Response to Holtz

22 February 2006

Brian Holtz, atheist and skeptic of Christianity, has made a list of questions he thinks believers should have the answers to HERE. As you will see, the questions are heavy with polemic, and most of his questions can be answered through articles I have already completed on this web site. The rest of the questions are pretty much useless and boring.

Many theists—and many Christians in particular—claim to believe that the evidence for their god(s) is objectively compelling, and that an afterlife of eternal reward or punishment awaits every human. However, most of these believers seem not to take these beliefs very seriously, insofar as they don’t seriously examine 1) why their beliefs aren’t more widely accepted

This is in effect an argument from authority, by implying that “more people should believe” if Christianity is actually true. However, I do take the fact that my beliefs aren’t more widely accepted seriously, as that has been a prime motivation for my creation of this site.

and 2) the nature of the afterlife that they claim to believe will constitute essentially the entirety of their conscious existence.

Actually, I don’t really think an analysis of what our afterlife will be like is important right now. Rather, I prefer to focus on doing the right things in this world, and I can only hope that my afterlife will be pleasant.

Holtz then goes on to claim that any serious believer should be able to answer his questions. Since this seems to be a bit of a challenge on his part, I have decided to accept. Holtz discusses nine different categories with a few questions in each.


PRESENT EVIDENCE

1. If you believe that the evidence for your god(s) is compelling, how do you explain that it is not accepted by so many otherwise reasonable people?

This is nothing but another hopeless attempt at appeal to authority. However, I wouldn’t mind elaborating a bit.

Firstly, there are quite a few reasonable individuals who do accept the existence of God. Therefore, the question could be turned around against atheists- “if you believe there is no evidence for God, then why do so many otherwise reasonable people believe in Him?” Secondly, there are quite a few reasons for a rational man to unfairly disregard evidence for theism. Bias is an important factor, as most people tend to favor a specific point of view for some reason or another. Pride could be a factor, since a long-time committed atheist may not want to be convinced by “pathetic” apologetics, even if the apologetics is solid. Personally, I don’t know why atheists don’t believe, but it is not my fault that they fail to see the evidence.

2. Why do so many people claim that the evidence for some other god(s) is compelling?

This is another (implied) argument from authority. Of course, bias plays a huge role in this because religious believers naturally want to believe their own religion. Regardless, it does not matter whether or not others think their god is the true god, it only matters as to whether or not they are right.

3. Why doesn’t it worry you that belief in your god(s) correlates so highly with parental belief in your god(s)?

Who ever said it didn’t worry me? Of course, just because I think it is a concern does not mean I should apostatize to atheism immediately. Unfortunately, I can never know what it is like to be raised in a non-Christian family. I can only do the best with what I have been given.

4. What other thesis so important and compelling (e.g. heliocentrism, evolution) defied general consensus for this long?

Once again, another vague attempt at an argument from authority or argumentum ad populum. Consensus is not the important thing- the important thing is the truth (which happens to be on the side of the Christians).

5. In how many years do you expect there will be a consensus for your position as widespread as that supporting (say) heliocentrism?

There will probably never be a consensus in belief of Christianity. Once again, I must ask “What’s your point?”

6. Do you think that a reasonable person can only disagree with your conclusion if she is subject to some character flaw or demonic influence?

I doubt demonic influence has anything to do with it- although it is possible that there may be a character flaw, such as bias or pride. However, I am unable to believe that any purely reasonable person can fail to acknowledge that God exists- particularly due to the Cosmological argument.


FUTURE EVIDENCE

1. Do you think there will ever be any compelling new evidence for your god(s)?

Well, the evidence is compelling enough already, but I do have a feeling that even more evidence will become available. For example, an up-and-coming argument for the existence of God based on quantum indeterminacy is being formulated and defended. 1

2. [W]ill there ever be new and scientifically documented miracles by your god(s)?

When the final judgement occurs, I’d say so. ;)

3. Will there ever be scientific confirmation of the efficacy of prayer to your god(s)?

Perhaps. I have heard of a bunch of literature that claims praying can help the healing process. Admittedly, I haven’t checked into it, but it is a possibility. However, nobody ever said that God would answer prayers all the time. This seems to be a misunderstanding on the part of Holtz.

4. Will there ever be archeological corroboration of the miracles your holy text?

I don’t see why not. It has happened before, it could happen again. 2


CONTRARY EVIDENCE

1. What possible evidence would convert you to a different revelation-based religion, like Zoroastrianism or Sikhism?

Actually, those types of religions barely even hold up as rational possibilities, let alone superior to the Christian worldview. See HERE for the rational superiority of the Christian religion.

2. What possible evidence would convert you to atheism?

First of all, atheists would need to refute the Cosmological and Teleological (upcoming) arguments, as well as the Morality argument (as I am quite convinced objective morality does exist). They would need to make a plausible theory of abiogenesis as well.

