The tentative apologist and the friendly atheist discuss about heaven

Randal Rauser (the tentative apologist) is arguably the best apologist within the Evangelical camp.

During one episode of the British show Unbelievable he debated about the existence of heaven with (the friendly atheist) concerning a book Randal recently published that Randal wrote for dispelling wrong conceptions many Christians have about heaven.

hemant_mehta

At the beginning of the conversation, Randal mentioned the fact that many Evangelicals neglect the protection of the environment because they expect God to put pretty soon an end to this evil creation, delivering them from it.

I can remember very vividly a Conservative Evangelical telling me that he did not worry about global warming because God allegedly promised there would  no longer be any worldwide catastrophe after the Genesis flood.

This is a logical consequence of the doctrine that God cursed the whole creation and humans with a sinful nature we have to escape from, a gnostic doctrine which was introduced into the Church largely by Augustine.

Randal challenges Mehta’s assumption that the fact that heaven fulfill our wishes is an indication of its falsity. Ever since the days of Feuerbach, many atheists (not least Dawkins) have kept making the same claim.
But it is obviously wrong, the fact that a vanilla ice satisfy most desires of my gut does not mean there is no such thing.

Randal went on pointing out that evidence for heaven are going to heavily depend on our background beliefs. If we think that God exists, we have strong grounds for thinking there is an afterlife, especially if he raised Jesus from the dead.

Mehta rightly emphasized the problem of eternal conscious suffering and the atrocious injustice it would be if all people dying as non-Christians would end up in such a state.

Randal replied he is an inclusivist believing that a Jewish girl dying in a Nazi camp after having rejected Christ would most likely be in heaven.

It is worth noting, at this point, that most Conservative Evangelicals hold to the view that everyone deceasing without faith in Jesus earns an everlasting stay in God’s torture chamber, thereby believing that most victims of genocides will be tormented days and nights after having perished under an atrocious pain.

This seems to be a logical consequence of their belief that the Bible is the full revelation of God  from which the reality of post-mortem conversations cannot be easily deduced.

I think it would have been great if Randal had pointed out that the Bible points towards immortality being a gift of God, those not receiving it being going to eventually cease to exist instead of being endlessly tormented.

While being an incluvist myself, I do not, however, feel the need to be a hopeful universalist wishing the salvation of everyone.

If Hitler, Mussolini, Staline or Fred Phelps (the God hates fags pastor) will repent, that’s fine. But I would not feel too depressed if they won’t and will be utterly destroyed, blotted out from existence.

Justin Briley (the moderator) asked Mehta if he would wish to be in heaven if there were one. He answered this was a “silly question”.

Randal replied this was pretty condescending and that which beliefs we see as being dumb will hinge on our own plausibility structure.

Mehta responded by quoting the widespread atheistic meme “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence” illustrating the principle by using the Skeptic’s favorite pet, the unicorn.

https://i0.wp.com/static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/1/17172/1419618-unicorn2.jpg

A huge problem is that atheists have actually strong grounds for believing in the existence of such beings.

The reason is that atheists are better off believing in an infinite multiverse for avoiding the troubling problem if the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants allowing our very existence.

But in an infinite multiverse, every possible event (including the arrival of intelligent unicorns with very strange features) is necessarily going to happen somewhere.

We believe there is no unicorn species living on the surface of the earth because we would clearly expect evidence to be there if it were the case.

Therefore unlike an agnostic, an atheist has a burden of proof and must provide us with arguments against the existence of God and of the afterlife.

Once this mistake (and other similar ones) are debunked, the case for atheism appears to be much weaker than village atheists usually take for granted.

Rauser pointed out that another crucial difference between the afterlife and unicorns consists of the existence of many peer-reviewed publications arguing for the authenticity of some Near Death Experiences.

This is a fair point but I doubt that NDEs are really evidence of a life after death while being open to a small number of them being due to paranormal phenomena.

Mehta said that if everyone in heaven would have to submit themselves to God and Christ, this is a pretty bad new for all non-Christians.

I think that there is a fallacy going on here, which is interestingly enough also committed by Conservative Evangelicals such as William Lane Craig: the fact that someone dies as a non-believer does not mean he doesn’t wish Christianity to be true, as the case of French philosopher Andre Comte Sponville arguing for atheism nicely illustrates.

“Given that — and this is the key point — God’s mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience” Pope Francis wrote.

https://i0.wp.com/patdollard.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/pope-francis-wont-judge-gay-people.jpg

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience” he added.

Finally, Justin mentioned the anguish of his seven years old son after having heard that the universe would end up becoming inhospitable for life. Justin answered this is what is going to happen according to science but that God would step in to keep this from occurring. He then asked Metha what hope he would give to his own child in such a situation.

He did not answer this question and just said that he would encourage his kid to think by himself on this issue, while recognizing it wasn’t morally wrong for Justin to have transmitted such a hopeful vision of the future to his boy.

This is how I view faith: hoping in the truth of something extremely desirable if the evidence is not sufficient.
Given such a definition, faith does not have to be irrational since it does not pretend to be a form of knowledge.

Actually I don’t know how anyone manages to love the pleasures of his life while being fully aware that everything he is now will usher into nothingness.

If atheism is true, a Buddhist-like resignation and detachment seems to be a much more coherent and viable choice than Western hedonism.

To conclude, I want to strongly advise everyone to buy some of Randal’s books for he is truly a far better apologist than William Lane Craig in numerous respects.

Next episode on hell: the dark side of destiny.

16 thoughts on “The tentative apologist and the friendly atheist discuss about heaven

  1. The reason is that atheists are better off believing in an infinite multiverse for avoiding the troubling problem if the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants allowing our very existence.

    But in an infinite multiverse, every possible event (including the arrival of intelligent unicorns with very strange features) is necessarily going to happen somewhere.

    Thank you. Finally, it’s nice to see someone make this point without my prompting. Multiverses wreak havoc on atheism and atheistic thought.

  2. If Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or Fred Phelps (the God hates fags pastor) will repent, that’s fine. But I would not feel too depressed if they won’t and will be utterly destroyed, blotted out from existence.

    Do you really feel this way? Do you think you see these individuals as the Father sees them? Is his love adequate to overcome our shortcomings, but inadequate for theirs?

    • God loves them much more I could ever do.

      But if they reject His love, he won’t coerce them into loving Him.

      Your love is touching Tim, far greater than mine and that of most humans knowing these individuals.

      We should not forget, however, that our Lord threatened with destruction some religious bigots of His time.

      But I want to remain humble and realize His thoughts are far greater than mine.

        • I have mixed feelings about that.

          But one thing is sure: if Fred Phelps sincerely repents, God will welcome him into His kingdom, after perhaps a time of purgation.
          Now it is up to him to take that step.

          Maybe this is why Jesus menaced the religious bigots he confronted: leading them to realize their wickedness and repent, turning back to him.
          Maybe some of the religious leaders having executed him have repented after their death, the seed having been planted much earlier by our Master during His earthly life.

      • While I think it true that Jesus threatened desctruction, I would say that many times he also hinted towards some type of purgatory whereby we are cleansed from our wickedness and subsequently we will all repent. As He said: “you shall not come out until you have paid the last farthing.” I tend to believe that everyone will eventually be purified by the love of God. How long it takes each one of us is a different story.

        • I agree it is a beautiful hope.

          The Biblical testimony about universal salvation is unclear and contradictory.

          Jesus was most likely no universalist, but maybe Paul was one.

          I certainly believe that Jesus will forgive everyone who sincerely repent on both sides of the grave .

          But it is far from being certain that everyone will do that and decide to trust in God.

  3. A huge problem is that atheists have actually strong grounds for believing in the existence of such beings.

    The reason is that atheists are better off believing in an infinite multiverse for avoiding the troubling problem if the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants allowing our very existence.

