The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after his unjust death stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.
If materialism is true, it goes without saying that the prior plausibility of a corpse coming back to life through random physical processes is extremely small.
However, some atheist apologists go farther than that and argue that even if God existed, the probability of His raising Jesus from the dead would be incredibly low.
Atheistic philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder (who is a nice, respectful, well-articulated, intelligent and decent man) put it like this:
B3: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived. Approximately half of them have been male. B4: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).
B3 and B4 are significant because they summarize the relevant evidence about God’s tendency to resurrect people from the dead (assuming God exists). They show why the resurrection has a low prior probability even for theists. Once we take B3 and B4 into account, the prior probability of the resurrection is less than or equal to 5.0 x 10-12. In symbols, Pr(R | B1 & B3 & B4) <= 5.0 x 10-12.
I shall reformulate his argument in a simpler way while emphasising a most problematic hidden assumption.
From the 100 000 000 humans who have ever lived under the sun, none has been resurrected by God’s mighty hands.
Consequently, the probability that a human being chosen at random gets raised from the dead is less than 10-11.
3. God would be as interested in resurrecting Jesus as he would be in resurrecting a random human being.
4. Hence the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection is less than 10-11.
Although premise 1) might be begging the question against claims of miracles, I shall accept it as true.
Premise 2) is totally uncontroversial. So what truly stands in the way of the conclusion is premise 3).
Why on earth should we assume that Jesus was only a random human being to God? This probability seems unknown to me unless one makes assumptions about the divine Being, i.e. one engages in theology.
(The are good articles written by professional philosopher of science John Norton explaining why epistemic ignorance cannot be represented by a probability distribution , , )
Lowder seems to be aware of this. A (godless) commenter wrote:
“Your estimate of 5.0 x 10-12. assumes that Jesus is a typical human. But if not, if B1A: Jesus is the second person of the Trinity is true, P(B2) becomes much higher, possibly of order 1. In that case the relevant unknown is P(B1A | B1). While that may be small, I doubt if it’s anywhere near as small as 5.0 x 10-12.”
His response was:
“There are not any reliable statistics for the reference class of men who are the second person of the Trinity. Thus, the reference class that must be used is the broadest one for which we have reliable statistics, viz., men.”
But this is clearly begging the question.
Why should we assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?
Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.
And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?
So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.
I just listened to a talk given by Richard Dawkins.
For those who do not know him, he is the most influential “new atheist” (anti-theist) whose deepest wish would be to rid the world of all religions. Besides that, he is a very gifted evolutionary biologist and writer.
Given his track record and his habit of constantly lumping together all Christians and Muslims and his failure to appreciate the historical and religious contexts in which the Bible and the Koran were written, I expected a highly biased presentation of the facts.
I was pleasantly surprised by his (relatively) moderate tone and even ended up enjoying his show.
The same cannot be said of his followers and the person who titled the video. As we shall see, Dawkins did not “debunk” deism and the “simulation hypothesis”.
At best, he only showed that some arguments for these views are flawed.
In what follows, I want to offer my thoughts about several things he said, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.
The origin of life and intelligent design
Dawkins recognises that at the moment, we don’t know how life originated. There are several theories out there but they all have their problems and no consensus has been reached.
Of course, our current ignorance cannot be used to argue that no natural phenomena could have been responsible for the appearance of the first self-replicating system.
Dawkins is ready to seriously consider the possibility that life has been seeded on earth by space aliens, which shows a certain mind-openness.
But he is adamant that such creatures could only have evolved through a slow process because the probability of their being formed spontaneously is extremely low.
This begs the question against people holding a religious world view who would say that the creator(s) of life are God(s) who always existed.
This also doesn’t fit in with his beliefs about the origin of the universe, as we will see later on.
Extraterrestrial intelligences and Fermi’s paradox
Dawkins endorses the principle of mediocrity which stipulates that we shouldn’t suppose there is anything special about us.
Thus, since we know there is (advanced) life on earth, we should assume it is widespread across the whole universe.
While being still popular among mainstream scientists, the Principle Of Mediocrity (POM= has grown more controversial over the last years.
Basically, the principle of mediocrity is justified through the principle of indifference (POI), according to which if we know nothing about a situation, we should attribute the same probability to each possibility.
