2nd Response to Holtz

22 February 2006

The following is mostly a reprinting of Brian Holtz’s response to my previous rebuttal of one of his articles. See HERE for the entire course of our exchange. I comment where I feel necessary. My comments are in bold. Holtz’s most recent (and therefore most relevant) comments are italicized.

Hi Kyle, thanks for the link to your answers to my questions. I applaud your interest in philosophy and science and rationality in general. It will be interesting to see whether you remain a Christian over the next decade or so.

K: 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.

That you would consider such questions about your eternal fate “useless and boring” only substantiates my point that “most of these believers seem not to take these beliefs very seriously, insofar as they don’t seriously examine [..] the nature of the afterlife that they claim to believe will constitute essentially the entirety of their conscious existence.”

Well, inasmuch as I don’t think I can change it or alter it in any way for my advantage, I must plead ‘guilty’ for the charge of not really contemplating what my afterlife will be like. In my view, I have done all I can to get into heaven, which is a place that will assuredly be pleasant anyway. Should I worry about whether or not I’ll be able to play golf in heaven? I don’t really think so.

I do, however, take the issue of the afterlife seriously, which is why I spend so much time investigating religion. Also, since I am currently at the conclusion that belief in Christ is the only way to a truly satisfying afterlife, I have spent much of my free time trying to convince others to place their faith in Him. So, it is untrue that I ignore the topic of afterlife, but it is true that I don’t really care whether or not I bowl a perfect 300 in heaven. The way I see it, there is heaven and there is hell. If I end up in heaven there’s a good chance that I’ll be more happy than if I ended up in hell. Beyond that, the issue becomes quite tedious for me.

On the other hand, I would like for you to give me a good reason why I should worry about what sort of activities will be in Heaven or Hell. So far, you’ve given no positive argument for why I should be concerned (other than that the afterlife will “constitute essentially the entirety of [my] conscious existence”). Yet, your argument is inconclusive because you have failed to show how knowledge of activities, lifestyles, etc. in Heaven or Hell can be changed in any way, shape, or form by either knowledge of their existence OR by actions I might take as a consequence of such knowledge.

H: they don’t seriously examine 1) why their beliefs aren’t more widely accepted

K: This is in effect an argument from authority, by implying that “more people should believe” if Christianity is actually true.

You either do or do not have an explanation for why the marketplace of ideas (especially in academia) does not endorse what you claim is an objectively compelling case. Labeling the issue as an “argument from authority” does not excuse you from explaining this fact about the universe.

Actually, correctly labeling your argument as a logical fallacy completely and thoroughly excuses me from explaining your so-called “fact”. You can continue to ignore the simple truth that your claim is logically fallacious if you wish, but that does nothing to change the fact that your “argument” is not even a valid argument by any means.

Of course, in order to answer your already-refuted “argument”, I could just list a whole bunch of “non-rational” factors for disbelief, as you are prone to do. As I explain below, however, this methodology is entirely faulty.

In any case it is entirely unsubstantiated for you to claim that Christianity is not endorsed as objectively compelling by the “academia”. There happen to be quite a few Christians in the upper level of education, so your blatant characterization of Christianity as countering intellectualism is entirely unfounded. So it looks like your “argument” is unsupported by facts, is refuted by your own (faulty) methodologies, and is logically fallacious. If I were you I would develop better arguments.

K: 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.

If you ever take it seriously enough to add to your site an explanation of it, please let me know.

I have recently addressed this, actually, and my article dealing with nonbelief is now found HERE. In the article I list a few factors which could POTENTIALLY influence rational thought, and I also demonstrate in two separate ways why nonbelief is not and can’t be an argument against the existence of God.

K: 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..

Do you have any reasons you could share as to why it’s not “important right now” to understand the conditions that will govern well over 99.999999% of your conscious existence?

My reason is that there is absolutely nothing I can do to affect the situation I receive in my afterlife (beyond the simple distinction of being in heaven or hell), so worrying about it is akin to sitting around all day in terror of the day you will die. Why worry about death all day if there is nothing you can do about it? (NOTE: Obviously, there are things you can do to prolong death or make it less likely to happen soon- such as diet and exercise. However, beyond these things there is no good reason for us to worry about death. In a similar fashion, it is reasonable to investigate religion to find out how to get to the best afterlife, but we need not sit around all day fearing the afterlife.)

PRESENT EVIDENCE

H: 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?

K: 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?”

The overwhelming majority of them (including you) can be explained by some combination of the non-rational factors I list here.

Of course, it is totally ridiculous for you to claim that atheism is supported because of intelligent atheists, yet turn around and claim that Christianity is not supported by intelligent Christians (since the Christians are obviously brainwashed!). The double standard here is quite fascinating. Almost all the factors you list could potentially be used to ‘psychologize’ an atheistic individual. This is why your Freudian method of psycho-evaluation is ultimately useless (as even most atheists will admit).

