On Your Deathbed…

© KIK-IRPA, Brussels

I suppose the deathbed question was inevitable and it finally came my way.  I will be as painfully honest and thorough as I can in answering it, but I also have plenty to say about the nature of the question itself because I see it often. I don’t want to project or transfer any of my specific thoughts onto the person who asked because I don’t know what truly motivated the question (he asked privately by email).  I’m inclined to grant that it came from the most reputable and sincere of intentions.

If you were on your death bed and were 100% certain death was iniment, would you pray, asking to be forgiven of all sin and re-commit your life to Christ just in case? Or are you 100% certain you could maintain your current held views and exit your existence on earth with absolutely no fear of what may or not happen next?

The Nature of the Question
It seems to me that there are believers who simply cannot grasp that there are others who really, truly do not believe what they themselves consider obvious and inviolable truths and are not afraid to say so. I think the question often partly comes down to that.  “Yes, but in the end, when the game is over, when it really matters, you’ll change your tune, right?” – as if life is somehow trivial in the meantime.

The question also seems related to the old “there are no atheists in foxholes” myth (there are. Their ranks have included baseball great Ted WIlliams and more recently, Pat Tillman). So perhaps in a foxhole under enemy fire, and then presumably also on one’s deathbed, “when it comes right down to it, you’ll wipe that unbelieving sneer right off your face.” The believer and her god will win in the end and unbelievers, then face-to-face with eternity will without question run cryin’ for their mamas, it is supposed.  Of course it doesn’t necessarily happen that way, deathbed conversion stories notwithstanding (both true and false).

We witnessed this kind of thing more than we should have just recently in the case of Christopher Hitchens, who succumbed to cancer just months ago, and his case is still fresh on my mind.  Many wondered aloud with great interest whether Hitchens would make a deathbed conversion or not and he went to some trouble to answer that in advance, and he did so repeatedly. Pastor Rick Warren, of questionable fortitude (he has earned this honor over and over again) could not resist asserting victory over and against a deceased Hitchens in a disrespectful tweet wrapped in Christian love on the occasion.

Like Warren, many others weighed in on his eternal disposition posthumously, consigning Hitchens to hell, somehow with the certainty that they had inside information on his fate. This is all done of course without the slightest concern for facts or evidence on which to base their claims.  Putting respect for another human being’s life and death aside to make cheap religious points when he can no longer answer for himself or defend his own dignity is nothing but arrogant and narcissistic cowardice of extremely high order.

Just in Case
There is the “just in case” bit in there that I find puzzling as well.  This is another version of Pascal’s Wager, where one calculates the odds and consequences of making right and wrong choices regarding belief in God.  This has a number of problems as well. As much as Christians like to use it from the pulpit and in their proselytizing, they cannot have thought it through.

I could, for example, answer thus with a question of my own.  “If you were on your deathbed and were 100% certain death was iniment, would you pray, asking to be forgiven of all sin and commit your life to Allah and the Koran just in case?”  Why not Allah or any of the many other mutually exclusive deities?  It could apply to belief in any God, not just the Christian God.  It is belief as an insurance policy.  Is God so easily fooled or placated?  Can a meaningful belief system be this shallow?  Is eternity simply a ticket punch?  A hedging of bets?  So no, even before answering the rest of the question, the “just in case” scenario has exactly zero meaning to me.

I am Certain That I Am Uncertain
The second half of the question is troublesome too.  No, I am not 100% certain of very many things at all.  I don’t know a single honest person who would make such a claim, but if I met such a person I think I could immediately dismiss those claims as credulity. I don’t see myself going backwards, unlearning or renouncing my life’s lessons and truths, and that’s as certain as I can be about almost anything besides the love I have for my children.

My currently-held views do not have to be “maintained” because they are not contrived, artificial or manufactured.  They are the product of my life itself. They are in place for a reason. I have actually thought about them, studied them, questioned them, earned them, lived them.  Sometimes I’ve fought them kicking and screaming. They have stood tests of fire and I hold to them in proportion to which they have met the standards of reason and evidence.  I have a basis for believing what I believe.  I could no sooner make myself re-believe authoritative religious doctrinal assertions than I could make myself believe the moon is made of cheese, even though I probably believed that too once upon a time. Could I by sheer force of will overrule cognition?  I don’t see how, if I am in my right mind, but even if I could the same questions come up. Is God so easily fooled? Can a meaningful belief system be this shallow? Is eternity simply the function of a “correct belief” switch that I turn on when the going gets tough? The implication is that my life had not been genuine.

Before I could actually imagine the circumstances of my own deathbed and what that might look and feel like, I had to wade through this muck of feelings the question stirs up – the underlying suspicion that my beliefs and doubts are not legitimate, genuine or “correct;” the presupposition that this particular god and Jesus (as opposed to some other god or even some other Jesus, say the Jesus of the Mormons for example) is the one that will have to be confronted; that it is a deeply personal question involving the most intimate life event we will all know; that it is framed for utilitarian religious purposes; and that a question like this has the potential to implicitly assert supremacy over any other worldview at any ethical cost.

Again, I do not mean to impute motivation on anyone or on the asking of this question specifically.  I do believe though that otherwise well-meaning people can harbor such motivations, rationalize and justify them. As Hitchens said, “If it’s in the name of God it has a certain social license.” I can also imagine a possible world where people are simply and genuinely curious about how someone with a dramatically different view of life and eternity thinks about such things. I’m guessing some are reading this based on that curiosity.  It can be an honest question.

Well, Then?
I was born and raised Catholic – devoutly Catholic.  I went to Catholic school, was an altar boy and learned the Mass in Latin.  I had two first holy communions! Among many other religious experiences, I had a transformative dream when I was quite young, probably no older than five.  In the dream I had died and was waiting in line to go to heaven, accessed by ascending a stair inside the Vatican.  The song Super Terram on the last Undercover album I Rose Falling is all about that dream. The stories and imagery run deep, the frankincense still burns in my nostrils, the music, architecture, art, all woven into my mind and heart at the most profound levels and I’m sure this is the case for many of us. No significant event in my formation as a human being was independent of a Catholic context.  It’s like Patriotism.  The imagery is more than simply “true” even if, like the story of Washington and the cherry tree, it’s not factual at all. It can define us.

Depending on my condition, I cannot deny the possibility that on my deathbed I might cry out to the heavens, to the universe, to the god of my cultural heritage, to anyone or anything that would listen, for want of a truly transcendent and receptive but yet unknown love, in some state of delirium, emotional or physical despair, perhaps medicated beyond coherence, or out of a desire for release, for the pastoral beauty we all come to associate with the stories and mythology of our upbringing.   Would that qualify as repenting of one’s sins or committing one’s life to Christ?  I don’t see how it could, and lest anyone suggest otherwise, let me say unequivocally that none of these horrific conditions would in the least change my cognitive beliefs in the doctrines and the claims about the world and life that religions make that I reject today as either provably or most probably false.

I’m quite convinced that we will all draw on the images, mythologies and stories of our lives in our last minutes – Christian (of any sect), Jew, Muslim, Hundu, Sikh, Druid, Wiccan, Sufi. This would include atheists and unbelievers of different variety. Yes, there are those, many, millions even, in the U.S. alone who have either completely detached from religious context and archetype or never had one to begin with.  I have met friends who are second and third generation unbelievers, and even beyond that who will have no such religious deathbed experience.