    There are several problems with that:
    1. Most multiverse models involve a large, but not infinite, number of universes.
    2. Fine tuning is not a bigger problem for atheistic positions than it is for theistic ones, it is arguably a bigger problem for the latter – that this universe we live in allows for the natural development of life is inevitable if atheism is true, but not if theism is true.
    Assuming that we would live in a universe that does not show fine tuning, for example because the strong force coupling constant is too high for heavy elements like Carbon to be stable, and carbon thus actually would be unstable in any compound that is not part of a living thing (and those compounds that are part of a living thing would immediatly start decaying as soon as living thing dies) – this would unambigiously prove that life is a miracle in the strong sense of the word “miracle”. The existence of life could only be possible by a supernatural entity suspending the laws of nature in order to make life possible and sustain it. And, if Christianity would exist in this world, apologists would most likely point to scripture like:
    “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
    – Colossians 1:17
    “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”
    – Psalm 54:4.
    and say, “see, it´s GOD who holds everything together and sustains us.” Atheism requires fine tuning to be true, Theism would be fine either way.
    3. Fine tuning has many potential explanations, multiverse solutions are only one possibility.
    4. This is arguably the biggest problem with what you said here – even if you were right when you say that atheists “would be better off” believing this, beliefs are not chosen.

    Actually I don’t know how anyone manages to love the pleasures of his life while being fully aware that everything he is now will usher into nothingness.

    That is an argument from personal incredulity. And it goes both ways, I don´t understand how you see any meaning in existing eternally – it goes completely counter to my everyday experiences, something being ephemeral makes it more special / meaningful, not less. Assume that there is a very rare and beautiful flower, which only blooms once in a decade and only for only a single day – would you not try to see it because the experience would be over after a few hours at most? Would it still be a special sight if the flower would bloom for an infinite number of years and you would also live for an infinite number of years, meaning that you could see it an infinite number of times and would get bored with seeing it an infinite number of times? I don´t understand how you can find any meaning in the prospect of existing eternally, but I wouldn´t hold it against your position, you apparently can and my personal incredulity does nothing to change that – what I find meaningful doesn´t have to be the same for you, “meaning” is by definition subjective.

    If atheism is true, a Buddhist-like resignation and detachment seems to be a much more coherent and viable choice than Western hedonism.

    Again, even if true, that would be irrelevant – beliefs are not chosen.

  4. Firstly I wish that *all* apologists were tentative, and all atheists (and indeed Christians) were friendly!

    As a new Christian convert 20 years ago I used to set great store by apologetics. My newfound beliefs were of course founded on a mixture of things – need, desire, emotion, experience; rational reason was part of the mix but by no means the most important element. Yet of course I wanted to reassure myself that my new beliefs did have a sound rational basis, even a proof; that I was not merely deluding myself and could hold my head high against the cynics and nay-sayers.

    So for a time I lapped up all the arguments in favour of Christian belief, and to an extent found them helpful. I certainly came to the view that Christianity has plausibility and reasonableness, that it can to a fair extent be defended rationally – as can other worldviews. But I also came to the conclusion that there is simply no way to *prove* Christianity over and above other worldviews.
    All I can say is that I have found Christianity more satisfying (emotionally and intellectually) than any other worldview I have encountered. For me, it offers a more convincing and helpful explanation of all aspects of the world and life as I experience them than anything else has.

    It also of course offers what seem to me to be genuine meaning, purpose and hope – things which atheists may justly argue to have no rational basis, but which I nonetheless find essential for life.

    Finally, I’ve found that the teachings and example of Christ have enabled my flourishing as a full person in a way that nothing else has. So while I often wish to disassociate myself from aspects of the church – and from Christian apologetics and theology – I find I can’t give up on Christ.

    But I could only ever now be a tentative apologist, and I hope a reasonably friendly one too.🙂

    PS @Andy Schueler – please could you elaborate on ‘beliefs are not chosen’? I agree to an extent, but I think that there can be some element of choice in our beliefs (and non-beliefs). We can certainly question our beliefs, and as a result of that change them – at least on some level.

