Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lennox versus Hitchens

First he debated Richard Dawkins. Now John Lennox will square off with Christopher Hitchens. I have no doubt that Lennox will be up to the challenge. The question is, will Hitchens. It is for him we must pray.

HT: David Reimer

12 comments:

Michael said...

Have you ever seen Hitchens?

Have you ever heard Lennox?

The former is a consummate debater and rational thinker.

The latter is a delusional, indoctrinated driveler.

That is not puttiong it too strongly you see, because Lennox has said things like, "The historical evidence for Christianity are strong" when he is only citing the Bible itself and no independent corroborating sources. I suggest you read Victor Stenger's "God the Failed Hypothesis" for more on that.

He has also said point blank in his most recent discussion with Richard Dawkins that he believes in miracles because his religion and his worldview depend on it.

Which indicates that he has decided a priori that his worldview (i.e. his opinion) is correct and the evidence is wrong.

Any straight thinking person can sort out the fallacy in that.

You sound like a regular theist- a believer despite what an objective analysis of your spokespeoples' arguments would do to the credibility of your statements and your proclamations of support (such as this blog). You are probably selectively ignoring this, that is ignoring the obvious. Such is the nature of "faith" and its requirement- the suspension of disbelief. It is remarkably similar to Orwell's "doublethink" in 1984- which is to ignore something and forget that you had to acknowledge it to ignore it.

An example:

1.) Do not think of an elephant.

2.) Forget that you must think of an elephant to understand what you must not think of.

It is disappointing to see people pretend, as you are, that an illogical, deranged mathematician (again- no exaggeration) will amount to any challenge to reason.

For the history of religion, such contestations never have.

Why aren't you a believer in fairies, unicorns, and witches?

In a supernatural universe, they're possible too.

You probably disbelieve in them because they don't offer you eternal life, nor did anyone tell you they were your salvation and the source of all reality since you were first able to process such asinine, incredible notions.

In the meantime, I look forward to the video of this exchange and expect Hitchens to reflect his skill and uphold his reputation as a superior debater, and I look forward to hearing his critical analysis of Lennox's arguments, and applying my own.

And I rather revel in your likely response that I am being "strident" like Richard Dawkins, when I have taken pains to apply the sober, proper vocabulary to suit the subject matter.

Have a good day.

MJK said...

Michael - great name, and thanks for the comment(s).

Have you ever seen Hitchens? Have you ever heard Lennox?

Affirmative to both.

The former is a consummate debater and rational thinker. The latter is a delusional, indoctrinated driveler.

That's one way of putting it. As I said, though, I have heard and read Lennox, and find your characterization of him incredulous. The speed with which you can quickly assess my character and intellectual integrity does not give me a lot of assurance, either, that you have been more diligent in assessing Lennox's. And the evidence you provide in support of your characterization is not overly helpful to me. Hey, I'm all about the evidence, but a couple (paraphrased, I'm assuming) quotes with no context is not much in the way of evidence. Note that I'm not faulting you for not providing the context--you were just commenting on a blog post, of all things--but without the context I can neither establish what you're saying nor disprove it. Context is everything, as they say, and I could likely come up with a dozen different ones that when surrounding the statements you cite would yield them cogent and sensible.

I will respond to the rest of your comment by saying that your criticisms remind me--strangely enough--more of Hitchens than anyone else. In his online debate with Doug Wilson, he not only failed to answer Wilson's most fundamental question, but also failed even (it seemed to me) to understand it. (The debate is available here: http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only )

Why aren't you a believer in fairies, unicorns, and witches?

Cause I can't believe what I don't find evidence for, but thanks for guessing.

And I rather revel in your likely response that I am being "strident" like Richard Dawkins, when I have taken pains to apply the sober, proper vocabulary to suit the subject matter.

Sorry to disappoint.

Michael, I will admit to you that there are piles of Christians whose faith is blind and irrational, and I certainly do not shout that gleefully "from the housetops". I hope that the likes of you will help us Christians see that faith must be built on solid evidence. And if there is no evidence for a certain faith, then be gone belief. I hope that holds true for you too, though. Have you openly examined the evidence for your faith? If it were insufficient would you renounce your worldview?

Michael said...

Hi MJK,

Yes it is is a good name, isn't it?

Thank you for your well-spoken, timely response.

I have not read Lennox. But I surely hope that his writing is more coherent than his verbal arguments.

Context is everything, as they say, and I could likely come up with a dozen different ones that when surrounding the statements you cite would yield them cogent and sensible.





What context, may I ask, do you need when I have given you a textbook example of the argument from personal credulity?

He wants to believe in miracles (he is willingly credulous of them), because quite rightly, being a Christian depends on it. I am not a Christian for the same reason- one of a few, I should add.

Illogical statements are not rendered logical by context... please. By the way that context is readily available to you in the latest conversation between Lennox and Dawkins.

You may provide what context you think renders it cogent.

I did qualify my personality assessment with "probably"- but I will state I have met and corresponded with sufficient theists to recognise patterns in their behaviour. I apologise.

I noticed it them moment I read "Will Hitchens be ready? It is for him that we most pray."

It reeked, quite frankly, of condescension and farcical naivety, if you indeed knew what you were saying.

Hitchens could quash both of us at once with his hands tied. He is a professional polemicist.

Did you notice how in Lennox's conversation with Dawkins, John attempted to charm Richard with his laughter, friendly voice, and remarks like "Are you beginning to see what I'm getting at?"

Hitchens, I would surely hope and expect, and less than the Harris, Dawkins, or Dennett, would fall for such disarming anaesthetic.

You can argue that he has been off-form in debates in the past (indeed, he was arguably ineffective against Dinesh D'Souza) but you well know the fight he will put up.

You overestimate your own contender, and underestimate his adversary.

I would at this point suggest, if anything, both our faculties of judgement are flawed, if indeed, at least, mine are.

Before I watch the debate with Doug Wilson, perhaps you could share with me this fundamental question so I may identify it?

Cause I can't believe what I don't find evidence for, but thanks for guessing.





