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Catholics, Atheists, and Reasonable Dialogue: Interview with Trent Horn (video)

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Trent Horn interview

Trent Horn is a young apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers, and a popular contributor here at Strange Notions. Over the last several years, he's travelled across the country, engaging in debates and discussions regarding atheism and pro-life issues. He specializes in helping people have intelligent and genuine dialogue about these contentious topics.

Answering AtheismTrent holds a masters degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and just released his first book, Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity.

On February 12, Trent will formally debate Dan Barker, a former Protestant pastor who later lost his faith and became an atheist activist. Dan is now the Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. We'll be sure to cover the debate here at Strange Notions and link to the video when it's available.

In the mean time, Trent joins me today to discuss some of the topics in his new book, including where it fits alongside other books in the field, how atheists and Catholics can have more productive dialogue, and what he considers is the most formidable argument for atheism.

 

Watch or download our interview below:

 

Video


Watch the video here (22 minutes)
 

Audio


Download the interview here (22 minutes)
 

Topics Discussed:

1:57 - What sets Trent's book, Answering Atheism, apart from other books engaging atheism?
5:13 - How can we correct the bad attitudes that plague Catholic/atheist discussion?
9:09 - What are some common misunderstandings regarding the cosmological arguments?
12:30 - What is the most formidable argument for atheism?
17:18 - What value does personal, religious experience have in making the case for God?
 
 
Trent Horn interview
 


 
Follow Trent's blog at TrentHorn.com and find him on Twitter at @Trent_Horn. And be sure to pick up your copy of his new book, Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity.

If you liked this discussion, subscribe free to Strange Notions via feed reader or email to ensure sure you don't miss future interviews.
 

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    You guys are the bee's knees.

  • Steven Dillon

    Sounds great, definitely gonna read Trent's book! Just a quick comment on his approach to the evidential problem of evil.

    The evidential problems of evil are concerned with whether God is likely or unlikely to permit the evils and sufferings in our world. Trent suggests that there are some possible reasons why God could permit them, and challenges the atheist to show that God couldn't.

    But, whether or not God *could* have good reasons for allowing evil and suffering is beside the point, because that doesn't tell us whether or not he would, and that's what we're after. In order to adequately answer the evidential problems of evil, the theist must take the risk of saying 'This is why God would allow evil and suffering', otherwise, he's only dealing with the logical problem of evil.

    • Vasco Gama

      It may not be very helpful, however I would say that evil (as the cause of pain and suffering) clearly produces a strong response in humans (as a repulse) that in clear way seem to refuse it, and this is something universal, and not really dependent on culture, or religion, but is related to human nature.

      • Renard Wolfe

        It repulses humans when its done to them. It attracts humans when they can do it to someone else outside of their monkeysphere/tribe.

        • Vasco Gama

          Not really, it disgusts us even if is perpetrated against the ones we dislike, or animals, or something as abstract as nature,, the planet, or environement. That is something we can't avoid (that makes us humans).

          • Renard Wolfe

            So humans keep doing these things because....?

          • Vasco Gama

            Humans are able to fool themselves to think that what is evil can be acceptable or even good.

          • Renard Wolfe

            And why are they able to do that with such frightening ease?

            Monkeysphere!

          • Vasco Gama

            As a trade to indulge immediate rewarding desires, to the illusion that our personal aspirations can be more valuable than the rights of others, to be in agreement with the tribal values, …

            When people do evil deeds they tend (unless they are psychotic) to see that evil as not really evil, but either as a good thing, or as neutral, and people tend to think that they act morally even if it is clearly not the case.

    • Steven, thanks for the comment. In Trent's book, he distinguishes between the logical and evidential approaches to the problem of evil--taking a cue from Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig--and engages both with ample space.

  • David Nickol

    While pointing out that if a person who was born and raised a Muslim is far, far more likely to be a Muslim than a Catholic, and a person who was born and raised a Catholic is far, far more likely to be a Catholic than a Muslim does not prove anything about the truth of Catholicism or Islam, it does tell us something very significant about human nature and human "rationality." It tells us something, if we pay attention, about ourselves. It tells us that with rather rare exceptions, we are going to cling tenaciously to our own religious beliefs and come up with endless arguments about why we are right that we find extremely compelling but which those who disagree with us find find counterarguments to that they find just as compelling.

    I think deep down there is a feeling or a wish that if we selected a committee made up of members of all the world's major religions (and those with no religion), locked them in a house, and refused to let them out until they had reached a consensus, if they were intelligent and open minded men of good will, they would eventually emerge—surprise!—believing exactly what we believe. If anyone wants to take this idea and turn it into a reality show roughly along the lines of Big Brother, I grant you the rights to the idea. :P

    • I like that idea a lot, actually. But it would only be an effective judge of anything if it then tracked those participants for the rest of their lives, to see if the seeds of Truth had been planted there and eventually bore (or didn't bear) fruit. No one is convinced to change their worldview because of one argument, no matter how long or how close the quarters.

      But down the road, maybe the truth wins out.

      • David Nickol

        This, it seems to me, highlights the difficulty of persuading people to accept the justice of the Catholic notion of judgment at death followed by eternal reward or punishment. I remember when I was in high school, three young men from my school were killed in a car crash. I don't pretend to know their eternal fate (if people have eternal fates), but it is not difficult to imagine that if these three teenagers had had, say, seventy more years to figure out what life was all about, they might have changed dramatically for the better or for the worse. Likewise, there are many "people" (if live begins at conception) who never get a chance to think one thought, let alone get baptized or hear the Gospel. When one dies and one's fate is allegedly sealed for all eternity is largely a matter of chance. As I recall, St. Augustine teetered on the brink of converting for some time before taking the plunge. If he had been accidentally killed before he converted, he'd be in the flames of hell right now.

        One of the arguments against God, it seems to me, is that if God is necessarily all-just, then a conception of God that results in him being sometimes unjust disproves the existence of that conception of God. It appears to me that in many respects—and this is disregarding all the problems with the Old Testament—that God as described by Catholicism is unjust.

        ADDENDUM: I did like the interview, and I have purchased a copy of Trent Horn's book. Thankfully it was not published by a university press and priced out of the reach of the 99% of use who are not super rich, as so many interesting religious books are.

        • Sqrat

          One of the arguments against God, it seems to me, is that if God is necessarily all-just, then a conception of God that results in him being sometimes unjust disproves the existence of that conception of God.

          Well, it disproves the existence of that kind of god, but not of course some other kind of god. The cosmological arguments don't obviously entail an all-just god. Indeed, they don't automatically entail only one god, and would be consistent with one or more gods who have ceased to exist and are no longer around. Do they even automatically entail anything to which the word "god" properly applies?

          • Creator. That's about it.

          • Sqrat

            Or creators. With a lower-case "c".

    • Sqrat

      I think that what it really tells us about human nature and human rationality is that, if we believe something to be true, we are not inclined to put a lot of effort into considering the possibility that it might, in fact be false. If you are a Catholic, who believes that Catholicism is true, why would you spend a lot of time investigating the possibility that some other religion, or atheism, might be true, and Catholicism false? You would only be likely to do so, it seems to me, if, for whatever reason, you had already begun to doubt the truth of Catholicism.

      To me the more compelling "atheist" argument is just slightly different than the one that says that a person who is born and raised a Muslim is far more likely to be a Muslim than a Catholic. It is the argument that a person who is born and raised a Muslim, or a pagan, cannot possibly become a Catholic unless he or she has first at least heard of Catholicism. God doesn't just enter the hearts of people who have never even heard of Jesus and magically make them Catholics.

      When the conquistadors seized Central and South America, they didn't find those places full of Catholic churches. That they eventually became full of Catholic churches was because Catholic missionaries followed in their wake. And why, we might ask, is that so? Why, if the God of Christianity actually existed, did he apparently not want the people of the Americas to know about his existence for so long? The Calvinists have an answer for that. William Lane Craig has an answer for that. What is the Catholic answer?