The question seems born of so much fear. While the imagery and mythology still courses through my veins and neurons, at a conscious level I do not believe in Original Sin or sin as a religious construct at all.  I do not believe that there is a hell, or a god who would create such a place for any purpose that would involve sending humans there in torment eternally, no matter the offense.  I do not believe in a god who would require human blood as a sacrifice to placate any aspect of his being, whether holiness, anger or anything else.  Such a being might be God, but it is certainly not a loving God in any sense of the word “love” that I know.  I understand that many fear such a being or at least fear the consequences of not worshipping such a being to the point of paralysis. Is this what God wants? Might I fear death?  I might, but I’m working on it.  I can more readily entertain the idea of a god who prefers courage in the face of doubt born of a sincere and genuine inquiry than acquiescence driven by fear.  I also understand that not being able to scare or coerce someone into compliance even at the hour of death can threaten one’s own beliefs.

Cognitively I believe what I believe. Emotionally, I have work to do.  Since it’s true that “no significant event in my formation as a human being was independent of a Catholic context,” I realize that there is some undoing still to be done.  So much of life, of the human experience has been unjustly co-opted, plagiarized and in some cases twisted, corrupted and made perverse by religion. Love is not religious, it is human. I am still in the process of taking all of that back, of reclaiming virtue and fault, beauty and ugliness, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, – all of it –  from religion and putting all of the responsibilities and privileges squarely where they belong – within the purview of the universal human experience.

I might be on my deathbed not having completed that work, and I might still be captive to the emotional attachments of the stories surrounding the context of my life, but no, cognitively there is no sin to repent of, there is only imperfect humanity, looking just as it would look if there were no gods at all.  What I am committed to is love and to the well-being  of conscious creatures inasmuch as it is within my power to make a difference.  It is a fallacy to suggest that I am against any virtue, beauty, love, of any good thing encompassed in the fullness of that human experience when I do what I must to rip those things from the grip of religion that embezzled them.

On the other hand, I can imagine a different scenario. It entertains no false hope or promise, and fears no evil.  It is more serene, the kind of death we all hope for. It is one where I am so enveloped in love from life, from my family, from having lived fully, from having done my very best in everything I felt was within the scope of my life’s work, from having been true to myself and my conscience, to having loved as deeply and fully as I was able, to have given back, to have made a difference in lives, to have built character and to have done everything I could to become my full self, in love and in pursuit of love, reconciled to and at peace with the world.  In that scenario I can imagine simply and peacefully drifting into the same oblivion from whence I came, from whence you came.  We have at least that one data point.  It’s not much but it’s one irrefutable and non-anecdotal data point more than anyone has for a “what happens next.

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The Dance of Death Requiem Vestments in the photograph, from Eglise Saint-Nicolas in Mons, Belgium, date between 1551-1600.  More information and photographs from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage are available here.

55 thoughts on “On Your Deathbed…

  1. One thought after watching the Hitchen’s clip: It’s all about personal integrity. If there was some kind of truly loving god, one would think she’d value intellectual honesty and personal integrity over insincere pandering any day.

  2. This entry is as perfectly eloquent, reasoned, and heartfelt as anything Hitchens ever wrote. It is one of those posts to link to, and to refer to any number of friends who ask a similar question. What a gem! Thank you for writing it.

  3. “It is a fallacy to suggest that I am against any virtue, beauty, love, of any good thing encompassed in the fullness of that human experience when I do what I must to rip those things from the grip of religion that embezzled them.” Stunning!

    • As I’m prepping for a series through the book of Philippians, I found the above statement to be the antithesis of what Paul declared: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Seems Paul didn’t see Christ as the great embezzler, but the only thing worth pursuing. Also interesting is that Paul included lofty, prideful, performance-driven religion as one of the things that wasn’t worth hanging on to.

      • Putting aside the idea that Paul was wrong about some things (tolerance of slavery and the subjugation of women to name just two), I didn’t really accuse Jesus of embezzlement. Any religion who thinks human virtue is under its umbrella has embezzled the human condition. Those are human traits, not religious traits and that was my point. Religion commits harm when it suggests that it somehow has an exclusive or inside edge on virtue. Ideas inevitably become behavior. Thanks for reading, Kurt.

    • I was just focusing on how, from my perspective, you and Paul seemed to travel in different worldview directions, ending up at different conclusions about what was ultimately to be grasped and what was to be jettisoned. Just struck me as interesting.

      I know I’ve posted it before, but my view is that the potential for any human virtue is a result of a “God imprint.” He made us, and aspects of his attributes show up in ALL of humanity. Conversely, we ALL also reveal a lot of faults and flaws. True Christianity, rather than claiming any high ground, or inside track, in regards to virtue, is more grounded in the admission of LACK of virtue. Although some were put off by it, I’ve always appreciated the necessary sting of Steve Taylor’s song, “Jesus is for Losers.”

      Thanks for writing. 🙂

      • Thanks. I don’t know Steve’s song, but I don’t know… the idea seems to breed a false humility. But I really can’t say.

        If you are willing to grant that all peoples of all religions and no religion have the same capacity for virtue with no religion having any exclusive “leg up” then I am willing to concede the point in that case, although I will also point out that such a position is not provable or falsifiable, and thus, since all people are equally virtuous in potential, it appears to me, meaningless.

        But I will also say that most evangelicals I know will not admit that. I have been told directly (and I even wrote about it) that being born again brings with it some spiritual benefit (whatever that means) that only those christians have. When I press those people for how that shows up, unable to do so, I have on more than one occasion had verses like this one from 1 Cor 2 thrown my way:

        “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord 
so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

        So yes, I think those who think there is some unique aspect of virtue available only to members of a certain sect, besides sounding very cultish, I would submit that they have embezzled part of the human experience as uniquely their own. Thanks. ~J

  4. Great post, and a lot to chew on there. I have no idea how I’d react, but I realise that religion is so entangled in my personality and character that there’s a good chance I’d try to hedge my bets.

    At least, that’s how I feel today.

  5. It’s really a false question. There’s no such thing as faking out God on a deathbed. Someone would either truly repent or not.

  6. @ Jason: How do you “truly repent” when you don’t believe? It’s not a false question. After honestly studying its origins, I do not believe the bible is anything more than a bunch of superstitious ancient writings, written, errantly copied and specifically chosen by politically motivated men. I do not believe what it says is true. If I don’t believe that Jesus is god (and may not have existed even as a man), how am I to “truly repent?” My choices are to be honest or to fake belief. The question is: why would a loving god (who I served faithfully for years) put me in the position of having to lie to be saved?

  7. “How do you “truly repent” when you don’t believe?”

    You don’t. You remain in unbelief. There is no “fake belief.” You either are sincere in repentence, or remain true to what you say is your position, unbelief. IE, honesty as you stated.

  8. @Amy Just to add, as antithesis to your statement regarding the Bible. I have come to the opposite conclusion. That it is a reliable document, not a “cleverly devised myth”. I do believe that it is the history book of the world, written by eyewitnesses. That it was NOT concocted “after the fact” for political reasons, but written and preserved with integrity. Biblically speaking, “repenting when you don’t believe” is an oxymoron.

    • @ Jason: Question for you, then: how have you come to your conclusions about the bible? What biblical scholarship have you studied? Have you given equal time and consideration to opposing viewpoints?

      Also, how do you explain god letting some of his children come to a point where they can’t honestly believe and still expecting their repentance for salvation? Are those of us who cannot repent (according to you) destined for eternal torment because we cannot honestly believe?