There is no more evidence for God than for these. As you will discover when you read God: The Failed Hypothesis, you will find we have ample plausible mechanisms to disregard any God model that you may put forward- an a plausible one would be unlikely to resemble the Abrahamic God, with all of his anthropomorphised traits.

. Have you openly examined the evidence for your faith? If it were insufficient would you renounce your worldview?




Firstly, no, I haven't examined the evidence for my "faith." I don't have faith.

Secondly, yes I would, but my response needs further clarification.

When you have "solid evidence," it precludes any necessity for faith.

Do physicists have faith in the standard model of physics? No. It describes the data that they have accumulated through observation. When another model describes observations more completely, if ever, it will supercede the standard model, and physicists will not quarrel with the newcomer over previous affections for the previous model.

Faith implies credulity- wanting to believe you are the chosen species of the Creator of the Universe, in this case, BEFORE examining any evidence that would support this claim. You therefore search for supporting evidence AFTER you have made this a priori assumption.

In this fashion I do not have faith. I actually would like to have a truly loving deity watching over me. Many atheists would. But I do not have faith in anything because I place no investment, unlike you, in anything to be true, because I know that just wanting something does not realise it in hard nature.

What is true, is true.

That the Bible claims to be the infallible word of the Lord because IT ITSELF SAYS SO, demonstrates an investment in a particular worldview. It is not true merely because it says it is true.

And no other book corroborates this. Forget the Torah and the Qur'an.

I mean secular, historical references.

Our observations in nature and of history do not reflect this.

I do not need faith to believe that our observations of nature do not reflect this. They don't.

You have made a common mistake by theists to smear atheists by the faith brush. It is irrational for the reason I have just given. I wait for the evidence first before making an assumption of God's existence.

It is especially irrational to declare that I have faith, seeing as I have just said I would rather there was a God...

You may object that my definition of faith as equivalent to (a priori- an assumption before evidence) credulity is subjective. But unless your opinion of humanity is sufficiently cynical that with an a priori belief of God's existence, you believe humans would behave immorally (wait- you do believe in Original Sin), why WOULDN'T anyone choose to have faith in God's existence, than his non-existence.

I did not decide God did not exist a priori, as you did when you became an affirming Christian! I am human, imbued with humanity and morality (take my word for it, ok?) I have no wish therefore for God NOT to exist.

My response here has been long-winded. Your blog post was brief, and thankfully (in a way) did not accurately reflect the thoughtfulness of your character and conversation. I enjoyed your response very much.

Take care. Sorry for my long-windedness.

Michael said...

There are some mistypes in my orioginal rebuttal Mike.

Where I say, "Hitchens, I would surely hope and expect, and less than the Harris, Dawkins, or Dennett, would fall for such disarming anaesthetic."...

I mean to say, "Hitchens, I would surely hope and expect, and less than the Harris, Dawkins, or Dennett, would notfall for such disarming anaesthetic."

And...

"But unless your opinion of humanity is sufficiently cynical that with an a priori belief of God's existence, you believe humans would behave immorally (wait- you do believe in Original Sin), why WOULDN'T anyone choose to have faith in God's existence, than his non-existence."

I mean to say,

"But unless your opinion of humanity is sufficiently cynical that with an a priori belief of God's non-existence, you believe humans would behave immorally (wait- you do believe in Original Sin), why WOULDN'T anyone choose to have faith in God's existence, than his non-existence."

Apologies. Thanks!

MJK said...

Michael - no probs about the word count. I've got quite a bit to say myself, but unfortunately I don't have much time to say it in. I hope to respond on Thursday.

In the meantime I'll encourage you to read GOD'S UNDERTAKER by Lennox. I would like to read the book you mention when I find a chance. I have blogged through the first few chapters of Lennox's book; if you're interested you can dig them up.

I will take the time to answer one of your questions:

You wrote: Before I watch the debate with Doug Wilson, perhaps you could share with me this fundamental question so I may identify it?

Here's a paragraph from Wilson taken from part 3 of the debate in which he tries once again to make his question clear:

Now we really need to address the point you continue to miss. I am not talking about whether atheists must do evil, or if they can do evil. I have denied the former, and you have now granted the latter. But that is not the point. We are not talking about whether your atheism compels you to run downtown this evening to shoot out the street lights. I grant that it does not. And we are not talking about whether atheists can do vile things. You grant that they can. We are talking about (or, more accurately, I am trying to talk about) whether or not atheism provides any rational basis for rational condemnation when others decide to misbehave this way. You keep saying, "I have come to my ethical position." I keep asking, "Yes, quite. But why did you do so?"

BTW, this online debate is coming out as a book. Perhaps each contributor will refine his arguments: http://mikenhelen.blogspot.com/2008/07/in-print-to-online-and-online-to-in.html

We'll talk some more...

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Forgive me,

I deleted my last post (hence saying "removed by author") and modified it into this.

Over a spelling and grammatical mistakes really... I'm a stickler.

I look forward to our further correspondence.

I have now read the online debate between DW and CH (notice that in a previous post I made the a priori assumption that it was a video debate by the use of the term "watch"...and, chance would have it, was wrong) and, while I easily identify said unanswered question of which you speak, I will reserve my comment and/or response for after you fire your next salvo!

I will say that Hitchens, for me, is too rigid and repetetive in his debates- I have heard practically every of his arguments. He was high-toned in this exchange (it is Hitchens...), and Doug Wilson, never stopping to refer to the reading audience, as CH did, was the more tactically offensive in his debating style.

In the "Four Horseman" conversation with Dawkins, Dennet, and Harris, the sponaneity and fluidity of the exchange of ideas illuminated Hitchen's philosophical and critical strengths more than a debate format, and his own debating style, in my humble opinion.

While his arguments were logically dubious, (but, in typical-theologian style, very mentally acrobatic) being motivated by the irrationality of religion, I will award Wilson points for being the more concise and more aggressive of participants.

I concede, therefore, two strikes off the bat.

Generous me. :)

P.S. I'll look for "God's Undertaker" in my local library!

I hope it's a step up from "What's So Great About Christianity"- but that's another discussion.

MJK said...

Michael – looks like I've got some catching up to do! Thanks for your patience. I'm restricted to dial-up for the weekend, so I shall try to keep this short.