Most people (and even most atheists) don’t have a worldview chosen rationally and without undue influence by such non-rational factors.

Exactly correct, because there is absolutely no way to suppose that a person could actually live his or her life without being affected by one of the factors you list. Is there any way, you suppose, for a person to live their life without suffering from some sort of loss? Is it possible for a person not to be influenced or given an “example” by a parent or peer in the entire course of their lifetime? Of course not, which is one reason why your list of “non-rational factors” is utterly worthless.

That’s why it’s interesting to measure worldview adoption rates among people professionally trained to rationally evaluate worldviews — namely, philosophers. I have yet to find any statistics on this, but I would expect that a majority of professional philosophers are atheists or agnostics.

And even if they were all atheists, I would fail to be impressed with their finds, particularly if they use the same methods you do. Psycho-evaluation does nothing to refute the evidence for the existence of God.

It’s also interesting to consider atheists having documented long-term experience with both sides’ arguments who later converted to Christianity purely because of comparing those arguments. Steve Locks has an impressive list of professional Christian deconverts, but I cannot find a verifiably well-versed atheist who’s gone over to the other side.

This is all self-serving jargon, as your criteria for being a “well-versed atheist” is ridiculous. For example, in your evaluation of ASA Jones’ conversion, you claim the following:

“Jones may have been familiar with anti-Christian arguments, but she seems to have lacked the philosophical knowledge necessary to anchor those arguments.”

So, according to you, Jones wasn’t a “well-versed atheist” because, despite knowing the atheistic arguments, she lacked the knowledge to “know” that these arguments are obviously true! It should be quite apparent to the objective onlooker that this is simply self-serving. I could just as easily claim that individuals on Steve Locks’ list were not really “True Christians”. Would you accept such an absurd rationalization? I would think not.

In any case, I don’t understand what you are trying to prove with this “many Christians deconvert” argument. Since many people are brought up Christian, it makes sense that many would later reject it on their own account. On the other hand, VERY few people are brought up atheist. So it is entirely expected for there to be more Christian deconverts.

It seems that having substantial and verifiable experience with the standard atheist arguments against Christianity makes atheists immune from conversion, whereas being a professional Christian does not confer the analogous immunity.

Hmmm…Perhaps this is because “professional” atheists are not objective? Do you honestly think I am concerned over the fact that very few or no “hardcore” atheists are converted as the result of apologetics? Of course not, I would not expect them to be. Besides, I have previously shown that your “well-versed atheist turned Christian” criteria are useless and hopelessly self-serving.

K: 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.

“Pride” is of course how Christians try to explain away the existence of apparently reasonable atheists. I have no problem admitting that a reasonable and rational person could (mistakenly) be a Christian, but I’ve yet to meet a Christian who could admit the existence of such an atheist.

Well, here is one. I will admit the possibility of a reasonable and rational atheist. More on this later.

K: Personally, I don’t know why atheists don’t believe, but it is not my fault that they fail to see the evidence.

The more reasonable a Christian seems, the more interested I am in understanding why she is nevertheless a Chrsitian. Christians seem little interested in the reverse understanding.

Well, I am sorry that other Christians feel this way, but I assure you that this is not my sentiment.

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

K: This is another (implied) argument from authority.

Actually, it’s a rebuttal of your point that atheistic pride explains the denial of the compelling case for Christianity. For example, Islam literally means “submission to God”, and so pride cannot explain why a person is a Muslim instead of a Christian.

How exactly this was intended to “rebut” something I had not yet written is unclear to me, but in any case it doesn’t amount to much at all. You merely point out one religion that may not have a pride factor and you think you’ve discounted pride as a possible influence of religious choice.

But let me explain something here. I am using factors such as bias and pride as examples of what could POTENTIALLY have an adverse affect on reason. I, however, admit that these factors are equally applicable to both sides. You, on the other hand, seem to think that you can undermine my theism because you can list a few such factors. Not so, because your futile approach would also “refute” atheism. I don’t think that I “explain away” your atheism or undermine it in any way with these factors, but I am merely pointing out that it is possible that certain factors are causing you to fail seeing the evidence. The existence of such factors undermine the Argument from Nonbelief, which is peppered through your entire article as well as your current response.

K: Of course, bias plays a huge role in this because religious believers naturally want to believe their own religion.

So why should I believe that such bias does not explain your own belief?

See above. I am not denying that these factors could play a role in my reasons for belief. I am merely pointing out potential reasons why one’s thinking with regards to religion could be skewed.

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

K: 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.

You can study other religions and get to know people raised outside Christianity. The best antidote to Christianity — aside from reading the Bible — is the comparative study of religion. (As you say on your site, “My number one recommendation is not to read the Bible.”)