  9. First, I apologize for taking so long to reply. Family and work has taken up all my time and I finally got some time to formulate a reply to the questions you asked. I look at three main lines of evidence that separates the Judeo-Christian Bible from all other so-called holy writings. The historical evidences, the scientific evidence and prophetic evidence. Let’s drop all pretenses of the “unbiased scientist in a lab coat” myth. Everyone has an a priori bias towards their preferred presuppositions. And presuppositions have played a monolithic role in the slide to unbelief in the West. That presupposition is materialism, ie naturalism. The whole of western thought in the majority of the academic world is dominated by this presupposition of philosophical naturalism. It is the prism secular scientists see the world through. It is the prism they interpret God through. It is the prism liberal and agnostic bible scholars see the world and God through. How else do they explain away the prophecies of Daniel? The prophecies of Isaiah? The Old Testament prophecies in general? The 70 weeks of Daniel had to be written after the fact. Why? Because it was so accurate. To the day. Well, we know that’s impossible (presupposition) therefore it was written after the fact. So I would contend that when you read liberal scholars, they have an agenda. (Ehrman, Spong, Tillich, etc) An agenda that they already pledge their allegiance to is right there for everyone to see. For every person who says they lost faith, there are many more who come to faith based on the evidence that they see in the world around them (Romans 1:20).
    I’m familiar with the works of those scholars listed above, among others, like Peter Enns, etc. I’m familiar with the JEDP hypothesis, the documentary hypothesis, the German school of higher criticism, etc. They all assume their conclusion under the guise of impartiality. The same goes for large scale evolution. The conclusion is assumed, therefore any and all evidence is seen through that prism, and is, not surprisingly seen as …evidence. It would, wouldn’t it? T
    There are scientific statements that are made in the Bible that I believe show the fingerprint of God. The universe had a beginning (Genesis1:1), the stars are beyond counting (Jeremiah 33:22), the earth is circular (Isaiah 40:22, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v14/n3/flat-earth ), the earth hangs on nothing in space (Job 26:7), the stars differ in their glory (1 Corinthians 15:41), the water cycle (Ecclesiastes 1:6-7, Isaiah 55:10), life is in the blood ( Leviticus 17:11), the sanitary laws in Leviticus 13:45-47, dealing with disease and human waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-14), germs (Numbers 19:11-19). There are many more examples than this.
    I would highly recommend the following books for further study: Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks by Alva J. McClain and Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell, The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce. I am more than honest to admit my own personal presuppositions when it comes to looking at the world. I would contend though, that the Christian worldview is the one that makes the most sense and is the most logical. An atheist or agnostic can say they are such, but when it comes down to it, they live by a moral code outside of themselves. They don’t live out their beliefs to their logical conclusion. (Yes, many Christians don’t either, I’ll raise my hand first. As the apostle Paul said, “I’m the chief of sinners…”) In a world with no God, morality is an illusion. It simply doesn’t exist. The only morality that exists is the one we allegedly evolved to “survive the species”, and only then it was as a matter of pragmatism and not transcendent morality /absolute right and wrong. I would be more than willing to investigate or read into a book you suggest to me.
    I’m a voracious reader and I do read opposing viewpoints, all the while aware than I am “fully persuaded” that I do not follow a myth, for if so, believers are to be “pitied above all others.” The writers of the New Testament were “eyewitnesses to His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). This is why believers are commanded to sanctify Christ as Lord and to give a reason for the hope that is within with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
    As far as repentance goes, I think it begs the question. What causes you to come to the conclusion that you “cannot” repent? The biblical doctrine of grace certainly teaches that you can. I would venture to say, and you can correct me if I am mistaken, that your acceptance of liberal scholarship and evolution have convinced you the Bible is not true. I guess I would leave you with my own rhetorical question, if you were convinced that the Bible IS true, in toto, can you see yourself repenting of unbelief and coming back to faith in Christ? Regarding Hell, I believe the orthodox, historical teaching is the biblical one. I think most of Christendom has lost their backbone when it comes to the doctrine of Hell. That is not to say the doctrine is an easy one to accept.

  10. @ Ojo: if you’d rather not have long-winded theological arguments on your blog please let me know. Sorry for this wall-o-text.
    @ Jason: (I’m answering point by point here without quoting you – hope I make sense)
    1. I would argue that we humans can only reliably look through a prism that allows for practical testing of ideas (which puts us squarely in a materialist/naturalist place). A starting place of skepticism toward any idea is actually very useful. It allows us to look at and test out ideas (in a naturalistic way) to see if they work. If the idea doesn’t work when looked at from a naturalistic/practical/testable perspective, it is not worthy of being called a truth. It can’t be proven to be anything more than speculation. I’m guessing, like most people, you look at almost everything in your life through this prism except your faith.

    2. Show me concrete evidence that these prophesies were truly written before the events AND that they actually mean what christians claim they mean and I’ll be willing to listen. Problem is, you can’t. There is no way to prove your view. Occam’s Razor is where one would logically start. The most likely explanation here is that these things were written after the fact. Why? Not because I refuse to believe in god, but because I have no proof of anyone ever prophesying successfully. I have no proof that fortune tellers and astrologists can really see the future so I don’t believe what they say. Once they can prove their assertions in a convincing manner, I’d be more than happy to believe. Until then, I will remain skeptical.
    3.) Evolutionists demand that a hypothesis must be testable. Evolution is testable. Therefore, it has been tested, and tested and tested and (thanks to science being a discipline where constantly revising and editing and changing your views is seen as a good thing) it has emerged as the leading theory. Nothing is assumed. There are people with competing ideas who are constantly taking the current ideas and testing the snot out of them. We start with looking at an idea skeptically and testing it to see if we should believe it’s correct. If you abandon that approach, you are going to have a hard time defending your belief in the christian view of creationism versus those of the Hindus or Greeks or anyone else. You realize there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of creation stories from religions all over the world. Why do you reject those out of hand?

    4.) There are also numerous statements in the bible that are just plain wrong. For an innerant work from a perfect god, the bible leaves a lot to be desired. J.K. Rowling writes about many things that really exist in the Harry Potter series. That doesn’t make any of the books true.

    5.) To be honest, you lose a ton of credibility with me when you bring up the name Josh McDowell. If he doesn’t actively understand he is putting one over on people, he is deluded. His arguemnts are so disingenuous. To pretend that the “historicity” of the bible can be compared to that of ancient writings and mean anything is ludicrous. It matters not one whit to me in my life whether the Illiad was truly written by Homer and accurately preserved by copyists throughout history. It is of the utmost importance when that criteria is applied to the bible. One is a story. One is supposed to be the living word of god. If McDowell can’t tell the difference, he’s not worth listening to. If he can and he’s trying to pull one over on the faithful who think this is a good argument for the infallability of the bible, he is a fraud.

    6.) It’s good you see your own biases. We all have them. I have to ask you, though: would christianity make the most sense to you if you had been born into an Islamic family? Can you truly say that having been born into your faith (or brought into it as a young child who wasn’t encouraged to question) that you would have found christianity to be the only logical worldview? Having worked in a ministry that specifially targeted the young, I’m not so sure this worldview makes the most sense. I think, if you could show that people came to this worldview as adults who can think critically and ask questions, it would show that this is the most logical view. But that’s not what happens, is it?

    7.) I don’t believe in absolute right and wrong. I believe in society (because evolution has favored those who live in communities). I act in ways that benefit my community, and that, in turn, benefits me and my family. Morality is constantly changing, if you hadn’t noticed. Christianity has struggled to keep up. Slavery, treating women as property, stoning adulterers, killing homosexuals – all of these things used to be completely acceptable. (Read your bible for a plethora of examples!) As we have become more enlightened as a society, we have evolved and come to see these things as amoral. And it’s usually the religious that have to catch up. Take the current acceptance of gays in society. Won’t be long before the church is forced to change it’s views because society is more enlightened. Same with women’s rights. Thank goodness we don’t have to live by the moral codes of a Bronze Age society.

    8.) I’d probably start with Bart Ehrman. He has lots of good stuff. Jesus Interrupted, Forged, or God’s Problem are all good reads. I would recommend you go back and read some things you’ve probably already read. Take an honest look at Strobel’s The Case for Christ or McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Ask yourself, in the case of Strobel, why Strobel doesn’t ask his questions of an authority from the other side. Why does he ask leading questions of people he knows will answer the way he wants them to? Is he afraid of what a person who can actually argue the other side of the issue might have to say? I think so. Ask yourself why Josh McDowell would pretend like comparing the “Word of God” to The Illiad is a meaningful comparison. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is skeptical for a moment ask yourself whether their arguments are convincing for anyone who isn’t already wanting to believe what they say is true.

    9.) If it were somehow proven that the bible is actually god’s personal letter to humanity, then, sure I’d believe. Funny though, that a god who so desperately wants humanity to believe in him would have such an innefective means of communication. You’d think that a god who was in love with me would reach out to me in a clear and convincing manner. You wouldn’t think I’d have to hunt to find some kind of message in a bunch of ancient writings that were compiled and codified by a bunch of fallible men.

    10.) At least your view of hell is consistent! Let me say this: I have three kids. If any of them should ever decide they didn’t love me, I would be very sad. I would not, however, want them to be tortured for eternity. I would learn to get along without their love and hope the best for them anyway. How does a loving god justify eternal torture for not loving him? Doesn’t that seem a bit petty and extreme?

    Thanks for the lively debate. I do enjoy discussing these things. Believe me, I have spent the last 20 years debating them in my own head!

  11. Instant reactons: 🙂

    *” I don’t believe in absolute right and wrong.” Is this not a self-refuting statement? Saying there are no absolutes is in itself an absolute statement. Without God, your very thoughts are random chemical reactions. How do you know they are true? Science was not always inherently defined as being synonymous with materialism. It was “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Deism tried to seperate God from His creation, this is the God Darwin based his theory on (“God wouldn’t have created this way..”.) This is an inherently religious argument. If there is no right and wrong, by what or whose authority can you make a moral argument for amorality? For the benefit of society is the only logical answer and I find that to be a weak argument. To say the the Bible endorses “slavery” in all it’s 18th century racist connotations is misleading.

    * In Evidence for Christianity McDowell doesn’t reference the Illiad, still, I would say it’s simplistic to boil his arguments down to just that. (And, imho, an overstatement to say he has no credibility.) His main point in that regard would be manuscript integrity.

    * Much of evolutionary theory is pure speculation, not testable in a laboratory, non-empirical. How a speck of dust exploded, resulting in the universe and the first cell, giving rise (how exactly?) to living systems, so utterly complex beyond anything man has even created, to ultimately a being who can consider whence he came? This is not testable. Why is it considered science? Because as Lewontin said, you cannot allow a divine foot in the door for the sake of materialism.

    You leave a lot to chew on, more than I have time to respond to!

    • My instant reaction: 🙂

      “”I don’t believe in absolute right and wrong.’ Is this not a self-refuting statement? Saying there are no absolutes is in itself an absolute statement. Without God, your very thoughts are random chemical reactions. How do you know they are true?”

      No, it’s not self-refuting. It would be self-refuting if the claim were, “I know there’s no absolute right and wrong.” That might seem pedantic word splitting, but I think the difference is pretty important. I don’t believe in an absolute right and wrong, either. But that’s because there’s no evidence to support it’s existence. I do, however, think there’s evidence to support the claim for objective morality by looking at current research into neuroscience and even anthropology. But if you want to claim there is an absolute morality, you’ll have to demonstrate how you know it.
      I don’t know anything about McDowell… I haven’t read his books since high-school.
      “Much of evolutionary theory is pure speculation, not testable in a laboratory, non-empirical. How a speck of dust exploded, resulting in the universe and the first cell, giving rise (how exactly?)”

      Wow…. to say that much of evolutionary theory is pure speculation is quite a statement. And now evidence is limited to labs? That’s weird. Why would we arbitrarily limit the tools of our understanding that way. But, evolution has been consistently supported by evidence from the lab as well as the natural world. There’s very little doubt that it’s true because it has so much evidence supporting it. I’d even say that the little doubt that remains in the truth of evolution is the doubt every theory is subjected to. One of the most powerful aspects of science is that no question is ever truly closed from scrutiny.

      Also, there’s a lot of evidence that the Big Bang happened. There’s a lot of speculation on how it might have happened. But, no one knows. Anyone that claims to know how the universe began will need to support their theory with facts. At least, they’ll have to support it with facts if they want anyone to take it seriously. But, saying that no one knows doesn’t mean that, therefore, god must have done it. It means… nobody knows.

      • @ Jason:

        *Like Jonathan said above, I am making no absolute claim. I don’t see any reason to believe that there is such a thing as a single “absolute truth.” It seems to me like we are constantly finding new truths. The more we think we know the more we don’t know! If you look at the current findings in neuroscience, you will see that our thoughts ARE pretty much just chemical reactions. Whether something is true or not is debatable and that’s why it’s nice to have a tool such as science to test things out in the only practical way we really have as humans. Trying things out to see if they work or if they don’t has existed far longer than any religion. Also, it doesn’t matter whether you like or dislike the argument that morality is fluid and has evolved as a way for people to prosper in societies. You have to be able to prove otherwise in order to discount that idea, not just find the idea unconvincing. How do you think communities of other kinds of animals come up with their rules for behaviors? I don’t think they have a holy book…

        *Josh McDowell – maybe it was the Odyssey and not the Illiad (it’s been awhile since I read that one). Really, whichever old books he wants to throw out there to compare manuscripts, my point is the same. To act like comparing an old book, or even old historical manuscripts to the bible offers some kind of proof as to the bible’s trustworthiness as the word of god, is silly at best and fraudulent at worst. Personally, I don’t think he’s dumb enough not to see that his argument is misleading.

        *You are confusing evolutionary theory with abiogenesis. Evolutionary theory does not explain the origins of life. The Big Bang theory does try to take what we can test or see and explain how life began. Evolution explains changes across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolution explains diversity of life, not its origins. And, the “theory” of evolution is as established a fact as the “theory” of gravity, at this point. You may want to look again at the definition of the word “theory” in a scientific context. You may also want to make sure you really understand what the theory of evolution says and why scientists believe it’s true. (You won’t find this in an apologetics book – for a really good read on the subject try Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth).

        As far as where everything comes from – who knows? Science will continue to try to learn more, but we may never definitively know. And that’s ok! But, for the sake of argument, suppose we posit that a divine creator started everything off! I’ll give you that one free (though I don’t see any reason to believe it myself). How, exactly, does that prove anything about Jesus? It’s quite a leap to go from the Earth having to have been created by an intelligent force of some kind to that force having to have been the god of the bible. Given how many different gods there have been over the centuries (and many long before the invention of Yaweh), I’m not sure arguing intelligent design does a whole lot to prove your particular view of creation.

      • I suppose you may have to define what you mean by the difference between “absolute right and wrong” and “objective morality.” If you say you need a demonstration of how absolute morality exists: how about if someone breaks into your home, murders you, then steals your possessions. Absolutely wrong? In all cultures at all times? If not, why not?

        I’m not limiting what we know to a lab. I’m sticking to the scientific method. Repeatable, observable experimentation. I’m not making the claim that evidence is limited to labs.

        “But, evolution has been consistently supported by evidence from the lab as well as the natural world. There’s very little doubt that it’s true because it has so much evidence supporting it.” When you make these claims about “evolution”, it’s good to define your terms. That’s the rub though isn’t it? Evolution can mean everything from any type of change within a living organism to implying a speck of dust turned into a human brain…given millions of years. So when you say “evolution” is supported by evidence in the lab, do you mean antibiotic resistance? And if so, it’s a speculative extrapolation, to say the least, to say that antibiotic resistance is evidence that all of life on earth came from a single cell.