I noticed it them moment I read “Will Hitchens be ready? It is for him we must pray.” // It reeked, quite frankly, of condescension and farcical naivety, if you indeed knew what you were saying.

If this is where it all started, this is where I will start anew. This smelly statement of mine is a very natural thing to say to fellow Christians—the prime readership of my blog (note the words “we” and “pray”). Said in this perspective, it in no way questions Hitchens' intellectual aptness, but rather his assent. Or, his volition, not his comprehension. Does that take away some of the offensiveness of my statement for you?

When it comes to “ condescension and farcical naivety”, I would simply remind you of some of your statements about Lennox and ask any third party readers out there to decide for themselves who has suffered most from the aforementioned “naivety”: Hitchens or Lennox? You described him as “an illogical, deranged mathematician (again – no exaggeration)” and as a “delusional, indoctrinated driveler”. I do notice that you're tone has softened considerably and is now at a level pleasant enough to guarantee, I'm sure, a profitable discussion between us. You have even gone so far as to apologize, which is commendable of you.

You wrote: Hitchens could quash both of us at once with his hands tied.

I agree completely. As could Lennox. But I think both of them would have mercy on us! :)

Coming once again to the two evidences you cite of Lennox's incompetence, his views on the authority of the Bible and the historicity of miracles are presented clearly in a book he co-wrote with David Gooding called CHRISTIANITY: OPIUM OR THE TRUTH? It can be accessed at www.keybibleconcepts.org

As soon as I can I will locate that quote from the Lennox vs. Dawkins debate. If, when I hear it, I find that Lennox committed a logical blunder, I will concede your point.

Now we really need to talk about faith. You have left me a pile of stuff to address here, but I'll try to restrict myself to some of the most alarming things.

You claim you don't have faith. You go on to say: When you have “solid evidence,” it precludes any necessity for faith.. You need faith for everything. When you throw a coin into the air, you show faith that it will come down. The good thing, of course, is that your faith rests on lots and lots of historical and scientific evidence, but though that evidence abounds in Himalayan proportions, that doesn't change the fact that it was by faith you tossed the coin.

You say that “faith implies credulity – wanting to believe...” Exchange the word 'belief' for 'faith' and it becomes evident that that's like saying “eating implies wanting to eat”. This may be true, but not very helpful.

Biblical faith—and since this is what you're critiquing, this is the type of faith you should deal with—is a response to evidence. In the Bible men come to faith in Christ who were opposed to Christ. Paul, for instance, was on a mission to stamp out the very name of Christ when he came to believe in him. Wanting to believe evidently had absolutely nothing to do with it. I believe in God, not because I want to (there have been times when I wished he didn't exist), but because the evidence compels me thus.

You have faith too, despite your protestations. Tell me what you're worldview is (I could guess, but I won't over-assume), and I'll tell you where you have faith. I challenge you to show me how you can embrace your worldview without faith.

I am human, imbued with humanity and morality.

I would be interested to know what you can mean by morality, given your atheism.

I concede, therefore, two strikes off the bat. Generous me. :)

Very generous indeed!

Glad you will look up Lennox's book. I am going to be (wonderfully!) disconnected from the web for a week now, but you are always welcome here. If you care to continue this discussion, I will get back to you in a week's time.

It's now my turn to apologize. I said I would respond Thursday, and it is now Saturday. I'm sorry about that.

Take care Michael!

Michael said...

Said in this perspective, it in no way questions Hitchens' intellectual aptness, but rather his assent. Or, his volition, not his comprehension. Does that take away some of the offensiveness of my statement for you?'

You make it sound as if he was afraid, and in fact inclined not, to attend the debate. As long as he showed up (and reports are, he did) it is a rather silly presumption to fault his volition beforehand (he is after all, a professional), especially given his long history of engagements with theologians. What would he have to be afraid of that he hasn’t already confronted?
I still maintain that it is more consistent to believe, and I predict third-party readers will concur in this assessment (although they are certainly entitled to contradict me, whether my blog or no), that in asking “Will Hitchens be ready?” you were referring to Hitchens’ preparation for the debate, and whether or not the force of his arguments would equal Lennox’s.

A third possibility occurs to me- that your term “volition” implies an opening of the eyes to the Christian worldview, and an adoption of a partial opinion of it, and I would invite third party readers to voice whether or not, if this implication was intentional, they agree with me in that such expression raises the bar on “condescension.”

And if indeed you will admit that this third possibility is accurate, I must tell you that the rank offensiveness of your “smelly statement” has only increased, as opposed to having been reduced.

‘When it comes to “ condescension and farcical naivety”, I would simply remind you of some of your statements about Lennox and ask any third party readers out there to decide for themselves who has suffered most from the aforementioned “naivety”: Hitchens or Lennox? You described him as “an illogical, deranged mathematician (again – no exaggeration)” and as a “delusional, indoctrinated driveler”.’

Oh, my dear fellow, and I meant every word of my description of Lennox. Recall:

“And I rather revel in your likely response that I am being "strident" like Richard Dawkins, when I have taken pains to apply the sober, proper vocabulary to suit the subject matter.” (my first comment)

I am not obliged to represent Lennox in a charitable light.
Anyways, in your post directly following, you responded specifically to the above quote with:

“Sorry to disappoint.” (your first response)

What can I say: you did disappoint, but you’ve made up for it now!

‘I do notice that you're tone has softened considerably and is now at a level pleasant enough to guarantee, I'm sure, a profitable discussion between us. You have even gone so far as to apologize, which is commendable of you.’