Currently I am studying religions outside Christianity. Also, the quote you mention was misinterpreted by you (which is my fault as it was written poorly). I have now deleted that statement in the article. What I meant was that I did not feel reading the Bible was the MOST important thing, or the “top recommendation”. In any case I totally support reading the Bible although I note in my article that reading the Bible by itself is probably not going to change your atheism (for good reason). I thus believe that apologetics is more important, in general, than merely reading the Bible.

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

K: 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).

The lack of consensus for Christianity is a fact which my thesis explains and yours apparently does not. Explaining facts is what truth is all about.

See above, where I demolish this argument three times over.

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

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

My point is that there is something seriously wrong with your claim that the evidence for Christianity is objectively compelling, because you cannot name any other objectively compelling thesis that defied consensus for so long, and you admit that your thesis will in fact never be able to compel a consensus.

Perhaps you’re right, but of course no other “objectively compelling” viewpoint (such as a round earth or a heliocentric universe), directly relates to the innermost emotions of the human being. Religion tends to be an emotional topic, so it is unfair to compare it with other objectively compelling viewpoints which involve little or none of the same effect.

In any case, I find it rather humorous that atheism is (according to you) an “objectively compelling thesis”, yet it has totally and completely failed to establish consensus! Whoops. According to your logic, atheism is refuted and Christianity reigns supreme, as it is by far the most common worldview (with over 2 billion followers). So, I suppose you are going to have to admit that your logic is faulty or you are going to have to give up on atheism (which hasn’t yet gotten even close to consensus despite being around virtually since the beginning of intelligent civilization. Certainly atheism has been around much longer than Christianity.)

H: 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?

K: 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.

So you deny that a person could reasonably (but mistakenly) be an atheist? (Note that this is a no-win question for you. “No” means your god allows eternal torment merely for reasonable mistakes, while “Yes” makes you seem extremely close-minded.)

Actually, I think it is possible that a person is a reasonably mistaken atheist, as I explain in the article HERE. Yet, God’s kindness is not compromised because he ensures that every person receives sufficient knowledge of Him sometime during their life.

FUTURE EVIDENCE

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

K: 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.

You’re confusing evidence and arguments. Quantum indeterminacy is old evidence, and no argument based on it could ever compel belief in the divinity of a Hebrew carpenter from a remote Roman protectorate.

I never said I was trying to prove the deity of Jesus Christ based on quantum indeterminacy. Rather, I think it is a good argument to support the general existence of an omnipotent God. Your implied request that my argument “prove” Jesus is also God is not fair. Yet I see that you apparently have no response to the actual argument.

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

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

I’ll take this as an admission that you recognize that your allegedly “constant” god has now been scared by science into retiring from the miracle business. :-)

No. Probably He sees little reason to perform widespread miracles due to the consistent and constant rejection of Him by the people of this Earth. In addition, after the resurrection of Christ there is most likely little need for widespread miracles.

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

K: 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.

Your god doesn’t have to answer prayers “all the time” for their efficacy to be confirmed. If prayers make a difference, that difference is measurable. If prayers make no measurable difference, then reason tells us that prayers don’t work.

Prayers don’t work only when you define the purpose of prayer as “getting what you say you want”. Mature Christians realize that the true purpose of prayer is to develop a closer relationship with God. In any case, it is entirely unclear that God answering all prayers would be a good thing. Sometimes, human beings do not really know what they want. It would be an outright disaster if God answered all prayers in the affirmative (not to mention impossible because some prayers are mutually contradictory.)

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

K: I don’t see why not. It has happened before [Jericho], it could happen again.

Jericho is of course not a case of objectively compelling scientific corroboration of any miracle. By this standard, you apparently admit that mainstream archaeology textbooks will never report such corroboration.

Sorry, I misread the question. I didn’t see that you requested a “miraculous” event to be confirmed. But see Glenn Miller’s article for some interesting discussion on the parting of the Red Sea:

??The reason I mention this, is that Diodorus Siculus (The Library of History, III.40.9ff) has this strange passage in his description of the people living in this area (written 60-30 bc):

“And among the Ichthyophagi who dwell near by has been handed down a tale which has preserved the account received from their forefathers, that once, when there was a great receding of the sea, the entire area of the gulf which has what may be roughly described as the green appearance became land, and that, after the sea had receded to the opposite parts and the solid ground in the depths of it had emerged to view, a mighty flood came back upon it again and returned the body of water to its former place” [Loeb]?? 1

CONTRARY EVIDENCE

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

K: Actually, those types of religions barely even hold up as rational possibilities, let alone superior to the Christian worldview.

What if Ahura Mazda started answering every Zoroastrian priest’s prayers, and speaking telepathically to every human, and re-arranging the stars and galaxies to spell out his name? If this wouldn’t convert you, then your belief is truly unfalsifiable.

