non-evidential contribution to knowledge. Instead, we merely see a huge focus on 'the evidence', with pretty negative light being shown on anything that is not 'the evidence'. In my view, one should show how both the evidential and non-evidential contributions to 'knowledge' can err, there can be imbalanced focus on one over the other, and that maintaining a proper tension between the two is hard but crucial.

            What I don't know how to do yet, is to really tease out this idea. The demons of logical positivism and philosophical foundationalism continue to haunt us. It seems commonly believed that the correspondence theory of truth has cognitive content—that we can, in our brains, compare our own conceptions of reality to "reality as it actually is". The belief that there are objective, knowable facts—outside of a plausibility structure which could be different—remains very strong.

            It is as if many believe that the choices are either locked-in-your-mind subjectivism, or accessible-mind-independent-objective-reality. The former extreme seems very wrong (because we can collaborate and build fantastic bridges), and so surely the other extreme is right? What is implicitly excluded is the idea that what seems true now is only relatively true based on certain things which could be different, and that every time one finds a new, deeper truth, it turns out to be relative to something even deeper. (Robert Nozick explores this possibility in Invariances.) This is not 'relativism' in its common, subjective interpretation. Physical reality really could work that way, and the history of science is perfectly compatible with it.

            To take a theistic turn, the only objectively existing, invariant truth could be God himself, such that he is always infinitely far off in the sense that we cannot perfectly understand him, but he can be approached with successive approximations just like we like to say that we approach ultimate reality with successive approximations. Furthermore, God can always 'undermine' us with a deeper layer of reality which relativizes our own, without breaking a single law of nature (God would break scientific laws, but they are descriptions, not normative forces).

          • D Rieder

            Hey Luke,

            I look at that saying as a catchy maxim...a rule of thumb. You say he presents no evidence...he is evidence himself and so is anyone else who does dismiss without evidence that which they believe is asserted without evidence. It's more like giving people permission to think of it that way along with saying some DO think that way.

            Consider, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." Is there any evidence for that other than the fact that sometimes you lead a horse to water and he won't drink? Need it be so that horses led to water won't drink? No. But it can happen. I see his statement in that light.

            I don't take it to mean one MUST dismiss without evidence things asserted without evidence.

            But technicalities aside, what is basically wrong with that maxim? At the least, it seems a good rule of thumb to keep one's self from believing any old claim one sees on the internet. In fact your response to that proves the point. Before you would buy into that maxim, you would want evidence for it and, presumably, you might feel at liberty to reject it if no evidence is

          • I look at that saying as a catchy maxim...a rule of thumb.

            I have to disagree. I see Hitchens as sneakily supporting his own plausibility structure. He does not do it explicitly: "I will prefer my way of interpreting reality, although it may be as contingent as yours, as long as you don't present new evidence." More here.

            You say he presents no evidence...he is evidence himself [...]

            That Hitchens does X does not indicate that X is in any way optimal for truth-seeking. If you aren't careful, you're in danger of merely switching one authority for another!

            I don't take it to mean one MUST dismiss without evidence things asserted without evidence.

            Sure, but what he conveniently leaves out is the mechanism. This also hints at the idea that them crazy religionists have their protected class of beliefs which need to be discarded and replaced with Science. And yet, this Science has plenty of its own protected beliefs. Nobody can avoid having such a class of beliefs, because one cannot take in evidence outside of an interpretive framework. Hitchens' 'Razor' says something completely obvious and hides the crucial element.

          • D Rieder

            Luke

            IF we can, let's take the maxim in a vacuum...let's drop Hitchens and any sneaky agendas.

            How would you comment on this statement if some nobody posted it in a thread...like I'm doing right now. Even try to pretend you don't know whether I'm an atheist, theist, Christian or naturalist.

            "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

            On the surface, IMHO, it seems like a pretty good rule of thumb. But, it seems we have to kind of pick it apart. What does dismiss mean? What does assert mean? What does evidence mean? And, importantly, what kinds of things are we talking about? Certainly you can imagine some things that ought to be dismissed our of hand as being completely without foundation, right? And it they are completely without foundation, why need any "foundation" be provided for dismissing?

            Actually, I would say that there is good evidence to dismiss things asserted without evidence. That is the experience that many things asserted without evidence are in fact not true or at least are of a nature that we ought to seriously consider dismissing them...and more importantly we would be well advised to not act on a belief in them. If there is no evidence then it may well be that it isn't true. NOT ABSOLUTELY because that gets into the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. But we're not talking absolutes so much as creating a worldview that keeps one from being easily misled.

            Finally, let's see if we can talk of a specific example.

            Dan

          • Hi Dan,

            How would you comment on this statement if some nobody posted it in a thread...like I'm doing right now. Even try to pretend you don't know whether I'm an atheist, theist, Christian or naturalist.

            I would say that the statement is wildly underspecified and doesn't account for how one's plausibility structure is generated.

            Actually, I would say that there is good evidence to dismiss things asserted without evidence.

            But this is patently circular. Evidence says that evidence is good.

            But we're not talking absolutes so much as creating a worldview that keeps one from being easily misled.

            I'm all for this. I think critical thinking is extremely important. Nothing has convinced me that the approach of people who invoke Hitchens' razor is a good strategy. For example, I routinely see such people espouse the truth of the conflict thesis, indicate belief in the myth of religious violence, etc. I'm not the only one to see allegedly educated moderns fall prey to such nonsense; two prominent sociologists have, and we also have stuff like US court of appeals judge Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. One of the things Posner points out is that public intellectuals frequently avoid much of any negative consequences for being wrong.

            If anything, Hitchens' razor is a justification for distrusting authority, for continuing the Enlightenment prejudice of disconnecting us from tradition and reinventing ourselves anew. Vive la révolution! Out with the old, which is on "the wrong side of history", and in with the new! Hitchens isn't even 100% wrong; the authorities do have some things which are wrong. But the error isn't always an evidential one. See, for example, the way Socrates exposed conceptual confusion without asking for evidence. See how the downfall of logical positivism was entirely philosophical. (Positivism, by the way, has hugely impacted modernism.)

            Instead of making Hitchens' razor the central tenet, I say we should test people's predictions, both in the realms of fact and the realms of goodness. An academic can have tons of facts and yet make absolutely terrible public policy proposals. If someone can help improve our country but doesn't match up to Hitchens' standard of evidence, do we thereby dismiss the person? I say no. The gold standard is prediction, not evidence.

          • D Rieder

            Would it make a difference if the quote was not from Hitchens but from some well known apologist?

            I think it's a pretty good rule of thumb.

          • It would make some difference (an apologist is unlikely to mean it in an anti-tradition, anti-authority sense), but many of my critiques would be the same. It's a sound bite; our country doesn't need more sound bites. It needs solid reasoning which can be articulated, tested, and refined.

          • D Rieder

            Agreed, it's a sound bite, a catchy phrase. Perhaps part of the problem is that coming from Hitchens it insinuates that statements like God exists and Christianity is true do not have supporting evidence. So some apologist, convinced that "there is no God" is an assertion with no supporting evidence would say "that which is asserted with no evidence can be dismissed with no evidence" and in that case, you might agree with it?

          • No, I wouldn't do that. Instead, I might bring up Hume's critique of causation, where he argues that we do not receive causation from the senses; we infer it. That is because causation is made of neither matter nor energy. Likewise, God is said not to have a 'body'. So if laws of nature are allowed to be scientifically accessible but not be made up of matter or energy, then clearly God is not ruled out on the basis that he has no body.

          • D Rieder

            "clearly God is not ruled out on the basis that he has no body."

            Do you think that happens very often? Or are you using "body" as a substitute for the broader idea of "evidence?"

          • I'm making "evidence of God" parallel with "evidence of causation", and using Hume's argument that one does not receive evidence of causation from sense-data. Hume is the consummate empiricist, and yet he would say that we cannot have evidence of causation.

          • D Rieder

            No, I was asking what you meant by "God is not ruled out on the basis that he has no body."

            Maybe my question wasn't clear. Do you know any serious folks who believe that because God has no body (I assume physically visible body) that he is ruled out? That never influenced my thinking. IE I never ruled out God specifically or even in part because he is not thought to have a body.

          • God not having a body puts him in the same class as causation, which is also not made up of matter or energy. When people compare God to an invisible pink elephant, they are playing on the fact that he has no body, which is identical to the claim that he is not made of matter or energy. When people demand evidence for God's existence and are operating on a Humean foundation, they are undercutting the basis for their knowledge of the laws of nature.

            Perhaps it would be helpful to note that I am considering the following two sentences to be identical:

            "God is not ruled out on the basis that"
                 (A) "he has no body."
                 (B) "he is not made of matter or energy."

          • D Rieder

            "When people compare God to an invisible pink elephant, they are playing on the fact that he has no body,"

            No I don't think that's what they are doing. They are trying to show how absurd the concept of God is to them. They intentionally include contradictory and even absurd attributes like invisible and pink in an effort to demonstrate how contradictory they see the various attributes of God that they believe the theist has invented just so that God can be the necessary being in the same class as causation. I don't tend to use that...an invisible pink elephant to demonstrate the things I see as inconsistent with the concepts of God that I am familiar with...but nevertheless I see inconsistencies.

            So I don't really anyone is even going that far...to claim because God has no body or God is not made of energy or matter that he is ruled out. THEY are saying they don't believe in him or even believe he doesn't exist due to lack of convincing evidence or lines of reasoning.

            That's just my opinion on what folks...atheists... mean when they say things. I could be wrong...there are lots of different kinds of atheists.

          • No I don't think that's what they are doing. They are trying to show how absurd the concept of God is to them. They intentionally include contradictory and even absurd attributes like invisible and pink in an effort to demonstrate how contradictory they see the various attributes of God that they believe the theist has invented just so that God can be the necessary being in the same class as causation.

            Curious; the next time I see an invisible pink unicorn, I'll have to ask whether 'invisible' and 'pink' were meant to be contradictory.

            So I don't really anyone is even going that far...to claim because God has no body or God is not made of energy or matter that he is ruled out. THEY are saying they don't believe in him or even believe he doesn't exist due to lack of convincing evidence or lines of reasoning.

            But as I've pointed out, a proper Humean empiricist cannot have evidence of causation. And yet, the very argument is not that there is insufficient 'reasoning', but that there is insufficient 'evidence'. If we can talk exclusively in terms of 'reasoning', that's a whole 'nother ball of wax, and Hitchens' razor is worse than useless for that discussion.

          • D Rieder

            Curious; the next time I see an invisible pink unicorn, I'll have to ask
            whether 'invisible' and 'pink' were meant to be contradictory.

            Ha ha

            But as I've pointed out, a proper Humean empiricist cannot have evidence of causation.

            But was Hume right? IOW, do you agree with Hume? Besides, maybe neither Hitchens nor I are proper Humean empiricists so....maybe his reasoning doesn't apply to us{:?

            No, really, it seems there must be more and that he's talking about assessing causation in isolation of reasoning. One cannot know, but simply watching a hammer crack some ice that the blow of the hammer is actually causing the ice to crack, without some additional background information and applying reasoning. That I would agree with. But, I think we can use reasoning to learn and draw conclusions about cause and effect based on observation nonetheless.

            And yet, the very argument is not that there is insufficient 'reasoning', but that there is insufficient 'evidence'. If we can talk exclusively in terms of 'reasoning', that's a whole
            'nother ball of wax, and Hitchens' razor is worse than useless for that
            discussion.

            I'm not all that familiar with what Hitchens has written, being only aware of video debates and interviews and quotes and quips, so I couldn't say anything about his "razor." Have you read any of Hitchen's books? I don't think Hitchen's razor or argument(s) were mentioned in the post, so the only way for me to intelligently discuss it(them) would be to restate it(them).

            Are you referring to the "That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"? Is there more to it? Because we've already talked about how that might be different if coming from someone else who thinks differently than Hitchens...ie some apologist who "is unlikely to mean it in an anti-tradition, anti-authority sense." IOW, I would be happy to leave the sound bites behind and get into "solid reasoning which can be articulated, tested, and refined."