I explained what I consider to be fatal objections to the POI here and here.
As Norton demonstrated, the principle of indifference conflates the difference between knowledge and ignorance and very often leads to arbitrary results (depending on the prior probability distribution one uses).
There is a fundamental distinction between
Situation A) We know that life on earth wasn’t the result of a fluke but that of non-random natural processes
Situation B) We know (almost) nothing about this.
Dawkins went into a paradox mentioned by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.
If advanced life is so common in the cosmos, why don’t we see any trace of it?
Several explanations (such as the near impossibility of interstellar travel, the short duration of technological civilisations or their reluctance to interact with such primitive beings as we) have been offered to solve the paradox.
To my mind, while these may be plausible reasons why ten or even hundred extraterrestrial races never approached the earth, they seem extremely far-fetched when applied to millions (let alone billions) of civilisations.
Therefore, I believe that Fermi’s paradox strongly calls in question the conviction that the universe is teeming with advanced life forms.
The fine-tuning argument and the multiverse
Physicists have long since been puzzled by the fact that the constants of nature must lie in a very narrow domain in order to allow for advanced life to exist.
Many theistic philosophers reason like this
All sets of parameter values must have the same probability of being true (applying the Principle Of Indifference mentioned above)
Therefore, the probability of their belonging to a small region is extremely (if not infinitely) small.
It is very unlikely that we are the products of purely natural processes not involving God.
While mainstream cosmologists agree with steps 1 and 2, they then go on to postulate the existence of a (nearly) infinite number of parallel universes covering all intervals of parameter values. A natural consequence of this is that the appearance of a universe such as ours is bound to happen even if no supernatural creator intervenes.
Dawkins considers this the most plausible explanation of the problem.
I have come to the realisation that the whole concept of a fine-tuning problem is misguided because of its reliance on the principle of difference.
The fallacy of doing so has been demonstrated by Norton.
Miracles in an infinite multiverse
According to Clarke’s law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Dawkins believes there are probably creatures out there who are so superior to us that we could only regard them as gods if they were to visit us. But he insists that they would have been created through evolutionary processes and would not be supernatural beings.
But this means that in order for him to dismiss out of hand the testimonies of witnesses of paranormal events and miracles, he would have to either show that they violate the laws of physics or give us plausible reasons as to why such creatures would not visit us.
He also faces another problem stemming from his belief in an infinite number of parallel universes.
In an infinite space, any event which is physically possible is bound to happen somewhere.
This has led physicists to consider the possibility of so-called Boltzmann’s brains which would pop into existence because of random fluctuations.
While physicists disagree about the frequency of their appearances in a vast multiverse, they all think they will at least exist somewhere.
Actually, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been able to convincingly demonstrate they would be very rare.
Anti-theists like to mock Christians by comparing their belief in God to the belief in a flying spaghetti monster.
But if we truly live in an infinite multiverse, flying spaghetti monsters too will necessarily exist somewhere.
What is more, physically very improbable events (such as the resurrection of a man from the dead) are also going to happen somewhere through random processes.
As a consequence, the atheist can no longer say “your belief in the miracles of the New Testament is silly because they violate the law of physics”.
The best he could say would be: “While such events really occur somewhere, their relative frequency is so low that it is unreasonable for you to believe they really took place.”
This is no doubt a weaker position which has its own problems.
Finally, I want to go into how Dawkins considers the possibility of being judged by a God he didn’t believe in.
Dawkins says he would react like the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel:
“Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’“
This assumes that God would be mostly offended by Dawkins’ and Russel’s unbelief.
I have argued elsewhere against the notion (held by fundamentalist Christians) that atheism is immoral and that people dying as atheists will be punished because of their unbelief.
I think it is incompatible with the existence of a supreme being which would necessarily be more loving, just and gracious than any human.
But what if the dialogue between God and Dawkins went like that:
“Dawkins: So, you really exist after all! I did not believe in you because I couldn’t see enough evidence.
God: Fair enough. The universe I created is ambiguous and it leaves people the choice to develop a solid moral character or not. I won’t condemn you because you did not believe in me. Yet, we do have a score to settle.
Dawkins: What do you mean then?
