The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

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The subjective choices of religion

Our old friend Murk has returned with a reply to a comment on one of my older posts. Rather than let it languish in the past, I’d like to reply to it up front. Let’s start by reconstructing the thread of the conversation so far.

KEVIN: Yeah, murk. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. You see, there’s this little problem you theists have. It’s one of a plethora of choices. You claim that your choice is the correct one. OK, fine. But every single person who believes in the supernatural makes the same claim.

MURK: Let me see if i get this straight – many choice = non-existence? by analogy then since there are many counterfeit moneys there is no real one? the counterfeit is dependent on the real my friend.

DEACON DUNCAN: Not quite. The problem is not just that there are many choices, it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference, in the absence of any objective means of demonstrating that any of them is actually true. After all, if you had objective proof that any of them were correct, you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.

So far so good, eh? Granted, Murk is making a bad analogy with his counterfeit money example, and I didn’t address that specifically. I wanted to focus on the weakness of the theological argument, which is the lack of a “gold standard” against which you can apply the various conflicting theological positions. We know that counterfeit money is fake precisely because there is a real-world standard to compare it to. No similar standard exists for the innumerable, conflicting versions of the story about what god(s) ought to be, and what he/she/it/they expect from us.

Turnabout’s fair play, so Murk wants to pick apart my response and see if he can find any weaknesses in it.

” it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference,” is this an objective claim? if so by what standard?

My replies are below the fold.

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The next Harold Camping

I’ve actually picked up a couple new commenters at Evangelical Realism recently. One of them is tokyotodd, whose philosophical arguments I touched on yesterday. The other is Mike Gantt, who reminds me a lot of Harold Camping (without the end-of-the-world fixation). Speaking of his views on hell, he writes:

I came to it by reading such Scripture passages in context, thus allowing its words to be understood in the ancient milieu in which they were uttered. It is the distorting lens of institutional Christianity and secular modernity that obscure the Bible’s plain teaching on the subject.

Like Camping, Gantt seems to make no distinction between “the Bible’s plain teaching” and his own personal interpretation of the Bible. He can readily see that other people, including William Lane Craig, have interpretations that are wrong (i.e. that conflict with his interpretation), and he even goes so far as to claim that the institution that created the Bible is also at fault for distorting it (i.e. producing teachings that conflict with his interpretation). But it’s very difficult to challenge his interpretation because, in his words, you’re not challenging his opinions, you’re challenging the plain teaching of Scripture.

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Gospel Disproof #45: A self-fulfilling prophecy

Back when I was an active member in the Church of Christ, I got myself in trouble with the pastor and the elders because I pointed out some discrepancies I’d found between what the church teaches and what it was actually practicing. For example, one of their big teachings is that the church has to have New Testament authorization for everything it does, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to substitute grape juice instead of wine in the weekly communion. They had all kinds of arguments about why this exception—or “necessary inference,” as they called it—was ok, but these inferences were fairly easy to expose as mere rationalizations.

They, unsurprisingly, didn’t want to hear it, and the eldest of the elders took it upon himself to warn me about the error of my ways. “You think too much,” he declared. “You’re on the road to atheism. Everyone I’ve met who thought about the Bible like you do ended up as an atheist.” If he’d come up to be and literally dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head, my emotional reaction (at the time) would not have been much different.

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An odd response

My latest post at Evangelical Realism seems to have attracted the attention of a self-described “New Evangelist” named David Roemer. It’s an odd response, though. My post was about William Lane Craig’s problems with the doctrine of Hell and Christian exclusivism, and, well, see if you can tell what (if anything) Roemer’s response has to do with the post he’s responding to.

There are three theories about our purpose in life: 1) To serve God in this world in order to be with Him in the next. 2) Life has no meaning. Man is a “useless passion” is the way Jean Paul Sartre put it. 3) To achieve self-realization and serve our fellow man.

There is a considerable amount of evidence for #1, some for #2, but none at all for #3. # 3 is irrational because we can achieve self-realization in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to achieve self-realization. Concerning # 1, we are not guaranteed salvation. It is something to hope for with “fear and trembling

That’s the whole post response, including the two missing punctuation marks at the end. But what does he mean by this odd response?

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Why God can’t heal amputees

One of Mighty Timbo’s lost posts addresses the question of why God does not heal amputees. As with the question of why God doesn’t show up, though, he phrases the issue in such a way as to miss the most important aspects of the question.