          • But was Hume right? IOW, do you agree with Hume?

            I think he was onto something; I think he realized that we bring something to sense data which is not in the sense data. Hitchens certainly liked Hume's bit on "extraordinary evidence". I think that Hitchens's razor makes it harder to discuss that something. It is the total disconnect between that additional, crucial bit, which in no possible world can be derived purely from sense data, which is the issue.

            Have you read any of Hitchen's books?

            No; I have only watched some debates. His snipes in debates match with the way I've portrayed his 'razor'.

            Are you referring to the "That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"? Is there more to it? Because we've already talked about how that might be different if coming from someone else who thinks differently than Hitchens...ie some apologist who "is unlikely to mean it in an anti-tradition, anti-authority sense." IOW, I would be happy to leave the sound bites behind and get into "solid reasoning which can be articulated, tested, and refined."

            Yes, that's what Wikipedia calls Hitchens's razor. I did look up where his 'razor' originated (god is not Great, 150); the very next paragraph (after an unnamed section break) starts: "The “argument from authority” is the weakest of all arguments." Proximity indicates I was probably right in my guess. :-) Given how scientists are to be heeded on climate change by those persons with too little education or time to assess the evidence themselves, I do find this statement delicious.

            As I noted earlier, I would be no more happy had an apologist uttered the 'razor'. What would be more helpful would be a system of thought for when to trust the authorities and when to be skeptical of them. For example, we could look at the shocking number of pro-Communist Western intellectuals, who stayed pro-Communist well after news of the death tolls in China and the USSR started streaming in. What were the early indicators that these intellectuals ought to be discounted? How about scientists and doctors on whether eggs are healthy, whether the problem is more fat, sugar, or imbalance?

            See, people cannot avoid relying on a tremendous number of authorities in life. Probably, your average modern relies on many more authorities than people in previous ages. There's more total knowledge, the rate of learning has not kept up, and thus many find themselves operating in sub-sub-sub-specialties, needing to trust those outside their specialty. We need ways to figure out which authorities are trustworthy and which are not. I'm almost certain that "the evidence" doesn't cut it. There is so much evidence that can be interpreted so many ways.

          • Phil Rimmer

            No. Implied in the "argument from authority" problem is that when it is from authority alone, no necessary merit accrues though an impression of merit is given.

            Climate scientists, say, publish, corroborate, predict, confirm, change. Authority plus due open-handed process are to be contrasted with authority alone and worse, mere claims of such.

            It cuts both ways.

          • How many Americans have the time and ability to verify every single authority whose truth-claims they need to depend upon for living life?

          • Phil Rimmer

            How hard is it given a median education and (most of) the world's collective knowledge yours for fifteen bucks a month to check up on matters of personal concern? Nor do you review every author of material but institutions and processes...

            Indolence in these matters is the essence of the concern for arguments from authority. Climate change, f'rinstance, is about your (our) current tax dollars and what you bequeath your kids, one way or another. Go learn if you have some skin in the game.

          • The bottom line is that some Americans have the time and expertise to check some of the authorities to some extent. (Note: "matters of personal concern" does not necessarily encompass all of "truth-claims they need to depend upon for living life"; the former can be chosen to be small enough to actually verify all of it.) For the rest, it's back to ye old trusting the authorities; whether you call those authorities "institutions and processes" is no matter. This isn't a matter of indolence, it is a matter of limited time and education.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I think Hitchens' caveat is deserved. Trusting authorities qua authorities is a great risk. But authorities like scientists working within a peer reviewed process and using the scientific method distinguish such authorities clearly and quickly from those he was warning against.

          • I agree that we need a way to evaluate authorities, to figure out which ones to trust. It's not clear how many domains of human life (where the government does things) your "peer reviewed process" covers, though. For example:

                The time seems ripe, even overdue, to announce that there is not going to be an age of paradigm in the social sciences. We contend that the failure to achieve paradigm takeoff is not merely the result of methodological immaturity, but reflects something fundamental about the human world. If we are correct, the crisis of social science concerns the nature of social investigation itself. The conception of the human sciences as somehow necessarily destined to follow the path of the modern investigation of nature is at the root of this crisis. Preoccupation with that ruling expectation is chronic in social science; that idée fixe has often driven investigators away from a serious concern with the human world into the sterility of purely formal argument and debate. As in development theory, one can only wait so long for the takeoff. The cargo-cult view of the "about to arrive science" just won't do. (Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, 5)

            One could also consult books like Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge, Blaming the Victim, Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, and Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Like Hitchens I am anti ideology and I think the ideological is as dire a prospect as the un-evidenced authority and needs the same kind of warning. Social science is a misnomer certainly. Social engineering (without its post social science ideological impositions ideas) but rather the simple pragma of making things better, measuring the outcomes as scientifically as possible and if it fails try what that outcome suggests. This is what the insanely complex task of creating viable societies needs. No to ideology but yes to an open handed use of epidemiology to assess harms and boons and drive policy (like Wilkinson and Pickett) with lots of data about outcomes and democratic judgments given the facts. Societies are too complex for intelligent design. They need evolution, with informed selective pressure from all its members

            This is why we need better education than we have traditionally had. People need a more active informed role in their societies.

          • I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'ideology'. Marx used it to talk about the lies we use to rationalize extant power structures. But that does not preclude there being systematic truths, a la an overarching paradigm which brings unity to a system of thought, like evolution does for biology. Pragmatism certainly works in the short term, but it seems like a pitiful guide for long-term planning. Enlightenment thinkers, including the Founding Fathers of America, almost certainly employed the kind of systematic thinking that one might call 'ideology'—or do you disagree?

            By the way, one of the core critiques Mary Douglas and Steven Ney deploy in Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences is that how 'poverty' is defined critically impacts how it is alleviated. If 'poverty' is "the lack of things", then things will be given and success declared. One might call this pragmatic, but it also seems ideological: it portrays poverty materially, ignoring any relational dimension, as well as how self-actualization (Maslow's hierarchy of needs) actually works.

            I'm not sure I like the intelligent design/​evolution analogy for society; people really are trying to purposely change society in various ways; they don't merely represent an amorphous 'environment'. That being said, I am against the kind of rationalistic, central planning that has often been seen as the salvation of humankind, for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, such planning deprives the vast number of people of much power over life aside from what sports team they like, what flavor of ice cream they buy, and what clothes they wear.

            As to better education, I'm not sure that is enough. Charles Taylor describes a more comprehensive problem in his The Malaise of Modernity:

                The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for. Alexis de Tocqueville sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the "petits et vulgaires plaisirs" that people tend to seek in the democratic age.[1] In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion. Kierkegaard saw "the present age" in these terms. And Nietzsche's "last men" are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a "pitiable comfort."[2]
                This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focussed on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, "et menace de la renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur."[3] In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society. (3–4)

            One promising route is via revitalizing what Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus called 'mediating structures' in To Empower People: From State to Civil Society. Mediating structures are what stand between the individual and the State, what can sufficiently push back against the State so that the individual can do meaningful things in the public sphere. This isn't just more education though, this is a fundamental reorientation on what civil society should be like. Such reorientation does not merely come from 'evidence'.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Ideologies are solutions in search of a problem. Scientific knowledge is an always tested to destruction set of accounts for observed phenomena.

            I don't really know what will make me happiest, nor does anyone else. I will know what I think of something when I get it. The moral and the good are some collective view based on current experience. The moral and the good may well change in unexpected ways as we think we are approaching them. The unexpected may surprise and delight us as second order artifacts in our evolved make up are uncovered. (Texting, who'd a thunk? Living publicly on Facebook...)

            Pretending we know what people want has been the start of many tyrannies.

            Alleviating poverty is best handled by taking a first stab at a solution, measuring the satisfaction with the outcomes then trying to do better.

            This doesn't mean we don't try and model societies to make better guesses at which direction Better lies in, but, empirical models must trump theoretical until superior performance is indicated.

          • Scientific knowledge is an always tested to destruction set of accounts for observed phenomena.

            If you read the preface to Donald Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, I think you'll find that this is not true in sciences which matter for human thriving. You could also check out Michael Taylor's Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection to see how destructive rational choice theory has been to human thriving.

            I don't really know what will make me happiest, nor does anyone else. I will know what I think of something when I get it. The moral and the good are some collective view based on current experience.

            Then what do you make of the Great American Experiment, that started with the Founding Fathers? How about Enlightenment thinkers who envisioned a radically different way for humanity to exist? Furthermore, I'm not sure the science of advertisement agrees with your analysis here; I actually think that humans can be terrifically predictable and manipulable when it comes to what will make them happy. See, for example, Jacques Ellul's Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes.

            Now, I completely agree with keeping an open horizon and embracing fallibilism with respect to civil matters; the stymieing efforts to try new, more excellent things is one reason the Americas were populated with colonists. I have repeatedly seen criticisms of attempts by Christians in the past to create "total societies" which do not allow for this kind of exploration. However, I don't see this as being at odds with coming up with idea for how things should go for the next 100 or 200 years, subject to revision.

            Pretending we know what people want has been the start of many tyrannies.

            This is different from making long-term predictions; also: sharp knives are sharp.

            Alleviating poverty is best handled by taking a first stab at a solution, measuring the satisfaction with the outcomes then trying to do better.

            The very metric one uses to "measure satisfaction" may be bad. See, for example, Peter Buffett's 2013 NYT piece The Charitable–Industrial Complex.

          • Phil Rimmer

            " I think you'll find that this is not true in sciences which matter for human thriving."

            This is my point. Though the area is essential to research, the science is soft, hence my characterisation of it as engineering or the gathering of data for engineering.

            The softness of the data demands circumspection in its use and enclosing it within a democratic process as much as possible. The USA produce dreadful official statistics of internal performancess . My view is the quantity and range needs to be hugely increased. There should be many measures of satisfaction including self reports. Enclosing the metrics within a democratic process allows people to calibrate these things to a degree for themselves.

            I won't go into the Great American Experiment in any detail, which is a fantastic outlier of all such experiments. Hugely enterprising, richly diverse, shamefully un-equal in the exploitation of its talents, and bizarrely government phobic. I see the UK as USA lite in some of these things. I would love to see a lot of things change. I'd love to keep the enterprise thing but would sell some of it to gain the political stability its going to need to better exploit its talents and greatly extend the length of its current investment cycles.

            Its adoration of charity is shameful. Every act of charity is a failure of its society to build in compassion.

          • You keep saying that more evidence is required; it's not at all clear that this is the case! Four examples:

            In Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, Donald E. Polkinghorne argues that no amount of statistics will capture the aspects of a person relevant for psychotherapy; instead one has to listen to the person's story. If we merely listened to the call for "more evidence", we would be digging a deeper and deeper hole into which to dump patients in need of effective therapy.

            In Missing Persons, Mary Douglas and Steven Ney argue that our current definition of 'poverty', and thereby metrics for success, are deeply suspect. If we continue to fight poverty in the way we have, we will never solve it, although the numbers and metrics will say that we're making good progress. What they think we need, what I think we need, and what Peter Buffet thinks we need is a shift in interpretation, not "more evidence".

            In Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection, Michael Taylor argues that rational choice theory—extremely popular among economists—is a bad model which distorts what it means to be human and legitimizes terrible things. More data to fine-tune what a 'rational actor' is will not help. That will merely dig us into a deeper hole, dumping those who are not sufficiently rational actors in it.

            In Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, Paul Rabinow observes that dominant understanding of the human sciences—that they'll ultimately look like the human sciences—is predicated upon a fallacy that "more evidence" will never resolve. A failure to shift interpretation risks wasting millions of human-hours which could be spent helping humans live better lives.

            As to your disinterest in examining the Great American Experiment, I fear that your lapse to short-term pragmatism is precisely the attitude that would have prevented this Experiment from ever taking off, and indicates that you believe no similar great leap forward is possible. That would seem to be an incredibly arrogant position: that we've reached the pinnacle, modulo incremental work which cannot possibly be seen from far off. A good example of decades-long work can be found in Peter Berger's and Richard John Neuhaus' To Empower People: From State to Civil Society, where they made suggestions and predictions on how to improve an ailing situation (e.g. in welfare) in 1977, and found them remarkably good in 1996 (when the second edition, linked, was written). And yet you seem to want to discourage such a thing?

