Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 8

Is YHWH a moral monster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter eight brings us the first chapter by Hector Avalos. Much of the material I think is adequately covered in my review of his book on slavery here. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The chapter might as well be a diatribe against Paul Copan and everything he says. I do think Copan is working on another book along these lines so we will see if there is any reply to Avalos there. I intend to really just hit on some highlights.

For one thing, Avalos looks at how Jesus interprets the Old Testament Law and says that Copan assumes Jesus’s stance is correct. In this case, Copan is entirely accurate to do so. It could be Jesus’s stance is incorrect, but Copan is seeing if Christianity is internally coherent within itself. He doesn’t have to prove everything he believes about Christianity in such a case. If he did, then his book Is God A Moral Monster would need to include arguments for God’s existence, the reliability of Scripture, the process of canonization, the existence of God, the case for the deity and resurrection of Jesus, etc. Such is not needed when Copan is really trying to address one question. We might as well say in a chapter by Avalos that he assumes that evolution is true without giving an argument. He has no need to do so when arguing from the perspective of atheism.

He does the same again when Copan argues that YHWH has the prerogative when it comes to life. Avalos says this assumes God exists. If it’s Allah, doesn’t He have the same? Indeed, He would! Yet once again, this is about internal coherence. We don’t need another chapter on why Islam is false.

Yet despite Avalos’s ranting throughout this chapter on how evil YHWH is, the humor and true gold of this essay comes at the end.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in the world.

  1. Those who admit they are moral relativists.

  2.  Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

It’s just really so amusing. We have a whole chapter arguing that YHWH is a moral monster and then, in the end, we are told there are no moral monsters because relativism is true. What has Avalos been complaining about this whole time? He doesn’t like killing Canaanites. YHWH does. So what?

While the book Copan wrote with Matthew Flannagan does advocate Divine Command Theory, there are other explanations. Avalos doesn’t even bother with any of them. He ignores that some of us of the more Thomistic variety have another way of determining morality and that’s by determining goodness. For all his talk about assuming, Avalos, in this case, does assume that there can be only one way to establish moral principles.

Avalos goes on to say that atheism offers a much better way to construct morals. Really? How could you tell? Do you produce better morals? That can’t be because of relativism. Better results? Same problem.

In the end, Avalos says that we still find God to be a moral monster who endorses slavery, genocide, and infanticide, as only a moral monster could. Upon what grounds? He has told us all of this is relative and then returns quickly to being an absolutist. He tells us that what is frightening is that Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. That frightening ethos, Avalos says, makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.

Except how could it? Copan supposedly says it’s good. Avalos disagrees. So what? Those are just relative differences. They don’t really matter. Again, Avalos is just confusing. He says that morality is relative and then complains about moral wrongs.

That kind of inconsistency is making Christianity more attractive all the time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 7

Was God clear? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you read my blog, you may have recently noticed that in the past couple of months I blogged on this topic. It’s not a shock that John….whatever his name is….wants to bring up such a topic in his own book. God should have been more clear in His communication.

Keep in mind we live in an age where we have law codes written out to cover every possible contingency in any situation and the code for one law can be longer than all the books of Moses, but it doesn’t stop us from having armies of lawyers across the nation debating points back and forth. Yet somehow, Loftus thinks that if just a few things were clarified, we would all do better.

Who can blame him? After all, we have a great habit of listening to moral teachers. Right? No. We don’t. As Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

It is quite true that if we took Christ’s advice we should soon be living in a happier world. You need not even go as far as Christ. If we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us, we should get on a great deal better than we do. And so what? We never have followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because he is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely
that we shall follow him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

Loftus should know this as in his original book he talks about how he gave in to adultery and yet he was a Christian and I think the text is quite clear. (Interestingly enough, he thinks that there are barbaric capital punishment laws for extramarital sex.) Naturally, Loftus interprets everything according to our moral grid much the same way that all Scripture needed to be clear for us. You see, we in the American West just have to have been God’s priority.

When we get to Leviticus 25 and the slavery passage, Loftus says that upon this rock, the Christian faith dies. Yes. The existence of this passage overturns all the data we have on the historical Jesus. Even if Loftus’s interpretation was correct, it would not put a dent in Christian theism.

Loftus also has the saying about Nazis having belts that said, “God with us.” These were belts that were not original to the Nazis but were part of the German army prior. What a shock anyway that politicians use God for their own purposes.

Loftus also looks at all that went on in Judges 19-22. First off, there are 21 chapters in the book. Second, this final section starts at 17. Finally, if John thinks what happened is awful, the writer agrees! He’s saying this is what happens when the people of God have no rightful ruling presence and turn from Him!

Loftus also says if God wanted people to be convinced of His message, just send a prophet who does great miracles! Wonderful idea! He did that! The name of the prophet was Jesus, and He got crucified by the people He came to save.

When we get to the New Testament, Loftus talks about the denial of the value of the world that has encouraged some people to sell everything and give it to the poor. Interesting that Loftus sees this as a negative. First off, the world as God created is not seen as evil and passages like 1 Tim. 6:17 said all things are given richly for our enjoyment. Second, it’s amusing to hear Loftus complaining because some people did sell and give to the poor. How awful!