God:I gave you a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil. You knew in your heart that you ought to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated. But you often disregarded this principle. You and your followers have frequently bullied, mocked and ridiculed respectful opponents. You even loudly proclaimed this was the right thing to do.”
Of course, this conversation is completely fictional. I don’t know the content of Dawkins’ heart and cannot rule out the possibility he will be in heaven.
I find that this video of Dawkins is really intellectually stimulating.
I did not feel challenged in my faith/hope there is a supreme being.
On the contrary, this strengthened my belief that atheists cannot confidently assert that “there are probably no gods and miracles.”
Of course, I must recognise there are many atheistic philosophers who are far more sophisticated than Dawkins out there.
But it is worth noting that Dawkins’ books (especially the God delusion) caused many people to lose their faith.
I think that their conversions to atheism are due to his rhetorical skills and not to the strength of his arguments.
(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)
Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.
To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.
Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7) God: Yes Satan: No
Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children. (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18 “But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God: Yes Satan: No
Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity. (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God: Yes Satan: No
Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands individual human sacrifice. (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2; The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus; See Gospels) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh. (Thus Joshua 6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.) God: Yes Satan: No
Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature. While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him,and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought on him.” This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”) God: No Satan: Yes
Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The Passover: Exodus 12:29) God: Yes Satan: No
Will torture people forever in the name of love. (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48) God: Yes Satan: No M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20). God: Yes Satan: No N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer. God: Yes Satan: No
I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.
It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.
I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.
For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.
I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.
Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.
If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.
I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.
I find your response very odd.
First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.
Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.”
Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!
You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.
If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.
Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.
Hey, thanks for your answer.
Sorry if I sounded rude.
My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.
For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.
To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.
Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:
“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.
To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car. Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.
Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?
Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.
It revolved around the problem of divine hiddenness: if God really exists and is interested in people believing in Him, then why does He not unambiguously prove His existence?
The discussion took place in the comment section of a blog post written by progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser entitled “Is the Atheist my Neighbour?”
When I wrote Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I had a very short endorser wish-list. That list consisted of folks who were leaders in their professions and exemplars of the kind of irenic dialogue between atheist and Christian that was the book’s reason for being.
Neither Richard Dawkins nor Ray Comfort made the list.
One of the people who did make that list was J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University. Schellenberg is an atheist and one of the leading philosophers of religion in the world today. His most important work in philosophy of religion is a powerful argument for atheism from divine hiddenness, an argument that he has honed over more than twenty years. Professor Schellenberg has pushed the dialogue and debate forward with a thoughtful and powerful argument, and all without animus or rancor. Indeed, while I have never met him, I know several Christian philosophers who count him not only an esteemed and worthy opponent, but a personal friend as well. You can visit Professor Schellenberg online at his website here.
All this is to say that I was delighted to receive the following endorsement from Professor Schellenberg for Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Given my goals in writing this book, an endorsement like this is worth its weight in gold, and that would hold even if the endorsement were etched in granite. The first sentence alone provides one of the best introductions to a book endorsement that I’ve ever read:
“There are some whose way of following the first of the great commandments has, in the matter of nonbelief, meant violating the second. In this brief and lively but remarkably full and acute discussion, Rauser shows the way out of this problem. Impressively fair, and writing not perfunctorily but with feeling, he has found a way to express genuine neighborliness both to atheists like me and to Christians who struggle to reconcile love and loyalty.”
Andy Schüler, a German Atheist reacted to another commentator arguing that rejecting God’s existence is never an innocent action.
Among many other things, he wrote:
Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people who are open to the possibility of God’s existence and do not resist this truth still live and die as unbelievers. If you interpret the Bible in such a way that the existence of such people is impossible – then your interpretation makes the Bible evidently wrong about this matter (in a way that makes any further discussions impossible, because it forces you to accuse people who claim that they indeed are sincerely open to the possibility of God’s existence, yet also sincerely do not believe that there is a God, of simply lying about this).
You don´t teach your kid that he or she shouldn’t touch a hot stove by letting him touch it. Or rather – you would be a terrible parent if you did it). And the scripture you refer to depicts God in an even worse light, God is like a parent that is an extremely skilled mentalist and not only does nothing to stop his little kid from touching the hot stove, but rather uses his skills to convince him that he should touch it!
