Sunday, March 01, 2009

Amputees and the Argument from Evil

I think this person argues a lot like Loftus.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

My father passed away in 1997. He was a double amputee. Diabetes claimed both of his legs above the knee. One day after the surgery to remove both legs, my dad died.

I watched my dad suffer for three years as he slowly succumbed to this horrible disease.
He lost toes, nearly all sight, and even suffered delirium.

It was disgusting to experience this with my dad, the same man who played catch with me when I was a kid; the same man who walked beside me as I learned to ride my bike.

It is only natural at such times as these to question the goodness of God. Not a day goes by some 12 years later that I do not think about my dad. I think about my childhood with him. I remember getting my first truck with him. I remember him taking a belt to my ass, and he really could not have cared less if you called Defax on him. I remember him cussing when he couldn’t get the car to run. I remember him taken me to see the Braves play. And yes, I remember watching him bleed to death and breathe his last the night he passed.

Obviously God did not heal my dad. And I would be a lair if I said I didn’t wish He had. In fact, I prayed for my dad’s healing and I never received an answer.

So what do I do with this? As I see it, I really have two choices.

A. Everything that I experienced with my dad is ultimately meaningless. The problem that I (personally) have with this is that it takes to much effort to believe that it is true. Assuming that there is no god, why should the world be such that I must fight with everything in me to disbelieve what everything in me is telling me is true? Now of course I can pretend that these events have ultimate meaning, but there is nothing in me that suggest I need to pretend about this, these events flood with meaning.
B. Everything that I experienced with my dad is ultimately meaningful. And of this I need no convincing. Even with the appalling death of my dad as part of the data. The world has parts of it which despite the suffering, assures us (me at least) of what it was suppose to be like. Was my response to my dad’s death a trick played on me by childhood fears of losing the security I once had? Or was (and is) it a genuine insight that this is not the way things are suppose to be?

unkle e said...

I don't agree that Marshall Brain from WWGHA argues like Loftus (I think he is nastier than Loftus and snide), and I don't think his main argument is based on the problem of evil.

The argument is that the Bible says God can heal, so if he's good, why won't he? Doesn't that prove he's not there? The amputees appear to counter the christian claim that God does heal. Such claims are hard to test. Re-growth of a leg or arm is the test they demand of God to demonstrate he is there. If christians can't produce a credible claim of limb re-growth with objective evidence (not just somewhere in a third world country), then he says he's proved his case.

Yes, the argument has holes in it you could drive a truck through, but he apparently hopes and expects it to convince people.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Reminds me of the story told by a famous French atheist who visited Lourdes and saw the wall of crutches there, and said, "A single wooden leg would have been more to the point."


By the way, the Catholic church itself is doubtful of the vast majority of healing stories told at Lourdes. They have only certified less than ten healings if I recall, compared with the millions of people who have visited Lourdes. Someone else pointed out that the percentage of certified healings at Lourdes is LESS than that of spontaneous remissions for cancer for instance in the general population given such a large pool of visitors to draw from in both cases.

Perezoso said...

Mr. WWGHA presents another variation on the problem of evil. Mr. WWGHA argues effectively though his points are fairly obvious. Like many neo-atheists he makes the error (at least implicit) of thinking that religious people believe in God (and prayer) for specific reasons. The neo-atheist believes (usually naively) that by merely pointing out the absurdity of the believer's faith (including their faith in prayer), the believers will all reject Christianity, and become swinging Silicon valley-style skeptics and atheists. Unlikely.

Religious people, especially of the usual baptist or presbyterian-warehouse sort, believe in God and the Christian Church because that belief offers certain benefits. Churches are clubs and fraternal organizations; while there are some social functions (charity, etc) the churches provide the families a certain code and structure. Presbyterian and baptist families don't attend the local church-warehouses to discuss Aquinas' first cause argument, or even to discuss whether prayer works or not. They attend to hear Pastor offer some inspirational words, similar to like Coach's pep talk before the big game, or Ollie North discussing Gott 'n Country. They want to hear Pastor denounce the Enemy--whether that be liberals, or inner city blacks and hispanics. In a black church they hear Pastor denounce the white man, or zionists, etc.

Herd Mind, as Nietzsche termed it--das ist die Evangelisch--though herd mind fairly typical of all monotheism. At least the paddies know some latin, and respect Aristotle & Co.

unkle e said...

Edward, I understand that the church has a rigorous process of verifying alleged miracles, and of thousands investigated, 63 passed the stringent testing. But doesn't mean that the others were false claims as you suggest, just that there was not enough documentation to meet the requirements. You wouldn't want to be inaccurate, would you?

Perezoso, I don't know how many christians you know well enough to know their motivations for believing, but your description doesn't sound like anyone I know. Most christians I know believe because they consider it to be true. You presumably disagree with their reasons, but that is different to suggesting they don't have any reasons to believe it is true.

Rob G said...

The amputee argument is bogus, at least from the Christian perspective, because a miracle of that sort doesn't even appear in the New Testament (unless one counts Christ's healing of Malchus's ear). If during his early life Jesus himself performed all manner of healings, but never one of these, why should we expect him to do so nowadays?

My own slant on this would be that such a miracle would be coercive, i.e., it would preclude the necessity of faith on the part of the observers, rather like Satan's temptation for Jesus to throw himself off the temple.

As I said on another thread, the atheist's demand for an incontrovertible sign demonstrates the opposite of faith -- hubris. It is like saying that you'll consider Catholicism, but only if the Pope comes to your house and explains it to you personally. Now the Pope could do this, but why should he? And, therefore, why should God?

Mike Darus said...

He blows his cover when he explains that every prayer is a "test" (to determine if God is real). Aslos, as usual, this skeptic is a poor Bible expositor and a worse theologian as he tries to explain the mechanics of prayer. Prayer is not magic. It has much more to do with God's will dictating what believers do than believers dictating what God should do.

dvd said...

The only "Sign" given to the Evil generation, was the "sign" of Jonah, not the amputee "sign."

Perezoso said...

My own slant on this would be that such a miracle would be coercive, i.e., it would preclude the necessity of faith on the part of the observers, rather like Satan's temptation for Jesus to throw himself off the temple.

The typical response: never expect anything miraculous. The amputee example's fairly trivial: where is the miracle or answered prayers (from mothers of soldiers, or civilians being attacked, etc) that would have prevented WWI, or WWII, or Mao, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, diseases, etc? If you agree that God CAN answer prayers (via a miracle, or whatever) and yet chooses not to (refuses to intercede during genocide, etc.), we are back to the Tamerlane-King-Demon, it would seem.

Indeed, that's the God most biblethumpers (or koranthumpers) hold to. Justice, schmustice: the Herd wants the powerful King-JHVH. Even some of the protestant bone-heads now question the divinity of Jesus, etc. The Loftus-version of theology (or Geach, I believe)--an imperfect God, or "in process," etc.-- is hardly an alternative.

Our Nada who Art in Nada.

Rob G said...

"If you agree that God CAN answer prayers (via a miracle, or whatever) and yet chooses not to (refuses to intercede during genocide, etc.), we are back to the Tamerlane-King-Demon, it would seem."

Do yourself a big favor and read David Bentley Hart's little book "The Doors of the Sea" for a road out of this seeming impasse.

Anonymous said...

The amputee argument is bogus, at least from the Christian perspective, because a miracle of that sort doesn't even appear in the New Testament (unless one counts Christ's healing of Malchus's ear). If during his early life Jesus himself performed all manner of healings, but never one of these, why should we expect him to do so nowadays?

Ah, yes. "Don't the healing of cancer, my brethren, because Jesus didn't do any healings like that in the gospels." I guess Christians should limit themselves to praying for healings Jesus performed in the NT? That's a great argument.

In any case, Jesus is said to have healed a person with a withered hand -- in front of a large gathering.

My own slant on this would be that such a miracle would be coercive, i.e., it would preclude the necessity of faith on the part of the observers, rather like Satan's temptation for Jesus to throw himself off the temple.

See the previous point about the person with a withered hand. In any case, it depends on which gospel you read. Mark portrays Jesus as wanting everyone he healed to keep mum about it; John has Jesus perform miracles as a way to generate faith, and to give signs of his identity.

What about Paul? He was supposed to be persecuting the church, and God knocked him off his horse and converted him.

Rob G said...

"I guess Christians should limit themselves to praying for healings Jesus performed in the NT? That's a great argument"

Let's put on our thinking caps here. They knew what missing limbs were in Jesus' time. Cancer? Not so much. It's hard to pray for the healing of a disease that you don't know exists.

As to the healings in the NT, generating faith is one thing, coercion is another. "Even if a man were to come back from the dead, they would not believe."

As for St. Paul, I certainly believe that he still had the freedom to say no. God deals with each individual where they are; not everyone needs to be knocked off a horse.

John W. Loftus said...

"I think this person argues a lot like Loftus."

Victor, Victor, you goad me, my friend.

In some ways that's a compliment, so I don't mind, but then there is much more to my case too. You haven't even read my book to know, have you? It's there you'll read the full brunt of my case.

Have you seen anything like the the kind of recommendations it is getting from both sides of the fence?

Didn't think so. ;-)

Victor Reppert said...

Of course there is more to your case. But this argument seems typical of your style.

John W. Loftus said...

Actually Vic, I do mention his test for prayer in my chapter on prayer, but I also offer a very new and unique one on top of it. I argue that a great test for prayer is for believers to pray to change a tragic event in the past! After all, can God foreknow their prayers, or not? If so, my test stands, for then God could foreknow these prayers and change the event before it actually takes place. My prediction is that nothing will ever change in the past AND that the believer will remember having prayed for the past to change to no avail (the second part is key).

What's your prediction?

I have some unusual and unique tests and arguments, yes. Want to take a crack at that one?

Matthew said...

I think this only adds up to the evidential argument from evil.

J.P. Holding actually has a parody of this:
http://www.tektoonics.com/etc/parody/gawd.html

I think CADRE also wrote on this, "Brain is ignorant" or something like this.

Matthew said...

John, you never stop to amaze me. Not only do you bring up Geisler - Wait, what did he really say? Let's see,

http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=111182

no, you also go on using your amazing argument "Can prayer change the past". My head almost exploded when I first read this. I had to hit myself to make sure I wasn't halucinating.

John W. Loftus said...

Matthew, I don't deny Geisler thinks that. But I think many of the arguments used by some top Christian apologists and philosophers are superficial too. Bill Craig called Mackie's argument against miracles "shockingly superficial" too! Really? That is shocking to me to read where he said that. Mackie's arguments are not superfical at all. I find them persuasive.

Where does that get us?

My case rests upon the fact that we simply "see" things differently, and I argue in the first half of my book for why I see things differently. We see through a particular cultural set of controls beliefs. I have an anti-supernatural bias. You have a supernatural bias. The real issue is about settling that question. No one else seems to appreciate that point but me on the atheist side that I know of.

John W. Loftus said...

Matthew said...you also go on using your amazing argument....My head almost exploded...I had to...make sure I wasn't halucinating.

And to think people say they've heard it all before, right?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Let's put on our thinking caps here. They knew what missing limbs were in Jesus' time. Cancer? Not so much. It's hard to pray for the healing of a disease that you don't know exists.

This doesn't really address my reply. Your original point that I was addressing was that we shouldn't expect God to heal things he didn't heal in the gospels:

The amputee argument is bogus, at least from the Christian perspective, because a miracle of that sort doesn't even appear in the New Testament (unless one counts Christ's healing of Malchus's ear). If during his early life Jesus himself performed all manner of healings, but never one of these, why should we expect him to do so nowadays?

And my reply was that this has the implausible implication that we shouldn't expect God to answer prayers that fall outside the scope of what Jesus is said to have done in the gospels.

As to the healings in the NT, generating faith is one thing, coercion is another. "Even if a man were to come back from the dead, they would not believe."

Yes, but Jesus is said to have raised people from the dead (besides himself, viz., Lazarus) -- in front of a crowd, in fact. And the fundamental point about the amputee case is that God does nothing clear-cut like this in our experience: a flat-out, unmistakable indication of God's direct causal activity. The point in the passage where Jesus says that people won't believe even if someone were raised from the dead is not that he won't raise people from the dead (after all, he putatively did, according to the gospel of John), but rather that, despite the fact that he does so, people will still fail to believe. And so the quote you raise doesn't speak to the issue of why we don't see clear-cut miracles (for example, the healing of amputees) today.

unkle e said...

G'day John.

I argue that a great test for prayer is for believers to pray to change a tragic event in the past! After all, can God foreknow their prayers, or not? If so, my test stands, for then God could foreknow these prayers and change the event before it actually takes place. My prediction is that nothing will ever change in the past AND that the believer will remember having prayed for the past to change to no avail (the second part is key).

This amazing John, because I did just that. The world was going to be hit by a giant asteroid whose orbit was determined, and when it was only an hour away and everyone was panicking I prayed that God would change its orbit, and you know the rest. It never happened, God answered that prayer.

Are you going to believe now? : )

John W. Locust said...

You haven't even read my book to know, have you? It's there you'll read the full brunt of my case.

You'll have to excuse me from making those comments, as well as those that follow (of course, meaning those preceding this one). I've been having episodes lately, and my advisors here at the mental institution have warned me about the consequences of using my internet access and my occasional behavioral outbursts. One of my supervisors saw that I was getting a bit "awkward" with my computer usage and gave me a seven hour suspension to cool myself down.

I should be getting out of here real soon, I can feel progressive steps being made in the near-future. So, let me apologize with the harshness in tone towards you, because I didn't mean it. Honest. My book is up for consideration however, and I would advise you skimming through its pages before deciding to debate me. It's nothing personal, just the maintaining of a good formidable reputation.

However, I will on occasion post some slight summaries of my background which allows oncoming readers who might be potential customers of the book to get a glimpse of my life before actually buying it. I plan on getting started with the actual details of my deconversion, hopefully to dispell some of the nasty rumors like trying to hurt my former wife's feelings while I was banging a stripper that caught the winkle in my eye. That's pure horsecrap, truth is, I didn't want my wife to find out about anything, because as long as someone doesn't know about something, it can't hurt them.

Sincerely,

- John

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I'm just curious. Do you have anything to say about the last two idiot posts or do you encourage them?

I would think as a scholar you would tell them a thing or two, that's all, not that you can stop them from commenting or dogging my steps. In my opinion it's because they're scared of me and my arguments. Are you?

unkle e said...

G'day John

I'm sorry you thought my last post was idiotic, but despite its lightheartedness, it had a serious intention. If you can present an argument that I think is bizarre and silly, why shouldn't I be able to respond in kind?

But now you've made a point of it, I wonder can we settle this? Can you explain your argument?

If God changes the past, then presumably he changes our memories of the past, otherwise we are "remembering" something that didn't happen. So my question to you is: how can your argument actually counter someone who responds as I did (without simply calling them idiots)? How would you prove them wrong if the past is now changed? And how could they prove themselves right?

Without any means of either verification or falsification, an argument or experiment is useless. Can you offer a way of verifying or falsifying? Can you actually make the argument work? I don't believe you can, but I will be interested to see your response.

While you are at it, you might also (if you will) explain the "dogging my steps" accusation please. Are you suggesting that I am stalking you? Am I not allowed to comment on this blog without such an implication? Or did you mean something quite different?

I have been, and will remain, friendly and polite to you. I don't wish to be enemies. I hope you can return the compliment.

John W. Loftus said...

unkle, my apologies. While I thought both posts were idiodic John Locust runs a parody site and he's dogging my steps.

My prediction is that nothing will ever change in the past AND that the believer will remember having prayed for the past to be changed (the second part is key).

The reason the second part is key is that it nullifies your objections.

Rob G said...

Anonymous, the generally accepted interpretation of why Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the roof of the temple was that he wanted Christ to demonstrate his divinity before the proper time and in an improper manner. The growing of an amputated limb is a work of the same sort, i.e., one that admits no doubt. This is akin to another example I've seen atheists ask for -- if only the moon rose tonight with the words "Jesus is God" inscribed on it, then I'd believe.

In other words, they want "proof" in an Enlightenment sense, proof that's incontravertible and that commands belief. But if the Christian understanding of God and divine life is true, God does not work like that. Faith to the Christian is "pistis," faith in a trustworthy person, not belief in a proposition based upon undeniable evidence.

Blip said...

John W. Locust?

That's hilarious! I couldn't stop laughing!

Blip said...

Especially the picture, that had me in stitches!

Perezoso said...

Our we're back to accepting the reliability of Scriptural narrative!

I thought we (or some of we) had agreed Hume had won that battle via miracles (and thus suggesting that any theology, if it still holds, would be purely rational) in showing the unreliability of any narrative alleging demons exist, dead come back to life, virgin births, great whores. Guess not.

Rob G said...

Hume is overrated.

Perezoso said...

Ah you forgot something called justification: "Hume is overrated, because ______________ ".

Hume it might be recalled was rather well-read in Roman history (as was his younger associate Gibbon). He was not just some arm-chair skeptic. The essay on miracles in the Enquiry a very powerful piece of writing, and also influential; Ben Franklin read that, as did Voltaire and encyclopedists. I suspect the Jefferson had read Hume (maybe not always agreeing). Even Marx quotes Hume (a pal of Adam Smith) once in a while.

(and saying "because his arguments challenge my religious ideology" will not suffice)

Rob G said...

It's been many moons since I read Hume (early 90's); his arguments didn't do much for me back then. I doubt that's changed, but perhaps I'll give him another look-see.

unkle e said...

John,

Thanks for your apology. I said at the start you were more polite than Marshall Brain, and you have confirmed it. For the record, I didn't even read the Locust post in full because I didn't like it, and now I read it through, I think you were right to be offended - I certainly feel offended on your behalf, and I'm sorry it was written.

But, you haven't actually answered my hypothetical point regarding the meteorite. How could you possibly disprove such a claim? And if you can't disprove such a claim (any more than I could prove it), the argument has no ability to discriminate and is worthless.

What do you say?

Andrew T. said...

unkle: I suspect Loftus can answer for himself, but I've read his book and I think his hypothetical is very interesting. Here's how I interpret it:

The challenge is to the believer who claims a personal experience with Jesus. Loftus asks that person to sincerely pray to Jesus to change the past. The believer is then left to interpret the results.

I do not think Loftus would claim that he could prove or disprove what the believer claims about the results of his personal prayers (just as we can't confirm or disconfirm when Mormon's feel a "burning in the bosom" or Christians feel an indwelling of the Holy Spirit or what have you). It's up to you, the believer, to be honest with the atheist asking the question.

Perezoso said...

Another possible, and neglected solution to these sorts of problems: neo-gnosticism. Theologians who claim that God exists should also be required to prove God's justice, goodness, benevolence (or at least touch upon the problem). Lacking any such proof (or even likelihood that this is the case), they are just saying something like "a Being of immense power and scope exists." Lacking any convincing arguments for God's justice, or even concern for human race (demonstrated rather convincingly by 20th century history), a reasonable inference would be, A)Assuming that a God exists, AND given the convincing evidence of God's lack of justice, goodness, benevolence, God = Satan."

That, OR reject the A)assumption. Q E f-n D.

Rob G said...

"The challenge is to the believer who claims a personal experience with Jesus. Loftus asks that person to sincerely pray to Jesus to change the past. The believer is then left to interpret the results."

Sorry, but this seems to me to be nonsensical, like asking God to make a square circle. Furthermore, if God changed the past, how would we know? Our memories of the original event would no longer be memories, but fantasies. Yet if our memories changed with the changing of the event, we'd never know that either.

This is simply a more advanced version of "Can God make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?"

"Assuming that a God exists, AND given the convincing evidence of God's lack of justice, goodness, benevolence, God = Satan"

Again I refer you to Hart's 'The Doors of the Sea.'

Rob G said...

Furthermore, if we're dealing with Christianity, we're given therein no Scriptural or Patristic warrant to pray to God to change the past. What Loftus is asking the believer to do is outside the bounds of the faith, like praying to God to show you an angel, or asking Him to give you the ability to fly.

John W. Loftus said...

unkle said This amazing John, because I did just that. The world was going to be hit by a giant asteroid whose orbit was determined, and when it was only an hour away and everyone was panicking I prayed that God would change its orbit, and you know the rest. It never happened, God answered that prayer.

How could you possibly disprove such a claim? And if you can't disprove such a claim (any more than I could prove it), the argument has no ability to discriminate and is worthless.


Not only does your claim not change the past, I do not have to disprove anything. If I must disprove something for you to cease believing then you can go on believing. Disproofs are very hard to come by in these matters. We're talking aboutprobability here. What's the probability that there is a forknowing God who answers prayers if prayers don't affect the past?

Try this one for size though: Pick a tragic event that happened and was recorded in the newspapers on a certain day, and have as many people as you can to pray that such an event never happened. Announce it too!

Then watch and see. My prediction is that if it's possible for God to have foreknowledge then he can foreknow your prayers. And in that sense prayers should affect the past just as they are supposed to affect the present and the future. Since I don't think that prayers affect the present and the future then one way to test this is to see if they affect the past. My prediction is that nothing will change in the past AND that you will remember praying for such ane event.

With philosophical and scientific confirmations that the past is not unalterable and that time travel through wormholes might be possible then the modern reality is that the past can be changed, and if so believers have just discovered something new to do...pray for the past.

You could say God cannot foreknow the future, I suppose, but that's not how most Christians think, and it would also make problematic predictive prophecy in the Bible along with the belief that God will bring this world to a foreordained conclusion.

But to claim that God didn't say we should pray for the past means nothing at all and is merely an ad hoc attempt to escape the test itself. For then there would be a myriad of things God has not spoken about in the Bible for which believers should not do either. If commanding us to love people justifies modern medicine and flying an airplane to deliver that medicine to needy people, then the command to pray also justifies praying for people in the past.

I've written more extensively on this test in my companion book, which can be found linked on my Blog.

unkle e said...

Perezoso:

"Theologians who claim that God exists should also be required to prove God's justice, goodness, benevolence (or at least touch upon the problem). Lacking any such proof (or even likelihood that this is the case), they are just saying something like "a Being of immense power and scope exists."

I don't know what you mean by "proof" but there are certainly arguments based on ethics. Without going into the details, which I'm sure you're familiar with anyway, the argument goes like this ....

People almost universally believe their conscious selves are real, they have free will to make choices not necessarily determined purely by physical processes, their rational thoughts can reach true conclusions and that some things are really right and wrong.

Atheists struggle to explain these things, and many are reduced to denying their reality, even though they cannot live by those conclusions. (David Hume recommended that we deal with this inconsistency with "carelessness and inattention" - hows that for being "delusional" and ignoring the facts?) Not only that, but most of the anti-theistic arguments fail if we deny consciousness, freewill, rationality and ethics.

On the other hand, theists can easily explain all these things, even if we don't fully understand them.

So the arguments for theism seem to me to have greater reality. I understand you and others may think differently, but your statements were a bit over-confident, don't you think?

unkle e said...

John:

"Not only does your claim not change the past,"

This statement seems to me to demonstrate the futility of your argument and the point of my example. How do you know the past hasn't been changed? How can you prove it hasn't been changed?

As Rob G has already outlined, "if God changed the past, how would we know? Our memories of the original event would no longer be memories, but fantasies. Yet if our memories changed with the changing of the event, we'd never know that either."

So the test can never be verified or falsified, and is therefore pointless. Until you answer how it can be verified and falsified, none of your other explanations is meaningful.

Best wishes.

Perezoso said...

I actually agree to ethical objectivity (most of the time anyway). Alas, God (assuming for a few seconds He exists for sake of something) apparently doesn't, nor do the great majority of his worshippers.

(joke).

Hume follows his argument where it leads him. When he sees a word like "morality" or a sentence "you ought to do _____" he asks what the word "morality," or "ought" points to. There's no object "morality" as there is a Big Mac, or mountain range, is there. So the word appears to be meaningless, unless related to human needs (or "passions", though that term didn't mean what it does now in the Soap OperaOcracy). Even then it's questionable whether "morality" means anything tangible. To some people, joining the Klan might be moral. Others might consider joining the maoists to be moral.

His arguments against religion of a similar sort: really Hume's an early positivist, I believe (and Carnap read him as such). When some ancient claims angels and demons exist, a reasonable person does not hold that text to be authoritative. A bit cold: dems the breaks. Must we believe, simply in the Biblical narrative because it's there? That's seems even colder than Hume (and oppressive)


The sort of arguments via intuition--humans think they have freewill, and value "freewill"; therefore they have freewill?--not the greatest, Tio. That people believe things does not at all make the things they believe in true, or astrology would be true as well as all religious claims--not sure that is the argument, but it sort of looks like that. Now, if you are saying something like "people value their right to be at liberty to work, or vote, or drive to the store, I sort of agree, but do not think that relates to theology at all. And I reject the idea that reason itself presumes God; indeed theocrats have often been the enemies of reason.

Many humans seem to value something like Justice--yet of course they disagree on what that is. In 2002, most Americans supported war against Iraq. Was that just?

So if you're merely doing some ethics by consensus, I don't think that helps your case; then I don't think rational theology can be defended anyways, except perhaps as metaphor.

unkle e said...

No, I'm actually saying something far less complex, I think.

I recognise that we can't prove objective ethics, freewill, etc, but I note that most people live as if these things are true, and couldn't do otherwise. So in judging which metaphysic is true, one important consideration is whether we can live it consistently, because that is a real world test. You haven't offered me anything to change my mind there.

Another important consideration is that most of the argument against the existence of God require that these things be true. For example, how can the argument from evil be a problem if there's no evil? How can any argument and any conviction be valid if our rationality is based on survival value rather than truth, and we choose because of our brain chemistry rather than truth?

As JBS Haldane said: "If materialism is true, it seems to me that we cannot know that it is true."

So, faced with a confusing world, I'll choose the viewpoint that explains how the universe got here and its apparent fine-tuning, explains why people are what we all naturally believe we are until our materialism gets in the way, and allows me to live a consistent life rather than have to treat important facts with "carelessness and inattention".

I have yet to see a truly logical argument that suggests I should do anything else.

Perezoso said...

For example, how can the argument from evil be a problem if there's no evil?

Maybe because theists set it up like that. Problem of suffering, or suffering of innocent, etc. ala Mackie better phrasing. And if you think Mackie, or Hume, Russell have no arguments, I suspect you haven't read them.

Yes religious thinking plays an important part in human lives. That's one reason I object to the rather unsubtle approach of the Dawkins crew (who are doing their part to bring back TH Huxley). Russell's anti-religious discussions were a bit more tactful (though not always, and Bertie's not my guru).

That many people attend church and take it all seriously (even very seriously) does not establish the core doctrine. I am not sure how to address that. Marx, while not on the top 10 of religious thinkers, said some interesting things about religion from a standpoint of non-belief. Marx grants the power of religion and its importance, the comforts provided by religion (opium like) and the usefulness of the churches to some extent, while holding to the materialist standpoint and to non-belief (though dialectical is not the same as Darwin). Though at other times, he suggests religious faith is part of the bourgeois ideology more or less. Sort of depends on the address of the cathedral/chapel/tempel/mosque eh.

A Church IS a social institution, of course, and in a pragmatic sense might have value for some people (especially poor). Churches have worked towards certain social and economic justice (not always of course), and they provide a safety net, safe haven, choir practice, etc. That might be somewhat obvious, but a more pragmatic approach has advantages over the endless Aquinas wrangling. Yet I contend (against Marx as well) that any goods are outweighed by many bads (like Rev. Hagees ranting from Book of Revelation, creationism in general, mormons, priest-pervs, jihadists, jewish mobsters, etc etc)

John W. Loftus said...

unkle, apparently you cannot even understand my argument much less offer a critique of it.

C'ya round.

Rob G said...

"unkle, apparently you cannot even understand my argument much less offer a critique of it."

No, we understand that it doesn't qualify as a test or an experiment since, as unkle states, the result would be neither verifiable nor falsifiable.

"But to claim that God didn't say we should pray for the past means nothing at all and is merely an ad hoc attempt to escape the test itself."

Uh, no. If one is a Christian one is duty-bound to obey the dictates of the faith, not to make things up as one goes along, no matter how "good" the outcome might appear to be (i.e., the conversion of Loftus).

unkle e said...

Hi Perezoso,

"if you think Mackie, or Hume, Russell have no arguments, I suspect you haven't read them"

I didn't actually say that, so unfortunately you are addressing something I don't think. For the record, I have read very little of those three, but then, I never claimed to have read every philosopher in the world. But what I have read of Russell tells me he was a clever and humane man, but his arguments were unimpressive.

For example, in his debate with Copleston, Russell tries to defend a materialistic view of ethics, and says that he just knows some things are right and wrong like he knows yellow is yellow. I think Copleston could have demolished Russell here, and I was always disappointed that he didn't get/take the opportunity. But then I discovered Russell already understood the weaknesses of his position, when he wrote in his letters (re the Nuremburg war crimes trials, in which he was a juror):

"I do not myself think very well of what I have said on ethics. I have suffered a violent conflict between what I felt and what I found myself compelled to believe .... I could not bring myself to think that Auschwitz was wicked only because Hitler was defeated, but the ghosts of [other philosophers] seemed to jeer at me and say I was soft."

Please note also that I do not think there are no good arguments against the existence of God, only that (1) they mostly depend on aspects of reality which materialism struggles to explain, as I've already suggested, and (2) they are outweighed by stronger arguments the other way.

So I guess we go our separate ways with our separate conclusions. Thanks for the discussion.

unkle e said...

John

I guess that means you don't wish to discuss further, so I will try to wrap up.

It is easy to dismiss an argument by suggesting I just don't understand, but that remains an unsupported assertion until you actually answer the questions I and Rob have asked several times now.

I have re-read your statement, and I believe I do understand it. And I still believe it is unfortunate nonsense. You suggest we take a tragic event in the past and pray for God to change it. I'd like to look at that scenario a little more closely, since you seem unwilling to.

Let's take the Indian Ocean tsunami which occurred a few years ago. We all have memories of that tragic event, we have seen TV coverage, there are newspaper reports and accounts on the web. Now suppose we all pray as you suggest that God avert the tsunami, and suppose he does.

What then happens to our memories? If God hears our prayers now and acts back then, the tsunami wouldn't have occurred, there would have been no TV coverage, newspaper stories and web information, and no memories. Which contradicts the assumption we started with.

So your argument has an enormous contradiction built into it. If God acts, we cannot know. The only way we can know is if we retain both memories, which is ludicrous.

Hence I say the argument is unfortunate nonsense, and so far you have refused to explain how the scenario could work to establish your case. But I am still open to see that explanation.

Best wishes.

John W. Loftus said...

unkle said...Hence I say the argument is unfortunate nonsense...

Now why would I take you seriously and expend the effort to to answer your lame objections which I already covered in both of my books?

You goad me just like Reppert did, something I won't forget. Reppert, no more of this until you read my book for yourself. It is uncharitable of you if you wish to be friends. If not, then not. I have not criticized you book because I have not read it, and so I cannot say whether your book is characteristic of how you write on your blog because sometimes these are two different venues and reflect two different ways to communication. You really fail to understand that scholars only talk to scholars using math and symbolic logic to impress each other. I can understand what they write for the most part. I understand the scholars. But my goal is to change the religious landscape and one cannot achieve that goal unless s/he writes so people can understand.

unkle e said...

Sorry again John, I had no intention of goading you, I simply responded to what Vic and you each wrote.

You may recall you complained at the start that I didn't take you seriously enough with my light-hearted hypothetical, so I have been trying to please you since by being more serious.

And my objections may be "lame" but you still haven't answered them or offered an alternative scenario.

But I've tried to be friendly though critical, I've criticised the ideas and not the person and I've agreed that some criticise you unfairly. I'm just an ordinary person trying to live in the religious landscape you are seeking to destroy, and thinking you don't really know what you are doing.

Best wishes to you, but not to your quest. : )

Eric said...

"Actually Vic, I do mention his test for prayer in my chapter on prayer, but I also offer a very new and unique one on top of it. I argue that a great test for prayer is for believers to pray to change a tragic event in the past!"

It's neither new nor unique -- nor effective -- in any important sense
(see article four).

John W. Loftus said...

No doubt theologians have been asking whether or not God could change the past. Is backward causation possible? Does time flow in one direction? These are different times we live in where such things are not only possible but probable so what Aquinas said is antiquated. I merely introduced the element of prayer into this subject, and if that's new then that's new. If God has foreknowledge then he can do something differently in the past based upon prayers he foreknows in the future, and if that's so let's test it. What are you really afraid of here...that your faith will fail the test? Sure it is, otherwise you'd embrace the test.

Figures.

Truth Be Told said...
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