Indeed my tone has softened. Recall again:

“Your blog post was brief, and thankfully (in a way) did not accurately reflect the thoughtfulness of your character and conversation. I enjoyed your response very much.” (my second post)

I do indeed regard you as a likeable person I indeed could have a profitable discussion with (on something... the topic of religion is dubious in my opinion). However, a profitable discussion was never explicitly or implicitly my directive herein, nor was a pleasant tone. My intent was, and remains, to challenge you and discredit your worldview, or at least the Christian aspects of it. I am not being friendly. I am in debate with you. I do not to subscribe to a post-modernist notion that all opinions have positive value, and I consider your theistic opinions to be grossly illogical, poorly adopted in the first place, and thankfully, highly improbable in their actual veracity, until demonstrated otherwise. You indeed have thoughtfulness of character, but by that I do not mean that I am impressed by your thoughts, or that I honour them beyond your right to express them. I enjoyed your response, but only insofar as it elicited an eagerness on my part to rebut, provided substance which I could respond to, and demonstrated an engaged intellect which I deemed would consider my arguments (whether privately or openly) rather than reject them via suspension of disbelief in your own worldview, as theists are known to do, as you yourself admitted when you wrote:

‘Michael, I will admit to you that there are piles of Christians whose faith is blind and irrational... I hope that the likes of you will help us Christians see that faith must be built on solid evidence. And if there is no evidence for a certain faith, then be gone belief.’ (your first response).

And even (if I may borrow the expression pillaged by your brethren) your “eyes are open,” that will not ultimately prevent the evidence you apparently seek appearing to be hidden in plain sight. My stance that I have attempted to expound is that there is no good evidence, or necessarily evidence of any kind for the supernatural, that does not at the very least have an accompanying plausible natural explanation. I charge that your search for evidence leads to examples that you reject, or simply cannot or will not grasp the deity-crushing ramifications of, because in your state of faith the evidence and the ramifications are hidden in plain sight.

Alternatively, as yet you have not cited any examples of evidence that in fact support the proposition of God’s existence.
I may be wrong in my concluding that you possess an engaged intellect that will consider my arguments, but that is not my concern. It should be noted to third party readers who may infer wrongly, that the apology you have mentioned did not concern my belligerent tone (and the belligerence was measured and deserved in my judgement), but merely my long-windedness, as evidenced by:

“Take care. Sorry for my long-windedness.” (once again, my second post)

If the alternative can be avoided, I prefer to be concise. Now, in light of the above disclaimer, I wish to thank you for your accommodating me on this page, and suggest that you consider for your own part whether or not you wish to continue this “discussion” (how post modern) given its intended nature on my behalf.

On to the arguments...

I will begin with what is sure, I believe, to be the most devastating observation to your case. We shall see.
I would be interested to know what you can mean by morality, given your atheism.

It seems strong, doesn’t it? Especially if you begin with the premise that God is the originator and arbiter of morality.

But I shall ask you this:
Given your Christianity, on what basis can you condemn the stoning of adulterers, killing of apostates and homosexuals, killing of children for insulting their parents, genocide and slavery, or my pet example, keeping those women “who hath not known a man for thyselves” (after of courses killing the men, the women who have not “known” men, and the male children), without recourse to verses of the Bible (“love thy neighbour” etc.) which contradict others (like the Ten Commandments.)
In fact, given your Christianity, on what basis can you condemn the religious edicts of any other faith, as they all rest on a relativistic continuum, it seems to me, with none more authoritative than another?
Douglas Wilson attacks Hitchens in their debate with the point that without religious absolute morality, we are left with relativism.

This is not true, but even if it were, it is hard to argue that the well-being of humans in general has not improved from the abolishment of the death penalty for the mildest of crimes, allowing children to live despite their impoliteness, and generally allowing cultures and races to continue to exist despite what God may have sanctioned in the past.
We are “relatively” better off these days. And it’s no use claiming the religious are responsible, because they did not accomplish anything without first defying their faith.
I myself subscribe to Sam Harris’ definition of morality, as exemplified in “The End of Faith,” which bases the notions of “right” and “wrong” by an evaluation of actions by their resultant happiness or suffering. This seems to me, an entirely rational approach that any sane individual, religious or otherwise, can agree with. It is disqualifies many of the biblical edicts listed above as entirely unethical, while also dismissing Wilson’s charge of atheistic relativism.

It ought to be obvious when you consider it: atheism is not a worldview. Atheism is merely disbelief in a particular set of humanisms that advocate supernatural explanations for the universe and all things tangible and abstract within it. No doctrine of any sort, not least a code of morality, could emerge from disbelief. It is unfortunate that some theists argue that Atheism is another religion, apparently on the sole basis that we borrow the root of the term from the very doctrine we oppose. I propose that you watch Sam Harris’ speech at AAI ’07 for a more satisfying explanation of this point:

video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2089733934372500371

We are left to rely on evolution and the fruits of said process- reason, and philosophy for instance. It’s obvious to any non-indoctrinated individual: it couldn’t be any other away.
Another hint of the irrelevance of religion to morality comes in the form of an example given by Sam Harris in the End of Faith, which describes the popular 17th century Parisian past-time of Cat-burning... yes, the immolation of innocent felines.

We despise such a practice now, but my gut instinct (help me with you?) is that the Bible is strangely silent on the topic.
Why did the Catholic Church apparently condone such practice then?

Why, to give a more recent example oft cited by Christopher Hitchens, was there only one Nazi SS officer excommunicated by the Catholic Church after World War II, and not for his crimes against humanity in the extermination of the Jews, but for marrying a Protestant?

Excuse me, but I think God pissed himself after that one. In fact, the whole business of God giving us free will has proven to be a massive failure after just the single debacle that was World War II, forgetting for a moment all others. God is nothing more than a criminally negligent parent to our species, just as an actual parent would be to actually allow their child, to say, push another off of a bridge, resulting in their gruesome death.
Wait- God actually allowed Hitler to rise to power, and attempt to carry out the extermination of an entire race?
I’m getting angry just considering it.

Many theists claim he was an atheist (dubious.) All the more reason for God to strike a lightning bolt down on him, isn’t it?

Moving on...

‘You claim you don't have faith. You go on to say: When you have “solid evidence,” it precludes any necessity for faith.. You need faith for everything. When you throw a coin into the air, you show faith that it will come down. The good thing, of course, is that your faith rests on lots and lots of historical and scientific evidence, but though that evidence abounds in Himalayan proportions, that doesn't change the fact that it was by faith you tossed the coin.

'You say that “faith implies credulity – wanting to believe...” Exchange the word 'belief' for 'faith' and it becomes evident that that's like saying “eating implies wanting to eat”. This may be true, but not very helpful.’