My response follows. Please forgive me for the small pieces of German dialect scattered here and there 🙂
Hi Andy! 🙂
Long time, no see! (Sit longi Zit hon ich nix meh von dir gehert!).
“Innocence or lack thereof has nothing to do with anything here. Schellenberg´s argument requires that at least some people are open to the possibility of God existing / not resisting the truth of this, yet still live and die as unbelievers.”
My own view is that people “dying as unbelievers” (or atheists for that matter) but sincerely and humbly striving for justice and love will inherit eternal life whereas people dying as egoistical self-righteous bigots will irremediably lose their existence and be no more.
In all his parables, Jesus never threatened anyone with hellfire for not believing in Him or engaging in sexual immorality but for
1) failing to feed the poor, weak, hungry or neglected
2) not repenting from one’s own unjust pride.
Even Paul himself didn’t embrace the whole view often attributed to him in that he wrote
“God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11”
If you read Roman 2, it seems quite clear to me that Paul believed in the salvation of righteous heathens dying as such, his other ideas notwithstanding.
It is ironic that those arrogant and unloving fundamentalists who keep preaching about “salvation by faith” and eternal torment are those who are the most likely to miss everlasting life, according to Jesus.
Given that, I find that Schellenberg´s challenges are far less impressive (albeit not entirely unproblematic, of course).
God is under no moral obligation to give clear evidence of His existence to atheists if their unbelief while dying isn’t going to damn them.
You’re quite right that we cannot make a choice about what we deem to be reasonable (obwohl die Engländer das Wort “decide” sowohl als “entscheiden” als auch als “bestimmen”, “herausfinden” verwenden 🙂 )
Yet, the same thing cannot necessarily be said about our hopes .
Obviously, someone convinced that theism is extremely implausible cannot entertain any hope in that direction.
But what if you’re completely ignorant about whether theism or atheism is true?
Or what if you (as I do) believe there are intriguing pieces of evidence for the existence of a non-material world which aren’t, however, compelling?
It appears quite reasonable to think one can, in that case, consciously choose to entertain and cultivate hope in either direction.
One example might make that concept a bit more palatable.
Consider the proposition: “Our world is actually some kind of simulation run by beings we know nothing about . It all started five minutes ago with the appearance of age.”
I’ve no doubt that most of us find that pretty absurd on an emotional level .
Yet, I do not think that anyone can show this to be widely implausible without begging the question and smuggling in assumptions about reality. And I spent quite a few hours exploring propositions aiming at rationally dismissing that possibility.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish 🙂 ).
Therefore, I think that in order to ground our entire knowledge and existence, one has to take a leap of faith and make a pragmatic decision (Entscheidung) not based on whatever reasons.
I must say I largely prefer his approach to that of William Lane Craig who defends the killing of babies by untrained soldiers as perfectly moral (while he is passionately opposed to such an act if it is committed against a yet unborn child by a trained physician).
To his credit, Craig does recognize it is an option for Christians disagreeing with him on that to reject Biblical inerrancy. This is a point almost no Conservative Evangelical grants.
Here, I can only mention Randal Rauser’s excellent criticism of his arguments.
In a sense, this is a real pity. Craig is an extremely brilliant man. While I don’t think he’s ultimately successful in proving Christianity, I think he is by no means inferior to sophisticated defenders of atheism out there.
He’s also a kind person and tend to be a very agreeable and respectful conversation partner.
So it is truly disappointing he holds such indefensible views owing to his belief in Biblical inerrancy.
He gives anti-theists powerful rhetorical ammunitions for refusing to take seriously anything he has to say.
When the Bible is at odds with facts from the external world, Conservative apologetics fall into two categories:
– fundamentalism: denying the facts and clinging to the literal interpretation of Scripture (as typically Young Earth Creationists do)
– concordism: accepting the reliability of the external facts and trying to find an interpretation of the Bible matching them (as typically progressive creationists do).
With respect to this specific question, Craig has chosen a fundamentalist approach.
The apologetic strategy of Copan and Flanaggan is more in line with our basic moral intuitions and as such they can be regarded as concordists.