    • PS @Andy Schueler – please could you elaborate on ‘beliefs are not chosen’? I agree to an extent, but I think that there can be some element of choice in our beliefs (and non-beliefs). We can certainly question our beliefs, and as a result of that change them – at least on some level.

      Sure. In philosophy, this issue is called “doxastic voluntarism” – somewhat related to free will, but still a distinct issue. Where free will deals with the freedom to choose what to do, doxastic voluntarism deals with the freedom of being able to choose beliefs. Free will is somewhat controversial, but for doxastic voluntarism, philosophers are close to unanimously agreeing that it doesn´t exist or if it does, only in a very limited sense. Assuming for the sake of the argument that humans have libertarian free will – we would then be able to freely choose to question beliefs we hold, or study the arguments for and against beliefs we do not hold. But whether those arguments are plausible and persuasive (and if so, to what degree) for us, cannot be chosen – persuasion is something that happens to us, not something done by us, it happens subconsciously and we can´t deliberately influence it. We might be able to choose which influences we expose ourselves to (by reading, thinking, discussing and so on and so forth), but what these influences do to us, whether we find them convincing or at least somewhat plausible, is not something that we can deliberately influence in any way.

      • Hi Andy,
        Interesting – and somewhat depressing if we have no real control or say at all over our beliefs!

        I can’t argue with you as a philosopher, but I’m not entirely convinced yet that the case for doxastic voluntarism is as closed as you suggest.

        The article on the subject in the IEP seems to suggest that the debate is still open: http://www.iep.utm.edu/doxa-vol/

        And I’d be interested to hear your response to this chap, who ‘is coming to the conclusion that doxastic involuntarism is false’ (and who I’m guessing is a theist!):
        http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/11/on-belief.html

        I think you make your case well, but I’m not yet, well, entirely persuaded to believe the statement ‘beliefs are not chosen’…

        Thanks
        Harvey

      • Hi Harvey,

        Interesting – and somewhat depressing if we have no real control or say at all over our beliefs!

        Is it depressing? It certainly has its positive sides as well. If doxastic voluntarism were true in the strongest sense, it would quite literally mean that everything you believe, including your deepest convictions, are nothing but whims of the moment – you could freely choose to stop believing those things or start believing their negation out of the blue.
        If doxastic voluntarism is false however, or only true in a very limited sense, then you can be quite confident that you will not suddenly choose to start believing that Nazism actually did make sense and that it would be best if we started nuking the entire middle east – something *very* drastic would have to happen for you to believe that (if it were possible to make you believe that at all).

        The article on the subject in the IEP seems to suggest that the debate is still open: http://www.iep.utm.edu/doxa-vol/

        Well, philosophical debates are never really over – a handful of philosophers will always disagree, even if they just do it because they are contrarians. The philosophers that support doxastic voluntarism usually try to defend a limited form of it – that you can choose a belief if the evidence for its truth or falsehood is inconclusive, but the arguments for that are very poor IMHO. The first such argument in the article you linked to is this one:
        “According to Carl Ginet, there are a number of cases in which people can will to believe certain propositions, provided that their evidence regarding the propositions is inconclusive (2001, 64-5; cf. Ryan 2003, 62-7). He offers a number of examples. Let us consider two. The first involves a person deciding to believe a proposition so that she can stop worrying. The scenario is as follows:
        Before Sam left for his office this morning, Sue asked him to bring from his office a particular book that she needs to use for preparing her lecture the next day, on his way back home.. Later Sue wonders whether Sam will remember to bring the book. She recalls that he has sometimes, though not often, forgotten such things. But, given the thought that her continuing to wonder whether he’ll remember to bring the book will make her anxious all day, she decides to stop fretting and decides to believe that he will remember to bring the book she wanted.”
        => And this is transparently false, Sue could indeed make such a decision, but it would not be a free choice. And it is easy to demonstrate that for yourself. A situation like the one Sue found herself in, happens frequently to all of us in everyday life, wait until you find yourself in a comparable situation, and when you made up your mind whether you believe A or ⌐A, try to freely choose to change your mind (i.e. if you accepted A, try to freely choose to believe ⌐A or vice versa). You will not be able to do it. An objection to such an experiment is usally something along the line “well, I *could* choose to change my mind to stop believing A and start believing ⌐A, but I don´t *want* to do it”. And this is true, however, when did you freely chose to want to believe A instead of wanting to believe ⌐A? And can you freely choose to stop wanting to believe A and start wanting to believe ⌐A? Again, try it for yourself – you will not be able to do it. It is a choice, but not a free one.