Well I suppose that if the aforementioned events took place, I would convert. But assuming such an event does not occur, the overwhelming majority of religions don’t even pretend to be rationally based, unlike Christianity which actually encourages investigation and reasonable skepticism. See HERE.

H: 2. What possible evidence would convert you to atheism?

K: First of all, atheists would need to refute the COSMOLOGICAL and TELEOLOGICAL (upcoming) arguments, as well as the MORALITY argument

You’re again confusing evidence and arguments. What if there were found compelling archaeological evidence that all the relevant revelation-based religions were false or fraudulent?

Then I still would believe in God’s existence because the Teleological and Cosmological arguments, amongst others, would give me an objective reason to believe that God exists. I might, however, give up on Christianity if the evidence against it were too strong.

K: (as I am quite convinced objective morality does exist).

I agree that completely objective morality cannot exist. This in fact implies that your god cannot objectively be considered to be moral, but that’s another topic.

Agreed. It’s another topic, so I won’t discuss it here.

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

K: Nope.

And yet you have not described any possible empirical evidence that could falsify your belief.

Perhaps empirical evidence that the universe has existed for an infinite amount of time or empirical evidence of something coming from nothing for no reason would give me little reason to believe that the Cosmological Argument was successful. Empirical evidence that there is in fact no bizarre coincidence to our life-supporting universes would ruin the Teleological Argument. Empirical evidence that it is plausible or even possible for a cell to emerge from inanimate matter would be nice. This is the sort of empirical evidence which would falsify belief in God.

Of course, I would still have Personal Experiences causing me to believe, so I think it would not be rational to deny such an experience unless additional evidences against the existence of God were found. Archaeological evidence such as you mention could go somewhere in this regard. So these are the sorts of evidences that could falsify my belief in God.

DWINDLING HOPE

K: 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.

Your article does not address a single one of the twenty natural phenomena that used to be attributed to divine intervention, nor do you dispute that “in the past, your god was used to explain the gaps caused by the absence of a naturalistic understanding of physics, astronomy, meteorology, agriculture, and physiology. Most of these gaps began closing after 1500 [..]”

Actually, your “science will eventually reveal a naturalistic explanation” portion of the argument was deferred to an entirely new article. At the time you were reading my God-of-the-gaps article, I did not have it linked. I do, however, deal with the Argument from the History of Science HERE.

K: Holtz continues by postulating a future date (2300 or 3300) in which “[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.

I am quite confident that archaeology will not produce any finds confirming anything supernatural in the biblical account. Indeed, it would be unfair for your god(s) to provide better evidence to future people while condemning me to eternal torment for rejecting the current evidence as inadequate.

Please see my article HERE for a general discussion of the Argument from Nonbelief as well as a discussion of possible reasons God may have for not providing a ridiculous amount of evidence for His existence.

K: Also, the evidence need not be “widely accepted” to be considered evidence. Almost all evidence can be “disputed”.

Who disputes the evidence that Caesar was assassinated? Who disputes the evidence that Rome defeated Carthage? Who disputes the evidence that Jerusalem was sacked in the first century?

Yes, and who disputes the sphere shape of the Earth? Oh yes, the Flat Earth Society! If this proves anything, it is that compelling evidence can always be “disputed”, even by individuals who would deny that the Earth is round.

Also, I am quite sure that you are an opponent of Young-Earth Creationism. Yet, all the supposed evidence you may advance would probably not convince a YEC that evolution was true. So, I’m afraid that once again you must admit that objectively compelling evidence (even as defined by you!) does not always lead to acceptance.

Actually, the supposed evidence for evolution is anything but “widely accepted”. A huge portion of the population does not believe that evolution actually occurred. There goes your “it must be widely accepted” criteria flying out the window.

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

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

Despite your embrace of rationality, you seem here to be wishing that humanity does not continue its inexorable progress in explaining biology. Then again, since you are a creationist, you probably do not consider modern biology to be progress.

I have no problem with biology, but I will take your response as an obvious acknowledgement that Abiogenesis theories are currently looking quite grim. After all, you don’t even offer any reasons for me to think that Abiogenesis is true, let alone possible. You would prefer to blindly hope that the “future” of biology will uncover this mystery. Unlikely indeed, since history has repeatedly only ruined theories of life from non-life, as I document HERE. I simply fail to have such an optimistic attitude towards the proposition that chemicals can mix together and, by themselves, create a complicated cell capable of reproduction. If such belief is the result of an “embrace of rationality”, then count me out!

As with evolution, it is true that I do not find the theory to be objectively compelling, although I will admit that (as a 17-year old student) I have not put in the necessary hours of research. But my stance on evolution is absolutely irrelevant to the failure of Abiogenesis, and it is also irrelevant to the many other cogent and compelling evidences for God’s existence which I have articulated previously.

K: 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 add to the strength of the argument.