I know that the coin will come down. I know this because of the historical and scientific evidence you cite. If I didn’t know, I may not bother throwing it. If coins were known not to drop after being thrown up, who knows, we may have evolved to throw them down... we can’t quite be sure.

If you want to call it “faith,” you may, but to have faith in the physical laws of nature is so obvious as to invite the question, as I have implied “Don’t you know it will come down?”

A proper act of faith in this case would be to have faith in it not coming down. This is because of the risk involved. Having faith that the coin will obey the laws of physics is incredibly low risk. Similarly, having “faith” in someone, by which I mean a positive attitude, is merely a euphemism for a positive attitude, and therefore low risk in terms of being the effects are measurable and the impulse to express or hold such “faith” is reasonable and commendable.

Having faith in miracles, in parthenogenesis ( virgin birth) , in a hidden God that is omnibenevolent, as well as the mutually incompatible traits of omnipotence and omniscient, is incredibly high risk. Faith in the laws of physics and other obvious facts of existence do not inherently imply or invoke faith in such high risk propositions. Granted this is the kind of faith that gets you in to Heaven, yet still...

Sam Harris puts it this way (End of Faith, p. 232, Afterword)

“But this is not the faith that has given us religion. It would be rather remarkable if a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty led inevitably to ludicrous convictions about the divine origin of certain books, to bizarre cultural taboos, to the abject hatred of homosexuals, and the diminished status of women. Adopt to positive an outlook, and the next thing you know architects and engineers might start flying planes into buildings.”

‘Biblical faith—and since this is what you're critiquing, this is the type of faith you should deal with—is a response to evidence. In the Bible men come to faith in Christ who were opposed to Christ. Paul, for instance, was on a mission to stamp out the very name of Christ when he came to believe in him. Wanting to believe evidently had absolutely nothing to do with it. I believe in God, not because I want to (there have been times when I wished he didn't exist), but because the evidence compels me thus.’

Provide this evidence as soon as possible. Thus far you have not.
And it is here that I take my leave.

Hear from you in a week, perhaps? If not, it has been a worthwhile exercise, or perhaps we should venture into another topic for a truly profitable discussion?

Thanks.

Regards,

Michael

MJK said...

First, the little things:

I do not to subscribe to a post-modernist notion that all opinions have positive value...

We've struck common ground. :)

What can I say: you did disappoint, but you’ve made up for it now!

I told you I was sorry to disappoint you. :)

I suggest that the whole Lennox / Hitchens thing reveals more about the ease with which you are offended than either of ours offensiveness. Neither of your possibilities is the correct one. I was not questioning Hitchens' willingness to attend the debate, nor his ability to prepare for the debate. As to the third one, it escapes me how desiring an opponent to come to one's point of view is offensive or condescending (and this not what I meant by Hitchens' volition, anyways). This is one of the reasons for debating in the first place.

Anyways, this part of our argument has grown rather tiresome. I would be happy to concede a point to you if it meant we could move beyond the trivial to the weightier matters you have raised.

My intent was, and remains, to challenge you and discredit your worldview, or at least the Christian aspects of it. I am not being friendly. I am in debate with you.

Cool.

...and thankfully, highly improbable in their actual veracity...

You said earlier that you would prefer there was a God?

Alternatively, as yet you have not cited any examples of evidence that in fact support the proposition of God’s existence.

Just to clarify for my sake, have you asked me for evidence for said proposition?

It should be noted to third party readers who may infer wrongly, that the apology you have mentioned did not concern my belligerent tone (and the belligerence was measured and deserved in my judgement), but merely my long-windedness, as evidenced by: “Take care. Sorry for my long-windedness.”

I was referring to this apology:

I did qualify my personality assessment with "probably"- but I will state I have met and corresponded with sufficient theists to recognise patterns in their behaviour. I apologise.

Now, on to important things.

MORALITY

You ask me: Given your Christianity, on what basis can you condemn the stoning of adulterers, killing of apostates and homosexuals, killing of children for insulting their parents, genocide and slavery, or my pet example, keeping those women “who hath not known a man for thyselves” (after of courses killing the men, the women who have not “known” men, and the male children), without recourse to verses of the Bible (“love thy neighbour” etc.) which contradict others (like the Ten Commandments.)

So, some fundy couple has a girl that leaves the faith, or calls her dad a dimwit or something, and her parents kill her for it. As a Christian I condemn the parents' response on the basis that their girl was made in the image of God (Genesis 1.27), and is loved (John 3.16) and owned by God (Isaiah 43.7), and thus has tremendous value and significance; on the basis that while the Bible teaches children to honour their father and mother (Exodus 20.12), it also instructs fathers not to provoke their children to anger (Ephesians 6.2-4); on the basis that Jesus taught his followers not to coerce faith. His gospel was to be spread by receiving suffering, not inflicting it (for just a sampling see Matthew 5.10, 38-48; Mark 8.34-35; Mark 13.9, 13; Colossians 1.24), and a forced faith is not faith; on the basis that the Bible teaches us to respect an individual's autonomy and volition.

Now I'm curious, are you suggesting somehow that the Bible teaches that those parents should kill their daughter for leaving the faith? And that it upholds slavery? Or the killing of apostates and homosexuals? Also, in what sense does Jesus' command to love one's neighbour contradict the ten commandments?

I myself subscribe to Sam Harris’ definition of morality, as exemplified in “The End of Faith,” which bases the notions of “right” and “wrong” by an evaluation of actions by their resultant happiness or suffering. This seems to me, an entirely rational approach that any sane individual, religious or otherwise, can agree with. It is disqualifies many of the biblical edicts listed above as entirely unethical, while also dismissing Wilson’s charge of atheistic relativism.

Whose happiness becomes the basis: mine or the other guy's?

Another hint of the irrelevance of religion to morality comes in the form of an example given by Sam Harris in the End of Faith, which describes the popular 17th century Parisian past-time of Cat-burning... yes, the immolation of innocent felines.

We despise such a practice now, but my gut instinct (help me with you?) is that the Bible is strangely silent on the topic. Why did the Catholic Church apparently condone such practice then?