I generally think that concordists are successful for SOME moral difficulties found within Scripture whereby they offer a plausible alternative interpretation no longer strongly offensive to our fundamental ethical intuitions.
Atrocities in the text and some very implausible assumptions
But there are countless other “Biblical difficulties” and oftentimes I cannot help but think that their interpretation of the text is far-fetched and certainly not in accordance with what the original authors meant.
While reading Deuteronomy 20 explicating the difference between war inside and outside Canaan:
“When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labour. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. (first part).
“But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.” (Second part)
it seems extremely likely that the Biblical author wanted to convey the idea of literal killings in both cases
Or consider the war against the Midianate:
“Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
It is very plausible (if not almost certain) that Mose (according to the authors of the book of Numbers) wanted his men to kill male infants, married women and widows while taking virgin girls as war booty .
It seems extraordinarily hard to avoid the conclusion that the Biblical authors attributed barbaric commands to God.
Conservative Evangelicals having troubles
Coupled with all examples of scientific and historical inaccuracies in the Bible, it appears that the Chicago Statement of inerrancy (the Biblical writers never erred in what they wanted to convey) can only be salvaged by resorting to a flurry of extremely unlikely ad-hoc hypotheses and distortions of the text.
This is why I think that the Conservative Evangelical faith has an incredibly shaky foundation which can be all too easily shattered once one begins to honestly read and examine the Biblical texts.
Among all these seeds of doubt, the description of God as an immoral being seems to be the main factor leading young Evangelicals to give up Christianity altogether, as an email to which I responded illustrates.
Antitheism as a legitimate child of religious fundamentalism
They have kept a fundamentalist mindset in so far as they think that:
1) the Bible should be judged in every respect according to modern criteria (thereby disregarding the strong influence of history and culture on moral beliefs)
2) the Bible is always entirely consistent in relation to its moral message.
Thus, if we can show that in one book soldiers are ordered to slaughter children, we must conclude that the WHOLE Bible endorses and advocates infanticides.
Far from protecting the Church, Conservative Evangelicalism is causing a mass desertion which could be avoided.
Progressive Christianity means embracing uncertainty.
Frankly speaking, there is no meaningful way in which we could say that the imprecatory psalms (where a man prays for the atrocious death of the children of his enemy) is more inspired that sermons of Martin Luther King or books of C.S. Lewis (who by the way recognized the existence of errors within the Bible).
If one reads the Bible as a collection of book reporting the experiences and thoughts of people concerning God (i.e. in the same way one reads other Christians and Jewish books including apocryphal books in the Bible), many moral problems disappear completely.
I can even find moral beauty in many texts which fall short of perfection.
Of course, Evangelicals find my approach terribly unsettling because they’ve been raised to think that a Bible free of mistakes is the only way we have for knowing how God truly is .
There is no easy answer I can give them. I think that by definition, God has to be morally perfect and therefore higher than the most noble person who has ever lived under the sun.
For me, being a Christian means hoping in a God who revealed his ultimate face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
I find Hans Küng’s book “Christianity” (which I originally read in German) excellent and think that he did a very good job showing that ultimate worldview commitments (including the contrast between hope and despair, nihilism and meaning, atheism and theism, Christianity and non-Christian religions) involve choices which go far beyond what is warranted by the evidence and rational considerations.
Interviewer: let us start at the very beginning in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis, God reveals to hundred-years old Abraham that he’d become father. Why shall Abraham believe this?
Hartmann: if we get a new information and wonder how we should integrate it into our belief system, we start out analysing it according to different criteria.
Three of them are especially important: the initial plausibility of the new information, the coherence of the new information and the reliability of the information source.
These factors often point towards the same direction, but sometimes there are tensions. Like in this example.
We have to do with a highly reliable source, namely God who always says the Truth.
However, the information itself is very implausible, hundred-years old people don’t get children. And it is incoherent: becoming a father at the age of hundred doesn’t match our belief system.
Now we have to weigh out all these considerations and come to a decision about whether or not we should take this information in to our belief system. When God speaks, we are left with no choice but to do that. But if anyone else were to come up with this information, we’d presumably not do it, because the missing coherence and the lacking plausibility would be overwhelming.