The Teleological proof is undermined by unrelenting progress in reducing the number of those initial parameters and by anthropic arguments for why they should allow the development of life and intelligence.

Yet, as long as the reality of a life-supporting universe is relatively unlikely (as a result of blind chance), we have an objective reason to believe in the existence of God. You’re “science will one day solve the mystery” approach is nothing but an excuse and a bit of a cop-out.

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

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

The soul thesis is of course already disproved; the question is merely the extent to which theists still try to find room for god(s) in the shrinking gaps of neuroscience. You are wise to have given up on this.

I haven’t looked into this issue closely enough, but in any case I don’t find a good reason to respond to your blanket statement. In any case, I will offer one suggestion as to the role of the soul compared to the brain. It is possible that the brain is the vehicle of the soul, and therefore the brain’s function is to express the wish of the soul. If that is true, then it would be expected that brain damage would effect the way in which the soul was able to express itself.

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

K: This is unlikely, but even if artificial life is created, the Argument from Design and Argument from Abiogenesis would not be affected.

AI would further disprove the soul thesis.

It wouldn’t really disprove the thesis, as it would merely show that it is POSSIBLE to have a brain without a soul. However, I will admit that such an occurrence would undermine belief in a soul severely. In any case, I deeply doubt that Artificial Intelligence of such nature will ever be developed.

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

K: Which, even if it did happen, would only be an argument from authority

Intelligent non-angelic beings with no designated saviour would further undermine the Christian notion of original sin and the need for salvation.

Not necessarily so, as it could be that it is only the human race that is plagued by original sin and whatnot. But it probably won’t happen anyway, so I would advise you to refrain from holding your breath.

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

K: 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

The Teleological Argument would by hypothesis have dwindled to just a shadow of the Cosmological Argument, saying that god(s) chose the universe’s boundary conditions and then left it alone. The gaps in science have closed to such an extent that wise Christians have abandoned all reliance on those gaps.

*I don’t “rely” on “gaps”, and once again all of your charges are handily refuted in my article HERE. There is nothing irrational about using God as an explanation for a given phenomenon when all other explanations lack logical force and coherency.

PROPHECY

H: 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?

K: Well, the fact that they are “secular” means that they are not Christian

There are many scholars who would describe themselves as Christian but who nevertheless deny any such prophecies. The weakness of Christianity’s case is underscored by the fact that so many self-described Christians deny the empirical premises of orthodox Christianity.

Since when is it a requirement of Christianity to have “non-trivial prophecy fulfillment”? This is not a doctrine of any sort. If it is true that there are no such prophecies, I don’t really see it as such a big deal.

My question remains unanswered; you’ve given no explanation. Or would you just give the stock answers of “bias” and “pride”?

My “answer” is that I don’t buy into your argument from authority OR your blatant generalization, but I also defer on the issue because I know very little about Biblical prophecy. If there are valid prophecies in the Bible, then great. If not, then I’m still where I started because right now my belief in God and Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with prophecy (since I haven’t looked into it much yet).

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

K: 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.

You’re wise to write off Christianity’s traditional apologetic investment in alleged prophecy fulfillment. That Yahweh and Jesus were not able to make even a single famously and unambiguously impressive prophecy is a sure sign of the incompetence of their alleged self-revelation. A competent deity could have arranged multiple unambiguous prophecies each of which would have earned ringing endorsement from mainstream scholars of history.

Yes it is true that God could have done this, yet it is not necessarily true that this would bring about a desirable result. Here I will quote myself from my article on Nonbelief, where I offer some reasons why God may not give a ridiculous amount of evidence for His existence. These are three factors which may override God’s wish for all to know Him:

“a.) Free will. God wishes to allow humans to have free will. If humans didn’t have free will, then they would be nothing but automatons. Since God created man in his image, it is essential that humans possess the important attribute of free will.

b.) Love and respect. If God made people know that He exists and He offers Salvation, they may accept that belief. However, they would not necessarily love God. They could hate him with a passion, despite knowledge that He exists. This situation would be even more disastrous than nonbelief. Therefore, God does not wish to overly coerce people because knowledge of Him does not mean respect of Him. It must also be mentioned that knowledge of Salvation is not sufficient for Salvation anyways. A person who goes through the motions but is not sincere in his/her repentance will not achieve eternality in heaven anyways. So it is not at all obvious that God would wish to make himself known just so that individuals could hate him and not receive eternal life anyways.

c.) Justice. If God made or overly coerced individuals to believe in Him, then they may accept Salvation not out of love and respect for God, but out of self-motivations. This is not justice at all, and in any case it is not certain that such individuals would attain eternal life anyways.”

So you have a long way to go if you wish to make some sort of argument out of your claim that God “should” have provided such prophecies.

NATURE OF HELL

H: 1. What is hell like?

K: 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.

Since Earth is already unencumbered by the presence of any god(s), your Hell sounds just fine to me.

Actually, it is quite apparent that Hell is a very big issue for you with regards to God’s existence. Therefore, I am going to answer your questions more sincerely and completely this time around. I feel that, with the objection of Hell cleared out of the way, you would be much more open to Christianity.

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

K: 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.

Cool; this implies that Hell would involve no physical (i.e. bodily) torment.

That would be my conclusion, yet I must mention that I think it is highly possible that pain could be involved if inflicted on by other humans present in Hell. In other words, evil deeds will still be committed in Hell (with more frequency, I would imagine), and these evil deeds may cause physical pain upon others.

H: 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?

K: 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.

It’s odd that you’re not sure about Satan’s role in Hell. Most other orthodox Christians seem to believe that the perfect and inerrant revelation of Yahweh and Jesus has included such details. So much for perfect and inerrant revelation… :-)

The perfection of the scriptures is only compromised if for some reason it is claimed that perfect scriptures must contain clear and unambiguous reference to the activities of Satan in Hell. But I see no need for this to be in the scriptures. It is unfair for you to impose your ridiculous standards of ‘perfection’ upon the text.

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

K: 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.

Heaven indeed sounds pointless, especially if it’s a narcotic stupor of the eternal present.

How do you know it will be pointless, especially since you have not experienced it? In any case, this is merely a personal and easily-changed viewpoint that I don’t care for either way.

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

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

I guess that would be Satan’s doing, since you claim Hell is certified god-free. OK, what’s the worst sort of suffering that you think Satan might inflict on me?

Satan, I imagine, will not inflict any sort of suffering on you. Satan will get it the worst of all in Hell. But Hell will be a place of evil human beings and severe intellectual and emotional regret. Most of the physical pain you experience will probably be inflicted upon you by other persons in Hell.

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

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

Good; if Hell consists of net torment for me, then I’ll enjoy constantly reminding your god(s) of the immorality of abandoning me to eternal torment simply for rationally evaluating the available evidence.

In Hell (if you end up going there, which I am not sure of since it is not my place to judge) you will probably realize that your atheism WASN’T compelling, and that you ignored the clear calling of God. I imagine this would be one of the worst things about Hell. Yet, as you state here, you will continue to reject God once you are in Hell, giving Him little choice but to leave you separated from Him.

H: 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?

K: 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.

Given that even most Christians can’t stomach defending the idea of eternal torment as a just punishment for the sin of mistaken rationality, I seriously doubt that many of my loved ones would consider it justified.

But you have an undefended premise that you are in Hell because of “mistaken rationality”. Three issues must be addressed.

Firstly, you don’t go to Hell for disbelief in Jesus Christ, you go to Hell as the result of sin. Since you have sinned, God has no choice based on His just nature but to send you to a place separated from Him. If you lived sin-free, you would have no need to acknowledge God’s existence. In the same regard, I deserve to go to Hell because I have sinned and continue to sin.

Yet, thankfully, God also possesses the quality of mercy. Due to this, God has decided to send His Son Jesus Christ in order to die in our place. You know the story. But the point is that lacking belief in God is not grounds for going to Hell. Hell is actually the “default location” for anyone who has sinned (i.e. everyone). It is only through God’s mercy that some of us are saved.

Secondly, there is no way for me to know that your disbelief in God is truly “mistaken rationality”. Not that I wish to claim you are a liar, but do you honestly expect me to disbelieve (therefore denying what I have come to believe rationally) merely because you claim that your disbelief is for purely objective reasons? I would think not.

Thirdly, there is no way for YOU to know that God is not going to, in the future, provide you the evidence required to come to rational belief in Him. Therefore, it is impossible for you to expect me to disbelieve in God because of your own disbelief. Also, instead of being incredulous at the idea of God who would send you to Hell for an intellectual mistake, you should be open to Him. He is working with you even as we speak, I imagine.

NATURE OF HEAVEN

H: 1. What is heaven like?

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

Hmm, the Heaven brochures you’ve received from your god(s) seem not to have been very detailed… :-)

This is probably because God, like me, realizes that worrying about what sort of activities we perform in Heaven is ultimately insignificant compared to the issue of how we live our life on Earth.

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

K: I would think so.

If there is room for intellectual creativity in Heaven, why would anyone pursue it? God has all the answers anyway, and intellectual advances over time are meaningless in the narcotic stupor of the eternal present.

I doubt that we will instantly become “omniscient” while in Heaven, so there will always be more knowledge to obtain. But I don’t understand why any of this matters. In Heaven there is peace and joy. What more does one really need to know about it?

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

K: Uhhh… I guess. [..] 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”.

So are boring and annoying and stupid people transmogrified in heaven to not be so, or is everyone else just brainwashed into not caring about such traits in others?