In looking at responses, one argument Loftus makes in reply to true Christians didn’t do this is that there is no Christianity, but only Christianities! One wonders what this whole book is about or his whole blog is about because I thought he had a pretty clear idea what Christianity is. We don’t see denunciations that much if ever of Muhammad in here for instance. I wonder why.

He also has something about high-context societies, obviously still suffering from the pounding he got at TheologyWeb.com. Apparently, Loftus is opposed to the idea of doing work to understand a message and thinks God should have spelled it out and waited for a low-context society, but even in our low-context society, we still have the same debates. It’s hard to think why this would be an improvement.

In the end, I just see Loftus making excuses for his own inability and blaming God for it. It’s not that our society is so much better. We have problems with that as well. Could it be the problem really is us?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 6

How does the Bible fare against modern scholarship? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at John somebody or other’s work called The Christian Delusion. This next chapter is about the Bible and modern scholarship by Paul Tobin. So what do I think of his work?

Not very much. For one thing, scholarship is apparently a loose term in his world. He refers to Randal Helms as a scholar (He’s not) which is amusing since Richard Carrier does the same thing in his chapter.  This is not to say that Helms is right or wrong, (Even though he is wrong) but it is to say Helms is not a recognized scholar in the field. To say someone is a scholar when they are not is to avoid being honest.

Tobin tells us that in Galatians 3:13 we read the Law is a curse and compared it to dung in Philippians 3:8. Meanwhile, James spoke highly of it in James 1:25 and 2:8. Well, not exactly. In Galatians, Paul speaks about the curse of the law by saying that all who break the law are under a curse and that cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree. In Philippians 3, he says the works that he did compared to the righteousness in Christ that he has are dung. None of these are about the law but effects from the law. Now if only there were some place that we could go to where Paul said what he thinks of the law….oh wait! There is! Let’s go to Romans 7.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

So why didn’t Tobin go to this place? This is the clearest statement of Paul on the Law and yet Tobin ignores it, apparently hoping to catch readers off guard who don’t know their Bibles as well. It looks like Tobin didn’t read well the passages that he presented and didn’t present the clearest disagreeing passages.

Tobin later goes to the Genesis flood. He says that the Genesis account depends on Gilgamesh for the following reasons.

Floods are common in the ancient Mesopotamian world while Israel is more arid.
The geographic accounts make Mesopotamia a more likely origin spot.
Gilgamesh was known throughout the ancient world, and a fragment was even found in Israel.
Babylonia was the more dominant and it’s more likely that the greater culture influenced the lesser.

We can forgive Tobin since The Lost World of the Flood was not out for not knowing arguments in there, but even these are not convincing. That floods are common shows that it is quite likely some great flood happened. The story of Adam and Eve does start more in the Mesopotamian area and Abraham came from the area of Babylonia. A fragment of the text of Gilgamesh was found in Israel. So what?

Ignored are all the differences. The craft in Gilgamesh is not seaworthy and ends with the hero gaining immortality and meanwhile, the story of Noah ends with the hero getting drunk and being shamed by his son. Note in all of this, Tobin doesn’t go to any of the text of any of the works itself. It’s enough to just do something like this and say that copying took place.

Tobin also says Moses’s father-in-law had three names. Yes. This was common depending on the context and culture one was speaking to that one could go by multiple names. This isn’t a problem.

He also says that a nation of about a million people wandered for forty years and nothing has been found. The Scythians also wandered for longer and had that many people and the only things we’ve found from them are the things that were built to last, such as tombs from their kings. What does Tobin expect us to find exactly?

Tobin concludes in the end that modern archaeology is no friend of the Bible. What’s interesting about this is not a single thing is said about the New Testament and archaeology. This is something quite serious to leave out. Did Tobin not do this because the case in the New Testament is indeed much better?

He moves on to fairy tales saying that Genesis 2 and Numbers 22 have a talking snake and donkey respectively. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this was a fully literalistic account, which can be debated. How is this necessarily a problem? This might be a shock to Tobin, but ancient people knew that animals don’t talk just as much as we do. The only way you can say it’s ipso facto nonsense is if there is no extra-material agent that can work miracles of some kind. That’s a huge assumption to make. It’s just atheists saying “This disagrees with my worldview, so it’s nonsense.”

Tobin also claims the virgin birth, which I do affirm, was taken from pagan cultures all around. Go read these accounts and see how similar they are to the New Testament. You’re going to find they’re vastly different and is another reason the copycat hypothesis is losing its appeal.

We naturally have something about the silence of the slaughter in Bethlehem. After all, wouldn’t Josephus have mentioned such a massive event. First off, it was hardly massive. If anything it would have most likely been a dozen or so kids. Second, how could we possibly know we have an exhaustive list from Josephus of every horror that Herod ever did?

