Unbelievable? Chapter 9

Living the Christian story

In this final chapter, Justin argues that for one to understand Christianity, they should necessarily become Christian. Sought of the argument that you need to believe first then it will become clear, not I want it to be clear than I can believe.

He says he asked some atheists to pray for 40 days because they lose nothing anyway by trying. It should be noted that none of those who took part in the experiment saw the light. The two he claims came to god, he clarifies did so or were already on the way to religion even before the experiment began and as such don’t count.

He makes a case for divine hiddenness, arguing that maybe god really want us to search for him. He is not interested in making the search easy. God, who is all powerful and all, is interested in you loving and trusting in him. If he were to come again and smote the city of Paris with an earthquake like he did to Gomorrah, you will not believe him. This is poppycock!

Unbelievable? Chapter 8

A chat with Dawkins

This was to me the most boring chapter.

He writes he asked Dawkins, if we lived in a universe where rape was considered fine, would that mean rape is fine.

He says Dawkins response was that it is enough that we live in a universe where rape is not considered fine, a response which Justin finds inadequate. To turn this question on its head, if as Justin insists, we live in a world governed by god who is the lawgiver and it programmed such a law, what would we do? The argument that god is good by definition will not cut it. We have no way of knowing the nature of god, so the Christians have told us. They can’t have it both ways.

Justin takes issue with the following memes

  • Atheism as simply a lack of belief in god

He claims that atheism has been defined typically as the belief that there is no god. On the contrary I think many atheists have defined atheism as a lack of belief in the existence of god as contrasted to theism which is the belief that their is a god. This could be splitting hairs but they mean different things. Again contrary to his claim that this definition makes the atheist no different from an agnostic, many atheists would willingly admit they are agnostic with regards to belief in god, that is, we do not know whether or not a god(s) exists. It is no argument against atheism that there is disagreement on how it is defined.

  • god didn’t create humans, humans created god

As far as memes go, this is interesting. Maybe Nietzsche had a point, was god man’s first mistake.

Justin goes after the argument, unsuccessfully I must add, that our belief in the supernatural began in an ignorant age arguing that the source of a belief should is not sufficient to prove that its contents are also false. We however have occasion to believe that humans make wrong inferences all the time, and so it is with religious belief.

  • out of the thousands of religions only Christianity is true

Justin says this argument undercuts the grounds of atheism as well. I don’t see how. It is either one religion is true, all are true or all false. But atheism isn’t a religion. He continues to say Christians hold some common beliefs with other religions such as a creator god and that historical evidence supports the existence of Jesus. The Jesus question we already dispensed with in a previous chapter.

  • Hell

He says god is not sending anyone to hell. That you are consciously choosing with your own freewill to go to hell by rejecting god. Why did god create hell if she didn’t want anyone there anyway? And why not nudge us away from disbelief?

  • Religion is to blame for all the conflict in the world

is first of all a strawman. No one makes this claim ( I don’t know if the claim by Hitch that religions poison everything could apply?) but what I have heard is at least that religion is responsible for some of the conflicts in the world. And this is undisputed. To claim a body account between atheism and theism doesn’t advance the argument for theism. It only tells us human systems have their flaws.

 

Unbelievable? Chapter 7

On suffering

Justin wants you to know that god is present in your suffering and sees the future even if you can’t. So stop complaining.

An argument has been made by theists and Justin repeats it, that why do atheists complain about suffering if we live in an indifferent world. This question does seem to me to miss the point. The atheist is telling the theist, you have made such and such claims about the universe and were that the case, the following should be expected as matter of course. In an indifferent universe, suffering is embedded in the nature of the universe. In a world with an omnibenevolent being, suffering is allowed to exist. And if that is the case, then either god is not willing or not able to eradicate suffering.

Justin says because there are many arguments for god, god must exist. No argument would be necessary for god were the existence of god obvious.

He quotes this statement of CS Lewis

My argument against god was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against god collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancy. Thus in the very act in trying to prove god did not exist, in other words that whole reality was senseless, I found was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely, my idea of justice- was full of sense.

First, was he a theist or atheist? Leaving that aside, do we really need transcendence to say this is not fair? Is a toothache the order of things so that one can’t complain if they have a toothache? Must a god be posited to claim that a toothache is pointless? My idea of justice as a reasonable person leads me to the conclusion that we live in an indifferent universe where unless humanity works together to alleviate the suffering of others, their pain and burden becomes unbearable.

Jeff’s favorite argument. Freewill. Justin wants us to believe that it would be a greater evil for god to intervene, which we are told he has done before, than to allow freewill. Basically, we are told to accept that god is inadequate in coming up with scenarios where we maintain our idea of freewill without causing harm to others or ourselves. Where is omnipotence and omniscience when you need it? To Justin it was better in the eyes of god for the African holocaust to happen because of freewill than to intervene to stop it. How many of you find this argument convincing?

Justin says we live in a spiritual war zone and also that suffering draws people to god. I don’t know about you. But for me, there is no logical contradiction in a world where there is a god and there is no suffering. There is nothing that would come in the way of an omnipotent god who wanted to draw people to himself. No human connivance would prevent this from happening.

Unbelievable? Chapter 6

Facts that only fit the resurrection.

If you have been reading apologetics, you have heard of the minimal facts argument for the resurrection advanced by Licona and Habermas. These facts are

  1. that jesus died by crucifixion
  2. there was an empty tomb
  3. people reported meeting the risen Jesus (Paul has 500 of them. And I just want to know the names of two of these people)
  4. conversion of skeptics
  5. the growth of the christian church

It’s interesting to note here that this was a tactical change in approach by the Christian apologists. When it was no longer tenable to demonstrate the existence of Jesus, they felt if an argument can be made for the death and resurrection, then it follows that for a person to die, he must have lived.

We know that before the edicts making Christianity the religion of the empire, it existed as an underground cult. And two, growth of a religion does not attest to the truth of its claims. The skeptics referred to here are Paul and James the brother of Jesus. Paul tells us he was a persecutor of the Jesus sect. Paul tells us he is the foremost evangelist. I have seen many of this type. May the real Paul stand up!

It is curious that Jesus after resurrecting, chose to appear to 500 anonymous people who only Paul knows but never once do we hear he was seen by the skeptics in the town or even paying a courtesy call to Pilate just for laughs. All who saw him were his followers. I could concede that he didn’t want to be crucified a second time, but this just doesn’t sell.

Here, and here are interesting reads on the resurrection. Thomas Pain also said something about the resurrection.

Walter Cassels again

[..]The actual occurrence of the Resurrection and ascension, however, is certainly a matter of evidence and, to retort, it is scarcely decent that any man should be required to believe what is so opposed to human experience, upon more imperfect evidence than is required for the transfer of land or the right to a title, simply because ecclesiastical dogmas are founded upon them, and it is represented that unless they be true our hope is vain.

[..] Proportionately, it should be as unparalleled in its force as those events are in fact.

Unbelievable? Chapter 5

also titled will the real Jesus stand up.

Justin tells us those who are Jesus skeptics are in the extremist camp of the non-religious. I think this makes me an extremist. I am going ahead of myself.

When I read this quote below, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Laugh. Cry. Bang my head against a wall. Then I remembered what Nietzsche wrote in Thus spake Zarathustra about other gods laughing to their death when one of the gods said there is no god but god. Justin writes

From its inception, Christianity has been a public religion making claims that could be held to historical scrutiny in the place it was birthed. That’s not true of other religions. The precepts of Buddhism originated in the mind of Buddha alone. The ancient writings of Hinduism derive from mystical teachings that are not located in a historical framework. Islam is constituted by the teaching and stories of the Quran as related to Muhammad in a private angelic visitation.

I think irony is lost to Justin on the similarities that exist between what he says of other religions and his religion. How for example can the claim of a virgin birth be scrutinized? Do we have any other extant material apart from the claims of the bible about this birth? In fact, how can miracles be proved historically? Say for example the story of Jonah eating a fish or is it riding a fish? The claims of Paul- the foremost Christian evangelist if he existed- came from his mind alone. The stories such as those of the OT where we have giants having intercourse with the daughters of men are mystical teachings, but to Justin, only other religions have these. Christianity is all evidence based.

Justin then tells us that the death of Jesus has a greater attestation that Caesar crossing the Rubicon. First, even if that were the case, no one is going to hell for doubting the crossing the Rubicon. If Christianity were true, its claims would require more stringent attestations because people’s future eternal lives depend on it. The argument that other historical figures are not doubted as much as Jesus is not an argument in favour of Christianity. Any reasonable person would demand that god, if it were real, would present a much better case for us to believe.

Justin tells us the gospels are evidence for the life of Jesus. Some scholars having looked at the stories in the gospels have concluded the Jesus of the gospels did not exist and have created their own Jesus. We have Jesus the Zealot, the guru, the husband and many more. Is the bible and the gospels specifically a work of history or a miraculous work brought into being by the actions of deity? Did the biographers write what they saw, or what were they inspired to write?

Justin writes we should read the bible differently that we do other historical documents.

In his book, the quest for historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer writes

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.

but Bruno Bauer said it best when he wrote

The formation of the church and the arising of the idea that the Jesus of the Gospels is the messiah are not two different things, they are one and the same thing, they coincide and synchronize; but the idea was only the imaginative conception of the church, the first movement of its life, the religious expression of its experience.

The question which has so much exercised the minds of men-whether Jesus was the historic Christ- is answered in the sense that everything that the historical Christ is, everything that is said of him, everything that is known of him, belongs to the world of imagination, that is, of the imagination of the Christian community, and therefore has nothing to do with any man who belongs to the real world.

Maybe Justin should read Renan’s life of Jesus or Spencer’s but most of all, I recommend as a good place to being, Walter R Cassels’ Supernatural religion.

Unbelievable? Chapter 3

On human value.

Justin argues we cannot value human life unless we imagine a god to have gave us life. To this he says the fact that Jesus died for us means our lives are really valuable. There are other several claims on objective morals. Or that atheists have no grounding for their morals or that we are moral because of the Judeo-Christian god or some similar argument. His response to the objection raised in the Euthyphro Dilemma is that god is good, so all its commands are good.

My objections to this chapter.

One, there are societies and have been societies where people have lived moral lives without the Judeo-Christian god. In fact, as I have pointed out in other posts, in most of African societies, morality or right conduct had nothing to do with the gods but how to live together. It is an insult to humanity to claim that a god who showed up somewhere in the middle East not so long ago is the supreme lawgiver.

I am a Jesus skeptic. And vivacious redemption is abhorrent.

Are there universal objective morals? Can they explained by positing our evolutionary past and communal living or do we need to posit an agent elsewhere as the source of our laws?

His objection to the Euthyphro Dilemma is premature. The being of a god is in question. It’s nature is another matter.

Do other species matter? Should they count?

Let us reflect on the thoughts of d’Holdbach when he writes

it is unnecessary to tell me that we degrade man when we compare him with the beasts, deprived of souls and intelligence; this is no leveling doctrine, but one which places him exactly where nature places him, but from which his puerile vanity has unfortunately driven him. All beings are equal; under various and different forms they act differently; they are governed in their appetites and passions by laws which are invariably the same for all of the same species; everything which is composed of parts will be dissolved; every thing which has life must part with it at death; all men are equally compelled to submit to this fate; they are equal at death, although during life their power, their talents and especially their virtues, established a marked difference,  which, though real, is only momentary.

Unbelievable? Chapter 2:

In this chapter, Justin is trying to make a case for god, the christian variety, as the reason for the universe. He tells the story of Rogstad who one night upon looking at the stars concluded therefore god.

He writes we have two choices, to believe the universe is a result of natural processes or the working of his god (emphasis his). He leaves out the most correct answer that we don’t know, can’t know but can speculate as to what have caused, if it were, the universe into being or whether it has always been in some form or other.

In making his case, he uses as props for his argument, the intelligent design claims- made famous by Behe among others. He however doesn’t go into detail on this argument.

To Justin, the Big Bang theory leaves room for god. He posits the question, who set the ball rolling? He raises the point of disagreement between Alan Guth (is the universe eternal) and Alex Vilenkin (does the universe have a beginning) as further proof that science cannot adequately answer the origins question. On this point, since Justin is making a case for the Christian god, one could easily argue that the big bang and the creation story contradict each in every detail. The world is created in 6 days, a mere 10K years ago. Big Bang theory posits a much longer duration requiring expansion and cooling. I don’t think he can have it both ways. Secondly, the big bang as a singularity is outmoded.

His next prop is the fine tuning argument. There is no denying that the universe is actually fine tuned. What we need to answer is by who or what? Is there a natural explanation for a fine tuned universe? The answer is yes. Cosmic inflation creates the right conditions for a fine tuned universe. But if the universe is a miraculous event, we need not even have arguments about fine tuning. It would be sufficient as an answer to say god works in mysterious ways. He alludes to, briefly, the Kalam Cosmological Argument by Craig who claims positing an eternal universe would mean we can’t arrive to the present.

Are we to say with Bertrand Russell that the universe is a brute fact, that is, the universe is without explanation or agree with Justin and others that the universe is a work of god which pushes the argument just a step further to saying god is a brute fact and that’s it.

Or are we to say with Jinasena,

Some foolish men declare that Creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill-advised and should be rejected.  If god created the world, where was he before creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? No single being had the skill to make the world- for how can an immaterial god create that which is material? How could god have made the world without any raw material? If you say he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression. If you declare that the raw material arose naturally, you fall into another fallacy, for the whole universe might have been its own creator and have arisen equally naturally. If god created the world by an act of will without any raw material, then it is just his will made nothing else and who will believe this silly stuff? If he is ever perfect and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him? If on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could. If he is formless, action-less and all embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul devoid of all modality would have no desire to create anything. If you say that he created to no purpose because it was his nature to do so, then god is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble. If he created out of love for living things and need of them he made the world, why did he not make creation wholly blissful, free from misfortune? Thus the doctrine that the world was created by god makes no sense at all.