Actually, it's 16th century. Anyways, are you faulting the Bible for being silent on the issue of burning cats? (BTW, it also failed to mention online child pornography.) It does instruct against the mistreatment of animals (Proverbs 12.10, Deuteronomy 12.4), but that's beside the point. The strength of the morality argument for the existence of God does not rest in the astuteness, completeness, or world-influence of the biblical codes of morality, but rather in the uniformity and ubiquity of a moral standard in the world apart from the Bible's influence. Harris misses this in his book, from what I can tell (Google Books skips some pages unfortunately). It is the fact that Harris finds this feline-flagration so immoral—even when the participants were undoubtedly happy when doing it—and that he can speak out against it with authority, that leads me to believe that morality is absolute and transcendent, coming from a transcendent moral being. As to the Catholic Church, I know very little about it, and even less about it in the 16th century. I take it you do?

Why, to give a more recent example oft cited by Christopher Hitchens, was there only one Nazi SS officer excommunicated by the Catholic Church after World War II, and not for his crimes against humanity in the extermination of the Jews, but for marrying a Protestant?

I can only guess. Could be that the Catholic Church was/is corrupt, and is bad for the world. I honestly don't know, and have no interest in defending a church. I would be interested to know, however, whether or not you believe the injustices caused by the Jews and (as you say) the Catholic Church will ever be made right. Will these people ever be held accountable for their crimes? If so, when?

FAITH

Unless you're the type who likes to throw money around carelessly, you do exercise faith when tossing the coin. You are assuming the uniformity of nature. Do you have any scientific justification for induction? Or any other non-religious justification, for that matter? If not, you are using faith.

Furthermore, can you prove the reliability of your own mental processes? Both of these things—the uniformity of nature and human rationality—are foundational to the scientific enterprise and thus can not be proven by it.

You continue to want to redefine faith by linking it with 'credulity', 'positive attitude', or 'high risk'. In doing so are you perhaps being too heavily influenced by Dawkins who defines faith as 'belief that isn't based on evidence'? Faith is not some fluffy magical spiritual thing that the religious go all goo-goo over. As the Marxist scholar Terry Eagleton says

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief...Reason, to be sure, doesn't go all the way down for believers, but it doesn't for most sensitive, civilized non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain... (quoted by Tim Keller in THE REASON FOR GOD, p.120).

Provide this evidence as soon as possible. Thus far you have not.

Again I ask, have I ignored a previous request for evidence?

Before I provide evidences for my faith, please tell me what you would accept as evidence. Do you, along with Dawkins, hold that 'the claim of God's existence is a scientific hypothesis' (Keller) and that the proposition of God's existence must be 'proved' to be taken seriously? If so, please provide empirical 'proof' for your strong rationalism.

In my last reply I asked you to tell me what your worldview is and show me the evidence that supports it. I will present the evidence for mine when you honour my prior request.

Now, is it profitable for this 'discussion' (a good word for non-postmodernists, too) to continue? I think most arguments are useful as long as at least one person is listening. Let's see how it goes. If we get to the point where we're both plugging our ears and making obnoxious noises to drown out the other person, let's bail out then. Having said that, my time is going to be severely limited. I may find myself wringing my hands at the clock before I use them to cover up my ears. If that happens I shall have to excuse myself.

Speaking of time, thank you for taking generous amounts of yours to argue on my blog.

Regards

Michael said...

I have decided this will be my last post, Michael. I appreciate your good spirit in the exchange, and I hope you forgive my staunch reluctance, (my volition...) to open my eyes.

It is there I begin:

As to the third one, it escapes me how desiring an opponent to come to one's point of view is offensive or condescending (and this not what I meant by Hitchens' volition, anyways). This is one of the reasons for debating in the first place.

Now that would be a discussion. I do not need or want to come around to your point of view- or the scriptural point of view, unmolested by interpretation, more specifically. I can understand it sufficiently on my own.


You said earlier that you would prefer there was a God?


Not the Abrahamic God. Not a chance.

"I was referring to this apology:

.'I did qualify my personality assessment with "probably"- but I will state I have met and corresponded with sufficient theists to recognise patterns in their behaviour. I apologise.'"

Mmmm... well you could interpret it your way, but I more meant it in the sense that I apologise if being recognised as a typical theist in my mind offends you (or rather, you take offense to it). You still are, by the way.

MORALITY

That was a lot of jumping around you did to come to the conclusion that a girl who insults her parents should not be killed. It wasn't reassuring.

Now I'm curious, are you suggesting somehow that the Bible teaches that those parents should kill their daughter for leaving the faith? And that it upholds slavery?

Yes.

Apostasy:

"If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying: Let us go and worship other gods, do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people."

(Deuteronomy 13:6-9)

And many more examples I cannot be bothered to find. So... not just parents should murder daughters then. Anyone.

Slavery:

"When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries(forced laborers) unto thee, and they shall serve thee."

(Deut 20:10-11)

Again, I am certain that I could locate more. It is useless to proclaim that because I have not provided every quote possible I have not adequately demonstrated the point.

Just in case you were thinking along those lines.

Additionally, I take it that you will not refute my points about the stoning of adulterers, the raping of virgin women of conquered or converted peoples, and genocide.

Thank you. Points conceded.

This is your worldview by the way, or is if you aren't hypocritical as a Christian. Congratulations. I will refrain from saying you should be proud.

I will also consider the point of Christianity's authority relative to other religions conceded. Thank you.

Also, in what sense does Jesus' command to love one's neighbour contradict the ten commandments?

This is a red herring Mike. I was only using these as offhand examples.


Whose happiness becomes the basis: mine or the other guy's?


Very poor reasoning here. This is illogical argumentation. The happiness of one need not be at the expense of another. You know this, unless you are psychopathic. I take it you are not, so you will surely agree that any action that simultaneously elicits happiness to one but incurs suffering on another is unethical.

What this theory of morality explicitly means, when explored, is that acts of a consensual, sexual nature involving adults are permitted. Children are not mature or educated enough, it ought to be taken for granted. Also, the voluntary recreational consumption of drugs, if not damaging to other human beings not consuming the drug(s) is permissible.

These are examples of activities that pursue happiness. You are free to explore the model of morality for more (possibly horrifying as a Christian!) ones.