There are also claims about forgeries. Tobin is convinced 2 Thessalonians is a forgery that is calling 1 Thessalonians a forgery. I have a much more different view. I do think both letters are Pauline and that Paul doesn’t realize the letter spoken of is 1 Thessalonians and that he was badly misunderstood.

Later on, Tobin also says that if evolution is true, then Genesis is no longer history and humans aren’t in the image of God. No argument is given for this and there is a history of Christians as far back as Darwin who had no problem with evolution. Tobin shows no awareness of them.

We conclude in the end that Tobin’s chapter is, like the others, highly lacking.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 5

What are we to make of the cosmology of the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s an odd world I live in where I actually find reading Edward Babinski more refreshing than I do the other writers I have read so far. Not that I’m a big fan of Babinski, but at least he had an approach that was simply just the facts. So what were the facts in this case? This time, it was all about Biblical cosmology.

So in preparing to see what I would write about in this chapter that I thought was worthwhile, I decided to go back through and see what all on my Kindle I had highlighted. I started at the beginning of the chapter and went straight through. What did I find?

Nothing.

You see, Babinski’s work might be troublesome to someone who thinks the Bible has to speak in precise scientific language but to the rest of us, it really isn’t a problem. I don’t have a problem with the language being used any more than I have a problem when I hear the weather forecast and hear when sunrise and sunset will be.

Consider when we are told to seek the Lord with all of our heart. Most of us realize that the organ that handles the blood flow in our bodies does not lead the way in our love. Still, we have this kind of mindset today. We just had Valentine’s Day and you can find boxes of candy shaped like hearts at the store on discount that weren’t bought.

It’s my contention that God was not interested in teaching the ancients the proper science. That material would be useful to them. It would also distract from the message that was wanting to be given at the time. We might consider that the most important information ever, but that’s our own prejudice kicking in and telling us how the work should be read.

This is a mistake I think both atheists and Christians often make with the Bible. Many people who go to Genesis 1 make the exact same mistake. They read it as a scientific account and think it has to be that way. It makes sense because when we think about an origins story of the universe, we think of how it came to be. The Bible is not interested in how it came to be or when it came to be, but it is more interested in who brought it to be the way that it is and why did He do it that way?

I do think at times Babinski is too quick to quote things in a literalistic way still, such as when the Bible speaks about the ends of the Earth. We can still use that saying today. There is also the fact that the Bible speaks about the circles of the Earth and the four corners of the Earth and John was certainly not ignorant of what Isaiah said. When a figure of speech is used and when it is not is up to hermeneutics. I also think Matthew would know very well that there was no mountain in Israel from which you could see all the world. I’m inclined to think that Jesus was given a vision.

So those who are greatly troubled by this chapter, you might want to check your hermeneutic. The rest of us could find things about ancient cosmology from surrounding cultures that was interesting, but nothing that troubled us. We don’t approach the Bible as concordists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Imagine Heaven

What do I think of John Burke’s book published by Baker Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Burke’s book could be the most exciting book on near-death experiences (NDEs) that I have ever read. While the majority are not evidential in the sense that they tell about people seeing things that they could not have seen that can be verified, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much information here that should bring joy to the heart of a Christian. Namely, are some of the ideas about what is possible in the city that is being prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean that we shut our brains off and just believe entirely everything said. One has to be on guard because there have been fake accounts of people having NDEs. Burke is right though that many of these come from people who could face public embarrassment for claiming the things that they do claim. What do they gain by making them up always?

Burke is also very reliant on Scripture to make sure that the claims do not go beyond what is written. When one reads the accounts, it’s hard to not get excited. Light is a common refrain that shows up and life is right behind it. It’s as if the place that is coming is full of light that seems to move through everything and life is all around us.

Beauty also plays a major role and with this one, I was surprised that Burke didn’t address an issue that many men wonder about and that is the issue of marriage and sex in Heaven. I think marriage could have been addressed, but not the sexuality aspect. I remain uncertain about whether it will be in heaven, though making babies certainly will not take place. Still, what it is here should be seen as a foretaste of what is coming with God flirting with us about the joys of this world.

Some ideas that were really convicting also included hellish NDEs and the life review. For the NDEs of a more hellish nature, I found myself looking at my life and wondering if I was living that nature more sometimes. I do think I found some areas in which I can improve.

The life review was something common to come across as well. In this, people would review their lives like they were movies and see thoughts and emotions and how their tiniest actions affected people around them. The main question that was being asked is “What did you do with the life that I gave you?” In the accounts, Jesus cares deeply about how we treat other people around us.

I also found it interesting to hear about actual homes in the next world. This was intriguing to think of places where people live in a city. I was very pleased to hear about books being there and the constant pursuit and learning of knowledge.

Burke at one point does describe a welcoming committee and one reason they come is protection. More was said to be coming about this later, but I don’t remember it coming and it was something I was looking for. It could have been hellish NDEs, but that was not specified.

Again, I do not think that we should accept blindly every account given of an NDE, but there are too many to just dismiss them. More and more of them are also coming with evidence that can be verified.  Those with an interest in this field need to read this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Should we enjoy the gift of love? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I used to hate Valentine’s Day. I really did. It was a reminder that I was single and alone in the world. I know you can all say you have friends and you have God, but even when it was man and God, God said it was not good for man to be alone. That was me. I was alone.

Last night, I was getting ready for bed and thinking that I am not alone. For the past 9 prior Valentine’s Days, I have not been alone. I go to bed next to my beautiful wife every Valentine’s Day now. We have spent the past few years building our lives together.

Love is a gift. It is a gift between two people who seek the good of one another. Interestingly in marriage, the good of one another is the other person. In friendships, we can say it’s the company the person provides or a function we serve together or a hobby we enjoy together. In marriage only is it directly that the other person themselves is the gift. It is in marriage that we have the most embodied love as marriage needs the two bodies to come together.

I often tell my wife that my favorite Valentine’s Day gift is her. I mean it. As a man, no gift compares to the love of my wife, but it is more than her physical being. Her physicalness comes with her emotions and her trust in me and her desire for me. All of this is quite powerful.

This is also the idea of God. God designed love and He designed marriage. This isn’t some dirty effect of the fall that we need to move past. The systems were designed for this purpose and God made man and woman to love one another in a unique way.

The romance between the man and the woman also is a picture of the love of God for the church. Everything that we see here is in essence God flirting with us. Picture any good that you have and this is just a clue. It is a hint of what God has coming for us.

When you read accounts of people who have near-death experiences an aspect of Heaven that keeps coming back is beauty. So it is that even here in romantic love, beauty is such a great draw. When I have to think of what is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, it’s no contest. My wife is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen and I admire the handiwork of the creator when I see her.

As it stands, I gave Allie a board game and a game for the Switch for Valentine’s Day today. We had an early lunch date earlier this week and today we’re going to go see Alita: Battle Angel thanks to the donation of some Fandango gift cards to us by a friend of our ministry. Whatever you do today, celebrate the one you love. For those still waiting and wanting, have hope please. I know it seems hard, but I was there once and it seemed hopeless too. Still, it happened, and there is some truth that it happens when you least expect it.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 4

What do I think of the Outsider Test For Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So we’re returning again to a look at The Christian Delusion by John Loftus. I recently noticed that he’s not the guy who wrote about the Nazis but apparently, he’s someone who likes to make fun of disabled people, get drunk at conventions, and give the finger to amusement park workers. Anyway, in this chapter, we’re looking at what he calls the outsider test for faith.

The more I look at this, it reminds me of the Mormon test. Loftus is convinced that no faith can survive the outsider test for faith. This is akin to the Mormon claim because if you tell the Mormons that their test didn’t work for you, then the problem is not with the test, but it is with you. You must not have been sincere enough. So it is with the outsider test for faith. If you’re still a Christian, well you must not have been sincere enough in the test.

Basically, the test is to look at your position from that of an outsider. If you were a skeptic of your position, would it uphold? Fortunately, I do this as I regularly read books that critique my position. So far, it’s really solidified me in my position. If this is the best that they have, then Christianity is really looking good.

Loftus points to something Eller has said about how meeting people sincere in other religions is such a problem. Why should it be? Should atheists be concerned when they meet people not of a different religion but of a different worldview? What if I meet someone who is thoroughly convinced of geocentrism or that the Earth is flat? Why should that give me pause about my view?

Loftus also says brainwashed people don’t know they are brainwashed. It’s interesting that Loftus never seems to see this is a two-edged sword. Maybe Loftus is the one who is brainwashed in atheism. Will he deny it? Sure, but that is just because he doesn’t know it! Remember that brainwashed people don’t know that they are brainwashed.

Loftus also says that when we encounter Mormons or Muslims, we start with the idea that our worldview is true and then that the other is false for disagreeing. This is false. Now with Mormons, I do try to uphold the Bible since they claim the same, but I show the differences between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. With Muslims, since I am not an expert on the Qur’an, I choose to just try to uphold the New Testament.

Instead, it is atheists, who like Long in the last chapter, do what Loftus is talking about. After all, if atheism is true, there are no talking donkeys and since one book in the Bible has one, then Christianity is false. Loftus has no problem putting that in his book while telling others that’s not a good way to make arguments.

Loftus also says we adopt methodological naturalism to test extraordinary claims in other religions. This is false. For one thing, Loftus never defines methodological naturalism, which actually can be difficult to do. Second, I have no problem with miracles happening in other religions. Do I test the claims? Yes. I do the same for my own religion.

Loftus also says a believer should subject their faith to the best critiques of it. Done. When are atheists going to do the same? Loftus needs to write this for his own camp. He also asks how we would respond if Mormon faith was said to be properly basic or Muslims had an inner testimony. Simple. I would reject those just like I do for Christians. He also says Pascal’s Wager fails since we must decide what God to believe on. Not at all. Pascal’s Wager is not about deciding which faith is true, but it’s for the person who is considering Christianity but is still hesitant.

On p. 89, we get this delightful gem.