The Atheist has likely never been witness to a miraculous healing or work of God, and when evidence is provided to him of one will often seek a scientific explanation. If none can be found it will often be labeled as a “fluke”, rather than a miracle, they then look to the miraculous things God didn’t do to prove he doesn’t exist, which is where this question comes in.

Notice how he tries to make it sound like the atheist’s problem, as though there were something wrong with seeking scientific explanations. But the atheist’s approach isn’t really the problem here. The problem is one of consistency.

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God’s evil addiction

There’s an old joke about a woman who keeps hitting herself in the head with a hammer. When they asked, “Why are you doing that?” she replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

Yesterday we looked at Mighty Timbo’s story about how God allegedly healed his wife years after a serious car accident left her disabled and in pain. It’s a great story because it points out a huge flaw in the Christian theology of healing. Think about it. God supposedly could have healed her any time he wanted. He could have healed her a year earlier than He did, or within a few weeks of the crash. Heck, He could have prevented the crash in the first place. Instead, He chose to allow her to be seriously injured and to go through several years of pain and disability, just so that He could take the credit where her suffering finally stopped.

At least in the old joke, the woman was wielding her own hammer, and could stop whenever she liked. But this business of God putting us though sin and suffering and evil just so that it will seem so good when He stops—yikes!

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I am Peter Ingersoll

When Mighty Timbo undertook his disproof of Mormonism, the first point he offered was eyewitness testimony by one Peter Ingersoll (or Ingersol, or Ingersall, not sure why there are so many different spellings), to the effect that Smith’s “Golden Bible” wasn’t really there. When I invited Timbo to submit that article, I told him that I would look for parallels between the weaknesses of Mormonism and the weaknesses of Christianity, and this is one of them. Just as Joseph Smith had eyewitnesses who could see for himself that the Book wasn’t really there, you and I and even Timbo himself are all eyewitnesses to the fact that Christianity’s God isn’t really there. In effect, we are all Peter Ingersolls, because we are eyewitnesses to God’s manifest absence from the real world.

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Well darn.

I had a feeling Mighty Timbo was bailing out when he ended his last comment here by saying, “Contact me again when you’re interested in genuine discourse.” A strange thing to say, considering that “genuine discourse”—as opposed to following a Jack Chick style script—is exactly what I have been doing, and what he appears to be trying to extricate himself from. He did, at least, promise to let me keep reviewing the material on his site: “You are always free to use quotes from my site. It is my request that when you do so you provide a link to the page you took the quote from. And you can certainly use anything I say as a springboard for any future articles.”

Except… quite suddenly, his entire web site has disappeared. This is not just a glitch. As of 5:00 AM GMT, his domain was listed as cancelled, and sortly thereafter someone was able to purchase the domain name and point it at The Secular Web.

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The skeptic’s role

Mighty Timbo appears to be upset with me for failing to follow whatever script he had in mind for my part in his proposed “debate” (which, as he may recall, I declined to participate in). I’ve been examining his post entitled “Why Doesn’t God Show Himself To Us and Prove He Exists?” and showing how (a) it fails to give the full scope of the apologetic difficulties inherent in God’s failure to show up, and (b) it fails to give an adequate answer even to the question as he proposes it. Apparently I’m not supposed to do that. Skeptics, it would seem, are only allowed to raise carefully-framed softball objections that can be easily dismissed by facile and disingenuous sermonizing.

Well I’m sorry, but that’s not really my role as a skeptic. The role of skepticism is to examine both the claims and the evidence, to expose any internal or external inconsistencies, and to prefer those conclusions that are more consistent with real-world facts than competing claims, rejecting any that are manifestly inconsistent with themselves and with the truth.  Thus, when Timbo points out that Bible accounts of God’s appearances are followed soon after by accounts of people rebelling and falling away, there’s an underlying inconsistency there, in that this is a remarkably poor outcome for Someone as great as God is supposed to be. As a skeptic, it’s my role to point out that Timbo is glossing over this problem when he tries to use the disobedience of men as a mere excuse for why God doesn’t show up. I’m not supposed to just blindly follow his script and say, “Ok it must be all man’s fault then.” My job is to cross-examine his evidence and give it a more comprehensive context.

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