      • @Amy I’ve read a good portion of Dawkin’s book. I’ve also read Jonathan Sarfati’s refutation in “Greatest Hoax on Earth?” He quotes Dawkins best arguments for “evolution” extensively, and gives a rebuttal for each.
        Predictive prophecy in the Bible is what seperates the Bible from the Quran and other so-called holy writings. The old testament prophecies about Messiah, fullfilled in Jesus. We are even eye witnesses to portions of Ezekial 38 and 39 being fulfilled. To argue basically, that Christianity is the biggest conspiracy the world has ever had, which is what it would be if the liberal critics were right, strains credulity, in my opinion. The world, as it was, was turned upside down because of this person, Jesus.

        To claim that evolutionary theory does not at least attempt to explain the origins of life is just not true. Of course it does. This can be found in any high school text book, college text book, or related website. It’s usually referred to as “chemical evolution.”. “Evolution explains diversity of life, not its origins.” This kind of proves my point to the slippery nature of the word evolution and what we mean when we use the word. Why, defining evolution as descent with modification via natural selection or environmental factors means even creationists are “evolutionists.”

        Animals don’t “come up with rules” for their behaviors. That’s personification. Animals are programmed with dna that gives them instinctual behavior and innate abilities, (as flawed and in “bondage” as the creation is, Romans 8:22) to survive and adapt to habitats and surroundings. This dna is pre-programmed information that allows the creature to adapt to environmental pressures. But animals do not have a will, volition, and a conscience to make their own rules. They can’t read. They can’t write.

        What McDowell is showing is that x book has x number of manuscripts. No one doubts it’s legitimacy of authorship. The New Testament has x number of manuscripts, an inordinate amount in excess of the former, and the manuscripts are not as old. Does anyone doubt Socrates or Plato’s writings were by them?
        I think the burden of proof to say otherwise regarding morality is on the atheist/agnostic. It’s written on your heart that being kind to others is the right thing to do, that murder is wrong, stealing is wrong. What evidence do you have that morality has evolved? Because mankind is behind the curve on morality can be looked at as proof that the Bible is right when it says that man is sinful in his nature. That our thoughts are evil continual and that “all have fallen short…” . Was Hitler wrong? If morality is simply evolving and fluid, who’s to say he was wrong? You would have to concede, that according to your definition, in 1930’s Germany, it was “moral” to exterminate Jews, and that for that culture, at that time, it was ok. Was it really ok?

  12. Hi Jason,

    I’d be happy to tell you what I think the difference between ‘objective’ and ‘absolute’ morality is. It’s pretty common, I think, for people to think that either morality is absolute, or it’s subjective. Or, perhaps they’d say morality is objective, not relative. Both these statements commit category errors. Absolute morality means that morality can never vary in any context. The opposite of absolute morality is relative morality; that is, relative morality understands that moral behavior varies depending on context. In practice, all morality is relative, in principle almost all discussions of morality acknowledge this, even Christian morality. For instance. the 10 Commandments says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” which is an absolute moral statement. However, many other places in the Bible describe instances when killing is permissible. Since Christian morality takes context into account, it is relative. Now, as to whether a someone breaking into my house and murdering me is immoral at all time and in all places, I’d say it depends. If a polar bear breaks into my house and murders me is it immoral? What about a space alien? Or does morality only apply to people? If so, then it’s not absolute. The velocity of light in a vacuum is absolute. The kind of morality you’re describing as absolute is only applicable to people, and, for people, the context of a moral behavior matters.

    On the other hand, an objective morality is juxtaposed by subjective morality. I think it’s pretty clear that morality has to be subjective in some ways, since we all have to decide how to act. But, when I say that morality is objective, I’m saying that it’s not arbitrary. We don’t just pull it out of a hat. Studies in neuroscience over the last couple decades have shown that our feelings of empathy and compassion are main drivers in HOW we do morality. These studies in neuroscience, as well as other is anthropology and psychology have given us a language we can use to sensibly discuss moral issues. This moral vocabulary is useful because humans tend to have very similar moral instincts, sort of in the same way we share similar visual impulses that allow us to discuss color. Since similar moral instincts are common to most of us, that commonality means it’s objective. The variation we see in moral behavior shows that different groups came up with different answers to moral questions. The cool thing is that, using the moral language I mentioned above, we can discuss the qualitative difference between moral systems to understand which are better than others.

    “When you make these claims about “evolution”, it’s good to define your terms. That’s the rub though isn’t it? Evolution can mean everything from any type of change within a living organism to implying a speck of dust turned into a human brain…given millions of years.”

    In science, evolution means, “the change of alleles in a population over time,” or something equivalent. By tracing this genetic change back through time, biologists have come to conclude that all life must be derived from a single ancestral population of organisms. I have never, ever heard someone describe evolution as change within a living organism. Maybe in some cheesy scifi… but not seriously. Evolution happens in the context of populations, only. Evolution also doesn’t imply a speck of dust turned into a human brain over time. Just like the question of what happened make the Big Bang, there’s a lot of speculation about how life began. One of the dozens of speculations is, “god did it.” If you think god instigated the universe, ok… prove it. If you think god instigated life on this planet, ok… prove it. The fact that no one knows how it happened doesn’t mean you can assert what ever you like. It’s still incumbent upon you to demonstrate how you know what you claim to know.

    • Ok, Jason, before I grant you Creationism (purely for the sake of argument) let me point out a couple of things:

      * Dawkins is a highly respected Evolutionary Biologist. Jonathan Sarfati is a champion chess player with a PHd in Chemistry. Who do you think has the most extensive knowledge about evolution (or biology, for that matter)? I can tell you who is more renowned and respected in the scientific community.

      * Like I said, about bible prophecy, there is no way for you to prove that what you call fulfilled prophecy wasn’t something written after the fact or something that sounds similar but has nothing to do with events that later occurred. If that’s your big gun where it comes to proving christianity, it’s pretty weak.

      * Christianity wasn’t a conspiracy. It was one of many possible religions adopted by monarchies and then spread through the use of force and intimidation throughout history. You know what happened to unbelievers throughout history, no doubt? Torture and death threats can make people accept teachings pretty readily. Add a little illiteracy, poverty and subjugation and you have a terrific recipe for the spread of the “gospel”!

      *Evolution does not attempt to explain the origins of life. Period. Please read up on the subject (from something besides an apologetics standpoint). Yes, it is possible for many religious people who believe some kind of god started the process to be evolutionists. There are quite a few scientists who consider themselves christians and readily accept evolution. Hell, the Pope accepts evolution as scientific truth.

      * Do you really think I meant that animals hold conventions to argue about rules for their communities? Really??? What I meant was exactly what you said, “animals are programmed with dna that gives them instinctual behavior and innate abilities to survive and adapt to habitats and surroundings.” Exactly!!! Notice the words “programmed with dna” and “to adapt” in your definition. That is precisely what animals have evolved to do to cooperate and survive in communities over time. We, as animals, have done the exact same thing! Our morality has shifted over time because we have adapted.

      * You aren’t understanding my point about McDowell. You ask, “Does anyone doubt Socrates or Plato’s writings were by them?” Does that matter? If, tomorrow, we found out that Plato’s writings were all forgeries, it would be an exciting story but whose life would really be affected? In the end it is a pretty minor thing if all of his writings were bogus. On the other hand, if we find that biblical writings are not written by their purported authors (and, boy do you have some heavyweight scholarship to debunk here) then it is a matter of life and death. If the bible is fraudulent, then so is it’s god and all the claims made by that deity. You’d think god would go to extremes to make his only communication with this world he loves clearly superior in legitimacy than some writings by Plato or Socrates. Josh McDowell knows better. He just wants you to believe the bible is the word of god and will use a pathetic argument because those who want this to be true won’t question it. Think about this: if the bible is god’s ultimate message to the world, why didn’t god manage to preserve ANY of its original documents? Was he not capable?

      * I think it’s pretty clear that Hitler (who, by the way, was Catholic and supported by the Catholic church early on) was wrong. Was he wrong on some spiritual absolute count? Not that I know of. He was wrong according to the social morality we have come up with as a society. Think about it this way – our society thinks it is immoral to kill infidels (didn’t always, by the way). In parts of the Muslim world, though, that is a moral activity. Just like stoning adulterers or making women wear burkas. Morality is fluid. Is ours superior? I would argue ours stems from a more educated, more affluent and healthier society. It seems to benefit more people. So, yes, it seems to be superior if those are goals for a society.

      Now, to my real question for you (already asked but I’ll repeat). I will pretend that creationism is true because I believe the evolution/creation debate is largely a red-herring when it comes to the truth of christianity. Pretend that I’ve agreed that something intelligent created everything. Now, prove that Intelligence is (and could only be) Yaweh. Why couldn’t it be any of these creator gods – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Creator_gods ?

      Ask yourself this: Why would a god create someone imperfect, demand them to be perfect and then be pissed off when their imperfect creation is imperfect? Why would this god then require a violent and bloody execution of his son/himself in order to be able to excuse his imperfect creation for being imperfect. Does this even make sense???

      • This is @ Jonathan: Observable, empirical data shows that genetic information is lost during what we call “natural selection.” No new genetic information is ever created. It’s pre-existing genetic information. When you say that biologists have come to conclude that all life comes from an “ancestral population of organisms” it’s because they are doing these studies, like the molecular ‘clock’, based on the assumption of common ancestry . The results simply confirmed what was already pre-determined. I have to disagree that evolution does not imply a speck of dust (or whatever the first matter was) resulted in the human brain over millions of years. It sounds absurd because it is, but that’s what the theory is postulating. That we are all just cosmic accidents, and deep time, millions of years, is the magic wand. The fallacy of equivocation is commited when we are willing to say evolution is the change of alleles in a population, and unwilling to say that this resulted in the human brain. What else is evolution but the theory that something came from nothing, and that the something we have right now, is so complex we don’t completely understand all of it, yet no First Cause is required? The question can then be asked, “Well where did the human brain come from them?” It evolved over time. Right? That’s evolution, also. Do you hold the speculative evolutionary scenarios of how life began to the same standard you hold the theory of Creation? I can’t “prove” to you that God created the universe any more than you can “prove” that it just happened by accident.

        “You shall not murder” is a more accurate translation of the 6th commandment. I don’t think that “context” makes the Ten Commandments any less absolute. Any axiom is stating an absolute. Are the nuances of your views on morality absolute? An animal does not have a will, but animals were affected by the Fall of man, which brought death and suffering into the world. I would have to define that as a horrible consequence man has to now deal with due to his disobedience which brought death into the world. To say it depends does not really answer the question. The context was that someone murders you for no reason at all. Can we call it wrong? Boiled down, your answer is no.

      • This is @ Amy: Alva J. McClain from Daniels’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks: “…this great prophecy is the impregnable rock upon which all naturalistic theories of prophecy are shattered. These theories deny the possibility of any ‘predictive element’ in prophecy, and since the Book of Daniel did forecast many attested historic events, the critics have sought to save their theories by denying to Daniel the authorship of the book and moving its date down to a point subsequent to the events described , thus making the unknown author a mere historian who pretended to be a prophet. In this rather easy and summary fashion , they hoped to get rid of the troublesome specter of ‘predictive prophecy.’ But no critic has ever dared to suggest a date for the Book of Daniel as late as the birth of our Lord. Yet Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks predicts to the very day Christ’s appearance as the ‘Prince’ of Israel. Therefore, when the critics have done their worst, no matter where they date the place of the book, the greatest time-prophecy of the Bible is left untouched. And on this prophecy, the whole case of the critics goes to pieces. For if even so much as one predictive prophecy is established, there remains no valid a priori reason for denying the others.”

        You don’t believe that Christianity was a conspiracy, yet you believe the Bible was forged, Jesus was not who He claimed, maybe didn’t even exist, was probably even an invented mythology, and was used in history as a tool for abuse and power. Millions and millions throughout history, men, women, children, prince and peasant, rich and poor, will testify to it’s truth, but all are duped into believing a made up story. What is this but a conspiracy? A conspiracy can be defined as a secret plot to deceive, no? The early church itself was persecuted, thrown to lions, and martyred for their faith. They were, according to atheism/agnosticsm, suffering from some type of mass hysteria or delusion, no? Or were they testifying to the truth?

  13. @ Jason

    “Observable, empirical data shows that genetic information is lost during what we call “natural selection.” No new genetic information is ever created. It’s pre-existing genetic information.”

    Wrong. Observable, empirical data show that genetic information can be lost, recombined, increased. There are many ways it can increase or decrease. If a mutation or recombination makes a phenotype that has, on average, a better chance of survival, then the change is beneficial for that environment. If the change makes reproduction less likely, it’s a negative change. But most changes to alleles are neutral and don’t affect reproductive success at all. Sometimes, a neutral change can become beneficial or deleterious if the environment changes underneath the organism. Sorry, your statement is simply wrong as a quick google search should show you.

    “When you say that biologists have come to conclude that all life comes from an “ancestral population of organisms” it’s because they are doing these studies, like the molecular ‘clock’, based on the assumption of common ancestry.”

    Wrong. Common ancestry isn’t assumed; it is a conclusion. Those “trees of life?”… well, we can build objective trees based on the evidence provided by molecular clocks, fossil evidence, genetic data, phenotypic evidence, etc., and they result in remarkably consilient trees. And, common decent isn’t necessary for evolution. I mean, evolution would still the best theory describing the diversity of life on this planet even if there were multiple ancestral populations. But, to me, the consilience of these independent lines of reasoning is the most convincing evidence for evolution and common decent. Why, if evolution is NOT true, do all these completely independent lines of evidence result in exactly the same ‘wrong’ conclusion? That doesn’t makes sense.

    “It sounds absurd because it is, but that’s what the theory is postulating. That we are all just cosmic accidents, and deep time, millions of years, is the magic wand. The fallacy of equivocation is commited when we are willing to say evolution is the change of alleles in a population, and unwilling to say that this resulted in the human brain.”

    Well, first, I didn’t say it sounded absurd. I said the mechanism for abiogenesis hasn’t been demonstrated, regardless of whether that mechanism is god or something else. And I’m not equivocating. You’re not understanding. I am willing to say that the process of evolution resulted in the human brain. But I’m also saying is that I don’t know how the process started, and, I should point out, neither do you.

    “What else is evolution but the theory that something came from nothing, and that the something we have right now, is so complex we don’t completely understand all of it, yet no First Cause is required?”

    Evolution is the scientific theory that describes the diversity of life on this planet. Only. Cosmology and physics are completely different disciplines. And physicists, like Lawrence Krauss for instance, are willing to explain how something can come from nothing. Honestly… that’s above my pay grade. I don’t really understand it. But even if something from nothing is possible, there’s not sufficient evidence to support it as the First Cause. At least not yet. But, just for kicks, let’s assume that ‘something’ has to be eternal. Why does that something need to be god? Why can the stuff that makes up the universe be the thing that’s eternal? I mean, we already know that the stuff that makes up the universe exits, right? Also, the main difference between scientific speculation and the “god did it” speculation is that we can test the scientific speculations to see whether one of them is likely true; that is, with more evidence we may be able to demonstrate how the universe began. What method we can use to determine whether ‘god did it’ or not?

    “To say it depends does not really answer the question. The context was that someone murders you for no reason at all. Can we call it wrong? Boiled down, your answer is no.”

    Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I thought. Whether murder is immoral in the context of somebody murdering me for no reason, my answer boils down to, “yes.” I actually thought I was arguing in favor of objective morality. In fact, regardless of what the 10 commandments say, pretty much every culture has realized that killing people for no reason is wrong. Another moral truth, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is about 6000 years old and has also been discovered by pretty much every culture that’s stopped long enough to think about morality. But these kinds of rules only apply in the context of human culture, so they’re not absolute. Since people tend to have similar moral instincts, based on our shared feelings of empathy and compassion, we tend to take a dim view of murder. And that’s objectively true.

    • @ Jason: Hey, I can’t stop you from believing that the book of Daniel was written before the “prophecies” it contains. All I can do is point out that you have no proof that it was written at such an early date and you can’t expect others to be willing to suspend their disbelief just because you are. You are correct that the majority of scholars have the book dated after the “prophesied” events. You can call this a conspiracy to stifle god’s word if you’d like. I don’t see it.

      You do realize that the vast majority of biblical scholars are christians, don’t you? They want this stuff to be true and meaningful just as much as you do. However, most reputable scholars who care about accuracy and objective truth have come to a place where they realize that the bible simply cannot be inerrant. That is why they are willing to concede points where the proof isn’t there. They don’t hate god or want you to throw your bible away. They are believers. They just refuse to manipulate the truth to fit the picture of an inerrant bible.

      There are 8 partial copies of the book of Daniel. None are complete copies. The earliest is dated 125 BCE. Kind of a drag that god couldn’t have preserved an original that was clearly dated before the prophecies so there wouldn’t be any question concerning these things. You know, all god had to do was prophesy something really specific that happened waaay after the first copy of a manuscript was found to be a little more convincing. Why didn’t he? Does he need to be tricky so he can weed out those of us who actually require decent proof to believe? That’s a little passive-aggressive, don’t you think?

      To your other point: No, I don’t believe christianity is a conspiracy. I believe it is a religion that had the right elements, at the right time and place, to grow. I’m reading an interesting book right now (When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome) that sheds a lot of light on the cultural and political reasons for the spread of the christian religion. Just like the religion of Islam has spread and grown, or Hinduism, or Mormonism or Scientology, these religions don’t need to be true to spread and attract followers. If that were the only test for the truth of religion, you’d have to explain why numerous religions throughout history have spread and grown. Many of these religions had faithful tortured and killed – does that make them true? There are thousands of people today who swear that they’ve seen or been abducted by aliens. There are many who think that Jesus has shown his face on a piece of burned toast. These are sincere people. Do we just assume their sincerity makes their claims true? Or do we require proof of these claims that can be objectively tested? Why do you dismiss the faith or beliefs of others so easily but claim yours is true when you have no more proof than they do?

      I’m pretty sure I know the answer. You feel god inside you. Well, I guarantee you the Muslim, Jew, Mormon, Hindi (etc.) will all say the same. The Scientologist who has quit drinking and has a changed life because he is having engrams erased will swear that Scientology is true. Can you prove what they feel is any less real without using a scripture from your holy book?

      Finally, you haven’t answered the question I’ve asked three times now. Pretend we agree that something did create everything. How can you prove that something is Jesus and not Nyx, Eros and Gaia of the Greek Creation myth or any of the thousands of creation myths?

      • I don’t remember a much about prophesy, but I do seem to recall a prophesy in (I think) the book of Ezekiel that said the city of Tyre would destroyed and never rebuilt. However, the city of Tyre exists to this day. Worse, Isaiah prophesied that Tyre would be destroyed, but rebuilt in 70 years. There’s no historical evidence that Tyre was destroyed for 70 years… I think the only time Tyre was sacked was by Alexander the Great, who rebuilt the city as soon as he conquered it. Tyre is, after all, some beautiful beach front property. Anyway, I’ve never understood why that doesn’t count as a failed Biblical prophesy.

      • I did answer your questions but you have rejected them out of hand. You say the old testament prophecies are written after the fact. From Isaiah, to Daniel, to Ezekial, to the incredible messianic prophecy of Zechariah 12:10….these were all simply written after the fact? A conspiracy, by definition, is an act of deliberate planning. Trying to falsify these “prophecies” would be an act of deliberate planning in order to deceive. A simple google search can supply one with ample research to see both sides and to decide whether the Bible is truly a fraudulent book or a supernatural one. Many intelligent and brilliant thinkers throughout history and today have sided with the verdict of “supernatural”. This isn’t to say it proves the position, but only that those who do hold to it are not idiots like the “new” atheists want everyone to believe.

        Yahweh is holy (completely other) and requires holiness and justice. God is the offended party in this, not man. It’s God who is longsuffering, wishing that no man should perish. We are suffering the choices of our forefathers and mothers and are born into imperfection / sin and make those same choices. When I look at the world around me, the Bible confirms what I see. “For that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:19
        Man’s heart is evil. (Jeremiah 17:9) There is none righteous, no not one. (Psalm 14:1, Romans 3:10). So before the Law, we are condemned. This makes sense to me. That God revealed Himself to man in the person of the Jewish Messiah. That all of this around us is all there is, all there ever will be, that God is a figment of our imaginations, this is what seems unreasonable to me. All of our cravings for tangible things are real, hunger, thirst, relief from pain, why is our craving for God any less real?

  14. The Christian faith is one built upon God HImself intervening in space and time history. History that is documented. Zuess, etc. are not documented historical REAL people. What documents exist that refute the 4 historical Gospels from the same time period? There has recently been announced a recent discovery of the book of Mark that possibly dates to the first century,,btw….in a debate with “heavyweight” scholar Ehrman. (The jury is out on that claim but there will be a book about it next year). Those “scholars” would most likely be considered apostate, biblically speaking, who deny that Scripture is God -Breathed and filled with error. Those scholars would either be apostate or inconsistent and misguided in their view of the Word of God. ” For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2Tim4

    I have actually continually answered the question, but you only deny the answer. The whole timing of history was based on this historical figure of Jesus (BC and AD…of course now this is white washed by political correctness w/ BCE and CE). What historical witness contends any of these so called gods were real? That they existed in space and time? This is not to deny faith is required to be a Christian, indeed it is. But it is not a blind faith and it is not a faith built on errors and misinformation and lies.
    “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.” – Phillip E. Johnson

    • Jason! Amy!
      This has been a pretty fun exchange, I think.

      I have to admit, I’m really looking forward to Amy’s reply. Jason, while we wait for her, you might want to google the phrase, “special pleading,” since understanding that phrase will likely be important to understanding her answer. I’m just guessing though. When I read what you wrote, that’s the phrase that keeps coming to mind.

      “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.” – Phillip E. Johnson

      “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs. But one who is a skeptic of all beliefs is likely an atheist. :-D”
      — Jonathan Robinson

    • Hi Jason,

      I just read both your links. Thanks! Couple things…

      If Ezekiel’s prophesy that Tyre would be destroyed forever is true, then Isaiah’s (Isaiah 23) prophesy that Tyre would be destroyed only for 70 years is false. It doesn’t really matter to me which you think is the false prophesy.

      Secondly, about special pleading… Special pleading means using a different standard of justification for one’s preferred beliefs and a different, more ridged standard for ideas one rejects. Both these articles make claims that would only be convincing to someone who is already convinced. For instance, (from the first link) “There are some who try to make the case that prophecy was not fulfilled because Tyre is there today and even mentioned in the New Testament. But to say that Tyre has been ‘rebuilt’ (and Ezekiel was wrong) is like destroying Winsor Castle then putting up apartments and office buildings on the same site and then announcing ‘Winsor has been rebuilt!'”

      Since the city of Tyre was rebuilt, this logic can only convinced those already convinced and is, thus, special pleading.. because, the city was rebuilt; it’s more like destroying Winsor Castle, then rebuilding Winsor Castle and saying “Winsor Castle has been rebuilt!” Would you accept such flimsy arguments for prophesies of other religions?