Not brainwashed at all, but those that are in Heaven will feel the extremely close presence of God and will not wish to have hatred or frustration with other individuals. We will all be accepting of others, probably because we will have a much more intimate knowledge of who they are as a person. If that is brainwashing, then I am fine with it.

It should be obvious that the point of these questions is to demonstrate that the superficial Christian vision of a blissful heaven involves either self-contradiction or mind-numbing brainwashing.

Not so. My hypothesis would be that those individuals who accept Salvation (Christians) will find themselves in Heaven in such close proximity to that which they admire (God) that they will have no motivation for sin, hatred, or evil in any shape or form. No brainwashing involved there.

H: 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?

K: Probably won’t be wives in heaven.

So after a lifelong exclusive partnership and raising a family together, one’s heavenly relationship with a spouse is no different than that with any other person? This of course implies such severe mental surgery on one’s personality and identity so as to question whether heaven is happening to the same person one was on Earth.

No, because you will be the same person yet with much more intimate knowledge of everyone else’s being as well as an unparalleled closeness with God that will result in endless affection for all other humans. Since when has increased knowledge (in this case knowledge of other persons) involved the “mental surgery [of] one’s personality”?

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

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

Would all these restored personalities be the same? What, if not experience, would differentiate them? Is one’s heavenly personality determined more by the pre-birth qualities of one’s soul or by one’s earthly personality development? Are the personality differences between souls decided in advance by your god(s), or are they random?

Actually I must shift my viewpoint here. I would imagine that the soul will develop in heaven as the result of experiences that take place there. So, their souls will have pretty much a “blank slate” for the most part, so it is up to the individual to decide what kind of person they want to be.

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

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

Who in heaven would be satisfied being less intelligent than the smartest person there?

Everyone will be satisfied in Heaven, as we will be in the presence of God and we will have no motivation to judge others and no impetus for trying to be the “best”. But nobody ever implied that Heaven is complete bliss for everyone all the time. Rather, certain people in Heaven are more satisfied than others, but that does not change the fact that all people in Heaven will be in a state of happiness.

In what sense is personal identity preserved if someone of average intelligence (or below) suddenly is as smart as the greatest genius?

I never said that was the case, and I cannot see anywhere in my original article where I imply this. But, since when is increased knowledge require an infringement of personal identity? If that was true, then every time you read a book you would be interfering with your own personality.

Could there even be humor at all in heaven? Won’t every possible joke get old after the billionth telling, or will people sit around like Beavis and Butthead, chuckling eternally at the same inanities?

Actually, jokes are infinite because they relate to the surroundings and situations humans find themselves in. Since these situations and surroundings are infinite, there is the potential for an infinite amount of jokes.

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

K: Hope so.

So it’s possible that some people in heaven could reach the limit of their understanding, and face an eternity of never being able to master e.g. quantum physics?

I don’t see what is so bad about mastering science and math, but I could be wrong. Perhaps it is impossible to attain 100% math knowledge in heaven. Either way, I think this issue is of minimal importance.

Or will everyone eventually understand everything, and thus face an eternity of having nothing new to learn? (Or will the narcotic stupor of the eternal present make nobody care about understanding anything?)

My guess is that there will always be new stuff to learn.

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

K: 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”.

One doesn’t need to be taken advantage of to feel embarrassed. This is yet another point on which heaven involves either brainwashing or selective amnesia.

What then do you mean by being “embarrassed”? If you mean feeling ashamed, I don’t see why the presence of God as well as intimate knowledge of other human beings couldn’t lead to lack of embarrassment, without directly affecting free will in any way.

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

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

Will the worst moments in heaven be better than the best moments — the most enlightening, accomplishing, or orgasmic — on Earth?

Actually, my guess would be no. But the cool thing about Heaven is that it is sin-free, which means much less suffering. That doesn’t mean, however, that Heaven will be 100% eternal bliss for everyone.

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

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

Ah, more brainwashing. Will the god(s) wipe away your drool too, or just put a bib on you? :-)

God’s presence will wipe away our shame, which is not brainwashing, especially considering that it was a choice on the human’s part to accept Salvation and spend eternity by God’s side. (Actually, I find your sarcastic comment rather ironic, as it appears to me that it is YOU that is requesting that God “wipe[s] away your drool”. Consider before when you expressed discontent at God for not providing an irrefutable prophecy. It seems that YOU are the one that wants to receive special treatment.)

H: 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?

K: Yes, no, yes.

Who would play chess in Heaven if every game is a stalemate? Probably not. What’s the point of improving your chess game if you never lose anyway?

I was just joking about never losing. Losing in chess is probably a possibility in Heaven, even for a master intellectual like myself. :)

Will you face an eternity of never perfectly mastering the game, or an eternity of having already perfectly mastered the game? (Are you getting the point here that, for beings whose personality structure is shaped by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, an eternity of anything will seem pretty pointless?)