        And I’d be interested to hear your response to this chap, who ‘is coming to the conclusion that doxastic involuntarism is false’ (and who I’m guessing is a theist!):
        http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/11/on-belief.html

        He comes up with essentially the same argument as the philosopher quoted in the other article. His example is:
        “Lenny the liberal, for example, believes that anthropogenic global warming is taking place and is a dire environmental threat. Lenny doesn’t know these two putative facts; he believes them: he unconditionally accepts, he firmly assents to, the two propositions in the absence of compelling evidence. And it seems clear that an element of will is involved in our boy’s belief since the evidence does not compel his intellectual assent. He decides to believe what he believes. His believing is in the control of his will. This does not mean that he can believe anything he wants to believe.”
        => He also believes that doxastic voluntarism is true in a limited sense, that Lenny the liberal could freely choose to believe A or ⌐A if the evidence for A is inconclusive. My answer to him would be “prove it, do what Lenny the liberal does and freely choose to believe that anthropogenic global warming is real and a threat to the survival of our species” – he will reply that he *could* do that but doesn´t want to, and then he will struggle to come up with a answers for when he freely chose to want that instead of wanting something different and for why he cannot freely choose to want something different now.

        cheerio,
        Andy

        • Thanks Andy – I’ll clearly need to think about this some more! It’s a new concept for me and raises all sorts of interesting questions to ponder.

          Just a quick question to help clarify something for me – if I’m right in thinking that you adopt a materialist worldview, would you consider your materialism to be a ‘belief’ or does it fall into another category?

          I’m interested in what constitutes a ‘belief’ (in terms of doxastic voluntarism etc), and what falls into other categories of knowing/understanding/thinking/assuming etc.

          To my mind, there are only a very limited number of things that can be known with 100% certainty, and these mostly fall into the area of pure maths and pure logic. Everything else – i.e. everything in our day-to-day experience – has a degree of uncertainty, and therefore a degree of belief or trust is involved in accepting it as true or real. If that makes any sense.

          All the best,
          Harvey

        • Thanks Andy – that’s all very helpful and interesting.

          By ‘trust’, I just mean that where we can’t be 100% certain about most things, we have to take that last little bit that we can’t be certain about ‘on trust’, so to speak. So for example, I’m pretty sure that my senses provide me with a reasonably accurate (if incomplete) representation of the real physical universe, rather than an illusion. I can’t be totally sure, but I’ll take it ‘on trust’ that my senses are broadly accurate and the world I see is real.

          When it comes to Christian ‘faith’, I think the element of trust comes more to the fore. For me, Christian faith isn’t primarily belief in a set of somewhat arbitrary doctrines and theological statements (though I see it can extend to include that). Rather (in my understanding) it’s far more about trust in a particular person – i.e. Christ – and in their character and ability to do what they apparently claim to be able to do.

          So an analogy might be if a friend came to me and said ‘I know the secret of the universe’. If just anyone came to me and said that, I’d be disinclined to believe them. But if I knew the person well and knew them to be generally rational, trustworthy and not normally given to making wild or deceptive claims, I’d be more inclined to trust them and so believe what they say – i.e. to have ‘faith’ in them, in Christian parlance.

          Of course if they could then reveal the secret and it made more sense to me than rival claims, then I’d be even more strongly inclined to believe them – which in a way is a very rough description of how my experience of Christianity has been.

          On doxastic voluntarism I think I may be misunderstanding slightly. I certainly don’t think we can arbitrarily change our beliefs on a whim. But I think that there may be times when we’re presented with equivocal evidence, or two opposing viewpoints (say atheism and Christianity) which both have what appear to be convincing and persuasive arguments for and against them.