On top of this, they would have to give me good reason to suppose that my Personal Experiences are not valid. Failing that, they would need to provide an overwhelming case against the existence of God, in order for me to doubt my own personal experiences.

3. Is your belief in god(s) unfalsifiable?

Nope.


DWINDLING HOPE

Before I get to the questions, I must address a statement made by Holtz. He claims that theists have continually used “God-of-the-gaps”. For a correction of his simplistic use of the term, see my article HERE.

Holtz continues by postulating a future date (2300 or 3300) in which a number of scenarios occur all at once. Below, I will comment on each scenario.

a. [N]o new evidence—archeological finds, miracles, prayer efficacy, prophecy fulfillment, apocalypse—for your god(s) has been widely accepted;

I highly doubt that there will not be any new archeological finds that confirm the Biblical account, but it is possible. Also, the evidence need not be “widely accepted” to be considered evidence. Almost all evidence can be “disputed”.

b. [T]he origin of life has been thoroughly explained by molecular biology;

This is seriously doubtful, especially considering the dismal state abiogenesis theories are currently in.

c. [T]he initial boundary conditions of the universe have been reduced to a set even less remarkable than the current ~20 fundamental constants;

This would perhaps affect the strength of the Teleological Argument, but not necessarily so. Even 1 “boundary condition” that had to be precisely right in order for life to exist would be evidence that the universe was designed. The fact that there are currently more than 1 only adds to the strength of the argument.

d. [T]he mechanism of human mind and consciousness has been thoroughly explained by neuroscience

This is possible, but it would go nowhere in disproving God and wouldn’t even necessarily disprove the idea of a soul.

e. [A]rtificial life and intelligence has been created

This is unlikely, but even if artificial life is created, the Argument from Design and Argument from Abiogenesis would not be affected. Intelligence (humans) creating intelligence (life) proves nothing as to how nature could produce life on its own. The two scenarios are not analogous.

f. [E]xtraterrestrials have been detected and report disbelief in the supernatural.

Which, even if it did happen, would only be an argument from authority (albeit a very strange one).


Now, we get to the questions:

1. Would belief in your god(s) still be justifiable in these circumstances?

Yes, because the Teleological Argument, Cosmological Argument, Morality Argument, and Personal Experiences would all still be convincing evidence of the existence of God.

2. If you lived to see all these developments, would you still not abandon belief in your god(s)?

These particular developments do not strike me as particularly forceful objections to the existence of God, so no. I would not abandon belief in God based on the previous developments. I would still have a personal experience of God’s presence, with no reason to believe that such an experience was not genuine. In addition, the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments would be just fine, and atheism would still remain totally unsupported in the face of such evidence.


PROPHECY

1. If you believe that your holy book made non-trivial prophecies that were later fulfilled, how do you explain the secular scholarly consensus that no such prophecies were actually recorded before the predicted event?

Well, the fact that they are “secular” means that they are not Christian, and nobody could believe that genuine non-trivial prophecies were fulfilled, because admitting such would effectively destroy the entire basis for their “secularism”! On top of this, we have here again another blatant argument from authority.

2. What single prophecy would you say is the one that should be most impressive to skeptics?

Honestly, I don’t know. Prophecy is not my specialty, and personally I feel that there is no need for prophecy in order to defend the Christian worldview. If there does happen to be genuine non-trivial prophecy fulfillment, I would just consider them icing on the cake.


NATURE OF HELL

1. What is hell like?

I can’t know for sure, but I imagine it will be a lot like existence on Earth, except without the presence of God. Therefore, it won’t be a happy place by any means.

2. During my “eternal damnation”, will I be able to remember my mortal life as well as I can now?

Probably, and that will most likely be the most tormenting thing about hell. You will realize that you were given a chance and took the wrong path.

3. Will I be able to remember new things that I think of while in hell?

Probably so.

4. Will your god(s) and devil(s) torment me only by the new experiences they give me, or will they also directly manipulate my memories, personality, emotions, and free will?

God will not do anything, because his presence will be absent in Hell. In fact, that is the problem in the first place. Lacking God’s presence, life would be miserable. I don’t know what Satan will do in hell, but I imagine he will not have much power and will be suffering immensely himself.

5. Will I be able to keep time in any way?

Perhaps, but time in Hell will be as pointless as time in Heaven. Personally, I doubt that there is even a “sense” of time in either Heaven or Hell. You will simply be in a state of the present.

6. Will I have access to any means of recording my thoughts?

Perhaps, but all of the pencils will lack an eraser and all of the pens will spill ink, only adding to your eternal suffering. ;)

7. Will your god(s) be aware of any words or thoughts I address to them, or is this outside their omniscience?

I would imagine that God would hear whatever you might wish to say.