    • Peter Piper

      The observation that people tend to end up with the religion they grew up in could also point in the direction of a strong defeater to an experiential basis for Christianity (though obviously much more work is needed here in examining the varieties of religious experience in different cultures before it is possible to tell whether there really is a strong defeater of this sort).

  • Renard Wolfe

    If you're going to call for more reasonable and polite dialog, you might want to start by not dismissing atheists as angry and aggressive
    .

    • Sqrat

      Many atheists are angry. Consider, for example, the book by Greta Christina, "Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless." She argues that atheists have good reasons to be angry.

      That said, "aggressive" is certainly not be a polite word to use....

      • Renard Wolfe

        Right. "These immoral unamerican godless heathen baby aborting sex perverts are getting angry.. whats wrong with them?"

    • Kevin Aldrich

      And that's why your avatar is such a cuddly little puppy dog.

      • Renard Wolfe

        I consider it fair warning.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Do you consider it your "duty to scorn and ridicule religious belief" then?

          • Renard Wolfe

            How do you politely point out that someone's cherished beliefs are completely, totally, and utterly baseless?

            I rarely argue against such ideas unless they're harmful, or as seems to be the trend in apologetics lately, they need to denigrate science down to their level so that the idea and science are equally baseless.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Simple. You make a claim and present your support.

          • Renard Wolfe

            There is no God.

            All of the arguments for God are absolutely horrible

            All of the arguments for any specific god are even worse.

            The idea of God is not just wrong, its so unfounded as to be complete, total, and utter malarky.

            To someone that holds religion as an important belief and belief itself as a virtue ANY way you put that is going to sound unfairly hostile.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            RW
            There is no God.
            All of the arguments for God are absolutely horrible.
            All of the arguments for any specific god are even worse.
            The idea of God is not just wrong, its so unfounded as to be complete, total, and utter malarky.

            KA
            Take away all the redundancy and bombast and we are left with "There is no basis for belief in God." That states your claim without hostility.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Its worse than no basis. There is too much evidence against.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You assert. You don't support.

          • Renard Wolfe

            God violates the laws of physics as we know them.
            God is not needed to explain or predict anything
            I objectively know that Romans 1:19 is wrong
            The catholic church has not been and is not any more moral than any other organization (do you need the list here?)

            The allegedly infallible popes have been ... more than fallible

            You want to be taken seriously. You in fact demand to be given FAR more credence on factual and moral matters than any other authority. You want to be THE voice at the table when the arguments and facts do not even warrant A place at the table. There is no way to state the brobdingnagian gulf between what you feel for your ideas are worth and a fair evaluation of your ideas based on their merits is.

          • I didn't know Kevin Aldrich was the Church. He's not even the Pope. Although "Pope Kevin" does have a ring to it...

          • Renard Wolfe

            Ya'll you not you you.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Claim after claim without support.

          • Renard Wolfe

            What do you think is unsupported?

            I do not find your hand waving for "more support" credible since you've offered none yourself.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You have provided no support for any of the claims you have made here.

            Do you understand the difference between a claim (thesis, topic sentence, assertion) and support for that claim (evidence, arguments, illustrations, examples)?

            In rational discourse, if you make a claim, the burden is on you to supply evidence for that claim.

            For example, you claim "God violates the laws of physics as we know them." You don't explain what this claim means, give any evidence in support of it, provide any arguments for it, illustrate it, or anything else. You just claim it.

          • Renard Wolfe

            If you can't understand a statement as simple as God violates the laws of physics" means I don't know what to say. Its like trying to say "hammer" and someone getting hung up navel gazing the exact qualities and nature of "hammerness" instead of building the house. No level of explanation could be simpler.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Does "God violates the laws of physics" mean:

            > "God violates the laws of physics when he performs miracles"?

            or

            >"God's very existence violates the laws of existence"?

            or

            >Something else?

            In other words, whatever you are claiming, the claim itself is ambiguous.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Genuine dialog would proceed from evidence to a conclusion. Examples would be "here is a good argument for god" or "Here is good evidence for God" not playing epistemic hot potato and demanding that someone prove a negative or holding out 15 hoops to jump through so that a conversation can even start.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "God violates the laws of physics as we know them."