          At this point it seems to me that we have an element of choice on which route to follow – a route which will ultimately entail belief. There may well be subconscious and emotional factors that influence our choice, but that’s not necessarily to say that there is no element of genuine choice involved… perhaps… ?

          Cheers
          Harvey

      • Oh, and a quick addendum to my last comment:
        The distinction between “conclusive” and “inconclusive” is taken as something obvious by the philosophers that try to defend a limited form of doxastic voluntarism (the one where you can freely choose to believe A or ⌐A if the evidence for A is “inconclusive”) – but this actually isn´t obvious at all. Whether the evidence for a given proposition is “conclusive” is entirely subjective, what might be “conclusive” evidence for me might be “inconclusive” for you and vice versa (and Lenny the liberal in the second example might genuinely believe that the evidence for AGW *IS* “conclusive”). And where the threshold is for “inconclusive” evidence turning into “conclusive” evidence, is not only subjective but also something which we cannot freely choose (imagine that you have jury duty in a murder trial – and 11 jurors think the evidence for the accused being a murderer is “conclusive” but you think it is “inconclusive”, do you think you could freely choose to stop believing that it is “inconclusive” and start believing that it is “conclusive”?)

      • Hi Harvey,

        Just a quick question to help clarify something for me – if I’m right in thinking that you adopt a materialist worldview, would you consider your materialism to be a ‘belief’ or does it fall into another category?

        I subscribe to physicalism (which is somewhat different from materialism but for most discussions, the difference doesn´t really matter).
        I would consider that to be a “belief”, yes.

        I’m interested in what constitutes a ‘belief’ (in terms of doxastic voluntarism etc), and what falls into other categories of knowing/understanding/thinking/assuming etc.

        Great question. I also wonder about that. What “knowledge” means is one of the hardest philosophical questions of all time and there is nothing even remotely resembling a consensus on that (at least afaict).
        Personally, I think that the difference between “knowledge” and “belief” is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind (or in other words, a quantitative difference, not a quantitative one).
        For the answers to questions like “who are your biological parents?” or “who will win the Superbowl?” – most people would refer to the answer for the former question as “knowledge”, but for the answer to the latter question as “belief”.
        I think what distinguishes “knowledge” from “belief” is, that we have little or no doubts for things that we claim to “know” and that we can demonstrate those things to be true using logical reasoning and / or empirical evidence. Understood like this, all “knowledge” is a form of “belief”, but not all “beliefs” are “knowledge” – and there is no *objective* demarcation between “knowledge” and “belief” (Lenny the liberal from the previous example might refer to AGW as “knowledge” while others will disagree).

        To my mind, there are only a very limited number of things that can be known with 100% certainty, and these mostly fall into the area of pure maths and pure logic.

        Absolutely. You might want to check out the “Münchhausen trilemma”, which demonstrates that *final* proofs, proofs that cannot be questioned further, are impossible. It essentially means that when I ask you “how do you know x to be true?” and you provide proof for x, I could go on to ask you to demonstrate that your proof for x is actually correct – and we could play that game ad infinitum. The only ways to end this are, to either stop the infinite regress at some (more or less arbitrary) point (what we do in science), or to start engaging in circular reasoning or to ground the claim in dogmata that we don´t question further (what we do in math and logic). This essentially means that we cannot know anything with 100% certainty (although nothing speaks against coming arbitrarily close to 100%).

        Everything else – i.e. everything in our day-to-day experience – has a degree of uncertainty, and therefore a degree of belief or trust is involved in accepting it as true or real.

        I agree almost 100%, but I would exclude “trust” here. As I mentioned above, I don´t think “belief” and “knowledge” are categorically different, but “trust” (or “hope”) does seem to be something qualitatively different from “knowledge” or “believe” to me (for me personally, most (but not all) of the things I “trust” in, are also things I “believe”, but I could point to quite a number of things that I “hope for” but which I don´t “believe in”)..

        cheerio,
        Andy

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