"The strength of the morality argument for the existence of God does not rest in the astuteness, completeness, or world-influence of the biblical codes of morality, but rather in the uniformity and ubiquity of a moral standard in the world apart from the Bible's influence."

The Bible is supposed to be the source of all morality. By your re-definition, you have conceded that the Bible is irrelevant. Thereby, point (until now untouched by me)conceded.

I appreciate you not attacking my reference of Hitler and free will. Point conceded.

FAITH

You reasoning on scientific faith is awful. Just awful. It really is.

Statistically, no object thrown up has ever been observed to disobey gravity.

Ever.

It may continue up after force has been applied, like a rocket, for instance. Nevertheless, there is my scientific basis for induction. Statistical and repeatable evidence independent of experimenter's bias. If, miraculously (indeed, miraculous would be the correct word) the object did not fall, then it would be an interesting case of a hypothesis (that all objects obey gravity) falsified. Then the scientific enterprise rigorously and stringently developed over centuries will start over.

After that, I think I'll start believing in miracles and convert to Christianity...

I know its supremely unlikely, but I'll just keep the faith that it won't happen. Right.

Just stop talking this way. Now, please. To everyone.

Before I provide evidences for my faith, please tell me what you would accept as evidence. Do you, along with Dawkins, hold that 'the claim of God's existence is a scientific hypothesis' (Keller) and that the proposition of God's existence must be 'proved' to be taken seriously? If so, please provide empirical 'proof' for your strong rationalism.

This is an equivocation, a blatant one, and the primary reason that I will terminate the debate here.

Your evidence is your own, and only you need be convinced of it to validate your Christianity for you. Asking for my definition does not change matters. If I were to hear it, I would be glad to attack it. That is the fundamental nature of a debate. If it is reasonable, it will withstand the assault.

You are asking of my volition, in other words.

You are re-iterating William Butler Yeats: "Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams."

This debate is unfair for both of us. I am not soft and compassionate enough for you, and you are not hard and realistic enough for me.

Therefore, overall, enough, I think.

Good luck and fair well in your pursuits, Mike.

Regards,

The Other Mike.

MJK said...

Michael,

I'll start with faith this time.

FAITH

You reasoning on scientific faith is awful. Just awful. It really is.

Well, I'm in the good company of David Hume and Bertrand Russell, so I don't feel too bad! Hume felt the weight of this reasoning keenly, and, unlike most, he had the honesty to admit that, with a worldview that excluded the supernatural, he had NO justification for the assumption that the setting of yesterday's sun meant the setting of tomorrow's. Or today's, for that matter.

Your recourse to statistics misses the point. We are not questioning the validity of the law of gravity; we are questioning the assumption that the law of gravity will always 'behave' in the future. This is a philosophical problem. And to say that the coin will fall in the future because coins always have fallen 'in the future' is to beg the question.

Your worldview of philosophical naturalism (I'm forced to identify it) provides no justification for induction, and yet science, so valued (rightly) by your worldview, rests on the principle of induction completely. Your science is built on a faith assumption.

Ditto for your rationality. According to your worldview, you're just a collection of atoms. On what basis can you justify your rationality? Why should you listen to yourself, never mind me?

Please don't misunderstand me: I do believe in the principle of induction, and I do believe I have trustworthy rationality (although you may be inclined to disbelieve this!). What I'm getting at here is two things: (1) You do operate on the basis of faith, even when doing science, and (2) my worldview can account for these things; yours can not.

Twice now I have asked you to tell me what your worldview is and to provide evidence for it. Twice my request has gone untouched. If I were to debate like you have, I would claim your silence as a concession. However, I don't operate that way.

But it seems you get upset when you are held to the same standard you hold others to. You're terminating the debate because I won't give you my evidence; I could have left two replies ago on that basis!

I also asked that you tell me what you would count as evidence, for, if you demand that I 'prove' God's existence in the strict sense of 'prove', then (I'll be honest with you), there's not much point in my even trying. The demand for that kind of proof would be illogical itself on at least two counts: (1) It would rest on the premise that God is 'prove-able' (when God, by the very nature of things, if existing, would exist outside of nature, thus unreachable by the spade of science), and (2) The 'strong' rationalism itself standing behind such a demand lies outside of 'proof', and thus self-defeats.

So I reject the notion that God's existence can be 'proven' in the strict empirical sense. To quote Jacobi, 'a God that could be proved would be no God at all'. In the same way, neither can philosophical naturalism nor the foundational assumptions of science be 'proved'.

Despite your failure to comply with my modest requests, I will briefly provide some of my evidence at the end of this reply.

MORALITY

You've managed to cite some texts as evidence that the Bible does teach parents (and others) to kill people who become apostates, and that the Bible supports slavery, etc. I would be happy to provide more texts that read along the same lines. Your problem, however, is that in doing so you have completely failed to read the Bible in its socio-historical context. For one who distances himself from postmodernism, you seem quick to adopt postmodernist ways of reading ancient texts.

For instance, the stuff about killing apostates: In context, this instruction is given to ONE group of people (it was NEVER intended for any other group of people, including Christians). Who was this group of people? A group of people who willingly CHOSE to come under this agreement / covenant with God. So ya, the Israelites were given the terms of the covenant really clearly, including the penalties if they were not going to agree to their end of the bargain. Kinda hard to fault God for carrying out the terms which they willingly agreed to.

Regarding slavery, you need to research what ancient slavery looked like, as well as the socio-political conditions of the day, than investigate what the Bible progressively says about slavery, and you'll discover that the Bible certainly does not endorse anything that resembles the slavery we are familiar with today. The grace and mercy God instructed Israel to show to slaves is simply astonishing, especially when compared with how slaves were treated by other contemporaries.

We could go through the other examples you mention (genocide, stoning of adulterers, raping of virgins) in a similar fashion.

In short, you need to read the Bible the same way you need to read any (but especially ancient) literature. It is a blatant miss-reading of the texts to say that the Bible teaches that if someone leaves the Southern Baptists (for example) and gets all enamoured with Scientology (shudder) he should be killed. It is equally incorrect to suggest the Bible teaches killing homosexuals or raping virgins.