“The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences. Science alone provides consistently excellent results that cannot be denied, which are continually retested for validity. I’m claiming religious beliefs learned on our mama’s knees are in a different category than the results of repeatable scientific experiments, and that this claim is both obvious and non-controversial. We can personally do the experiments ourselves. When it comes to religious faiths, there are no mutually agreed upon reliable tests to decide between them, and this makes all the difference in the world. Besides, as David Eller has argued, Christians are not opposed to modern science anyway. They adopt its methods and conclusions in a vast majority of areas except a few limited ones concerning their faith. So the question is why should they adopt such a double standard with regard to science. Why do they accept the results of science the vast majority of time but subsequently reject them with regard to their faith?”

This is truly something remarkable. Many of us have already spotted one major problem. Nothing in this paragraph is scientific. Not a single word of it. We can do no experiments to verify any of this. Loftus has given a philosophical argument to show that science is the best style of demonstration.

Second, it’s not even true. Science always has tentative results. Some of these are more likely than others so much so that we can call them facts, but the reasoning is inductive at best. The only areas with absolute certainty are mathematics and logic.

Third, we can’t always do the experiments ourselves. Can we do an experiment involving what is found on Mars? Can we do an experiment that will require the CERN collider?

Fourth, I think there are many areas atheists disregard science. Consider the case of abortion. The science is in that life begins at conception. Many atheists deny this and go to philosophy and try to argue that what is in the womb is not a person.

Loftus also asks later on which evangelist will tell the ugly side of the Bible while preaching the good news or give a copy of a book alongside of Christian apologetics to read. As I’ve said earlier, when I do read Christian apologetics and scholarship, they interact with their opponents. Most atheists don’t. Also, where in this chapter does Loftus present the best scholarship for say, the resurrection of Jesus? Where does he talk about mass slaughters in the 20th century done under atheism?

He also says he liked Bill Maher’s movie Religulous. I can’t say I am surprised. I did review it and found it incredibly lacking.

Loftus also says that he knows the material world exists and the scientific method is the only sure way for assessing truth claims. Again, nothing in that is scientific. Second, could he give a scientific test to show that the material world exists? Anyone with a more Hindu world could do the same and just say this is how the illusion is about us. Peter Kreeft has talked about a professor of Christian Science who taught chemistry. He would say his religious beliefs tell him that this world is all an illusion and not real, but the illusion fits incredibly well and he’s going to describe it.

Loftus also says the idea we are living in the Matrix cannot be taken seriously by any intelligent person. We are sure that Nick Bostrom is happy to hear that he is not an intelligent person. While disagreeing with the Matrix idea, there are plenty of brilliant Eastern thinkers who would say the material world is an illusion.

Loftus then goes on to say that if it’s silly to say we are living in the Matrix, saying God is real should be silly too. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Loftus never gives any reason for this.

Loftus also says it’s patently false to say atheism is a worldview or a religion. It would be like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby. Yet if one goes to the first big question of a worldview on God and answers in the negative, is not such a person taking a view on the world? The world is one in which God does not exist. How is this not a worldview?

Loftus also says saying someone is an atheist doesn’t tell you much about what they believe. Absolutely. An atheist can be for all intents and purposes living like a saint. They can also be Joseph Stalin. Neither one of them is violating atheism.

Loftus goes on to say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and religious beliefs are extraordinary. Why? Because they believe one more thing than what atheists believe, that God exists. Why should atheists be the standard? Could I not say that atheism is an extraordinary claim since it claims to know there is no God and that all of existence is just chance? That’s extraordinary. Hence my problem with this idea. Extraordinary is too subjective.

Loftus replies that this is not extraordinary due to the outsider test. It’s worth noting he’s regularly given excuses for why he doesn’t need to apply it to his own position. Note that this assumes his position is the correct one which is the presuppositional atheism I have talked about.

When he looks at the counter-arguments of Victor Reppert, he says that he was not just taught to think the external world exists, but he experiences it daily. Such an argument would not be at all convincing to an Eastern mind or someone like Bishop Berkeley. He also says it would deny science. Again, Eastern thinkers would not think such a thing at all.

Loftus also says he knows of no skeptical person who wants to justify rape. If they are not there, give it time and it will come. Some do though, or else they wouldn’t commit rape. We can see Richard Dawkins providing some excuses for mild pedophilia. Loftus also says the same about Democracy. After all, only some religious believers want a theocracy. After all, we know the former Soviet Union, atheistic as it was, were all big time fans of Democracy.

He goes on to quote Carrier presenting his answer to Reppert saying that any rational 15th or 16th century man presented with all that we have today would agree that Democracy is better. Therefore, Democracy is better. The same applies with rape being wrong. Well, there you go. Let me make an argument then.

Any 5th or 4th century BC man presented with the evidence we have today for Christianity would be a Christian. Therefore, Christianity is better. Hence, we should all bow down and accept Jesus as Lord.

It’s easy to say your position is rational when you say that only rational people who you have no access to would agree. We can’t jump in our time machines and see if the 15th or 16th century man would agree with Carrier. Why should we go by what we can’t see, especially since Loftus has been all about scientific testing.