8. Will I be able to communicate with people in heaven or other people in hell?

I doubt that you will be able to communicate with people in heaven, as I imagine the two locations in different “realms”. However, you probably will be able to communicate with people in Hell.

9. Will I be able to learn of events on earth and elsewhere as they happen after my death?

Don’t know. My guess is probably not.

10. Will any loved ones I have in heaven be able to remember me? How are they likely to feel about me and my predicament?

I imagine that loved ones will remember you, although it is possible that they won’t. Of your predicament, they will probably realize that what happened was justified.


NATURE OF HEAVEN

1. What is heaven like?

I would imagine that it is the ultimate presence of God and the absence of Satan.

2. During your (presumed) “life everlasting”, will you be able to do the things I asked about me doing in Hell?

I would think so.

3. If you are able to communicate with other citizens of heaven, will it only be if they agree to do so?

Uhhh… I guess.

4. Can you truly consider it paradise if the celebrities there are snubbing you? Can celebrities truly consider it paradise if they have to talk to anybody who comes over to their cloud?

What is the point of these questions? In heaven everyone is probably quite willing to talk to one another, and everyone regards everyone else as their “equal”.

5. If you are a remarried widower, will your two wives have to share you, or will one of them have less bliss than the other?

Probably won’t be wives in heaven.

6. If you were mentally disabled or senile when you received life everlasting, do you get an adult’s mind?

Sure.

7. If you were an infant or child and get an adult’s mind, what determines your personality?

Probably the personality you would have had if you had not only developed into childhood, but had become a full grown human being.

8. Are some people in heaven still smarter or funnier than others, or is everyone equally intelligent and witty?

Don’t know, but certainly nobody will brag about their comedic skills and nobody will insult others for their lack thereof.

9. Will you understand (or be able to learn) every principle of math and science?

Hope so.

10. Will you know (or be able to learn) every fact of the history of you, your loved ones, humanity, and the Earth in general?

Ditto.

11. Will you know Earth’s future, or be able to observe it as it happens?

Doubt it.

12. Will others in heaven know (or be able to learn) embarrassing things about your life?

They will probably be able to know things that I considered embarrassing in my human life, but others would not take advantage of me and I would no longer feel “embarrassment”.

13. Will you be able to remember any sinful pleasures of your mortal life?

Probably, but the memory will not bring me any sinful pleasure in itself.

14. Will your memory of your sins be wiped clean, or will you still have shame?

Probably there will be memory but God will wipe away our shame.

15. Will you be able to play games (like chess) with other people in heaven? Will you ever lose? Can you ever improve at such pursuits?

Yes, no, yes.

16. Will you be able to take naps, and if so for what duration?

Probably there will be sleep, who knows how long?

17. Will people ever have differing opinions, interests, or hobbies?

Probably so.

18. Will there be any possible way to create new knowledge or new art?

Ditto.


JUSTNESS OF HELL

1. If, when my first 100 trillion years of torment are over, you happen to remember that a basically good person is just beginning his torture essentially because he used his divine given gift of reason, will you think “right on! you and Hitler are getting what you deserved!”?

I will realize that your punishment is just and fair, and that God did all He could to rescue you from it.

2. Or will you then even momentarily consider that your god(s) might be less than perfectly just?

I have no reason to suppose that God is unjust now, and I probably won’t while I’m in Heaven.


WHAT IF GOD QUIT

In this section, Holtz describes a potential scenario:

“Imagine your god(s) “saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become” [Gen 6:5] and decided to be rid of us. But instead of drowning us all in a Flood, imagine that your god(s) simply abandoned us to the uncaring universe. Imagine that your god(s) decided to leave us alone and unmolested, the way all the wicked atheists thought we were anyway. Imagine too that your god(s) had firmly decided and announced that the few not-quite-so-wicked people like you had zero hope of salvation, and that your souls would be uncreated upon your natural bodily death.”

1. What would you do?

I suppose I would try to enjoy my life on Earth as much as possible.

2. What would be your goals and values?

My goals would be to make other’s lives and mine as enjoyable as possible.

CONCLUSION:

A lot of pointless questions, and quite a few emotionally-charged implied arguments, as well as a fair amount of (implied) logical fallacies. I really don’t think that these “questions” should be all that troubling to any Christian. Holtz needs to ask the right questions, which is something he has failed to do.


NOTES

1. See William Lane Craig, http://www.arn.org/docs/odesign/od172/cosmos172.htm

2. See Bryant Wood, http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/magazines/docs/v21n2_jericho.asp






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  1. had to share this:

    man eventually got so smart, that certain geniuses finally were able to create actual life out of the elements found on earth. they challenged God about this with that very claim. When one died, he had a confrontation with God and claimed he could create life just like God did!!!

    “Fine”, said God, “but first, get your own dirt”

    ;)


    GTA    Aug 20, 01:52 PM    #
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