The Bible is supposed to be the source of all morality. By your re-definition, you have conceded that the Bible is irrelevant. Thereby, point (until now untouched by me) conceded..

The Bible as source of all morality? Who on earth claimed that? You miss the argument entirely, just like Harris does. Let’s pretend there’s no Bible at all. I hold that everyone would still have a sense of right and wrong, and that this is a powerful argument for the existence of God. So when these atheist pulpit-pounders proclaim that there were good Samaritans before Jesus ever told the Bible story about one, we theists get confused whose side they’re arguing for anyways, cause it sounds like they’re arguing ours.

And it’s a strange logic that then has me conceding in all this that the Bible is thus irrelevant! The purpose of the Bible was not to establish morality. Morality was long-established before the Bible came along. So sure, if you want to say that the Bible is irrelevant to the formation of a standard of morality in the world, I’ll agree with you. And then I’ll say: “That’s precisely my point.”

In fact, given your Christianity, on what basis can you condemn the religious edicts of any other faith, as they all rest on a relativistic continuum, it seems to me, with none more authoritative than another?

I’ll try to respond to some of the things I ignored. It’s interesting, the one tangential question I did answer turned out to be a red herring after all, and when I left a couple others these became big debate wins for you.

In response to your above question, I have no idea what you mean by a ‘relativistic continuum’. Nor am I sure in what sense you’re using the word ‘condemn’. As I look at other religions and worldviews, my main question, as you’ll know by now, is whether it’s true. What evidence does it have to support it? By no means have I investigated all of them thoroughly, but thus far I have detected little in the way of evidence for any of them. The monotheistic religions are alone, from what I can tell, in being evidence-friendly. Christianity far exceeds the rest. It claims that God has not only created the world, but even entered the world as a human being. It’s like God begs us to investigate the historical evidence for ourselves. Christianity makes itself falsifiable like no other religion does. As God says in Isaiah 1.18, “Come let us argue together.”

I could turn your question around, but I won’t.

Regarding your basis of morality, I am genuinely intrigued, and I want to study this out more. My question about 'whose happiness' was a genuine one and not a rebuttal. There ARE cases where there's a choice between one's happiness and another's suffering.

Without having considered your proposal as much as I'd like to yet, I do see some devastating shortcomings. Chief among them all is, Why should I care about anyone's happiness? It seems that you have only provided a (sometimes) helpful tool in determining what is right and wrong. But you have not provided a basis for why there is right and wrong. You have given me a question I can use when I'm faced with a moral choice: "Hmm, will this cause anyone to suffer? Yes it will, I better not do it." While that helps me to identify what is right and wrong, it is insufficient for establishing 'wrong' as 'wrong', evil as evil. Why should I care about the well-being of a collection of atoms? In your worldview, people are accidents, valueless and purposeless. Who cares about their happiness?

Which leads me to another of your glaring omissions. I asked you the following questions in my last reply:

I would be interested to know, however, whether or not you believe the injustices caused by the Jews and (as you say) the Catholic Church will ever be made right. Will these people ever be held accountable for their crimes? If so, when?

Hitler wrecked a lot of people's happiness. Will he ever be brought to justice? In your worldview, no. For you there is no final judgment. A person can drive a plane into a skyscraper, kill thousands, and then, ‘poof’, nothing. Where is the justice in this? I get angry just thinking about it, to quote your earlier sentiments. A man shoots his wife and children and then shoots himself. No punishment, not even a trial, for crying out loud. He gets no judgment, and the helpless wife and kids get no justice. I will refrain from saying you should be proud.

If your view is correct that there is no supernatural God, than there is no afterlife. If there is no afterlife, neither is there any justice. If there is no justice, than good and evil are meaningless. If good and evil are meaningless, than so is the happiness and well-being of people. In that sense, your worldview is extremely coherent: no matter which way you take it to its logical conclusion, people are meaningless. However, it is also extremely depressing. As Lennox and Gooding say, while Christianity has been called an opiate, philosophical naturalism 'is not a stimulant. It is not even a sedative. It is a depressant.' (CHRISTIANITY: OPIUM OR THE TRUTH?)

REASONS FOR MY FAITH IN THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

Even though you have not complied to my prior request, I will go ahead and give you some of the evidence for my belief in God:

1. The big bang. I know that some hold to the steady-state theory, but the evidence does point to a beginning of time and matter. If so, this has gotta be a huge problem for you atheists. Who started things rolling? Where did the universe's matter come from? I see only two choices for thinking people, each requiring faith: Either believe that matter is eternal (which flies in the face of the evidence or believe in an eternal God. Either way, something had to be beginning-less.

2. The law of spontaneous generation. Life does not arise from non-life. What you believe (your theory) regarding the origin of life contradicts this well-established law. I believe that life arose from Life, quite in keeping with the above law.

3. The existence of a moral code (we've been through this a little. It is strongly presented by C.S. Lewis in MERE CHRISTIANITY. All you have to read is the first 50 pages).

4. The evidence of design complexity in the simplest cell.

5. The self-confirming nature of the Christian worldview. No other worldview makes as much sense to me of the world, the problem of good and evil, the existence of people, the uniformity and intelligibility of the universe, the reason we’re here, the course of history, etc.

5. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is my most powerful piece of evidence. Destroy the case for the resurrection and you destroy my Christian faith. No scholar worth his salt would dare question the historicity of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Given that, it would require tremendous 'suspension of disbelief', or a a priori assumption against the existence of miracles, to deny Jesus' physical resurrection. I stake my everything unashamedly to the rock-solid claim of his bodily resurrection. If you want to squash my Christian worldview, read N.T. Wright’s THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD and show me how I can wiggle out of the conclusions of the compelling weight of evidence.


Now, give me your evidence for your worldview, please.

Perhaps in future posts I will provide more of my reasons, and elaborate on and defend the ones I’ve just given. I may also work through each of the examples you provided where you accuse the Bible of being immoral. If I do, you are always welcome to critique (and even ridicule) them in the meta.

Take care Michael, and be sure to read Lennox’s book (I plan on purchasing the one you recommended). Don’t know where you’re from, but if you’re ever in my area (Manitoba, Canada) and are up for a chat let me know.