Reppert finally says that he has been putting his faith to the test since 1972. Loftus replies that he doesn’t think any religious faith can pass the test. And there you go. We have entered the realm of the Mormon test. Why does Reppert not count? Because no position can pass the outsider test. Therefore Reppert wasn’t sincere or something like that because the test has to be true.

There’s a reason Loftus isn’t really getting all the attention he desires much any more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 3

What do I think of Jason Long’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jason Long’s chapter is a very odd chapter to read. Long writes as if every word drips with acidity and animosity towards a faith I took it he once held to. At the same time, it’s loaded with what I call presuppositional atheism.

The chapter is meant to be about how malleable the human mind is. No doubt, it is, but this is something that cuts both ways. The chapter is short on evidence against Christianity and long on diatribe.

At the start, he says that it’s “nothing short of an incomprehensible tragedy that anyone in this age of reason would have to write a book debunking a collection of ridiculous fantasies from an era of rampant superstition.” (p. 65) I really love the whole age of reason. These reasonable atheists must be the ones I see advancing the Jesus myth hypothesis and telling us that boys are really girls and stuff like that. For me, many people today claiming reason are like young teenagers who drive around thinking they’re all that in the family car forgetting their parents own it and provide the gas for it.

He goes on to say that while some ideas from other religions might seem ridiculous to other Christians, most still believe in an omnipotent deity who will torture His underlings if they don’t worship Him. Yes. This is naturally the reigning evangelical view. People like Long seem to have got an education of Christianity when they were eight years old in Sunday School and never grew out of it.

He then tells us that the reasons given for belief are driven not by rational thought and reasoned argumentation, but by psychological factors derived through indoctrination. This is a wonderful way to dismiss everyone, but should we dismiss atheism when it comes from someone in the former Soviet Union due to years of indoctrination in that view? What of Muslims and atheists who become Christians? Are some indoctrinated into Christianity and never think about it? Yep. Same with any worldview.

On 68, Long says we are not comfortable with the notion that we might be wrong. We enjoy being right. We are taught to avoid questioning. I find this interesting since when I encounter atheists, I usually ask them when the last time it was they read an academic work on religion was that disagreed with them. Nine times out of ten I will get no answer indicating they have. Ask me the same question and you’ll get an immediate answer.

Long says that rational skepticism is not as interesting and comforting to people. There’s no doubt some truth to this. However, he then goes on to say that tell people that the book promising them eternal happiness with loved ones when they die is wrong on the talking donkey takes a lot of work. Long seems to have a fixation on a talking donkey throughout this chapter. It is presuppositional atheism.

So what do I mean by this? Let’s assume the whole passage is literal and it means a donkey spoke. If you are an atheist, that would be nonsense because there is no external agent that can do that. However, if someone’s worldview is not like that and they believe in miracles, a talking donkey is not really a problem. It’s a miracle allowed. What you need to show is such miracles are impossible and it has to be beyond “Because atheism is true.” That’s presuppositional atheism if you act that anything that contradicts atheism must be false.

Long also says Christians are not interested in evaluating their beliefs but in comfort. Heck. If I was interested in comfort I would abandon Christianity many times over because sometimes it is extremely uncomfortable. Long tells us if we were genuinely interested in truth, we would analyze our arguments and examine points of skepticism. Done and done. How about internet atheists I meet that don’t do such?

Long also tells us that in Chapter 12, Loftus, whoever he is, will deal with the ideas of Jesus’s false predictions of His return. I anticipate that this chapter will not deal adequately at all with my viewpoint of orthodox Preterism. I also anticipate that Long would have no clue how to respond to such a thing, but that’s only because he’s not really interested in truth.

Long tells us that when we examine Islam, should we ask the Islamic scholar? Why not ask an outsider. In this, he claims that skeptical scholars have no bias whatsoever. This is nonsense. After all, skeptics can have just as much a bias. Look at what Lewontin says in this article.

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”

Or Thomas Nagel

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

No one comes to Jesus neutral because Jesus makes radical claims. So what do we do? We don’t go and assume the skeptics are automatically unbiased. We don’t go and assume that about the Christians either. We read both sides. We see what the best arguments are. We then make a judgment. Why does Long seem to want us to only go to secularists?

Long also asks what good is a Biblical scholar who refuses to consider his point of view may be wrong? I find this interesting because when I read Christian scholarship, they are constantly quoting their opponents and interacting with them. When I read skeptics, they don’t seem to do that. Take Bart Ehrman’s book on Jesus as the Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Throughout the book he never interacts with orthodox Preterism.

Long also quotes William Lane Craig saying that if the testimony of the Holy Spirit conflicts with the evidence, we should go with the testimony. On it’s own, I would disagree with this because I think the idea of the testimony of the Holy Spirit is vague. He also quotes Answers in Genesis saying no evidence can be valid if it conflicts with Scripture. I have a problem with that as well. I am convinced Scripture is not wrong, but if we have a claim, we need to examine it. However, Long says this is the problem with ALL religious apologists regardless of belief. Part-to-whole fallacy is just screaming here.