      Just out of curiosity (since I’m a curious sort of person), I just googled “fulfilled prophesy in the Quran.” This is the second link from that search:

      “Description: The fulfillment of the various prophecies in the Quran is a clear proof that it is from a Divine source.”

      If you’re like me, you’ll read through the prophesies and their fulfillments in the Quran and find them unconvincing. Are you dismissing the idea that the Quran is the inspired word of god out of hand because you don’t find these arguments convincing? My only point here is that if you understand why I don’t find the fulfilled Quranic prophesies convincing, you’ll also understand why I don’t find the fulfilled Biblical prophesies convincing.

  15. @ Jason: I don’t recall calling believers “idiots.” I was once one. I am also not rejecting your arguments about prophecy or the bible just to be difficult. I have actually studied the history of the compilation of the scriptures from both sides of the argument and I have found the argument that starts with skepticism and looks for proof (and that doesn’t have anything to lose by being honest) to be the better one.

    It’s probable you think that I don’t believe because I have something that I fear losing by believing. But I don’t. If I were able to believe in a loving god today, it would change nothing about my current behavior and it would actually be quite nice to be able to feel a loving presence in my life that will keep me from harm. I don’t fear the truth of the gospel – indeed, if it were true, I would welcome it. However, I have no convincing proof that the bible is more than a collection of ancient manuscripts written, compiled and copied by fallible people. I am also highly troubled by many parts of the bible that paint its god in a very unflattering manner.

    You, on the other hand, (and all evangelical inerrantists) have everything to lose by admitting that prophecy was written after the fact or that the bible contains errors. Or, that evolution is true. This is why you all are willing to do the mental gymnastics necessary to believe (no matter the objective or scientific evidence). I am not the one hiding from evidence.

    Strange that you want contemporary historical evidence for other gods but don’t require any for yours. Has it ever seemed strange to you that, when Jesus died and the dead were raised and walked the streets, that no contemporaries took note enough to record this information? What about plain old contemporary accounts of Jesus’ existence? There isn’t any. Isn’t that odd? Funny that no original documents of god’s only message to humanity exist either. Who is the one grasping at straws here? Not me…

  16. I fear we may have scared Jason off. @ Jason – sorry if I’m somewhat aggressive when it comes to this stuff. It still kinda’ chaps my hide that I believed it all at one time. I get irritated because, when you first come to belief, you do so by getting fed nice, cherry-picked bible verses piecemeal. There is no explanation about how the bible came to be or how it has been passed on through history. There is no talk of the plethora of bible verses that paint god as a jealous, sexist, and petty tyrant. You are told that anything that causes you any doubt or seems to disprove your faith is your fault. It’s your own sin that is deceiving you. Your flesh. After all, you are just a lowly, sinful human who can’t possibly understand the mysteries of god.

    It’s all so contrived and sad. It took me years to disentangle myself after performing years and years of mental gymnastics to make it all work in my head. I am completely serious when I say that when I realized I didn’t have to make excuses for god anymore, I found true freedom. I guess I just hate to see others bending over backwards to make their faith work. If there was a truly loving god – it wouldn’t be such a messy game.

  17. Ojo,
    It’s interesting reading about your journey. I’m a long time Undercover fan & the last rumor I heard was that you’d re-embraced the Catholic Church. Apparently I’m a little behind the curve. The Hitchns YouTube video is insightful and pretty funny. But I can’t help but think that in documenting your journey here, doing interviews talking about your new-found unbelief, and perhaps even in going into a teaching career in the first place, you are still driven by the same underlying zeal that caused you to write Boys & Girls Renounce the World, that caused you to dream dreams of Heaven as a young Roman Catholic, that caused the originality and passion of Branded. I can’t help but think maybe you’ve never not been Evangelical. You’ve just switched teams and are still driven by the need to take people down whatever path you’ve chosen… Maybe because paths are lonely places if we’re on them alone.
    And if I’m even partly correct, I think I understand.

    • Hey Peter,

      Are you the Peter Jordan that I’ve known for years? If so, hello, and thanks for the comment. Just a couple thoughts on evangelism…

      It’s true that I am a social being and that I enjoy documenting my journey, my path and process. I also enjoy teaching and never would have really guessed that for myself before I started doing it, although in hindsight it makes perfect sense. I think those are all different from “evangelism” though. My job as a teacher is not to fill their head with facts and information, to give them the right answer, but to help students think for themselves, to inquire and consider multiple aspects of issues. There is no imparting of truth, certainly not an absolute truth. So in that sense I have to make a distinction between evangelism and facilitating learning, having a voice – something any writer or songwriter must develop to tell their story. In Undercover we thought we were going to do our part to save the world and we thought we had the prescription. We thought we owed that to the world, to whomever was willing to listen. We believed there was only one way and that just happened to be our way. It was about doctrines and dogma, correct beliefs, ways of seeing the world that justified the supernatural without evidence. I think these are all powerful distinctions between evangelism and simply being a voice in the world. Do I believe in good and love? Yes, of course, and in that sense I can be said to “preach” I suppose. But then so do others who advance the full realization of the human condition. Even in marketing, there is what is known as “product evangelists.” But that’s not really what we’re talking about when we talk about Christian evangelism. I do not think my way is the only way, or that there IS an “only way.” My sense of mission here is to cultivate love in myself and in those I come in contact with because I think that is the essence of the human condition. Nothing else in the end will matter. So yes, I suppose you could say that I have something to say, and that I have beliefs about the world I live in. And in some sense that could loosely be called evangelism, but I think it looks a lot different than what christians mean by the term when they think about it and use it. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and I hope you are well and that we get to cross paths sometime. ~J

  18. I’ve contemplated many of these same issues and have came to the same conclusions on most of the topics you’ve addressed here. Thank you for putting together such a well written and obviously well thought out statement.

  19. Joe, I am so sorry to hear that you take this stance.. You must only look at the archaeological, historical, and geological evidence that Jesus Christ of Nazereth lived and was everything He said He was.. Leave all the psychobabble out of it.. What we feel DOES NOT SHAPE TRUTH… TRUTH SHOULD SHAPE OUR BELIEFS.. There must have been some occurs fe that. Aused you to had “doubts” about your faith.. That’s a sad event.. You say you know the love you have for your children.. How do you know that.. You must have some gauge to compare it by.. If we look at the historical evidence of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, and leave all the charletainism out of Christianity, one cannot refute the authenticity of TRUE believers as well as the TRUTH of Christs teachings.. Our feelings and emotions LIE to us .. The word of God does not..

    • Oh yeah, I also wanted to say I can relate to the questions you’ve raised.. There are many who doubt sometimes, myself included.. We simply must go to the truth of the word to find out where the reality of God our Creator lies.. Also to say how much I’ve enjoyed your music over the years and I truly believe that God allows us to doubt, but if we give In to our doubts then we are really trusting more in our thoughts and understanding than God’s .. Aren’t we??? Love and peace…<

  20. Hi, I just read your story in the FFRF newsletter. I went to Calvary Chapel too, and was baptised at Corona Del Mar by Chuck Smith. I married the janitor at Calvary’s new sanctuary in 1973. Then I lived in the same church-owned house as Greg and Cathe Laurie in Riverside (we split the house up). My marriage only lasted 10 years and I credit some of the divorce to the terrible pre-marital counseling we received from Don McClure (he runs Calvary Way now). I have been an atheist for about 2 years now and I love being free! I wasn’t a christian the whole time (I’m 57 now), but had gone back to New Age stuff for many years. Boy, do I remember those christian rock groups, though! Hope we can be Facebook friends. I started an Ex Calvary Chapel group on Facebook, but it never took off. Best wishes to you! From Melody Hartwell.

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