            That is your claim/conclusion.

            What is your evidence to support this claim?

          • Renard Wolfe

            God is Omniscient.
            Omniscience requires faster than light travel of information.
            That's not possible via the laws of the universe as we understand them.

            God is omnipotent.
            That violates the laws of conservation of energy as we understand them.

            God has consciousness without a physical form: there's no way we know of for this to be possible.

            Now these don't make god impossible: after all we don't know everything about how this weird universe works, but it does set a pretty high bar for evidence to say that everything we know is wrong or has one particular loophole.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics claim that God is the creator of the universe. That means that he makes the laws, so he is not limited by them. Therefore, the fact that God violates the laws of nature (as you put it), is not an argument for the impossibility of God's existence.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Again....

            these don't make god impossible: after all we don't know everything about how this weird universe works, but it does set a pretty high bar for evidence to say that everything we know is wrong or has one particular loophole.

            Do you have any evidence for the claims implicit in your answer? Is that evidence sufficient to believe something that doesn't fit with the rest of the evidence we have about how reality works?

            God is (God exists)
            God is the creator of the universe
            God made the laws of the universe
            God is not limited by the laws of the universe

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I want to take your objections seriously. You claimed the following as evidence against the existence of God:

            >God violates the laws of physics as we know them.
            >God is not needed to explain or predict anything.
            >I objectively know that Romans 1:19 is wrong.
            >The catholic church has not been and is not any more moral than any other organization.
            >The allegedly infallible popes have been ... more than fallible.

            Can we cross off the first claim and move on the the second?

          • Renard Wolfe

            I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I think that's just about over.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is the "excuse" you are referring to?

          • Renard Wolfe

            That means that he makes the laws, so he is not limited by them.
            Therefore, the fact that God violates the laws of nature (as you put
            it), is not an argument for the impossibility of God's existence.<---- That excuse. You are claiming, without evidence, that

            God is (God exists)
            God is the creator of the universe
            God made the laws of the universe
            God is not limited by the laws of the universe

          • Kevin Aldrich

            RW, We are *not* currently trying to prove God's existence. We are examining your claim that God's existence is logically or evidentially impossible.

            Your first reason in support for the impossibility of God is that God, in your words, violates the laws of nature.

            My refutation of this reason is that *if* God created the universe he would not be limited by any laws he made for his creation.

            Is it not self-evident that a creator is greater than his creation and is not limited by it?

            I think your first reason is successfully refuted.

            If you want to abandon your claim that God's existence is not logically or evidentially impossible, I'll accept that.

            Most atheists I've encountered don't try to claim that they can disprove God's existence. The fall back on the much easier position to maintain that the arguments in God's favor are not strong enough to warrant acceptance. I think they generally do a pretty good job at that.

          • Renard Wolfe

            Ok, if you're not going to read what I'm writing, I don't see the point.

            TWICE now i have pointed out why "We are examining your claim that God's existence is logically or evidentially impossible." is incorrect.

            these don't make god impossible: after all we don't know everything
            about how this weird universe works, but it does set a pretty high bar
            for evidence to say that everything we know is wrong or has one
            particular loophole.<----- Is the third time the charm? Can you hear me now?

          • David Nickol

            What, exactly, are the "laws of physics"? Do they exist somewhere? Or are they abstractions that exist only in the minds of human beings? Wasn't it, at one time, a law of physics that heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones? Or that light was particles? Also, don't we have good reason to believe that what we call the laws of physics break down as we go back to the first moments of the big bang? If the laws of physics exist somewhere other than in the minds of observers of the universe, where do they exist? What enforces them? Where did they come from?

          • Renard Wolfe

            How do you bold or italic or.. something to format a post here?

            *Or are they abstractions that exist only in the minds of human beings?*

            No. If this were the case they would stop working when we weren't looking at them, the laws of physics would be different for different people, and they wouldn't have been the same before there were people. While our understanding of them is by neccesity an abstraction, the rules themselves are real.

            * Wasn't it, at one time, a law of physics that heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones?*

            Yes. And why isn't that the case? Because someone showed that something (air in this case) was interfering with the results.

            God violating the laws of physics doesn't disprove god, but it does set the bar pretty high for evidence for his existance.

            *If the laws of physics exist somewhere other than in the minds of observers of the universe, where do they exist?*

            I don't find this question to be sensible. Why do they have to exist in a place? Its like asking what does blue sound like.

          • Andre Boillot

            You're doing it wrong.

            Love,
            An atheist

          • Renard Wolfe

            Show, Don't tell.

          • Andre Boillot

            This one of those 'do as I say...' Moments, eh?

    • David Nickol

      If you're going to call for more reasonable and polite dialog, you might
      want to start by not dismissing atheists as angry and aggressive

      I listened to the whole interview, and I don't remember hearing atheists dismissed as angry and aggressive. In fact, as best I remember it, the caution was not to dismiss atheists as angry and aggressive (or ignorant, or any number of negative things). I think the whole point of the book (and Strange Notions) is not to dismiss atheists but to engage them.

      Having said that, it does seem that quite frequently some people seem to sputter with rage at the terrible atrocities committed by a God in whom they profess not to believe. I quite agree that the way God is depicted in some parts of the Bible, he comes across as a monster. But since I don't believe God, for example, ordered genocide, it does not make my blood boil at this version of God that I agree with atheists did not and does not exist. Also, some people seem to be quite angry at the Catholic Church and often for reasons that are quite solid. But for a number of reasons I don't have the time to go into here, I think it is quite futile to get worked up against the Catholic Church and quite pointless to come to this site and denounce Catholics or Catholicism.

      • Renard Wolfe

        Check out the book on amazon.

        - they consider it their duty to scorn and ridicule religious belief. We
        don't need new answers for this aggressive modern strain of unbelief:

    • Casey Braden

      Did you watch a different video than I did? Because I didn't take that from it at all. Trent even comments about how accusing atheists of being immoral (especially if you mention Hitler or Nazis) is just getting off on the wrong foot, and the conversation is likely to go nowhere.

      And let's be fair: some atheists are angry and aggressive, just as some believers are as well.

  • Nice interview. Merry Christmas to everyone on this forum. See you all in 2014!

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I have a limited exposure to apologetics, so I may have missed something, but I am curious about the fact that most of the theist arguments I have seen are reason-based, constructive arguments *for* God. To me it has always seemed simpler to take the destructive "philosophy 101" approach that leads us (or led me, anyway) to the conclusion that we know absolutely nothing, that without faith we are totally without mooring in a sea of epistemological uncertainty. Did I misunderstand philosophy 101? (Could be, I never took philosophy 201?) Once I realized that I was afloat in that sea, rafts become more compelling. Is this approach common in apologetics and I am just missing it, or is this destructive approach also commonly used?

    • jessej

      Do you know if you love your mom or do you suspect otherwise? Of course you know truths.

      Augustine, Stein, Hildebrand, Sheen, Chesterton are just a few of the ramparts against men like Nietzsche. So many huge and great walls against the great Nietzsche are enough for me.

      No sarcasm about Nietzsche intended, great and wrong don't often go together and I salute him but I fall into the arms of Augustine who I believe holds the best mind in human history aside from Christ.

      Yours in Christ

      P.S. please read Augustine on the Trinity. Best philosophical treatise to date.

      • Michael Murray

        I don't have a mom. Only American's have moms.

  • James Hartic

    For the sake of argument....let us assume that there is a creator of the universe....if that is so, then what leads us to assume that the "creator" is not a deist type of entity as opposed to the theist type. Assuming that a creator exists....what evidence is there to support a deity who is all powerful, and loving? All indicators point in the opposite direction. If there is a creator....it would seem that this entity is, if not malevolent....is indifferent...at best.....at least when considering the scale of human and animal suffering throughout the biological evolutionary history of man and all of the other species. To simply say that the bible or any other scriptures are the revealed word of god is not an answer or anything approaching a satisfactory explanation.