He also says that apologists will find a resolution to every objection. Indeed. Can the objection be shown to be false? Long says “God wrote it so it must be true—even if it violates common sense and science.” Common sense is a term I always find odd to use. If you need to say it, it’s common sense. If it’s common sense, you don’t need to say it. Common sense more often seems to be “What agrees with my opinion.” As for science, well Long is free to show what he thinks does contradict science.

Long also says the higher your intelligence, the more likely you are to be skeptical. This is quite subjective and the intelligence is usually based on what’s taught in skeptical circles so what a shock that people taught skepticism turn out to be skeptical. Again, none of this gets to the evidence.

Long also says that it is never easy to be honest with yourself about Scripture with a mind-reading God present. Simply thinking God might be wrong is discomforting. If God is monitoring us, this leads to anxiety. Long is apparently pushing his own experience on everyone else. I have no problem with such questions and I think God expects me to examine them. I also don’t hesitate with my emotions with God. If I am upset with Him about something, then I let Him know. He’s a big God. He can take it.

In the end, Long’s chapter is just full of venom towards Christianity that destroys any idea of objectivity. One reads this chapter and just sees a rant. There is a lot of emotion, but very little rational substance.

Kind of like most new atheist books I read.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 2 Valerie Tarico

Does the science of belief undermine Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we return to our look at The Christian Delusion edited by John What’s-his-name, we look at chapter 2. In this chapter, Valerie Tarico is looking at Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science. You all remember Tarico don’t you? She’s the brilliant mind who is saying more and more scholars are questioning the existence of Jesus.

She says that in the United States, religious belief is the best indicator of political party affiliation. Believers think belief has the power to save us all. Doubters fear the opposite. I wonder if she does not see the irony here. I find it amusing that when I meet people who say they are freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.

This also includes in the area of politics. Most atheists I encounter seem to have many of the exact same views on politics. There are noted exceptions. Robert Price, for example, is actually someone who publicly stated before the election in 2016 that he is on the Trump Train. Thankfully also, more and more secularists are becoming pro-life.

But to get back to Tarico, she seems to think there’s this idealization of belief. The word translated as belief so many times in the New Testament, pistis, would more mean not just mere intellectual assent but would refer to faithfulness and trust. It is a living out of what one believes.

Tarico also lists some findings from science that she wants us to note. Humans are not rational about anything let alone religion. Certainty is a feeling and can fail to show up when evidence is enormous. Our minds are set up to be religious in their thinking. Finally, the born again experience is a natural phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that nowhere in this does she define religion, which is my problem with David Eller’s essay in this book. When we say religious thinking, what do we mean? Are we putting the reasoning of Augustine and Aquinas in the same boat as the little boy in Sunday School? Without defining this term, one will be puzzled by Tarico’s writing.

Tarico says that for Christians belief is central. If you believe, that is what matters. Belief is important, but James warns us that the demons believe and tremble. Belief needs to show up in action. Sure, we have creeds. Creeds give a statement of the things we do believe for all time. We are to live out the ramifications of those beliefs. If we do not live what we believe, we can ask if we really believe it.

Much of what Tarico says could be interesting and I have no need to comment on it as it doesn’t affect Christian truth claims. She does say we can’t really claim to know anything with certainty. (Is she certain about that.) She then says those of us who are not religious could do with a little humility. Wonderful suggestion, but it’s hard to think you live it out when you write a chapter for a book telling a disagreeing party they have a delusion. You seem pretty certain of it.

She does talk in the same way as Eller about Christianity copying. Of course, she goes for chestnuts like the descent of Inanna, ignoring that Christianity takes place in a specific time and place with a resurrection to this life again and without all the intrigue going on in the Inanna myth. Yep. Real good on the humility there.

There’s a section on the born-again experience. This would be relevant for those of us who place a lot of emphasis on such an experience. For those of us who don’t, it doesn’t matter. One might feel great things when they give their lives to Christ. If that becomes how you know Christianity is true, that is a problem. If not, then you are good.

It’s amazing to read this whole essay and realize that when people write about the problems of how we think and such, they always seem to think they are the exception. Everyone else has fallen for this, but not I. I know what is going on. I conclude in the end that Tarico doesn’t. She might have given us grounds to examine what we believe and why, but what Christian should be opposed to that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 36

Were the resurrection appearances hallucinations? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we looked at Glenton Jelbert’s work. Let’s get back into that. This time, we’re looking at his response to Michael Licona’s chapter on the appearances. Thankfully, there is no denial that the appearances happened. The difference is still based on what they are.

Jelbert quotes Licona who quotes Dale Allison saying that the topic of the historicity of the resurrection is the prize puzzle of New Testament scholarship. Jelbert tells us that this sentence succinctly concedes atheism and shows the presuppositional nature of the research. The quote shows that even conservative scholars agree more evidence is needed.

I have looked over this time and time again and wondered how Jelbert has arrived at this conclusion. Jelbert seems to have this tendency to make grand leaps without showing he’s really understood what has been said and is assuming a conclusion thinking everyone else will see how obvious it will. No. We won’t.

All Allison is saying is that the question of Jesus is the great topic of controversy in New Testament Studies. A number of New Testament scholars on both sides don’t even touch it. I still have no idea how Jelbert arrived at the conclusion that he did, but even if he does arrive at that conclusion, he should tell his readers how he arrived at it.

Jelbert quotes Licona speaking about the possibility of one person saying “I see Jesus here” and then another saying something else and hysteria developing. There is a great problem with this. I say this as a man married to a woman who has hallucinations. Normally, these hallucinations are all realized quickly. The only exception would be an extreme case of schizophrenia like that in A Beautiful Mind.

Of course, for this to follow, this must mean that of all the people Jesus chose to be His disciples, all of them had to have this kind of schizophrenia or something similar. After all, normally once a hallucination is done, while there can be some fear associated with it, it is realized to be a hallucination and one moves on. For the disciples, there is no indication that they moved on. They were convinced this was real.

Licona then quotes Gary Sibcy who says that there is no record in the peer-reviewed journal of a documented case of a group hallucination. Jelbert responds that the apparitions of Mary, including the famous example of appearances to six children in 1981 in Medjugorje suggest otherwise.

Yet here, Jelbert is assuming what he needs to prove. Let’s consider some points. First off, it could be the children are playing and that they are the only ones claiming to see something, but if playing, this is not a mass hallucination and if all we have are children seeing this while doing this and adults there claiming to believe them, that is a mass delusion and not a mass hallucination. I am not saying this is what happened. I am saying this is a possibility.

Second possibility, it could be the Catholics are right and this is an appearance of Mary. Again, as a non-Catholic, I am skeptical, but it would explain the data. If so, then this is not a hallucination.

Third, it could be that there was something there, but that this was a demon posing as the Virgin Mary. Again, I am not saying this is what happened but presenting all possibilities. Again, if there really was something there, then this is not a mass hallucination.

What Jelbert needs to do is demonstrate that there was no external referent. Since I doubt he was at the event, I don’t think he can do this. Further, the only way to establish there was no such referent is if he says there was no referent because such appearances by demons or the Virgin Mary do not happen and we know this because these things don’t exist. In this case, he is the one arguing in a circle.

When we get to Paul, Jelbert says Paul watched Stephen get stoned and heard Stephen talking about heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He says it’s not hard to imagine such an emotional and traumatic experience impressing even an “enemy.” Well, yes, if you want to do psycho-history and assume people in the ancient world thought just like we do. There’s no indication that Saul had any guilt whatsoever in what he was doing and was still going through it. This is just an account given to explain data away without any real support. This seems to be a common ploy in atheist critiques of events.

  1. Take an event hard to explain.
  2. Give a story that you think explains the situation without any hard data to back it.
  3. Assume the problem is dealt with.

He also tells us that the appearances traditions contradict. If we just go with the ones in 1 Cor. 15, which are sufficient, we don’t have a problem. Still, Jelbert’s work is sloppy here. He says that Luke has the ascension at the end of his first book and then forty days later. Let’s start with a basic assumption. Luke is not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He is just condensing a large portion of material into a small space.

He also says John 21 is plainly the same story as Luke 5. It’s just moved to the end. Again, why should I think that? Could not Jesus have done this again to remind the disciples of a past event where He showed who He was?

Jelbert also says that Ehrman points out doubt in the appearances. One verse is in Matthew 28:17, but I don’t think this is doubt about Jesus’s resurrection, but doubt about if they should worship Him or not. That Jesus gave many proofs isn’t a problem either. We don’t know for sure what He was doing, but apparently Ehrman is sure He knows why. Could He not be showing them the wonders of the resurrected body that they will have some day?

He also looks at Luke 23:43. He sees a problem in Jesus saying that the robber would be with Him in paradise today. Why? Jesus goes to a waiting intermediate state before His resurrection with the robber. That’s not a problem. Yet Jelbert says that maybe the comma is in the wrong place and it’s Jesus just saying that He’s saying this today.

First off, what’s the point of saying He’s saying it today? When else will He tell it? This explanation doesn’t fit.

Second, most Greek experts think the placement of the comma is just fine. What evidence does Jelbert have otherwise? Let’s see. The United Church of God. The UCG is not considered an orthodox Christian demonination at all. Why not go to a New Testament scholar instead?

Jelbert also says that shifts in doctrine could occur easily at the start where oral tradition was the main way of communicating. There are problems here of course. The first is that the best place for evidence is 1 Cor. 15 and that’s at the start of the oral tradition. Second is that oral tradition is really a great way of communicating information and Jelbert has done no research into how it is done or at least hasn’t shown it.

In the end, I find Jelbert’s case extremely lacking. If he would rather believe in a mass hallucination that we have no data for, then it reminds me that once again, an atheist will often choose to believe anything rather than to believe the resurrection happened. Any port in a storm will do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters