Waking Up from Waking Up from History

May 4, 2012

Via Wintery Knight, in “The Myth of the Flat Earth”, Jeffrey Burton Russell talks about one argument which those who scoff at Christianity (or at the past generally) don’t have available to them:

. . . an error that the Historical Society of Britain some years back listed as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions. It is the notion that people used to believe that the earth was flat—especially medieval Christians.

It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.

(Emphasis in original.)

There’s a certain narrative out there that history moves in only one direction, that progress is inexorable, that we’re so enlightened today (even that human nature has changed), whereas in ages past humanity lived in unspeakable darkness and ignorance.  That’s incorrect.

(For a Christian point of view, read the Bible.  See also everything by C. S. Lewis.  For a conservative point of view, read Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed and elsewhere, in which he describes what he sees as two worldviews or kinds of worldviews: the “constrained vision” and the “unconstrained vision”, or the “tragic vision” and the “vision of the anointed”.)

Anyway according to Professor Russell, this plank in that idolatry-of-progress platform is factually false.


71 Responses to “Waking Up from Waking Up from History”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    What about the Christian belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Jesus lived with dinosaurs?

    • Tevyeh Says:

      Can you quote chapter and verse, Snoodickle?

    • Right, the Bible doesn’t say that. People can believe whatever they want, but “young-earth creationism”, if you will, is a minority position.

      If we consider Gallup’s wording and poll results an adequate proxy, it’s 40% of Americans, including 24% of the non-religious (people who “Attend church seldom/never”), and 34% of Democrats.

      Wikipedia notes that the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Church—the three biggest denominations by population, together accounting for 65% of Christians worldwide (source: here and here)—all hold that the Bible is not inconsistent with evolution.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Uhhhh, Adam and Eve is consistent with our first ancestors being apes?

      • Well, sure. The Bible was never intended to be a science textbook; it’s intended to make us wise unto salvation.

        Just pick up any Bible and read the first two chapters, in Genesis. You’ll see that the two creation stories have things being created in two different orders. So it’s clear from the very beginning of the book that God didn’t intend it to be taken literally in the sense that you’re talking about taking it literally; if that’s your interpretive framework, you have to go back to the drawing board.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        So why take the story of resurrection literally? Or that Jesus is the son of God? Its weird that Christians stop interpreting the Bible literally when it is in direct conflict with science. Back to the drawing board!

      • The historical accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in the gospels are self-evidently very different from the creation stories. Why don’t you try reading them for yourself sometime?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Will you at least concede that reading some parts of the Bible literally and others allegorically is inconsistent?

      • No! If you would actually look at them, it’s clear on their face that they’re not written the same way; why would I read them the same way?

  2. Snoodickle Says:

    Where in Genesis does it say that it shouldn’t be taken literally?

    • I’ve already told you, read the first two chapters. They foreclose the possibility of the particular kind of nineteenth- or twentieth-century literalism you’re talking about.

      I think you’ve talked with me about this stuff enough over the last couple of years to realize that Christianity isn’t the nonsense you’d like to think it is. I think you should be open-minded and give it a try. If Christians are right, then deciding whether to accept Christ is the most important decision you’ll make in your whole life. Why not at least approach it with an open mind?

      You know how to reach me off site. I’d love to talk with you more about any sincere questions you may have, or put you in touch with my pastor (smart guy, Ivy League degree), if you’d like to talk with him. I really think it might be good for you to read the gospels for yourself—again, with an open mind. And of course if you ever suspect that any of this might be true, even for a moment, you might consider praying and asking God about it.

      If it’s not true, what do you have to lose?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I will ask Jesus to appear to me in a vision. Seriously, I will.

      • And He may choose to do that—I’ve talked to someone to whom He has appeared in a vision—but probably He won’t for you. Visions aren’t yours for the asking. Getting into right relation with God means acknowledging Him as Lord; if we let Him be Lord over our lives, everything else in the order of things sort of falls into place. Trying to tell Him what to do would, I assume, be exactly the wrong way to begin.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        If he appears, he exists. If not, I can only assume he doesn’t. It’s unreasonable to ask someone to believe something of which there is no evidence.

      • I think you’re actually wrong both ways there. I think you’re committing a form of circular reasoning or “question begging”.

        It is possible to explain away visions with entirely materialist explanations. Thus, even if you do have a vision, if you like, it proves nothing.

        On the other hand, you seem to be assuming that if God existed, He would be manifest in a particular way (that you choose). This is a little like saying that I assume that if I had a long-lost cousin in France, he would write me a letter to let me know he’s there. If I never get a letter, I haven’t actually proven there’s no cousin; I’ve only proven that I made certain assumptions.

        If you want evidence that God exists, I can show you various kinds. Many examples are available from the blogger Wintery Knight; check out his links here:
        Let me know what you think.

        But I’d also like to suggest that you’re looking for the wrong kind of evidence. I think you’re thinking of scientific evidence, the same kind of evidence you would want for the existence of a new animal species, or for the existence of volcanoes under the ocean. Science is very useful within its competence—investigating the physical facts about this world—but is useless for things outside of its competence, such as telling you whether life has meaning, or whether a God exists beyond this world.

        On that subject, I think you should read C. S. Lewis’s Miracles. It shows that materialist atheism is actually logically untenable.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Again, if you want me to believe that God impregnated a virgin in order to send himself on a suicide mission to die for our sins, and then enshrined this fact in a book that condones slavery and tells us that we can drink poison and be unharmed, I’m going to need to see some pretty compelling evidence.

      • Again, I think what you’re basically saying is that you’ve already assumed that Christianity isn’t true. That’s begging the question.

        By the way, for purposes of argument, can you articulate why you think slavery is bad in the first place?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I’m not assuming it’s not true. I’m starting from the premise that I don’t know the truth. Then, I read the Bible claiming that the story of Jesus is the truth. However, based on logic and science (i.e. people can’t rise from the dead, virgins can’t give birth, etc. etc.), I conclude that the story of Jesus sounds entirely implausible, if not completely impossible. So, given that premise, I am left wanting more evidence to prove the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead, a virgin was impregnated by a Supreme Being for the purpose of sending himself on a suicide mission, and that people can drink deadly poison and survive. That is not begging the question, that’s call critical thinking.

        As to slavery, I think it’s evil because people should have control of their own lives.

      • OK, I take it back. That sounds like a good way to think about it. I have more to say about miracles and science, but let me come back to that.

        Re slavery, why should people have control of their own lives?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Because freedom is a natural right.

      • Sure, but what is a natural right? Why should anyone respect natural rights?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        So that we can live our lives in peace. Which is why it’s so bizarre that God condones slavery in the Bible. Which in turn makes me think that the Bible, or at least a good portion of it, is not in fact the word of God.

      • Why should people let others live their lives in peace?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Heres a better question: Why wouldn’t God let them?

      • No, don’t change the subject. You’ve said that slavery is evil, and so that the Bible’s permitting it (again, that’s different from condoning it, which the Bible does not do) either means that the Bible is not from God or means that God does not exist. We haven’t yet gotten to the bottom of what you believe about slavery and evil.

        Why should people let others live their lives in peace?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Because living in peace is better for everybody. It’s an idiotic question.

      • It’s not an idiotic question. You’re holding the Bible to a moral standard. Where does your moral standard come from? We haven’t yet gotten to the bottom of that.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe morality inheres in some human beings, maybe it comes from a higher moral power. However, even if the latter is true, it suggests nothing about whether the story of Jesus is true. We’ve actually had this precise conversation before.

      • It’s true, the existence of God doesn’t by itself imply that Christianity is true or that Jesus was divine.

        Are you conceding that God exists, and that we owe Him obedience?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I concede the possibility that a supernatural force could exist in the universe. In fact, I may even believe it. I’m not sure why you insist on referring to that force as a “Him,” though. That said, an objective moral code could be rooted in, and explained by, biology. No one fully understands the human brain, and it would be foolish to say that no objective moral code can exist in the absence of a higher power. Will you concede that?

        For greater insight on this matter, I refer you to the following.


      • No, I don’t concede that. It would not in that case be “objective” in the same sense—“transcendent”, as the introduction to your article puts it. Your articles seems to agree from the beginning that if our idea of morality comes from “biology”, it is no more than a “human invention”; it can be “transcendent” only if it comes from elsewhere.

        Where do you think the moral law comes from? from God, or from men?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        That’s just it, I don’t know. No one does.

      • Then you were incorrect to hold the Bible to your moral standard. If our idea of morality is not an intuition of transcendental reality but is only a product of evolution, then all you were really saying is that you don’t like slavery because you don’t like slavery. Do you concede that you were incorrect?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Incorrect about what?

      • You said that you reject the Bible in part because it permits slavery, and slavery is wrong. Now you say that for all you know, it may be only that you, for biochemical reasons, don’t like slavery, which is very different. You can’t consistently do both. Which is it?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        You’re making absolutely no sense. I said that I don’t know where my moral standard comes from, not that it comes from both sources.

        Think about this – if my moral standard does come from a higher power, then your God isn’t all powerful, because the morality that my God has bestowed upon me has caused me to reject your God’s standard of morality. Moreover, it would prove that there are two gods, with two very different senses of morality, which would undermine the entire basis of Christianity and every other monotheistic religion.

        If, on the other hand, my moral standard is the product of natural evolution, then the book of God fails to live up to an entirely man-originated sense of morality. That as well would undermine the entire basis of Christianity.

        Alas, your argument does nothing more than disprove the very teachings on which your chosen religion finds its foundation.

        Of course, we could have avoided this whole mess if you would just admit that the Bible’s passages condoning slavery are not the work of God, but are man made. But, once you make such admission, you are putting your entire religion at risk. This is why you fail to do so.

      • That’s incorrect.

        “Think about this – if my moral standard does come from a higher power, then your God isn’t all powerful, because the morality that my God has bestowed upon me has caused me to reject your God’s standard of morality.”
        —That’s not what all-powerful means.
        —That’s not what morality means.

        If God exists and gave us the moral law, then you can’t reject Him on the basis of it. He judges you, not the other way around. If you think the Bible comes from Him and you think the Bible is inconsistent with His law, then it means either that you are incorrect in your understanding of the moral law, that you are incorrect in your understanding of the Bible, or that you are incorrect in thinking that the Bible comes from Him.

        “Moreover, it would prove that there are two gods, with two very different senses of morality, which would undermine the entire basis of Christianity and every other monotheistic religion.”

        Yes, it would, if it were true, but it doesn’t follow. The fact that you personally have rejected God does not prove that there’s another, equal God. If there were two equal gods, neither one would be the Creator of the other, and so neither would have moral authority over the other. Then the status of the “moral law” we’re talking about would again be a matter of mere personal preference, not an actual transcendent, binding moral law.

        “If, on the other hand, my moral standard is the product of natural evolution, then the book of God fails to live up to an entirely man-originated sense of morality. That as well would undermine the entire basis of Christianity.”

        No, that would prove what Christianity has told us over and over again: that man sets himself up as God and makes up his own rules. That way lies death.

        “Of course, we could have avoided this whole mess if you would just admit that the Bible’s passages condoning slavery are not the work of God, but are man made.”

        I agree that slavery is wrong (and the Christian West is where we abolished slavery, remember?), and I’ve pointed out that the Bible does not condone slavery; it permits it, as God permits a lot of sin in the world today (He’s holding the door open for us to repent before He destroys us). But on your understanding of the world, there’s no such thing as right and wrong; so why would you agree that slavery is wrong?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Why permit slavery but prohibit every other sin?

      • He didn’t, if you like; another example would be divorce:
        Deuteronomy 24
        Matthew 19

        On the other hand, the seed of the end of, or prohibition of, slavery was already in the Old Testament, in the form of the second-most-important commandment: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

        I can also say that God is meeting us where we are and giving us the opportunity to cooperate in our redemption, for the whole people of Israel then as He does for us individually today. He could have just imposed His full standards on us all at once, but we’re all so messed up that it would have destroyed us rather than saved us.

        But probably I can’t fully understand all that, and I don’t need to. If the alternatives are logically untenable (you can’t judge anyone by a moral standard if you don’t believe there’s a God capable of giving one in the first place, and you can’t judge God by it if you believe He is the one with the authority to give it), then beyond a certain point, you just have to trust that God knows what He’s doing.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        But there are many Gods.

      • No, again, that’s impossible. There could be many gods, but not many Gods, if you will.

        If there are more than one god, then none of them can be the source of the kind of moral authority we’ve been talking about.

        Or look at it this way: You, I, and the article you linked to all seem to have agreed that the existence of a law-giving Creator God is one possible explanation for where our ideas of morality come from. Can you articulate how His existence would explain that, in a way that makes the moral law binding? If you do, I think you’ll find that it works only if there is one supreme God. (There could still be gods under Him, but none of them could be the source of the moral law.)

        I really do think you should read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (among other books), by the way. A lot of this stuff is in there.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        You’re missing my point. My point is that God, as defined by nearly every religion in the world, could be the source of the moral authority that you speak of. But you have arbitrarily chosen the Christian God as the true god. Any of the other major religions are just as plausible as Christianity. In fact, they are probably more plausible, given the fact that they don’t rely on a story of their God impregnating a virgin. (Of course, I’m sure most of the other religions have some goofy, and logically impossible, stories as well). I take you back to my original point – even if you can “prove” that God is the source of moral authority, you cannot prove that the story of Jesus is true. You have chosen to believe it, but you have no convincing basis for doing so.

      • It’s true, I didn’t understand your point at all. You should have said “There are many religions,” not “There are many Gods.”

        Let’s stick to one topic at a time. Yes, as I already stipulated above, I agree that the existence of God does not by itself imply that Christianity is true or that Jesus is divine. I’m happy to make that argument, but that’s a different argument. Do you agree that God exists?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I’m willing to acknowledge the possibility, sure.

      • If you’re saying you don’t know one way or the other, then you have to admit that you can’t use your slavery argument against the Bible any more, right?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        You’re still not making sense. Anyone can argue that God would never permit slavery. Why must that argument depend on whether the person believes in God?

      • I said above, “You said that you reject the Bible in part because it permits slavery, and slavery is wrong.” Do you no longer agree with that statement of your position?

        If that is still your position, then I’m saying that the “is wrong” part is not supported, because you claim to remain agnostic as to whether there’s really any such thing as right and wrong.

        Am I right?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I reject that part of the bible because yes, slavery is wrong, but also because it is clearly not the word of God. Whatever you say of the former, the latter is not dependent in any way on a belief in God. You’re outsmarting yourself at this point.

      • You’re still saying “slavery is wrong”. Again, that is not consistent with your other stated positions. I understand that you’re now saying that that’s only one of two prongs in your argument against the Bible, but you have to either admit that that prong is unavailable to you or revisit your other positions that are inconsistent with it.

        As to the second, “it is clearly not the word of God,” yes, you could logically say that without taking a position on the existence of God, but you haven’t done that (logically). To do so, you would have to take a position on what God would be like if He existed—and so what He would love or hate, encourage or prohibit—and you haven’t even begun to do that. In other words, your second prong is begging the question.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Here’s the simple truth: you are attempting to lawyer your way out of the passages in the Bible condoning slavery. It’s not working. At some point you have to concede that the passage in the Bible allowing for slavery is horrific, unexplainable, and no decent person or being would ever defend it.

      • I understand you to be conceding that your current beliefs rest on unexamined assumptions, question begging, and/or mutually exclusive claims. Is that correct?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        No, again, you’re not making any sense.

  3. Snoodickle Says:

    Ps. I’m not sure you fully understand what “begging the question” means, which is when a conclusion is supported by reasoning which is nothing more than the conclusion itself. To conclude that Jesus exists because he appears in a vision and says he is exists is not begging the question. The conclusion – that Jesus exists- is supported by the fairly sound reasoning that the vision is authentic. Just a friendly reminder next time you use fancy logic talk.

  4. Which part of what I’ve said doesn’t make sense?

  5. Snoodickle, I just want to be sure we’re on the same page about what we’ve done here.

    Despite your repeatedly saying in the past that Christianity is illogical and your beliefs are logical (see, e.g., here), in the course of this conversation, we’ve established that your beliefs are inconsistent and logically untenable.

    I’m not trying to pressure you into continuing this conversation any longer than you want, but I do want to be sure that we both understand where we’re leaving things.

  6. I understand you to have made a two-pronged argument against the Bible:

    (1) The Bible condones slavery, and slavery is wrong.

    (2) If God existed, He would not condone slavery.


    (1) I also understand you to be claiming to be agnostic on the question of whether morality is transcendent (from God) or a mere product of evolution. In the latter case, when you say “slavery is wrong”, all you mean is that you subjectively don’t like it, due to something in your makeup. If you won’t take a position on the status of morality (transcendent or subjective), then you can’t also make another argument (your prong 1) that rests on its transcendence.

    (2) I think your prong 2 rests on unexamined assumptions or logical inferences not stated. If you really want to assert prong 2, I think you have to develop logical arguments about what God would be like if He existed, what He would prohibit or permit if He existed, and exactly how He would do it, and exclude the alternatives.

    Mainly I was talking about paragraph 1. You take it for granted (as we all intuitively do) that there’s such a thing as right and wrong. But then when we examine your beliefs, we find that it is inconsistent for you to believe that there is any such thing. Your beliefs are illogical. I think that means you should change them.

    • Snoodickle Says:

      Or you don’t understand evolution, and you are failing to consider a number of other theories regarding morality. O wait, you have! It is also possible that human evolution is naturally progressing toward the greater good, of some kind of collective force that binds together the universe. Call this force God if you want, call it the source of our morality, but really it is human beings from which morality is based. But because this sense of morality leads us toward the greater good, it is anything but subjective. That is just one theory, there are many others that you are failing to consider.

      Here’s the point, you don’t have to know where morality comes from to know that something is immoral. Slavery is evil. The Bible condones slavery. No one can dispute those two facts. You are trying to defend a passage in the Bible that condones human beings purchasing others as their property. You are foolish to do so, and should just accept that parts of the Bible are a complete abomination.

  7. “. . . and you are failing to consider a number of other theories regarding morality.”

    OK, your own article suggested that there were only those two options, and your own comments seemed to agree, but we can talk about other possibilities if you’ve changed your mind and thought of some. But I’m not going to sit here and try to make up alternate explanations for morality for you. You tell me which one you believe, and I’ll be happy to argue about whether it is consistent with the arguments you’re trying to rest on it.

    “Here’s the point, you don’t have to know where morality comes from to know that something is immoral.”

    That’s true, but if your stated beliefs are incompatible with the existence of morality, you can’t then go and call something immoral.

    “Slavery is evil. The Bible condones slavery. No one can dispute those two facts.”

    Actually, I and at least one other commenter on this blog have repeatedly contested the second. The Bible permitted slavery,and to some extent regulated and reformed it, which is almost the opposite of condoning it. We can have that argument if you’d like, but first you have to resolve your inconsistency about whether there’s any such thing as morality in the first place.

    “You are foolish to do so” is not an argument.

  8. “‘Here’s the point, you don’t have to know where morality comes from to know that something is immoral.’

    “That’s true . . . .”

    I’m sorry, I should amend that. It’s also not true in a sense. You can’t claim that something is immoral if you claim not to know what morality is. You can’t make arguments using words that are either meaningless or of unknown meaning.

    • Snoodickle Says:

      And 60 comments later you have yet to prove that the story of Jesus is true.

      • I've been reading along Says:

        Wait, what? Seriously? You guys have been talking about the source of morality for most of this thread. Anyway, you yourself said you think it’s possible that there is a supernatural power governing the world. If you even call that a possibility, then when you read scripture (or evaluate any supernatural claims from any religion) you have to start from the position that miracles (things contravening physical laws) are _possible_. So your complaints about the story of Jesus aren’t even compatible with your own starting assumption (you can’t throw out the story for being unbelievable if you say you believe in the supernatural). How can Chillingworth ever prove anything to you if your framework for processing information contradicts itself?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        So people of other religions cannot choose to believe that Christianity does not sound plausible simply because they believe in the supernatural? Don’t be foolish.

      • Watch it.

        Your past statements, and “Reading”‘s criticism of them, are much less generic than you’re now trying to make them sound. You said above,

        “However, based on logic and science (i.e. people can’t rise from the dead, virgins can’t give birth, etc. etc.), I conclude that the story of Jesus sounds entirely implausible, if not completely impossible.”

        Later, you said,

        “I concede the possibility that a supernatural force could exist in the universe. In fact, I may even believe it.”

        What do you think “supernatural” means? It’s true that people can’t rise from the dead etc. naturally. I assume you know that that insight is not unique to you, or even to the centuries since the invention of the scientific method; the people in the Bible clearly understood it to be extraordinary as well, and thought it was a sign that Someone was intervening in the natural world from outside.

        Anyway these two of your statements, like the others I criticized above, are incompatible with each other. Have you changed your position? Or have you simply lost interest in logic, which you claimed to be so interested in (if not have a monopoly on) before?

        Now you’re saying, “And 60 comments later you have yet to prove that the story of Jesus is true.”

        That’s true, although we’ve already found that your reason for not believing it is untenable. But mostly we’ve talked about prior questions. Are you complaining about how long it is taking, or about how hard it is?

        If about length, it’s true, any conversation takes longer if you have it in the comments on a blog entry. I suggested back at the beginning of this conversation that you contact me off site; you declined to do so, and we continued the conversation here. That’s fine with me, but you can’t then complain about how long it takes in your chosen medium.

        If about how hard logic is, I don’t know what to tell you. You can’t very well contradict yourself, then refuse to resolve the contradictions, and then complain that the logical proofs and arguments aren’t advancing smoothly. But even if we were doing this perfectly, it might take some hard thinking. Logic is what it is, whether we like it or not.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Again, as I’ve maintained all along, I find it completely illogical, and utterly implausible, that a Supreme Being would impregnate a virgin with himself in the form of man, for the purpose of sending himself on a suicide mission for the purpose of saving us, and then enshrine these facts in a book that condones the very practice that nearly destroyed this country, and has ravaged humanity since its inception. You don’t find this implausible?

        Do I believe in the supernatural, as I said before – “may”be, but does that mean I have to believe that ANYTHING is possible? Supernatural does not necessarily mean all powerful. Just because there are forces at work in the universe that science cannot yet or will ever explain does not mean that those forces are capable of impregnating virgins or raising people from the dead. I suppose if you take logic to its extreme boundary, that ANYTHING is possible, but I do not rest by beliefs on silly logical extremes. In that sense, you are right, the story of Jesus is not impossible, but then again nothing is impossible, not even the possibility that God will accidentally choke on a juju bean and die and the universe will explode. Do you believe that is possible?

  9. I've been reading along Says:

    If I were you, I wouldn’t call people fools right after you’ve misunderstood them. Nothing I’ve said even implies what you wrote. You skipped a step. Check it out:

    Step one (I will reiterate what I said above): anyone who grants the possibility that there exists a supernatural force must also grant the possibility that any account of supernatural activity could be true. That means any religion (I said that up there). That means you can’t say you reject the Bible because it says Jesus rose from the dead. If you believe in the possibility of a “supernatural force”, then you believe things like that are possible. You can’t throw out any religion at this point. You can’t even throw out the notion of fortune tellers. Not a priori, anyway.

    For example: If I say “maybe there is a supernatural power”, I cannot reach the conclusion that Hinduism is false by observing that natural laws of physics don’t accommodate the idea that a statue can be inhabited by a deity. Neither can a Hindu argue that Christianity is false because it claims Jesus rose from the dead. We can make other arguments for the truth or falsity of those religions, though. They’ll mostly be about internal logic.

    Step two: in light of the possibility of any supernatural phenomenon, evaluate its reasonableness or likelihood. Remember, you can’t use the laws of nature to evaluate reasonableness here. Instead, this is where you take the opportunity to examine each worldview or religion, holistically, ON ITS OWN TERMS and see whether it hangs together (in Christianity, this is the exercise theologians call “systematic theology”). In a sense, if you grant the possibility of a supernatural power, the burden shifts to you to disprove any particular religion or its claims.

    For example, you could try to argue that for some reason this supernatural force has nothing to do with the natural world, but you’d have to invent a whole worldview in which that makes sense. You could try to argue that the Muslim understanding of God either ends up denying the existence of reality or assuming it is all ultimately God himself, in which case a lot of the rest of the religion doesn’t make sense, and maybe it’s not the one to believe if you had to choose (and you do have to choose). You could argue that a pantheistic religion still hasn’t accounted for God in any way, because nothing can be God if it isn’t the source of all other things or, as Anselm of Canterbury put it “that than which nothing greater can be imagined.” Those are evaluations of religions on their own terms.

    • Snoodickle Says:

      I refer you to my latest comment sir.

    • I've been reading along Says:

      What do you think supernatural means, anyway? It’s clear that you’re trying here. Thanks for that. But I think it is going to be hard (impossible) to have this discussion if you don’t sign on to some basic philosophical and logical concepts. Concepts that atheists and theist alike think are philosophically sound. The people who have made names for themselves arguing for atheism, the people who make a profession out of philosophy, don’t make the arguments you make. They would call your positions illogical, too.

      Do you realize how often you use “I think”? What kind of logical argument is “I think”? There’s no way to interact with that. Yes, you find the story of Jesus goofy. I can’t argue with that. You sure think it is goofy. Is that the argument you are having? Is that the argument you want to win? I’ll let you have it! Yes! Snoodickle, I must say, you sure have convinced me that you think the story of Jesus is ridiculous. I don’t know if it was your use of “I think” or the fact that you say the same thing over and over, but boy, somehow you persuaded me that you really do think that.

      I feel like someone is saying to me, “Look, I think it’s ridiculous for you to claim that you saw a butterfly while you took a walk this morning. Prove to me that you did! Sure, you say it’s possible that you did, but acknowledging possibility is some kind of logical extreme! Why, by that reasoning, it’s possible that you popped out of existence for a while this morning!” You can understand how I’d have a hard time talking to someone like that, right?

      I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not talking about Jesus. The arguments you made about Jesus rest on flawed assumptions, so I’m addressing those. Right now, telling me Jesus sounds silly is a non- sequitur.

      I’ll list a few fundamentals below if you’d like, as answers to your specific questions and problem points in your latest comment. I don’t know how deep to go into an explanation of any position, because philosophy is a difficult subject and you don’t seem to have much background in it. But if you have any questions, I’ll do my best.

      1. I think any philosopher (atheists included) would tell you that God, just definitionally, cannot cease to exist. Either there is no God, or God is always there. (I’ll post an exercise to demonstrate this in a minute.)

      2. Supernatural means not contingent upon the natural world. Perhaps you are envisioning a supernatural force that can do nothing but, say, make heavy things float in the air. But this is hypothetical, of course. And we can just as easily imagine a supernatural entity that specializes in some other limited supernatural activity: say, turning princes into frogs. So, when you say supernatural doesn’t equal all powerful, are you trying to argue for something like absolute power over limited parts of the natural world? What limits those forces? If they are limited by something else, then they are contingent, and either 1) the limiting factor is nothing more than other “supernatural” forces and they’re all actually natural; or 2) some more powerful force, which is God, and is supernatural, and is all-powerful. If they are limited only by their own choice, then they are actually all-powerful, and it is logically impossible for two of them to exist, and the one that does exist is God, and is supernatural, and all-powerful.

      3. Unless you have reason to believe anything in particular about that supernatural force, you can’t say anything about it one way or the other. If you don’t know what those supernatural forces do, then yes, you must logically concede, as a first step, that anything supernatural (and not logically impossible) is possible.

      4. Your use of “logical extreme” is rather extreme. The possible existence of a supernatural force really does mean the possibility of anything else that isn’t _logically_ impossible. That isn’t a “logical extreme.” it’s just the very first logical implication of our proposition. STEP ONE. There are plenty more steps. For starters, I refer you back to my STEP TWO above. It’s a great one.

      • I've been reading along Says:

        In paragraph 2: that should say “If they are limited by something else, then they are contingent, and either 1) the limiting factor is nothing more than other “supernatural” forces and they’re all actually natural; or 2) the limiting factor is some more powerful force, which is God, and is supernatural, and is all-powerful.”

    • I've been reading along Says:

      Below is one possible answer to whether God could choke on something and die. It’s lifted directly from a journal article by someone named von Wachter. (Philosophy is dominated by Germans.) It assumes some attributes of God: omnipotence, goodness, etc. That’s pretty common. Otherwise the thing we’re discussing wouldn’t be God.

      “First, consider the question whether God has always existed. If there was a time when God did not exist, then what happened at that time was not in his control. Whatever happened then, God was not able to prevent it from happening. This is quite clearly at odds with the idea of God being omnipotent. Further, if there was once no God, how should God have come into existence? Perhaps there can be uncaused events, but it is difficult to see how the coming into existence of a God could be an uncaused event. If, on the other hand, God’s coming into being was caused, then God would be dependent on this cause, and this is incompatible with his omnipotence. I conclude that, if there is a God, he has always existed.

      “Now consider the question whether it is possible that God will cease to exist. This question is to be divided into three questions. (A) Is it possible that God is destroyed? (B) Is it possible that God ceases to exist by accident, i.e. without cause? (C) Is it possible that God commits suicide? If these three questions are to be negated, then it is impossible that God will cease to exist.

      “On (A). God is powerful enough to prevent anything from abolishing him. Nothing is powerful enough to abolish God against his will. If God was abolished in accordance with his will, that would amount to divine suicide, which we will discuss under (C).

      “On (B). God would only cease to exist by accident if he were to allow this to happen. This would, again, amount to divine suicide, which we will discuss under (C).

      “On (C). Is it possible that God will commit suicide, i.e. bring his existence to an end? An omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good person is a very great good indeed, whose death would be a great loss. God’s death would also be the end of all created goods. Further, after God’s death there would be no divine benefactions anymore and no relationships between God and other persons. If God were to cease to exist, these goods would be lost, and no good would be gained. We may assume that all this constitutes an overriding reason for God for not committing suicide. Given that it is impossible that God, being perfectly rational and omniscient, would do something which he has overriding reasons for not doing, we may assume that it is impossible that God would commit suicide. Given our discussion of (A), (B), and (C), we may conclude that it is impossible that God will cease to exist.”

    • I've been reading along Says:

      Another nice one is this, in the same article. “Necessary existence” is a concept in philosophy. I’m sorry to use technical terms, but probably for your question, you can ignore the idea of necessary existence. This little exercise proves God’s indestructibility along the way to necessary existence.

      “That God exists necessarily can also be derived from the following two claims.

      A. There cannot be a time at which nothing exists.
      B. If there is no God at time t then nothing exists at t.

      (B) is derived from the claim that nothing can exist unless God sustains it. It follows from (A) and (B), as explained above, that it is impossible that God has a beginning or an end. That means that he has always existed and that he cannot cease to exist. Hence, if God exists at all, he exists necessarily.”

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