The problem for epistemology consists of how to weigh out these three factors against each other.
It must be clearly emphasised that neither the interviewer nor Hartmann believe in the historicity of this story between God and Abraham. It is only used as an illustration for epistemological (i.e. knowledge-related) problems.
As a progressive Christian, I consider that this written tradition has shown up rather late so that its historical foundations are uncertain.
Still, from the standpoint of the philosophy of religion it represents a vital text and lies at the very core of the “leap of faith” of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
For that reason, I want to go into Hartmann’s interpretation for I believe that it illustrates a widespread misunderstanding among modern intellectuals.
I am concerned with the following sentence I underscored:
“However, the information itself is very implausible, hundred-years old people don’t get children. And it is incoherent: becoming a father at the age of hundred doesn’t match our belief system. ”
According to Hartmann’s explanation, it looks like as if the Lord had told to Abraham: “Soon you’ll get a kid in a wholly natural way.”
And in that case I can figure out why there would be a logical conflict.
But this isn’t what we find in the original narrative:
– Background knowledge: hundred years old people don’t get children in a natural way.
– New information:a mighty supernatural being promised to Abraham that he would become father through a miracle.
Put that way, there is no longer any obvious logical tension.
The “father of faith” can only conclude out of his prior experience (and that of countless other people) that such an event would be extremely unlikely under purely natural circumstances.
This doesn’t say anything about God’s abilities to bring about the promised son in another way.
Interestingly enough, one could say the same thing about advanced aliens who would make the same assertion.
The utter natural implausibility of such a birth is absolutely no argument against the possibility that superior creatures might be able to perform it.
Did ancient people believe in miracles because they didn’t understand well natural processes?
A closely related misconception consists of thinking that religious people from the past believed in miracles because their knowledge of the laws of Nature was extremely limited.
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is misleading to say that the first Christians believed in the virgin birth of Jesus because they didn’t know how pregnancy works.
On the contrary, they were very well aware of these states of affairs and viewed this event as God’s intervention for that very reason.
Saint Joseph would not have come to the thought of repudiating his fiancée if he hadn’t known that a pregnancy without prior sexual intercourses goes against the laws of nature.
Although professor Hartmann is doubtlessly an extremely intelligent person, I think he missed the main point.
Are we open to the existence of a God whose actions do not always correspond to the regular patterns of nature? And whose preferences might not always been understood by human reason?
But as progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser argued, I think that the true epistemological and moral conflict only begins when God demands Abraham many years later to sacrifice his son, which overthrows very deep moral intuitions.
I recently had the immense privilege to interview Justin Brierley who hosts the British show Unbelievable? bringing together Christians and non-Christians for fruitful conversations. Since the sound of our conversation is of very low quality, I transcribed it.
Hi Justin, thanks for accepting this interview. Could you please tell us your own background?
Certainly. I was raised in a Christian family and so I really grew up going to Church and during my early teens Christianity was kind of an experiential thing to me. It was only in my later teens that I began feeling an intellectual curiosity and I read people like C.S. Lewis and others. I was also involved in sort of creative things in the university in relation to my Christian faith and so yeah it was how it began. I was accepted to Oxford university and several Christian activities there strengthened my faith. And so yeah, it was my background. After a subjective emotional experience I saw the rational foundations behind my faith.
Thanks! Would you say you’re an Evangelical Christian?
Yeah…I mean…like many people I tend to call myself merely a Christian. I’m orthodox in the sense that I believe the historical creeds of the Church, in the Incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelical is a label I’m happy to go with. I might not be the same kind of Evangelicals as others. Maybe if you want to nuance that, I might call myself a “liberal Evangelical” which might be more accurate.