I doubt that an eternity of happiness would be “pointless”. If you are happy, then you are content. It is impossible to grow tired of being content because then you would no longer be content.

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

K: Probably there will be sleep, who knows how long?

If Heaven is so great, why would anyone want to miss a moment of it? Is the trillionth day of being in Heaven as good as the first? Does any aspect of the delightfulness of Heaven diminish or fluctuate over time?

Well, people might sleep because they’re tired. And I imagine each day in Heaven is enjoyable, but some days are probably better than others. Once again I must ask why any of this matters.

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

K: Probably so.

With God there to settle disputes, could people ever disagree over any question of philosophy or history or (former earthly) politics? If there are Democrats in heaven, how happy can they be after finding out they were wrong all their lives? :-)

I’m sure the democrats will be able to accept that they were evil sinners on Earth. :)

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

K: Ditto.

Given the omniscience of your god(s), why would anyone try to discover anything instead of just asking for the answer?

Perhaps because, as you seem to imply in your article, obtaining knowledge by oneself is satisfying.

JUSTNESS OF HELL

H: 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!”?

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

“All he could”? Thomas got to examine a reincarnated man’s wounds, but all I get are error-prone manuscripts of decades-old hearsay about a Torah-thumping Hebrew carpenter who can reasonably be inferred to have been a delusional schizophrenic.

Sounds like good evidence to me.

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

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

So if after 100 trillion years of torment I were repentant and your god(s) gave me amnesty, would you really think “Boo! Leave that bastard Holtz to the eternal torment that he deserves!”?

*Well, a few things must be mentioned here.
In no way would I be joyous of your situation. I would, however, understand that your punishment is just. I would also probably realize that you still hate God, so it would be impossible for God to bring you into Heaven.*

Believe me when I say that I don’t like the doctrine of Hell. In fact, I often wish Christianity wasn’t true just so that some individuals don’t end up in Hell. Yet, Christianity IS true, and it would be pure folly for me to reject it.

WHAT IF GOD QUIT

H: What would be your goals and values?

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

But you said above that objective morality is impossible.

*Wrong. I said that objective morality is impossible unless God exists.

Why would you care about others having enjoyable lives?

Because I would still have within me a moral code given to me by God. I would still have my soul and personality, which would compel me to help others.

Why wouldn’t you be completely selfish and hedonistic and take advantage of whomever you could? Or do you admit that it’s possible to act admirably without threats or guidance from any god(s)?

Of course it is possible to act morally without the sanctions of Heaven and Hell imposed.

CONCLUSION

K: 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.

If there is anything “pointless” about these questions, it only reflects the weakness of Christianity’s evidence and the vacuousness of Christianity’s afterlife doctrines. If these questions stir the emotions, it’s only because Heaven is incompatible with human nature, and Hell incompatible with human decency.

Actually, my emotions have not been stirred in the slightest. You, however, seem to have deep emotional problems with the concept of Heaven and (especially) Hell. However, your emotional difficulties with these concepts are unfounded. You have a deeply mistaken view about Hell, and why some people end up there. But not believing in God because you don’t think Hell is fair is like closing your eyes on the highway with a semi-truck coming your way. No matter how hard you wish it wasn’t true, the truck will still run you over. This approach is just like suicide, so I hope that you will stop letting the doctrine of Hell warp your view about Christianity so much.

If most Christians are not troubled by the logical implications of their afterlife doctrines, it’s probably for the same reasons that children are not troubled by Santa’s need to exceed light speed to effect his Christmas deliveries. :-)

I disavow any “implied” argument from authority, and merely note that you don’t have an explanation for why your “compelling evidence” for Christianity is in practice so uncompelling.

Actually, there are multiple reasons why one might dismiss such compelling evidence due to the inherently emotional nature of the subject matter. In any case, your argument is STILL an argument from authority, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t. Simply “disavowing” a fallacy makes it appear that you aren’t really interested in solid argumentation, but rather interested in supporting your case by using emotional and fallacious arguments.

K: Holtz needs to ask the right questions, which is something he has failed to do.

The charge that I don’t “ask the right questions” is trivially refuted merely by quoting from my hypertext Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits:

Sorry Mr. Holtz, I did not mean to imply that you have overall not looked into the issue enough. However, the article I critiqued in fact did not ask the right questions.

CONCLUSION

You have clarified quite a few of your questions, and for that I thank you. But your objections to Christianity are unfounded. Most of the questions you ask are of little importance, and those questions you ask which are critical to the Christian faith have been answered effectively by Christian Theologians and Philosophers for years. I do, however, thank you for an interesting exchange, and I predict more in the near future.

NOTES

1. Glenn Miller, What About the Fivefold Challenge? http://www.christian-thinktank.com/5felled.html




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