          • Phil Rimmer

            No. You haven't said anything I specifically disagree with, except your characterisation of my view point.

            I want public policy more driven by evidence and reason and less by ideology. Metrics for each group in society taken consistently and reliably, made available to all and used as the basis of new directions or course corrections by public policy makers.

            All need to see that after the last pertinent policy changes this or that little group now feel less satisfaction and these 12 objective measures of why that may or may, not be (disposable income health access, education access, mobility, employment, etc. etc.) helps point to assessing the reasonableness of the grievance. Self reported satisfaction as a metric (and this again may have many sub aspects) will be treated differently by folk after a few cycles after they see how well or badly the metric is reflected in the objective measures. Metrics enclosed in such evolutionary cycles may better settle into use if their use is seen and understood. (Lots of et ceteras here.)

            This is the era of big, cheap data, and we need to hold up an utterly consistent and broad ranging mirror to ourselves, as a public service. The ideologically purchased media have disgraced themselves mostly.

            Social scientists, keep working, propose better paths using evidence. But we, the experiment, can now keep proper tabs on whats is happening to us and the outcomes, good and bad.

          • I still don't have a good grasp of what you mean by 'ideology'. It seems too easy to use the word to discredit ways of thinking about civil and social matters you do not like. Furthermore, there is the danger of refusing to be articulate about matters in order to pretend to be 'objective', while all the while merely cloaking one's particular thoughts and feelings:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like begin told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons, 10)

            But if one were to start articulating this space, would you consider that a threat to 'objectivity'? Would articulating constitute 'ideology'?

            It is also becoming well-accepted that all evidence is interpreted in light of a theory (e.g. Theory and Observation in Science). What differentiates such 'theory' from 'ideology'?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Quantum mechanics is the most well-evidenced theory we currently have. What theory of God is most evidenced?

        • lapona

          The theory of God is that misuse of religion and existence of God are very different matters. That theory provides purpose for our lives while at the same time is completely consistent with everything we have discovered about the universe and life on Earth. The Theory of God will explain God and God will explain science. Consciousness is not a mere epiphenomenon of the brain; it is our connection to God, the source of all consciousness.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is not evidence for God. It is not even a definition.

          • lapona

            The theory of evolution defines what? The theory of gravity defines what?
            Theories are explanations, they don't give definitions. I explain that you have consciousness and God is the source of all consciousness.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The theory of universal gravitation defines a relationship between objects. We also have definitions of things like acceleration, force, etc.
            One cannot have a theory of God without defining the parts that make up the theory.

          • lapona

            Theories postulate don't define.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So we don't need a definition of acceleration?

          • lapona

            We were talking about the theory of gravity not the theory of acceleration.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Can't have a theory of gravity without defining the constituent parts.

          • William Davis

            Consciousness can be explained in all kinds of ways. We need evidence to determine the probable truth of any given explanation.

          • lapona

            "Consciousness can be explained in all kinds of ways."
            ===
            Many things can be explained in all kinds of ways, including through theories. We explain gravitation trough a theory, but you don't "evidence" gravitation. You take evidenced phenomena to construct a theory. I think there's enough evidence in the holy scriptures to create a Theory of God.

          • William Davis

            Dropping something is evidence of gravity. Correct predictions of the effect of gravity are evidence of a correct theory ( general relativity correctly predicted that gravity bends light.
            Christianity is full of false predictions. Scriptures arent evidence, they contain the original theories. If the counted as evidence, then Norse writings would be evidence of Thor, and the Illiad would be evidence of polytheism.

        • What do you mean by "theory of God"? God is not a scientific theory and neither is any other personal agent. I will also ask you a counter-question. You surely hold that electrons, neutrons, and protons obey various laws. Tell me, are these laws omnipresent, timeless, and made of neither matter nor energy—yet able to act on matter and energy?

          • lapona

            "God is not a scientific theory"
            ===
            You shouldn't hate science so much.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Perhaps I should I asked what is the best conception of God. My point was that quantum mechanics is well-evidenced. This is why we prefer it to other theories that are not well-evidenced. This is why we do not judge quantum mechanics by what Chopra thinks. This is why the analogy fails until you provide us with the best conception of God, which we can compare and contrast with other conceptions. All the while deciding if any of the conceptions map to an existent being or if they are all fantasy.

            The laws do not act on matter and energy. They are descriptions of what we have observed. We observe that momentum is conserved and we can make predications based on that observation. The laws are a relationships or descriptions. I would not say that they act on matter and energy.

          • Your choice of quantum mechanics nicely matches up with what seems like a denial that causation actually exists. See, the evidence for QM says nothing about what really exists; it is entirely a way to predict, from one set of observations that humans make, what other observations are likely to follow. It is remarkably anthropocentric; this may seem weird but it does seem to be the conclusion of Bernard d'Espagnat in his On Physics and Philosophy; see for example pp410–411.

            Any conception of God I advance will involve not just real causation but agent causation, and it will involve there being real existence beyond mere appearances. Furthermore, I wouldn't claim to be able to offer a complete conception of God, just like I wouldn't claim to be able to offer a complete conception of my wife. My experience of her differs from her parents', although of course there is overlap. I would probably start out describing my conception of God by talking about the difference between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations, and what it takes for there to be a true, ontological difference between the two. This would establish that God is a very special kind of agent—one who only coerces under special conditions—and it seems that this single characteristic refutes a wide variety of complaints about why God doesn't do X.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I mentioned nothing about quantum mechanics and causation. Not at all sure why you brought causation into that particular conversation. Again, quantum mechanics is well-evidenced. Your conception of God isn't even well-defined enough were we could even talk about whether or not it even exists.
            It would be rather easy for you to prove that your wife exists. God, not so much. Without you telling me anything about your wife besides that she is your wife, you have told me more about her than you have yet to say about God.

          • I mentioned nothing about quantum mechanics and causation.

            Correct; in a single comment you mentioned both topics, but did not connect them. I connected them.

            Not at all sure why you brought causation into that particular conversation.

            Those who insist on only believing things "on evidence" have reason to disbelieve in the concept of causation. This is a very high price to pay and I'll bet many will backtrack on the rigid requirement that everything be believed only "on evidence". Some though, will do away with causation.

            Your conception of God isn't even well-defined enough were we could even talk about whether or not it even exists.

            The existence of God requires that (i) things exist beyond what we perceive—noting that QM is entirely about what we perceive; (ii) agent causation is real. Given that you seem to reject (i) and (ii), I don't think it's possible to "well-define" 'God' to you.

            It would be rather easy for you to prove that your wife exists. God, not so much.

            I could definitely show you matter–energy to you which we could agree to label as "Luke's wife", but arguing that she exhibits agent causation and that there is more than just the appearances is a different matter. In a sense it's very important that God is not made of matter–energy, because it forces us to consider that which is not matter–energy. Folks in the ANE repeatedly wanted their gods to be matter–energy; YHWH consistently refused to be understood in this way.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Those who insist on only believing things "on evidence" have reason to disbelieve in the concept of causation. This is a very high price to pay and I'll bet many will backtrack on the rigid requirement that everything be believed only "on evidence". Some though, will do away with causation

            Besides evidence, what other candidates do we have to ground our beliefs? If I say proposition X is true, what are my options for demonstrating the truthfulness of the statement?

            I do not think that evidentialism necessitates an abandonment of causation. I think we have to be careful in assigning causes to effects.

            The existence of God requires that (i) things exist beyond what we perceive—noting that QM is entirely about what we perceive; (ii) agent causation is real. Given that you seem to reject (i) and (ii), I don't think it's possible to "well-define" 'God' to you.

            For (1):

            Firstly, quantum mechanics does not require a conscious observer. Unless you mean something else when you say that "QM is entirely about what we perceive."

            If things exist beyond what we perceive, could we know that they exist or know anything about them? While it is logically possible that there exist things that we cannot perceive and there certainly exists things that we do not perceive, how do we know anything about such things?

            Are you saying that if God exists then there exists a thing that we cannot perceive, namely God. I fail to see how this is evidence for God.

            I do not reject (1). I just do not see reason to hypothesize about things that may or may not exist. Things that are unperceivable are things that we cannot know anything about, because they are immune to our methods of finding knowledge.

            For (2):

            I allow for both free will (agency) and I think it is fair to describe some processes as cause and effect. So I reject neither (1) or (2), but I am still waiting for an explanation as to who this God character is.

            I could definitely show you matter–energy to you which we could agree to label as "Luke's wife", but arguing that she exhibits agent causation and that there is more than just the appearances is a different matter.

            Sure, you could not prove 100% that your wife has free will, but we could weigh your evidence for you wife's free will against the evidence of the determinists. All of the terms would be well-defined and we could at least have a discussion in which we know what exactly and precisely what we are talking about. We would also now that your wife exists and that she has entered into a cultural relationship with you. We have none of this when we are talking about gods.

            In a sense it's very important that God is not made of matter–energy, because it forces us to consider that which is not matter–energy. Folks in the ANE repeatedly wanted their gods to be matter–energy; YHWH consistently refused to be understood in this way.

            This is a start, but it really doesn't get us very far. God is not made of matter and energy. Anything else?
            You have a far road ahead of you. You have to go from a thing, which we call God, who is not made of matter and energy all the way to a being, who loves us, sent his only son to redeem our sinfulness, but if we do not repent of things like condom use and thought crimes, will torture us forever.

          • Apologies for the delay; I ended up writing multiple drafts. I'm not entirely happy with this one, but here it is anyhow.

            Besides evidence, what other candidates do we have to ground our beliefs?

            Your interpretive paradigm simply isn't derived 100% from the evidence (ex: causation), which means that your beliefs are not 100% grounded in evidence. What is it that grounds interpretive paradigm? At the core, I think it's just intuition: human judgment. One can choose to trust certain authorities (human or not), one can only go with what makes sense to oneself, or engage in some mixture. We know that the authorities can get 'stuck'—whether religious or scientific (thanks, Thomas Kuhn). And yet, fail to stand on the shoulders of giants and one cannot see very far.

            It might also be important to point out that there is no 'evidence' outside of some particular theory (see SEP: Theory and Observation). Thomas Kuhn noted that one's scientific paradigm determines what is even admitted as evidence and what questions are of interest (which will guide evidence-gathering). What we add to the evidence, to deal with Underdetermination of Scientific Theory, is crucial. It seems possible to ignore the importance of interpretation in the hard sciences (this helps explain Paul Feyerabend's temporary excommunication from philosophers of science); it is virtually impossible to do in the human sciences. Our conception of "what it means to be human" unavoidably colors the human science we do. The human science we do is of extreme importance to government, economy, and society.

            I do not think that evidentialism necessitates an abandonment of causation. I think we have to be careful in assigning causes to effects.

            I'm sure there are formulations of evidentialism which allow various kinds of causation in through the door. What I wonder is: what else gets in through that door? What else should be able to get through that door, on pain of special pleading?

            Firstly, quantum mechanics does not require a conscious observer. Unless you mean something else when you say that "QM is entirely about what we perceive."

            Agreed on your first point; Sean Carroll writes about what observers must be. What I'm talking about is the lack of any empirically established ontology, anything beneath the appearances. Physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat argues this in On Physics and Philosophy:

                In order to properly understand the nature of [making inferences about classical reality from claims about quantum reality], let us first derive from what has been recalled above the obvious lesson that (as already repeatedly noted) quantum mechanics is an essentially predictive, rather than descriptive, theory. What, in it, is truly robust is in no way its ontology, which, on the contrary, is either shaky or nonexistent. It is the set of its observational predictive rules. Consequently the whole of microscopic physics—governed by quantum mechanics as it is—essentially reduces to observational predictions. (148)

            This could not be any more instrumentalist, any more anti-realist. All we can strictly say is that we've observed regularities in human perception, not in some 'underlying' reality. This makes QM remarkably anthropocentric, as one sees in some of d'Espagnat's concluding remarks (pp410–411).

            The way you extend beyond what you can perceive is that you imagine what might be beyond, come up with ways to explore those imaginations, and see if reality is more complex and intricate than you previously thought. There is cognitive science research that points toward us not even being conscious of patterns in our percepts that don't pre-exist in our longer-term memory: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). Confirmation bias might be precisely how consciousness avoids information overload. Imagination might need to precede evidence, and the verse "We walk by faith, not by sight" might be eerily prescient.

            I allow for both free will (agency) and I think it is fair to describe some processes as cause and effect. So I reject neither (1) or (2), but I am still waiting for an explanation as to who this God character is.

            I'm not sure I'm on board with you merely "describ[ing] some processes as cause and effect"; that makes it sound like you think causation is a decent model, but not ontologically grounded. It reminds me of Sean Carroll's alternation between "laws of physics" and "unbreakable patterns": the very metaphor of 'law' involves normative force, while Carroll merely means description. I don't think you can have actual persons, or God, if agent causation isn't ontologically grounded.

            We would also now that your wife exists and that she has entered into a cultural relationship with you. We have none of this when we are talking about gods.

            It's just not clear to me that this is of any benefit in going beyond the matter–energy configuration of my wife, of saying that anything exists beyond the appearances, or that she exhibits true, ontologically grounded, agent causation. I've run into the same kind of problem with isought: if true, then demonstrating God's existence does not aid one iota in demonstrating his goodness.

            This is a start, but it really doesn't get us very far. God is not made of matter and energy. Anything else?

            I think the next step would be to distinguish between interacting with someone in a manipulative manner vs. a non-manipulative manner. The matter isn't quite as simple as it might seem, for my interacting with an addict can easily seen as manipulative by the addict, even though I'm trying to help him/her escape the addiction, with the result that his/her 'future self' will approve of the change. Of course, the 'future selves' of those with Stockholm syndrome also approve of what was formerly seen as manipulation, and yet we still call that 'manipulation'.

            The reason I think this is the next step is that the only difference between 'goodness' and 'power' I can conceive of is that the former is non-manipulative, while the latter is intrinsically manipulative. If God exists and is good, he must be non-manipulative in an important way (noting that parents sometimes need to 'manipulate' their children).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Apologies for the delay; I ended up writing multiple drafts. I'm not entirely happy with this one, but here it is anyhow.

            Thanks for the response. It is a good one.

            Your interpretive paradigm simply isn't derived 100% from the evidence (ex: causation), which means that your beliefs are not 100% grounded in evidence. What is it that grounds interpretive paradigm? At the core, I think it's just intuition: human judgment. One can choose to trust certain authorities (human or not), one can only go with what makes sense to oneself, or engage in some mixture. We know that the authorities can get 'stuck'—whether religious or scientific (thanks, Thomas Kuhn). And yet, fail to stand on the shoulders of giants and one cannot see very far.

            I agree that we all use a great deal of intuition when it comes to discerning beliefs and choosing our moral system. Good intuition is developed though. For instance, when I first studied physics, I thought that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter objects. Perhaps this intuition was developed seeing light objects like leafs and feathers fall to the ground slowly. Modern physics forced my intuitions to change again.

            Perhaps, if we are optimistic, we may think that intuition is good at certain things more fundamental to our humanness like discerning art and morality. I don't think the former is true and doubt the latter is. In the end, intuition is not a good replacement for evidence or derivative proofs. Intuition should develop from evidence and derivative proofs.

            I do not think that we can at all be optimistic that our intuition is any good at understanding conception of God or what causation means in the early universe. I think extrapolating our everyday notions of causality to early universe or to beings outside of time is a tenuous extrapolation. Cause and effect is all tied up with observation and time, in terms of our intuitions. I do think there is evidence for cause and effect, but I think whether that evidence is sufficient is another question.

            I'm sure there are formulations of evidentialism which allow various kinds of causation in through the door. What I wonder is: what else gets in through that door? What else should be able to get through that door, on pain of special pleading?

            I'm not sure. Do you have any candidates?

            I don't know if I would classify myself as a strict evidentialist. I'm not sure how I fit mathematics into my paradigm. I just do not see another good way of discerning truth besides some sort of evidentialist criteria or mathematical reasoning.

            This could not be any more instrumentalist, any more anti-realist. All we can strictly say is that we've observed regularities in human perception, not in some 'underlying' reality. This makes QM remarkably anthropocentric, as one sees in some of d'Espagnat's concluding remarks

            This is a skeptical position. It is difficult to refute such skepticism. I think it is safe for us to think that our observations, if we are careful, correspond with reality. It seems odd to that we observe regularities in human perception that do not translate to regularities in what is being perceived. If there are no regularities to perceive, then, I would argue that our perceptions would not be regular.

            Confirmation bias might be precisely how consciousness avoids information overload. Imagination might need to precede evidence, and the verse "We walk by faith, not by sight" might be eerily prescient.

            This is an argument for more skepticism. Not an argument to add deities to our paradigm, but rather remove tenuous assumptions from our paradigm.

            I'm not sure I'm on board with you merely "describ[ing] some processes as cause and effect"; that makes it sound like you think causation is a decent model, but not ontologically grounded.

            I think we would have to rigorously define causation first. For instance, if I strike a match in a room, in what sense is striking the match a cause and in what sense is the oxygen a cause. (One cannot have fire without an oxider, which on earth is usually oxygen.) Are they both causes? We certainly seem to ascribe the cause to striking the match, but we often ignore other causes.

            I think we would then have to consider if time is integral to our conception of causation. Perhaps causation does operate outside of time, but I don't think we could ever ground such conceptions.

            I don't think you can have actual persons, or God, if agent causation isn't ontologically grounded.

            And how does one go about grounding agent causation. It usually just seems to be assumed.

            The reason I think this is the next step is that the only difference between 'goodness' and 'power' I can conceive of is that the former is non-manipulative, while the latter is intrinsically manipulative. If God exists and is good, he must be non-manipulative in an important way (noting that parents sometimes need to 'manipulate' their children).

            I see what you are getting at here. I would probably first quarrel with what is the proper conception of good, especially for a being outside of time and space. We can think of good knifes, which are sharp and cut things easily, a good economy, or a good state of human affairs, which as a utilitarian, I would say is a society with the maximal amount of pleasure and minimal pain. It is not clear to me what it means to be good, outside of a set of rules that lay out what it means to be good. We know who the good sports stars or musicians are, because we have guidelines for such judgment.

          • Good intuition is developed though.

            No disagreement, there; one might connect this with John Calvin's seed of religion.

            In the end, intuition is not a good replacement for evidence or derivative proofs. Intuition should develop from evidence and derivative proofs.

            The process you seem to be describing is as follows:

                (1) start with intuition
                (2) develop it with evidence
                (3) mature to depend only on the evidence

            That is, one weans oneself off of non-evidence contributions in one's understanding of reality. But this is precisely what I claim we cannot do! Or rather, if I really go through with this idea of maturation, I end up giving up causation.

            I do not think that we can at all be optimistic that our intuition is any good at understanding conception of God or what causation means in the early universe. I think extrapolating our everyday notions of causality to early universe or to beings outside of time is a tenuous extrapolation.

            Jews have always been insistent that one not mistake the picture of the thing for the thing (Ex 20:4–6), and Christians have long held that one understands God analogically, which explicitly acknowledges that we have but a picture which can easily contain errors. (Christians do believe one can develop this picture; the Trinity would be an example.) Furthermore, we have acknowledgment of evil moral intuitions and the hope that they can be changed in the famously misinterpreted "my thoughts are not your thoughts" passage: Is 55:6–9 (frequently vv6–7 are omitted). In a sense, it is a distinctly Judeo-Christian idea that our understanding is (A) incomplete; (B) can be made less incomplete. This is true of our understanding of creator and creation.

            It's not clear that we can do anything but extrapolate, from what we know to what we do not. I am told that something called the "extrapolation problem" is a big deal in philosophy of science these days, championed especially by Nancy Cartwright (see e.g. her How the Laws of Physics Lie). How do we work from what we know, to what we do not know? If something is true in context A, is it true in context B? It is worthwhile to note that it was really the Enlightenment which pushed the idea of direct access to timeless truths—antithetical to anything called "extrapolation problem".

            I'm not sure. Do you have any candidates?

            No; I'm too convinced that the theory-ladenness of observation destroys anything worthy of the name 'evidentialism'. Furthermore, I have become convinced that the human sciences are inherently value-laden (contrast to 'objective'), and that this value-ladenness simply does not come from some unbiased, mind-independent objective set of observations. This only makes sense: we are not just perceivers of the world, but actors, working to change it in specific ways. The idea that we work hard to change reality makes it clear that we do not merely want to conform ourselves ever-more-closely to reality. And so beliefs in this realm also aren't 100% evidence-based.

            I just do not see another good way of discerning truth besides some sort of evidentialist criteria or mathematical reasoning.

            Ahh, this may be a source of either disagreement or just critical-but-neglected territory. Let's take an example: the Founding Fathers. They embarked on what is sometimes called the Great American Experiment. Do you think that the resources they used were 100% evidence + mathematical reasoning? It's not clear to me that this is all they used. Instead, I'm pretty sure they employed a conception of "what it means to be human" and "human flourishing" which went went well beyond the evidence. It's not that their ideas could not be tested against the evidence; instead, their ideas seemed to greatly precede the evidence. Indeed, some ideas can only be tested by trying them out. Take for example Abraham listening to YHWH's call to leave the land of Ur: aside from previous interactions with this 'agency', he could either ignore its communications and live as he did, or take a risk and see whether it was trustworthy. It really was a risk, a very specific kind of "leap of faith". But doesn't this also characterize what the Founding Fathers did? What they attempted had never been done before.

            This is a skeptical position. It is difficult to refute such skepticism. I think it is safe for us to think that our observations, if we are careful, correspond with reality. It seems odd to that we observe regularities in human perception that do not translate to regularities in what is being perceived. If there are no regularities to perceive, then, I would argue that our perceptions would not be regular.

            I have some sympathies with what you say here, but the critical thing is that it isn't evidence that pushes one away from that skepticism, it's the particular way you choose to interpret that evidence. To me, this is a strike against calling anything 'evidentialism'.

            This is an argument for more skepticism.

            Hmmm? The cognitive science research I linked indicates that if a pattern for the phenomena in your perceptual neurons isn't sufficiently similar to patterns in your longer-term memory, then you may never become conscious of that pattern in your perceptual neurons. And so, if we don't practice imagining how things might be, we may never find out how reality is different, or perhaps more, than our current understanding—except in an incremental fashion which could get stuck at a local maximum. What this is a call for is to play with different ways to interpret extant evidence. The same principle is used in Christianity which says that a quite different way of living life is actually quite better. Neither activity involves one being led by the evidence; both activities result in more evidence.

            I think we would have to rigorously define causation first.

            Definitely. And it turns out that there are multiple different ways to do it, each with its problems. The evidence does not seem to pick out a unique understanding of causation as the obvious best.

            And how does one go about grounding agent causation. It usually just seems to be assumed.

            This may be required; one may need agent causation as part of one's "furniture of the universe". Indeed, I don't know how you can get non-puppet action if you only have timeless, omnipresent, laws of nature causing things to happen. Reality can be rendered pretty intelligible with either model of causation; again the evidence doesn't seem to tell us which to use.

            It is not clear to me what it means to be good, outside of a set of rules that lay out what it means to be good.

            Well, you definitely have to decide whether it is the rules that make it good, or whether goodness is being approximated by the rules. This seems parallel to whether it is good because I say it is good, or whether I say it is good because I'm recognizing objective goodness. The position I'm at these days is that goodness is something which can only be recognized by minds (and thus only enforced by minds), and that either the universe is arbitrary and thus some people will be screwed, or the universe has certain "mind-dependent properties" which can be increasingly understood and lived out by humans such that nobody gets screwed.

            Now, some people get screwed as it is, but there are two possibilities: (i) there was no way to avoid that; (ii) we screwed up and didn't take advantage of how reality could work, and how we could work within it. If (i), I worry that this actually makes goodness epistemically indistinguishable from rationalization: we deserve nice things, they don't, and that's why they're suffering and we aren't. Power has no problem using a façade of morality. If this reality were not created by a being who imposed moral order on it—even if potential, instead of actual—then it seems exceedingly unlikely that such moral order would randomly have come to be, with impersonal, machine-like laws of nature acting. Furthermore, the realm of goodness, value, and morality are what distinguish persons from things, so they seem crucial to seeing God as a person instead of a set of equations.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is, one weans oneself off of non-evidence contributions in one's understanding of reality. But this is precisely what I claim we cannot do! Or rather, if I really go through with this idea of maturation, I end up giving up causation.

            I do not see how evidentialism necessitates that we give up on causation, but I could be wrong on this point. I do think that knowledge is often difficult to come by and if we hope to have solid knowledge claims we need to be very careful about our methods of seeking knowledge. Evidentialism seems to be the best method.

            Jews have always been insistent that one not mistake the picture of the thing for the thing (Ex 20:4–6), and Christians have long held that one understands God analogically, which explicitly acknowledges that we have but a picture which can easily contain errors. (Christians do believe one can develop this picture; the Trinity would be an example.) Furthermore, we have acknowledgment of evil moral intuitions and the hope that they can be changed in the famously misinterpreted "my thoughts are not your thoughts" passage: Is 55:6–9 (frequently vv6–7 are omitted). In a sense, it is a distinctly Judeo-Christian idea that our understanding is (A) incomplete; (B) can be made less incomplete. This is true of our understanding of creator and creation.

            If one can only understand God analogically, it seems that it would be impossible to know that he actually exists. If we cannot conceive of what God could or would act, there would be no way of knowing what evidence we should look for to show that he exists. Personally, I do not think that the analogical conceptions of God or the conception of God that Christians have map very well to the reality that we experience.

            Some conceptions of God, like classical theism, I do not think makes sense in the Christian framework. I would argue that classical theism necessitates an eternal universe, while most Christians believe that the universe had a beginning.

            I do not think I could ever believe in God that is tri-Omni. I think that the logical problem of evil is successful in proving that a tri-Omni being could not have created this world. So because of the logical problem of evil and the fact that my experience of reality does not map to what I would expect reality to be like if Christianity is true, I would claim that I am as least somewhat certain that the Christian God does not exist.

            Christians argue for God in a myriad of ways, some of them reasonable and others seeming like nothing but abstract sophistry. However, these arguments fail to convince me to believe in the Christian God, partially because I think they make errors in their reasoning and fail to go from first cause to God, but more importantly the arguments against God like the logical problem of evil and the evidential arguments are more immediate, tangible, and convincing. The premises are more comprehensible.

            Furthermore, I have become convinced that the human sciences are inherently value-laden (contrast to 'objective'), and that this value-ladenness simply does not come from some unbiased, mind-independent objective set of observations. This only makes sense: we are not just perceivers of the world, but actors, working to change it in specific ways. The idea that we work hard to change reality makes it clear that we do not merely want to conform ourselves ever-more-closely to reality

            Although this could simply be perception. We could be determined and our actions to change the world are just part of the general evolution of the system. (I tend to believe in free will, but I thought I would through that our there.)

            More to the point, even though we are actors in the world, we are constrained by things like conservation of momentum or gravity. It is these constraints that we are most successful at elucidating. The evidence that is farthest removed from human action is the evidence that we are most sure about.

            In what way would you say that physics is value-laden?

            Let's take an example: the Founding Fathers. They embarked on what is sometimes called the Great American Experiment. Do you think that the resources they used were 100% evidence + mathematical reasoning? It's not clear to me that this is all they used. Instead, I'm pretty sure they employed a conception of "what it means to be human" and "human flourishing" which went went well beyond the evidence. It's not that their ideas could not be tested against the evidence; instead, their ideas seemed to greatly precede the evidence. Indeed, some ideas can only be tested by trying them out

            I think ideas of what it means to be "human" and "human flourishing" are certainly based in some kinds of evidence, intuition, and personal experience. I think the founders could also rely on the evidence of history. I think the founders could have started with some basic premises on humanness and human flourishing and used reasoning to extrapolate the best form of government.

            Testing ideas out is a hallmark of evidentialism. However, some forms of governance that we have tried out have lead to some very bad outcomes.

            Take for example Abraham listening to YHWH's call to leave the land of Ur: aside from previous interactions with this 'agency', he could either ignore its communications and live as he did, or take a risk and see whether it was trustworthy. It really was a risk, a very specific kind of "leap of faith". But doesn't this also characterize what the Founding Fathers did? What they attempted had never been done before.

            I have great sympathies with "leap of faith" arguments as long as they are not made vulgar by Pascal's wager. I think there is always the problem of what way to leap and any leap should be made with an understanding that others' leaps are perhaps equally well chosen.

            Hmmm? The cognitive science research I linked indicates that if a pattern for the phenomena in your perceptual neurons isn't sufficiently similar to patterns in your longer-term memory, then you may never become conscious of that pattern in your perceptual neurons. And so, if we don't practice imagining how things might be, we may never find out how reality is different, or perhaps more, than our current understanding—except in an incremental fashion which could get stuck at a local maximum.

            My takeaway was that we could never know if our reality is different from our current understanding, so we would end up in the skeptics' camp. I think in many instances, theists make arguments against atheism, which really are not arguments for theism but arguments for skepticism.

            Indeed, I don't know how you can get non-puppet action if you only have timeless, omnipresent, laws of nature causing things to happen. Reality can be rendered pretty intelligible with either model of causation; again the evidence doesn't seem to tell us which to use

            Are laws causes or relationships? If the laws are the causes, should we not identify them as the first immaterial cause in cosmological arguments?

          • I do not see how evidentialism necessitates that we give up on causation, but I could be wrong on this point.

            Evidentialism has to either special-plead for a protected set of beliefs which did not come via the senses, or it has to allow for certain, continuing beliefs to come via means other than 100% the senses. Frequently the first approach is employed, with beliefs such as "my senses are sufficiently reliable, especially in a community of critical thinkers". I claim that this approach seems plausible until one realizes that causation itself has to be included, and that which model of causation one picks is not determined by the evidence. That seems to greatly weaken the idea that one's "protected set of beliefs" deserves its special status.

            If one can only understand God analogically, it seems that it would be impossible to know that he actually exists.

            Then you need to be anti-realist about physical reality, because we only understand it analogically and metaphorically, as well. (See, for example, Metaphors we Live By, with 36,000 'citations'.) Every time that a scientific model in some ways captures the structure of physical reality—but isn't a perfect match—then it functions as an analogy. If you'd like I can describe a mathematically rigorous definition of 'analogy', utilizing category theory drawn from theoretical biologist Robert Rosen's Life Itself.

            If we cannot conceive of what God could or would act, there would be no way of knowing what evidence we should look for to show that he exists.

            This makes it seem like I cannot understand anything about God at all, which is precisely excluded by asserting analogical understanding. Instead, the concept of analogy also raises to mind the idea of an imperfect matching, that the model of the thing captures some aspects of the thing in some domains. For example, F = ma captures how some bits of reality operate in some domains. It's really quite excellent where it works, but it is dangerous to extrapolate it to all of reality.

            Some conceptions of God, like classical theism, I do not think makes sense in the Christian framework. [...]

            I might agree with you on that, but in the sense that the "God of the philosophers" gets some stuff right and some stuff wrong, like any model of a thing. As to the rest of what you say, each item is a long conversation. One would need to explore whether the alternatives to the Christian answers are actually any better, or even equally as good. For example, where Christianity attempts to give actionable meaning to suffering, many other ways of thinking throw up their hands in defeat. To declare Christianity a failure because it doesn't perfectly solve suffering is specious reasoning, because science doesn't perfectly model reality. But if Christianity seems to be making zero forward progress in this domain, that could be a reason to declare it 'obsolete'.

            Christians argue for God in a myriad of ways, some of them reasonable and others seeming like nothing but abstract sophistry.

            Abstract sophistry can be found everywhere: in the hard sciences, the human sciences, politics, theology, philosophy, etc. The atheist can ask how this tells him/her more about reality and the theist can ask how this helps one love other people and God better—since the Bible makes it pretty clear that this is a top priority of God's.

            However, these arguments fail to convince me to believe in the Christian God, partially because I think they make errors in their reasoning and fail to go from first cause to God, but more importantly the arguments against God like the logical problem of evil and the evidential arguments are more immediate, tangible, and convincing. The premises are more comprehensible.

            Classical physics is more comprehensible than quantum physics. As to the existence of errors, I would note that there is no [extant] complete philosophical system which (a) has no errors; (b) well-matches reality. So, it seems that what you're really doing is choosing between incomplete, messy models. Perhaps you will choose the messy model which you can make a bit less messy. What I urge you to do is be wary that it is much easier to critique a model of reality than defend it against critiques. This asymmetry, if not properly heeded, always gives advantage to the skeptic. And yet, as Wayne C. Booth observes in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent: "A good general rule is: scratch a skeptic and find a dogmatist." (56)

            Although this could simply be perception. We could be determined and our actions to change the world are just part of the general evolution of the system. (I tend to believe in free will, but I thought I would through that our there.)

            It's not clear that this is an empirical claim (how does one falsify it?). Furthermore, I'm reminded of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and especially his concept of psychohistory. The idea is that if you have quadrillions of people, you can make very good predictions of their aggregate behavior, hundreds of years into the future. However, it is crucial that they not be told about these predictions. Asimov was onto something; Ian Hacking argues in an essay in Arguing About Human Nature that people change their behavior after learning about e.g. psychology results; Kenneth Gergen makes similar observations in Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge. So, it seems that the very effort to prove this determinism undermines it! The only way to 'prove' it is to form a secretive cabal (Second Foundation) which alone develops and tests its models.

            In what way would you say that physics is value-laden?

            Physics generally does not lead to normative claims on humans, but it does make use of values such as simplicity, beauty, and coherence. See Robert C. Koons' notes on Steven Weinberg in his essay The incompatibility of naturalism and scientific realism, as well as the brief article In Search of Beauty. On the other hand, I'll note that political liberalism's ideal of individuals governed by a federal government (eschewing mediating structures) matches the reductionist thesis that you have particles ruled by omnipresent, timeless laws. However, it's generally not physicists who advance this normative thesis. I do find the pattern match between the two systems fascinating, though.

            If one switches to the kind of science used to make hypothetical imperatives binding, you will see lots of moral value-ladenness. For example:

                Most relevant for social psychology are Sampson's (1977, 1978) trenchant analyses of the extent to which American ideals pervade contemporary theories. As Sampson (1977) contends, many theoretical constructs sustain the cultural value placed on self-contained individualism or individual self-sufficiency (see also Caplan & Nelson, 1973; Hogan, 1975).[28][29] (Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge, 31)

            Sociologist Christian Smith argues precisely this in his The Sacred Project of American Sociology. For example, he cites from the beginning of one of the most popular "introduction to sociology" textbooks, where we see that a deep motivation for becoming a sociologist is to change reality "for the better". The idea that one can do this while using value-neutral language is a pipe dream; Hilary Putnam well-illustrates this in the philosophical and economic domains in The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.

            I think ideas of what it means to be "human" and "human flourishing" are certainly based in some kinds of evidence, intuition, and personal experience. I think the founders could also rely on the evidence of history. I think the founders could have started with some basic premises on humanness and human flourishing and used reasoning to extrapolate the best form of government.

            Again, my focus is on what conceptions they had that really cannot be described as "100% derived from 'the evidence'". Your focus on evidentialism contains a normative dislike for anything which doesn't come from the evidence, in the sense that more evidence is [virtually?] always preferred. Can the evidence defeat this "always"? Or does evidentialism self-guarantee evidentialism? (That would seem to be circular reasoning!)

            My takeaway was that we could never know if our reality is different from our current understanding, so we would end up in the skeptics' camp.

            But scientists suspected precisely this when the ultraviolet catastrophe proved impenetrable with classical physics. We believe that reality is different than we currently think, because QFT and GR predict contradictory things near black holes, and we believe more strongly in the rationality of ultimate reality than in our scientific theories. But perhaps you embedded something special in the word 'know'?

            Are laws causes or relationships? If the laws are the causes, should we not identify them as the first immaterial cause in cosmological arguments?

            Correlations are also relationships. If you distinguish between correlation and laws via necessity, then the specter of causation seems to reappear. Now, Suppose that there are no causes. Then the very idea of "a scientist doing science" seems to start changing, perhaps eroding in meaning. Note that when a child asks "Why?", the answer that "it always happens that way" tends to be pretty dissatisfying. I claim that this dissatisfaction is a correct response. There is always a deeper answer, another layer to reality. And yet, there are also trends in the answers as they get deeper, allowing one to usefully speak of the "limit values" of series that may be infinite. We can sense a kind of continuity despite discontinuous changes (e.g. from classical physics to general relativity), which allows us to label where we think we're heading. Furthermore, we tend to say that the place we're heading is actually pulling us towards it (e.g. ultimate reality speaking to us via 'the evidence'). And yet, God is said to pull people toward him. With this similarity established, one can ask what the difference is between these two conceptions. I think such conversations go interesting places. :-)

    • Kevin Aldrich

      We cannot judge Hitchens' interior dispositions (although it is always okay to assume good will on his part), but I agree with the principles you set out here.

    • Ladolcevipera

      I do not agree with Hitchen's theory but I fully agree with his defence at the bar of judgment. I think Dr. Rauser's reaction is problematic because it suggests a vindictive God who - like a 800-lb bear - will simply destroy someone because he followed his conscience.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I did not take the author's comparison in that way. He wrote:

        His flippant commentary at this point strikes me as akin to a ten year old boy scout who boasts to his friends around the campfire that he would boldly chase away any grizzly bear that should happen upon their camp. If an 800 lb bear did find its way into the camp, we can predict that a confrontation would be the last thing on that little boy’s mind. In short, that boy never seriously considered what he was proposing.

        He is describing the boy's response not the bear's and so that would correspond to Hitchen's mind-state, not God's.

        • Doug Shaver

          He is describing the boy's response not the bear's

          OK. Then it was a bad analogy. Hitchens was not, even figuratively, claiming anything about how the bear would respond to his defiance.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think Dr. Rauser is alluding to something like Job's reaction to actually encountering God.

          • Doug Shaver

            He could have been thinking along those lines, for all I know. But he didn't say, "Hitchens is like Job." He said, "Hitchens is like a boy bragging about how he'll kick the bear's butt."

        • Ladolcevipera

          Yours is probably the right interpretation. Anyhow, something is very wrong here: Hitchens is not a boasting 10-year old. His defence makes sense.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy.”

            He and God are the only ones who know the truth of that statement.

          • Ladolcevipera

            Amen!

  • Ladolcevipera

    Posts on SN - as opinions from the other side of the ocean - are always an interesting read because they keep me aware that, although we share the same culture, we think differently. Posts on SN are also full of surprises. I am regularly taken aback by the religious (ultra) conservatism of some commentors and by the uncharitable way christians often treat each other in their replies - not to mention the rebuke of atheism. Today I am flabbergasted by the OP "An Atheist in Church?", not because of the content, but because of the fact that it seems to be necessary to convince Christians that atheists aren't immoral people who are waging war on God.
    In my country at the other side of the ocean atheism is not an issue, neither on the public scene nor on the personal level. But then we are masters in compromising. We are a constitutional monarchy, with separation of Church and State. Yet on our "National Day" we have a very formal "Te Deum" sung in the national cathedral and attended by the government as a whole and by the entire Corps Diplomatique. They may be bored to death, but they are there. Until now nobody objects to the mixture of Church and State although it would be with good reason. Furthermore our catholic schools are subsidised by the government etc., etc...The last time we had a serious conflict between believers and non-believers was in the early fifties.
    On the personal level we do not "attack" each other in matters of faith. Believers (softies!) almost never try to convince non-believers and atheists simply leave them alone. One could say that we are very tolerant. One could also say that we are indifferent in matters of creed...
    I only wanted to say that I find the O.P. remarkable... As to the content, I may or I may not react to individual posts, depending on how close they stay to the article itself.

    • lapona

      "...it seems to be necessary to convince Christians that atheists aren't immoral people who are waging war on God."
      ===
      There are atheists who are moral and aren't waging war on God, that's what Dr. Randal Rauser is trying to explain in his book. I hope he will be successful in convincing the people "from the other side of the ocean" of that, but I, personally, wasn't convinced that in the US, there are atheists who even find a scrap of a good thing in the Bible. Those who'll find something good in the Bible are not atheists, they are already seeing (albeit a "little") the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      • Ladolcevipera

        What I find very strange is that is should still be necessary to convince Christians that atheists do not intend to fight God. Atheists are not aggressive; they simply think God does not exist. Hence the term a-theist. If they say they are anti-theist, it's the same thing as saying you're anti-unicorn or anti-goblin. It's an empty fight because you don't fight things that don't exist.
        Atheist who find something good in the Bible are people who read it as it should be read: as a book that was written in a particular context, in a particular period of time; and who interpret it and see what it says to people NOW.

        • lapona

          But those "atheists" who find something good in the Bible, are not atheists. As you say, the Bible says something NOW, and if you believe there's something good, then you believe the Gospel, the God News. Jesus clearly said: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."
          How can you trust atheists who see something good in the Bible but still attack God? Is not the Bible the word of God?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You realize there can be good in a book without it being inspired by a deity?

          • lapona

            Is there's good in the Bible that's not inspired by God?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Since God does not exist, he did not inspire the bible. therefore, any good in the bible is not inspired by God.

          • lapona

            Why do you keep saying that God doesn't exist? If you say that God doesn't exist why do you talk about God?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am trying to get the point across that I think that the bible has purely human authorship, but that does not mean I think that the bible is all bad, but rather it is a mixture of good and bad.
            If I claimed that the muses inspired the Iliad, someone who thought that the muses did not exist would still talk about them in order to make the point.

          • lapona

            "All Scripture is God-breathed", it is in the Bible. There's no mixture of "good and bad", there's a "mixture" of understanding if the Bible is the word of God or it is not.

            If you think that the Bible is not all "bad", you think that there's something bad in it, in which case it doesn't matter if you find something good in it, you reject the word of God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Do you have any evidence that the bible is the word of God?

          • Ladolcevipera

            Atheists don't talk about God, but about the idea of God. Unicorns don't exist (I think) but when I say "unicorn" everybody knows what I am talking about.

          • lapona

            It is not always obvious, but atheists talk about the claim of theists about a God existence, claim that atheists disbelieve because theists cannot bring evidence or proof of the existence of a God.

            When you say "unicorn" one has to know the claims made about unicorns, so nope, not everybody knows what you're talking about. First you have to go in the whole world an spread the word of unicorn, then aunicornists will appear :)

          • Ladolcevipera

            Atheists have a mind of their own. They do not reject God simply because theists have no proof for his existence. They do not accept the existence of God on philosophical grounds. People often make no difference between a-theists and anti-theists. The latter position is an empty battle because you don't fight something that doesn't exist.
            Just as you have to define "unicorn" to make people understand what you mean by the concept, you have to define "God" to make people understand. The idea of a unicorn or of God may be clear, but it doesn't follow that the idea exists in reality.

          • neil_ogi

            atheists say: 'if we can't explain that or this thing, it doesn't mean it doesn't exists'
            got you!

            quote: 'unicorn' -- refers to rhinoceros, so it does exist

          • lapona

            "The idea of a unicorn or of God may be clear, but it doesn't follow that the idea exists in reality."
            ===
            If an idea is expressed or claimed, it exists. It doesn't matter if it expressed clearly or not. It is subjective reality.
            Theists cannot bring evidence that their claims about God is
            about objective reality, then atheists reject theistic claims about existence of a God simply because theists have no proof for his existence as objective reality.

          • Ladolcevipera

            If an idea is expressed or claimed, it exists. It doesn't matter if it expressed clearly or not. It is subjective reality.

            Subjective reality? You mean that your ideas are the source of and the key to understanding reality? Reality is what you perceive it to be? What if you are hallucinating? You create your own reality. If you are living in a world of your own how do you ever expect to share ideas (God f.i.) with other people who, according to your theory, will also be living in their own subjective reality? How do you know you have things in common with other people? Your experiences will be different. Are you even sure that other people aren't a creation of your mind?
            At the same time you say: "Theists cannot bring evidence that their claims is about objective reality". Doesn't this statement contradict your claim of "subjective reality"?

          • lapona

            Subjective reality is the reality you, as a person, perceive. You can came up with a way to communicate, to express it. Doesn't that expression exist? It exists, of course.
            Theists communicate, express the subjective reality that God exists, so God exists, you can't deny that. Just that they cannot bring evidence that God exist in objective reality.

          • Ladolcevipera

            Subjective reality is the reality you, as a person, perceive

            I agree with that. But subjective reality is based on objective reality. It is subjective in the sense that we never perceive objective reality as it really is because our senses are limited and our brain interprets and shapes it according to our own cognitive capacities. We can communicate with each other because we have this objective reality in common.
            I do not know how to interpret your argument about the subjective reality of God. Are you saying that you have an idea of God in your mind (innate?) and that therefore God exists? If so, you are creating God. God is then the result of a human construction. Personally I am convinced that God is indeed a human construction.

          • lapona

            " If so, you are creating God. God is then the result of a human
            construction. Personally I am convinced that God is indeed a human
            construction."
            ===
            Exactly! That's was a conclusion I gave to Kevin Aldrich in another post. We create God, therefore God exists.
            The theistic unproved, unevidenced and unsubstantiated claim is that God exists, therefore we were created by God.

          • Ladolcevipera

            If you create your own God you control him. He is everything you want him to be. And he can serve any purpose. But he is not the Christian God. He is a fantasy.

          • lapona

            Aren't fantasies subjective reality?

          • Ladolcevipera

            Fantasy is the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things. It is a mental image fulfilling a wish or a psychological need. Fantasy is the opposite of reality.
            Subjective reality is objective reality as observed by the limited human mind. I do not believe it is possible to know reality "an sich". It will always be an interpreted (subjective) reality.

          • lapona

            Many fantasies became real. For example flying.
            Some people make God real by acting as they think their created God would act. Of course it would be their created God, not a God everybody would like to create, thus the apparition of the "first" stage atheism. People believed in God, just not in your God.

          • Ladolcevipera

            Being able to fly is the result of thinking out of the box. You need creative thinking to "actualise" what until then was only a possibility. But you can only actualise that possibility because it was always there as a reality waiting for someone the discover the laws of physics that govern it.
            If you (the general you) make an illusion become real by taking it as the basis of your behaviour, aren't you on a very dangerous path? This created God might order you to do all kind of things...Where is the difference with mental illness?

          • Ladolcevipera

            No, the Bible is not the word of God. It is a book of wisdom, of progressing human insight into man's fate. There are other books of wisdom and all of them reflect part of the truth. The Bible is only one of them; it happens to be the one that has deeply influenced our Western civilisation and as such atheists recognise the good things in it. You cannot reduce atheists to "anonymous christians" (Karl Rahner).

          • lapona

            But the Bible has no human wisdom in it, I mean no wisdom created by human mind, but by the God mind, which humans tried to put in writing and sometime failed to convey clearly that. In time, however, God is speaking clearly through science.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I consider myself to be someone that believes that religion has many harmful aspects. I could even be characterized as a new atheist. I still think that the bible contains wisdom. I just think that that wisdom gets lost when people think that the bible is the inspired word of a tri-Omni creator.

          Most books in the canon have wisdom, but I don't take say Montaigne as the last word on everything.

          • Ladolcevipera

            Agreed!

          • lapona

            " I still think that the bible contains wisdom"
            ===
            The Bible is not for known for human wisdom, but God wisdom. You cannot accept wisdom from the Bible and be against religion. There is Philosophy of Religion, you know.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But I don't believe God exists, so why would I credit him for any of the wisdom or foolishness found in the bible. It is simply the work of humans trying to understand the world around them. They wrote some smart things and they wrote some dumb things, but that is what we expect.

          • lapona

            I reckon that the dumb things are from the human brain, but I was talking about what's good in the Bible, and that is God inspired.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You realize I am an atheist?
            If the bible is inspired by God, why would he allow humans to muddy his message with dumb things?

          • lapona

            The God message is clear, it is the imperfection of humans that makes the God message look dumb.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You say so, but you haven't provided any evidence

          • lapona

            Evidence shmevidnece. When Descartes said "Cogito Ergo Sum" what evidence did he provide that he existed? It was conscience that was given and taken. God is the source of all of it, that's the Theory of God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is rather cavalier attitude. One that help find truth. The cogito is the evidence.
            Claiming that God is the source of consciousness may be consistent, but I see no reason to think that it is true. It also does not help us understand who or what this God thing is.

          • lapona

            "The cogito is the evidence"
            ===
            There's evidence that one thinks, but there is no evidence that thinking made Descartes exists. *You* think therefore *you* exist, but you cannot say "I think, therefore you exist".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sure, but you are nowhere near telling us who this God character is

          • Ladolcevipera

            Having your cake and eating it too?

          • lapona

            :)

    • Michael Murray

      Posts on SN - as opinions from the other side of the ocean - are always an interesting read because they keep me aware that, although we share the same culture, we think differently.

      You might like "Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary". It gives an insight into the American Protestant tradition that, at least as Australian, ex-Catholic atheist, I found really interesting.

      http://www.amazon.com/Why-Believed-Reflections-Former-Missionary/dp/0578003880

      It's only 73 cents on kindle and a free download from the author's own website.

      • Ladolcevipera

        Thank you! I have downloaded the free version and may buy the paperback version later.

  • lapona

    "Why would you talk to an atheist?”
    ===
    Because:
    - "And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'”
    - “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
    - "Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”
    - "...‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has
    come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of
    water.'”

    Dr. Randal Rauser, wouldn't that be the correct answer? I hope you're not doing those debates with the atheists looking to bring some order in their "village".

    • Michael Murray

      I would have thought

      ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers , you did it to me.’

      answers the question. But I guess he is trying to remind his flock of what they are supposed to believe.

      • lapona

        Is Dr. Randal trying to remind his flock that there are nice atheists, and doing good to atheists is like doing good to Jesus? I don't get your answer.

        • Michael Murray

          I don't think the reason for talking to atheists relates to preaching the Gospel. A Christian should treat everybody as worthy of their attention, support and love. When I counted myself a Christian, some 40 years ago, I always thought that this was the central message of Christ. "The least of these my brothers." So not just nice atheists but nasty ones as well. It seems strange to me that this even needs to be said by a pastor to his Christian flock. I guess it always was the most challenging part of Jesus' message.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Alleged biblical proof-texts aside, the biggest catalyst for this negative perception may be the words of atheists themselves. The new atheists in particular have led the charge in ratcheting up the rhetoric and thereby deepening the divide between Christians and atheists.

    The rhetoric was already ratcheted up long before the new atheists came onto the scene.

    For many Christians, the antitheism of Hitchens is the face of atheism. And this, in turn, allows the Christian to conclude that atheism is not so much an intellectual issue as a moral one: that is, atheists are simply in rebellion against God.

    Anti-theists are not in rebellion against God. One cannot rebel against something that does not exist. We think that religious institutions cause great amounts of harm and immortality, we do not think that religious ideas or institutions deserve some sort of special treatment, and we do think the wishes of a non-existent deity should be central to how we live our lives or conduct or public policy.

    If Christians think we are merely rebelling against God, than that is a huge mistake on their part. Such unthinking Christians are part of the problem that new atheist rail against.

    Unfortunately, it is common for Christians to form their opinions about the atheist community based on the declarations of some of the loudest and brashest atheists.

    Unfortunately, you are not even correctly stating the opinions of the loudest and brashest or showing that you understand why the loudest and brashest think the way that they do.

    The first problem concerns Hitchens’ uncritical anthropomorphism. In short, he describes God as akin to a Big Brother government that is engaged in permanent surveillance of its citizenry. But this crude image fails abjectly to grapple with the concept of God in Christianity, namely as the creator and sustainer of all things who is essentially omniscient from eternity

    The Christian God is a despot. He punishes for all eternity, those who do not do his wishes. This is certainly part of the Christian concept of God and it is often the part that Christians focus. Fear of hell, sin, and fallen nature are all animating principle of Christianity.

    Indeed, if you really want to get technical, in the classical theist view of God as Pure Act, his knowledge of creation derives not from external observation of creation but rather from his knowledge of his own decrees. It certainly doesn’t derive from God monitoring our ongoing activity like an eavesdropping government official. Consequently, Hitchens’ analogy is a complete and unmitigated failure.

    Classical theism is an attempt to merge Platonic and Aristotelian ideas with the Abrahamic conception of God. Arguably it failed. Most Christian philosophers are not classical theists. While there are Christian classical theists, it is not the only conception of God that a Christian could believe in and most Christians are not classical theists. Hitchens analogy works perfectly fine. It is your conception of God as Pure Act that is difficult to reconcile with Christian conceptions of God.

    But God isn’t a fallible (still less a despotic) power.

    Yes he is. He gives children cancer for the greater good. So like all good despots the ends justify the means. Even worse, he punishes the discontents with infinite and eternal torture.

    The only reason we might be unnerved at the prospect of a maximally good being observing our activity is if we are behaving in a less than maximally good way

    Or, maybe this being is not maximally good, but rather capricious and ill tempered.

    In the end, it isn't that we are unnerved by a nonexistent deity, it is more that we are tired of Christians claiming that they are doing the will of a maximally good deity, while doing all sorts of distasteful things.

    The Christian might be inclined to assume that Hitchens doesn’t want God observing him because he wants to sin with impunity behind the back of the Anselmian deity.

    It is telling that things always come back to sin and threats.

    But the fact remains that Hitchens never seriously considers God is perfectly good in the first place.

    Something you have not even begun to address.

    Once again, it must be said that the conception of God that Hitchens assumes in this hypothesized interaction is such a crude caricature that he hardly seems to grasp what he is really proposing.

    Since the vast majority of Christians believe that this crude caricature is God, Hitchens is on point.

    His flippant commentary at this point strikes me as akin to a ten year old boy scout who boasts to his friends around the campfire that he would boldly chase away any grizzly bear that should happen upon their camp. If an 800 lb bear did find its way into the camp, we can predict that a confrontation would be the last thing on that little boy’s mind. In short, that boy never seriously considered what he was proposing.

    Smug condescension noted. This analogy is an unmitigated failure. After all, it badly anthropomorphizes the being of Pure Act.

    It seems to me that Hitchens is like that boy in that he is utterly failing to grapple seriously with the scenario he is proposing.

    Only he probably did. Your condescension is tiring.

    Next, I noted that even in the case of the most combative of new atheists like Hitchens, the issues are often significantly more complicated than a cursory reading of their rhetoric would suggest. Indeed, in some cases one suspects that the target of their vitriol has less to do with the God of Judeo-Christian faith than a caricature of their own making. (And lest we become too smug, let us remember as well that Christians are often guilty of similar misunderstandings.)

    It would be much more interesting if you just told us what the proper concept of God is and then defended that conception....

    • neil_ogi

      why react violently if atheists believe He doesn't exists? why hate 'evil' if evil is just not absolutely wrong, that evil is just an illusion? (evil exists only if someone has a 'free will'?)

      if i would be a God, i will say to atheists: 'you think of yourselves as plain 'bag of chemicals' then why you think it is very evil if i am going to destroy the world with flood?

      'you are just a speck of dirt in my fingernails' - from the movie 'clas of the titans'

  • Michael Murray

    Why would a Christian pick an analogy relating to bears? Surely the subject of bears is bad PR?

    Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.

    • Ladolcevipera

      A quite aggressive piece of literature and a far cry from turning the other cheek... God is rather whimsical.

      • Doug Shaver

        a far cry from turning the other cheek

        Another of those "apparent" contradictions, it would seem.

    • William Davis

      Someone was sensitive about their hair.

    • neil_ogi

      why so sensitive about it?

      • Michael Murray

        I find it unbearable.

        • neil_ogi

          why?
          do you believe in moral absolutes?
          well, you just think of yourself as just 'bags of chemicals'?? are you any different with sodium chloride, potassium chloride, neurons, oxytocin, hormones, DNA, ATP, .....

          • Michael Murray

            what are moral absolutes ? how do they differ from morals ? why do I need them ? can you buy them online ?

          • neil_ogi

            hahaha..
            the chemicals in your coffee might contain moral beads

  • joseph pacillo

    Really tired of people trying to defend the "nice "atheists. The modern atheist, and I have had extensive experience with them in my everyday life, are vicious, even when they are trying to be nice, in their hearts they believe exactly what Hitchens believed, i.e. that all religious people are stupid and backwards thinking.

    • Ladolcevipera

      I'm afraid you're proving the atheists right when they say that religious people are stupid and backwards thinking...

      • joseph pacillo

        You prove my point! I was writing about my PERSONAL experiences with atheists and you jump right down my throat. Atheists nowadays are extremely vicious and that's a fact . They'll only be "nice" when a religious person agrees to keep their religious beliefs at home, and when confronted by a religious person openly in public, the bombs start dropping!

        • Ladolcevipera

          My PERSONAL experience with religious people is that they defend their faith in an intelligent, non-aggressive way. There are exceptions.

          • neil_ogi

            then what are those exceptions?

            be informed that 'atheism' is also classified as religion!

    • Doug Shaver

      The modern atheist, and I have had extensive experience with them in my everyday life, are vicious, even when they are trying to be nice, in their hearts they believe exactly what Hitchens believed, i.e. that all religious people are stupid and backwards thinking.

      So you're saying we're all alike?

      • Michael Murray

        No, no. We are all individuals !

        • Phil Rimmer

          Yes, we are all individuals.

          • neil_ogi

            'individual' chemicals?

          • Phil Rimmer

            The same chemicals differently formed in each of us. Chemicals carry my unique memories and up bringing. The shapes and patterns of them make me cry and laugh and love. This is how the poetry of my life is written down.

          • neil_ogi

            the 'chemicals' in you can be 'copied' indefinitely, so how can you be better than me?

          • Phil Rimmer

            I'm different than you (and I wouldn't call it better or worse, though I do like my life and how my children have turned out). Not because I have different chemicals to you but because of what is written on them, both as DNA and as memories.

            They key to DNA is that it is NOT copied with perfect accuracy. Evolution cannot happen with perfect copying. Changes are built on the small copying errors that are beneficial. Exciting new insights into this are contained in the latest research from Switzerland.

            "Arrival of the Fittest" Andreas Wagner.

            Early memories which are the longest lasting and upon which our view of the world is substantially based become the basis of a good-enough copying process to support cultural evolution and the finding of better and better modes of living.

          • neil_ogi

            DNA is the result of a 'Mnd' activity, and not from rocks. if ever you perform an expriment, you end up by saying: 'yes, only a mind can create the complexity of DNA

            i am asking you to provide evidence that chemicals are conscious, aware of themselves, and have feelings. i don't need you to tell me those fictitious works of chemicals why it is a moral thing, why your chemicals are different from mine, etc. i know that chemicals just react, no more, no less

          • Phil Rimmer

            You and I are the evidence that matter, rocks, chemicals, correctly configured, can be conscious. Try as we might to find them, no souls appear to exist, no brain state is not caused by another. Information does not pass into the material of the brain. Information requires energy if it is to be actively transferred to be expended.

            I notice you have stopped providing evidence of your assertions. How about providing evidence for souls?

            Chemicals interact with other chemicals from their own nature and qualities. We seem to understand these qualities very well and can reliably predict new interactions before trying them.

            Interactions, from the innate properties of materials (and the properties of spacetime and fields etc.) have come to create a smooth causal explanation for what we see today. Most Christians in Europe, say, accept this. For them this is the work of a cleverer God than was first imagined.

          • neil_ogi

            before the universe was created, is there chemicals present in the 'nothingness'?

          • neil_ogi

            before the universe was created, is there chemicals present in the 'nothingness'?

            quote: 'You and I are the evidence that matter, rocks, chemicals, correctly configured, can be conscious.' -- then it needs a 'prime mover' then! i can't accept that it is the product of chance and unguided processes!

            atheists now generally agree that the universe just 'popped' from 'nothing' ,, do you believe rationally that a 'nothing' will produce a 'something'? you questioned the existence of a 'soul' then how about the 'nothing'? does a 'nothing' has creative forces or creative process to create s 'something'? let alone the complexity of the brain?

            a soul is an immaterial entity, like the mind.

          • neil_pogi

            hey mr rimmer, why don't you answer my questions for you? i'm waiting!

          • Phil Rimmer

            Just reacting does everything needed.

          • neil_ogi

            chemicals react only in particular settings.

            if you pour a vinegar solution to another chemical solution, they just react, and nothing else will follow

            quote; 'including writing memories and creating feelings.' -- then prove that in lab experiment. that's another claim

          • Phil Rimmer

            You need to learn about biochemistry. Biochemicals, proteins, enzymes and the like are more akin to little mechanical machines than simple reactions like acid plus base gives a salt plus water. They can be understood to function as much by the physics of the shape they form from coils and plates, hinges and their elastic-type couplings.

            These machines, are powered by heat and the vibration that can create, for instance, little guillotines that chop other larger biochemicals or trap them in neat little cavities, just the right size, to perhaps encourage them to link with yet other biochemicals.

            Both books I recommended to you by Wagner and Lane, do a good job of giving insight into biochemical processes and the long (mechanistic!) causal chains they get to form.

          • neil_pogi

            scientists are actually studying the already functioning organisms that have orderliness in their functions. why not create an organism out of scratch? since they already know the chemical compositions of every cells in every existing organisms in this world, why not produce one? and if ever they can successfully produce one, then all they will do is how this 'scientist-created organism' will become? if scientists, gifted with all intelligence, can't produce even a single cell in the lab out of scratch, how much more the natural process?

            quote: 'Biochemicals, proteins, enzymes and the like are more akin to little mechanical machines than simple reactions like acid plus base gives a salt plus water. They can be understood to function as much by the physics of the shape they form from coils and plates, hinges and their elastic-type couplings.' -- what else they do? can they create a human body? then tell me how a cell is created when there's just a rock present on early earth?

            quote: 'These machines, are powered by heat and the vibration that can create, for instance, little guillotines that chop other larger biochemicals or trap them in neat little cavities, just the right size, to perhaps encourage them to link with yet other biochemicals.' -- what else? can you tell me how 'these machines' originate? or you might just well say, 'they happened to be that way' or 'they're just there'.?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Nick Lane explains very clearly how biochemicals formed from the early rocks, water and heat of the early planet. Quite a lot of this process has been known for decades now. Copying chemicals gave way to copying bio-chemicals, gave way to the more recognisable replicators of RNA and then DNA. He takes a whole detailed book to do this and I won't inflict this on others here.

            Read the book.

          • neil_pogi

            is Lane present when he observe this?

            where did the RNA come from? what made this to 'copying' biochemicals? why? is there a goal? if so, then unguided and blind process are fictitious? will scientists be able to simulate that? if so then how much time it takes a LUCA to evolve itself into a, let's say, plant? or animal? will the LUCA survive in weeks 'replicating'? where did it gets its energy? its food? if ever this LUCA evolve into, let's say, a tiger? did it undergoes into infancy then adulthood? what happened if this LUCA evolve into butterfly? did it undergoes puppa stage? caterpillar stage? then butterfly?

    • Kraker Jak

      ..

      • Phil Rimmer

        Hitchens was proud to call himself brother Kurd, those, pro democratic, feminist, anti-theocracy Sunni Muslims. He had many religious friends and judged religions variously and on their merits. Yes he believed religion unfortunate and a gateway to evil acts that often and by their nature remained inaccessible to reason. But he thought religions and many ideologies were an intellectual weakness we would never be rid of..

        • neil_ogi

          why hitchens hate evil? the fact that atheists like him don't believe in absolute morality. or are you borrowing from christian standards of morality? atheists can't judge 'killing' as evil because in their thinking, life is just... 'bags of different kinds of chemicals'

          if i kill this ''bags of different kinds of chemicals',, then why you call it Evil?

          • Phil Rimmer

            We evolved first by genetic means and then additionally by cultural means to be compassionate and co-operative within our own group. The slightly more co-operative and compassionate survived a little better, or at least their children did. Reciprocal altruism evolved favouring a form of investment in the future of communities.

            The biological mechanisms for group detection, are quite crude and we have been able to continue the evolutionary process in culture alone, creating ever larger in-groups. Seeing ourselves on our little pale blue dot of an island in space, we all now see our mutual inter-dependence. Cultures depend most on the early training of children when brain wiring becomes near permanent. Cultures that celebrate larger groups, folk outside their own group will be more likely to flourish, investing , via reciprocal altruism in their own flourishing. All, so investing, flourish.

          • neil_ogi

            atheists just considered that man is just made up of chemicals. chemicals, when experiemented, they just react with each other.

            evolution only deals with the survival of the 'fittest'.. as emphasized by your darwin, and why is that it became 'morally' capable of knowing good and evil?

          • Phil Rimmer

            What we know of as moral improves our genetic fitness and our cultural fitness. We change slowly (due to small copying errors in DNA and bigger ones in cultural ideas) and those changes that make us better make those genes and ideas the one's preferentially carried forward.

            The fittest are the ones who can work best together in mutually supportive groups. In genetic evolution this came about first by working with kin, whose genes we mostly shared. But soon, because of the simple way kin detection works unrelated people were co-opted into becoming as-good-as-kin. The need for childcare, pack hunting and later farming, was acute and favoured a mutual identification of others in close groups to be as good as kin, even without such close genetic similarity, [though they still had some!].

            The genetic behaviours later became the basis for cultural behaviours and another form of evolution could take the mutuality idea further still.

          • neil_ogi

            there are certainly, chemicals in animals, but they can't make themselves like human's. (possess morality, write poems, sing songs, built bridges and structures, etc)??

          • Phil Rimmer

            Some animals have simple languages, compose songs, give each other names, build dams and beautiful bowers and have moral standards and concepts of fairness.

            Elephants have rich social lives, have big brains, 25% of which is Cortex, what we use for managing social interactions. This is a bigger fraction than our own.

            How easy it was to believe black folk were inferior, when seen as a resource to be exploited and when told we have a special unique magic in us, elevating us.

            Read "The Age of Empathy," by Frans De Waals

          • neil_ogi

            are you an animal?

            you didn't even care to answer why animals can't do what humans do, yet they have the same chemicals in their body and brain

            are you referring again a book? for what?

      • neil_ogi

        yes, they are everywhere.. in christian sites, etc. i wonder what are their goals and motives..why they are seen everywhere??

    • neil_ogi

      one of them is kraker, who always in 'attack' mode

      • Kraker Jak

        Atheist Service Dog

  • neil_ogi

    atheist church? why? i thought atheists don't have goals, purposes in their life!

    • Michael Murray

      So we wake up every morning and wander around wondering which shoe goes on which foot ?

    • Doug Shaver

      i thought atheists don't have goals, purposes in their life!

      What made you think so? Can you quote one atheist who ever said so?

      • neil_ogi

        Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life...life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA...life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.--Richard Dawkins

        maybe you want dawkins as not another atheists' pope (just like what you did to krauss, as 'not atheists' pope)

        • Doug Shaver

          maybe you want dawkins as not another atheists' pope

          What I want is beside the point. In matters of belief, there is no authority to which any atheist must submit.

          • neil_ogi

            therefore dawkins is just a useless atheist. hawkings, krauss, and other evolutionists, scientists that don't agree with other atheists' worldviews / theories. then what's really are you fighting for? (since you don't have a constitution of beliefs to abide for)

          • Doug Shaver

            It's called freethought. Some of us think intellectual freedom is worth fighting for.

  • Ladolcevipera

    In short, if there are atheists who want there to be a God, we must ask, why doesn’t God reveal himself to them? Philosophers call this the problem of divine hiddenness and they have offered several responses to address this problem.

    So, why doesn't God reveal himself to them?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      How do you know God doesn't reveal himself to atheists?

      • Ladolcevipera

        Personal experience.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Are you really sure God has never revealed himself to you in any way? Something to think about.

          • Ladolcevipera

            You are trying to tell me that if I paid more attention I would see the signs by which God reveals himself to me. So ultimately it would be my fault if I don't find him. God shouldn't play hide and seek. I think that's cruel.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm not saying anything against you. I think it is God's responsibility to reveal his existence to you adequately.

          • Ladolcevipera

            I deleted my previous comment because I was coming too close to the heart of the matter.

          • William Davis

            I never have, and I tried to talk to him when I was younger. How can you be sure what you think is God isn't a product of your own mind? Something to think about (that works both ways).
            The fact that I've never had the kind of experience that many religion people talk about (all around me when I was growing up) made me confident it was in the mind.

            http://phys.org/news/2009-03-brain-differences-believers-non-believers.html

            More research is needed but as we get a better and better understanding of the mind, I suspect we will have better answers. There must be some reason why I never had these types of experiences even though I was raised in a highly religious environment. Perhaps it's a difference between how I interpret sensory information and look at causation...it's complex and hard to say.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know people who say they have had very dramatic encounters with God.

            It could be--and actually is--a product of their mind because that is where it happens, but hopefully it is more than a trick of the mind or a misinterpretation of a natural phenomena.

          • Kraker Jak

            Pie In The Sky

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There must be some reason you have posted this comment but I don't know what that reason is.

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you really sure God has never revealed himself to you in any way?

            How sure do I have to be? As sure as I am that 2 plus 2 equals 4? As sure as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow? As sure as I am that my wife loves me? As sure as I am that the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary Clinton for president next year?

        • neil_ogi

          many former atheists have discovered God thru personal experiences.

  • lapona

    Dr. Randal, your church (a Christian one) was filled with Christians, atheists, and many folks of other persuasions as well, something you won't find in a mosque or synagogue, therefore the atheist is your neighbor?
    I see in the real life that Christians are not neighborly to each other, why don't we focus on that? Maybe you can write a book like "Is the Christian My Neighbor?", a book in which we can focus on what makes Christians so divided, maybe we can find a solution. I won't worry about atheists.

  • David Hardy

    Overall, I would agree with the general tone and views of this article. However, I would say that the phenomenon being discussed is more universal than atheist-Christian. It is human nature to form in-groups and out-groups, which is to say a sense of who is "like us" and who is "not like us." This then leads to being more charitable and cooperative with those we see as "like us", and being more critical and confrontational with those we see as "not like us." Add to this one of the common effects of Cognitive Dissonance, where we tend to avoid or dismiss information that challenges our beliefs, and you end up with people who are hostile to those who are different, who also have only a superficial understanding of their views and a stereotypically negative view of their character. While this mentality is helpful if confrontation is necessary, such as with criminals and hostile soldiers in a war, it is less helpful if the goal is to develop respect and understanding within a community between those who are different.

    Research would suggest that the best way to combat this out-group mentality, with its negative stereotypes, is to spend time with those with whom you hold a negative view, while engaging with them in a mutually beneficial collaborative project. In essence, to act towards them as though they were part of your in-group, in a position of equality, with a goal upon which everyone can agree. I also find it helpful to take time to try and understand the value of opposing beliefs and look for the positive underlying motivations of others, since this is what I naturally will do with my own views and motivations as well as the views and motivations of those I see as "like me." It also helps to consider whether my conduct will influence others positively, rather than focus on judging what response their conduct or beliefs "deserve", since this places responsibility for establishing a respectful dialogue upon me and my choices, rather than waiting for the others person to do so.

    • Ladolcevipera

      This post is the finest example of the motto "Come now, let us reason together."

      • David Hardy

        Thank you for the kind words. While I am new to posting at Strange Notions, I am looking forward to the opportunity to deepen my understanding of other perspectives through dialogue, and enrich my own worldview in the process.