Again, that’s a really interesting area. My thinking developed over the year, especially through Unbelievable?, the show that I hold. Now, instead of “inerrancy“, I’d prefer to talk about the Authority of Scriptures. For inerrancy itself is a label which has a certain amount of baggage on it. If inerrancy means that the Bible should be viewed as a 21-st century science textbook, then I reject it. The Bible uses metaphors appropriate to an ancient Jewish context which would have been accurate for that time. So I’d prefer to say that the Bible is authoritative and reliable in that way. I don’t think that inerrancy is required to get what we need, which is the facts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His claims of Lordship in our lives. Having said that, I would stand up for the Bible’s reliability in all kinds of areas because I think it’s incredibly well founded in all types of different ways. Many difficulties in Scripture that Sceptics point to can be overcome relatively easily by considering them as literature of their days and not necessarily expecting a twenty-first century biographical precision. I’m thinking on examples in the Gospels where there appears to be differences in the time line of events. We’re learning more and more that the Gospel writers adopted the standard biographical methods of their days. Why should we expect that they should not use the same elasticity found in other documents of that time period? It does not mean they’re not reliable. It’s complicated, but in the end I prefer to use the terms reliable and authoritative rather than inerrancy.
Yeah. What is the spiritual background of Premier Christian Radio?
Well Premier radio is full of people with lots of different Christian backgrounds. So we’re pretty much a multi-denominational station and we seek to serve here in the UK as part of the Christian Church. Some people might be surprised to learn we’ve Protestant Charismatic programs and some Roman Catholic teachings as well. So we’re quite broad in the community we’re seeking to reach here in the UK. Having said that, you can characterize most of the content as being broadly Evangelical. The station was founded 20 years ago. At the time we were the only Christian broadcaster in the whole united Kingdom. We’re still one of only few. So the situation is very different to the US where you’ve plenty of Christian TVs and radio channels.
So our mandate has been to be representative of the entire Church and we’ve always tried to do that.
What are the main aims of Unbelievable?
Unbelievable? is really a show where I wanted to break out of the Christian bubble. Premier Christian radio is very good at speaking to and resourcing Christians for their daily life and worship, ministry and work. But at the time I began with the program, we didn’t have specific things which speak to non-Christians. So I went to a chief-executive and asked if I could start a specific program which would bring people of faith or no faith into the studio and so we had a discussion. It started out as a live-show. Not everyone was in favour of it. Some of the listeners felt that, you know, atheists and agnostics have plenty of time on public shows and on the BBC, so why should we have them on a Christian radio? But to his credit the chief executive stood by the program. Eventually those who liked the program learned to listen, those who did not appreciate it learned to turn off the radio at that hour of Saturday. Over time the program went online and the podcast became quite popular since we have many pretty interesting guests and touch on many topics. The main aim is an Evangelistic one and I don’t make any apology for that. We want to show, through good dialogues with people from various perspectives, that Christianity is a reasonable faith and that you don’t have to throw your brain in a bin in order to be a Christian. That’s not to say there are no difficult areas, that is to say areas where I don’t have a real answer. Still, over the years I heard pretty much every possible objection to Christianity but I still feel that Christianity is the best narrative, the best way of approaching life. So I hope that the program is doing that for other persons too. I’m not expecting the program to do that for everyone.
The second thing that the program does is creating a space of dialogue within the Christian community. So we often have had lots of programs over the years. We hope people view it as place where disagreements are allowed. They also should realise that once you become a Christian you don’t automatically get a set of absolute rules and regulations. There is room within the Christian community to hold different views while still managing to call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ. We sincerely hope we’re providing people with this space for making up their own mind while having these sorts of discussions.
Thanks! I find that great. What’s your take on the American culture war?
Well, I think that the UK is inevitably a very different kettle of fish to America. America has its own unique issues and its separation of Church and State. Obviously, the powerful Religious Right there does not exist in the UK. There are far less tensions here between politics, culture and Christianity than in America where there is a far wider dichotomy, if you like, between politics and the average Christian. As for me, I’m saddened in a way by the American culture war because so many of the atheists from America that I do encounter are atheists not necessarily because of intellectual objections to Christianity but because of what they perceive to be an illiberal agenda on the part of the Christian Right. That is what is parking their vehement reaction to religion. I think that’s a great shame. It is when Christianity is merged with the political power that the problems usually emerge. During the history of Christendom, we can see that things go wrong when our faith is used as a political force. Christianity is most compelling while working, to some extent, from the margin and that’s the situation we find ourselves in here in the UK.
Some people have been lamenting the fact that the British Church is declining. But I think this might be a good thing for the UK Church. People go to Church in the United Kingdom because they want to go to it. That wasn’t the case, you know, fifty years ago. The State used to have a huge amount of cultural Christianity within it. In the end, this part of Christianity is doomed to die off and that’s not a bad thing since I believe it is where all these culture wars come from. In a way it can be a more healthy expression of our convictions and have a more positive impact on culture which doesn’t stem from the power structure. So, these are some thoughts on how things are going on in that respect.
I totally agree with you! How does the modern British religious landscape look like nowadays?
Well, here in the UK, as I mentioned, there has been a steep decline in Church going for several decades. As I said, I don’t see this as being a real cause for concern. What you’re seeing is that the Christian revivals of the nineteenth century and before (people like Wesley, Spurgeon and others) produced a generation of passionate Christianity. Yet that faith was not necessarily passed on or inherited in a living way. And so we’re inevitably seeing this sort of Christianity decline. Interestingly enough, we are currently seeing the emergence of many multicultural Churches. Owing to immigration, Christians from Africa, south America and from the West Indies are founding great communities and that’s shaping the British Church. It means that Christians with different backgrounds must work together. In the United States, many Churches don’t mix together. I think that here in the UK there is more of a cohesive field of Christianity because it’s a smaller community. That’s not to say that Christianity is in any way dead or dying in the UK. I think there are very exciting shifts of life within the British Church, there are some truly fantastic projects going on. Holy trinity Brompton, an Anglican Church is the centre of the Alpha courses, which many Churches all over the world use. It has been tremendously successful in introducing many people to the Christian faith. There are all sorts of other exciting projects within the Church which you don’t often see while looking at the headlines. When the Church get into the headlines here in the UK, it’s usually about Gays or about whether women should be allowed to become bishops and that sort of things. The reality is that there is much more going on than the things the newspapers pick up.
Yeah, of course! And how is the situation of Muslims in modern Britain? I mean that especially with respect to the terrorist attacks which have been going on during the last decades.
I think that multiculturalism naturally leads to many new communities springing up in the UK, many of which being Islamic. Britain has a nice history of welcoming and integrating diverse groups. There are different types of Islam out there. I think it has been a challenge to the UK because they tend to be more insular than other communities. The government has some troubles understanding and communicating with them. There are some great initiatives, here in the UK, for bringing different faith groups to talk to each others. Sadly, I think this doesn’t often have a massive influence on the mosques across the country…Some reports can be sensationalised. But there have been reports over the years of quite radicalised teachings in some mosques. They showed a fairly open stance to the public. But behind the closets you can find some quite worrying teachings going on. There has been, unfortunately, a number of Muslims from the UK who joined ISIS warriors in Syria and so on. So I think there are grounds for feeling worried. We need to do everything in our power to continue to communicate with these communities. We should not treat them as a monolithic ensemble. The British government ought to understand Islam and to not treat it as a blanket religion. There is a huge variety of different groups. They’re not all the same and they’ve different aims and objectives. It is a very tricky time in that sense here in the UK.
Yeah I completely agree. The Islamic world is extremely diverse. Not all of them advocate violence against unbelievers. We should not punish peaceful Muslims for the misdeeds of extremists they themselves view as appalling and abhorrent. To conclude this interview, could you please tell us what you’re up to?
What’s coming up? The show continue, we’ll have new exciting discussions and debates. I’ll do some shows interviewing people who had a Near Death Experience, which is quite an interesting phenomenon. There has recently been a major scientific study on that and we’ll be interviewing people who have been involved in it. We’re preparing the new Unbelievable for next year. That’s been an exciting part of what is being developed for the show. It’s a conference where everyone can come to see the reasonable and intellectual value of Christianity with top-speakers. I myself have been increasingly involved in another aspect of Première’s work which is Premier Christianity magazine. It has been formerly just called Christianity magazine. I became the senior editor of that fairly recently.
Yeah, and although I’ve been writing for the magazine for a number of years, this has been quite an interesting and challenging step, but I’m really enjoying it and I’m really bringing more and more of what I do on air into the magazine as well.
So, balancing these two things is my challenge at the moment. I want to keep the show fresh and interesting while upholding the standards of the magazine as we produce it each month.
Okay, so thank you very much for this interview! I wish you all the best.
Well, thank you very much for having me, Marc, and I wish you all the best too.