Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 3

What’s my opinion on Carrier’s take on method? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Our continuing review of SGWG involves looking at the chapter on methodology next. To be fair, I do indeed think it’s important to show one’s methodology. Usually in a debate on the NT, I will ask someone what their methodology is for determining authorship or the historicity of a text. Usually, they have none.

Carrier says at the start that the end result of any method can never be absolute certainty, but why should anyone think this? It could depend on the claim. Some fields use a more inductive reasoning. Others use a more deductive reasoning.

For instance, consider the following syllogism.

All cats are felines.
Shiro is a cat.
Shiro is a feline.

If the premises are true, the conclusion follows with absolute certainty. I have absolute certainty that tautologies are true and contradictions are false. With other fields, like science and history, one has a more inductive approach. These fields rely more on probability. (It is strange to see the emphasis on science which is inductive and the disregard then of other fields that use more deductive approach, as certain philosophical arguments do.)

Carrier even says a god cannot have absolute certainty. He could be the victim of a greater Cartesian demon. As a Thomist, this argument doesn’t apply to me because whatever is at the end of the chain is ultimate and in fact, it is necessarily good. I will not full flesh out that argument here, though I have written more about it in my review of the Summa Theologica portion on God and on the five ways.

Carrier in seeking a good method starts out with predictive success, but is this not begging the question? Axioms of logic don’t involve predictions. They start with a certainty that a contradiction cannot be true. Logic in fact is not a method of finding truth but rather of finding error. Some methods work less by predictive power and more by explanatory scope.

It’s not a shock that in fact Carrier comes down on the side of the scientific method as the best method we have. As I said last time with pointing to Feser, the method works great with science, but it does not work great with other fields of knowledge. The scientific method has often been made too all-encompassing. As said before, this is not to denigrate science and it is a shame to think that such a claim is a denigration of science. It is to recognize its limitations. Use the scientific method for science. Use a literary method for literature, historical method for history, etc.

The problem that often comes is one has a claim that falls outside of the realm of science, such as miracles or the existence of God and immediately hears “Well do you have any scientific evidence?” You might as well ask if you have any mathematical evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays. Of course, science can help inform us on these areas, such as showing us the way nature works when there is no interference (Although to be fair, I question the existence of laws of nature seeing as I hold to essences more) or perhaps Intelligent Design arguments. (Which I’m also skeptical of seeing as it treats the universe more like a machine)

Eventually, we get to the historical method. We are told on page 58 about how experts in the field should meet qualifications of reliability. These include genuine qualifications suited to the issue at hand, corroboration by others, and that the bias be controlled. I have no problem with these by and large and of course, the list is not limited to these.

I do think it’s important that we seek experts who have credentials in the field and I would add that we seek them from all sides. Too many atheists are ready to discount a claim in NT history because it comes from a Christian scholar, just as too many Christians could deny a claim in scientific theory because it comes from an atheist. Both are wrong. Look at the evidence. Don’t look at the position.

I also agree that one should seek corroboration from other experts. This is why I find it important to look for works that are by writers who have undergone peer-review. In history, we recently had the case of Joseph Atwill and “Caesar’s Messiah.” Atwill did not put his opinion to scholarship first to have it tested. Nope. He went straight to the media. This is sensationalism.

It’s also important with books to see who published the book. Most academic publishing houses want to protect their reputation and not publish material that will be embarrassing to them. This doesn’t mean everything by a non-academic publisher is false as its harder and harder to get published today, but in today’s age, self-publication is easier and easier, meaning one must be quite careful.

Also, biases need to be controlled. We all have them. That’s also the purpose of peer-review. You submit your work to those who are of a different mindset and see if you can defend your view. It doesn’t mean you will prove your view, but it means you do defend your view.

All of this is well and good but I found myself wondering, “Does Carrier’s Christ myth idea pass this criteria?” The answer is no. This is one of many reasons I can’t take such an idea seriously.

The next section we will go through in our review will be discussing the origins of the universe. We’ll cover that next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters