Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Jittery John" Loftus Again Throws a Hissy-Fit When I Simply Critique His Argument Against the Biblical, Timeless, Transcendent God

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"Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me."

Job 38:3 (RSV)

"Pour forth the overflowings of your anger, and look on every one that is proud, and abase him . . . bring him low; and tread down the wicked where they stand."

Job 40:11-12

This amazing display of condescension came about after I commented on a post from atheist John W. Loftus, having to do with whether God was in time or not. John has a history (with me, at any rate) of flying off the handle, rather than presenting rational counter-replies, when some criticism is offered. The classic case was when I dared to offer criticisms of his deconversion story. His reaction has to be seen to be believed.

I had hoped that (with the passage of time) he had gotten over this skittishness and hair-trigger defensiveness and condescension where I am concerned, but alas, it was not to be. He has even "upped the ante" and continued a stream of insults toward me, for (quite outrageously) being and acting like a Christian confident in his faith and able to defend it. In the past, he has called me a "joke" and an "arrogant idiot" among other things. He has yet to retract any of the epithets.

Now, I'm the first to gladly assert that his reaction should not be seen as one that typifies atheists, or disproves any particular atheist version of reality. Neither is true. But that is not my purpose at present; rather, it is to show how even intelligent people (John has two masters' degrees) can become utterly irrational and unreasonable when confronted with criticism of their arguments, and how harmful this is to the intellectual endeavor. This is how not to do it, folks!

There is also some considerable humor and amusement to be enjoyed (the section about "obvious"); I simply couldn't resist. He laid himself out wide open on that one; provided the rope to hang him with. John's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

. . . look these arguments up before you comment further. Please do my readers a favor here. Read up on this topic before you continue to waste space. Let other more informed people comment.

ME: On the other hand, it is obvious that God must be outside of time, if one accepts the description of Him that the Bible offers.

That he walked in the cool of the Garden of Eden? That he showed Moses his back side? That he appeared to Abraham? That he changed his mind? That he visited us in Jesus? You are ignorant if you think what you just said is obvious.

. . . Anthropomorphism. That saves you, doesn't it? Then show me one verse in the Bible that could not have been written by an ancient superstitious person. Just one. Show me where there was a prediction of the computer chip, or a vaccine for Polio. Show me where God told people about the vastness and age of the universe.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


ME: I suspect you are slanting his full argument. If he is orthodox, he would not put it in such despairing terms.

Read it yourself. Why is it that you distrust what I say? If you distrust what I say then why bother to comment on this at all? Just say you don't believe he said this and move on.

[I didn't say I distrusted it, only that there was possible bias in presenting the Christian's argument]

Dave, you present your uninformed arguments as if everyone should agree with you, and that is what I object to.

You used the words "obvious" and "obviously" twice in this last comment alone, when not even all Christians will agree with you, much less atheists. Why do you continue to insist that the things you believe are obvious? That's what I think is ignorant of you, for if they were obvious no one would disagree.

But that's not all. You state "it is nonsensical and utterly illogical." You state "This is radically unbiblical," and "impossible exegetically."

You annoy me, not because of your arguments, but because of your ill placed confidence. Any educated person would not state the things you do with such arrogance. That's all.

Besides, it does nothing for your argument to add the word "obviously" to it. And if you were informed as you say about this, then you would know that such interpretatons are not impossible since Christians themselves think otherwise.

I mean, really, with you there is no discussion to be had for any topic you write about. You are the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious. And that's the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man.



You keep being personally insulting, John, and I'll keep making arguments (just like when I critiqued your deconversion). People can see through that.

If I'm as big of a dolt and an ignoramus as you endlessly contend, then surely you'll be able to blow my arguments out of the water.

But of course, since you're far less "confident" than I am, this handicap (or virtue, depending on one's point of view) would OBVIOUSLY present an opposing counter-weight to your doing so.

Which scholar, for instance, would you point to who says his arguments are obvious?

I don't know who's a scholar or who isn't, but I'll use examples from this very blog:
Obviously, the problem is that each author of the various books treats 'Faith' as something differently.

(DagoodS, 11-1-06)

(I won't argue whether such a conception of "degrees of individuality" is "true or not" in a philosophical sense, which will obviously get us no where, since how could one prove any of my assumptions above at all)?

(Ed Babinski, 10-20-06)

Obviously, this passage presents some theological difficulties for early Christians. This passage seems to run against the notion that Jesus is God.

(Bill Curry, 11-6-06)

. . . God must take the sum total of His wrath out on the most unworthy recipient, a wholly guiltless individual, who also happens to be Himself? Why is such a belief necessary? And why do Christian creeds insist on the necessity of such a belief, when it obviously does not appeal to all, nor even make sense to all?

(Ed Babinski, 10-20-06)

Conclusive proof that the Bible is NOT inerrant. [title] . . . The God who created the Universe, stars, planets, and our own Sun, obviously wasn't aware of the very astronomical phenomena he created.

(Desolate-Paladin, 6-21-06)

Steve is obviously committing a fallacious appeal to authority, considering he hasn't yet even evaluated my writing in order to refute it on the grounds of "no formal credentials".

(Daniel Morgan, 5-11-06)

The Establishment Clause is best understood by the Lemon Test. This situation fails the test on obvious grounds, . . .

(Daniel Morgan, this very day: 11-30-06)

The message was as obvious as anything, but I tried to look for answers. I read up on the responses from all the theological camps, from the conservatives (Blomberg, Marshall, McKnight, Wright, Witherington) to moderates (Meyer, Brown) to the Jesus Seminar.

(exapologist - almost a scholar, going for his doctorate in philosophy, 9-9-06)

Rather it is a book easily proven to be filled with errors and of obvious human origin.

(s burgener, 11-5-06)

Now let's say a Calvinist offers an answer and is unconvinced by any of my replies. I never said I could convince those who hold to absolutely idiotic beliefs such as this one, that they are wrong. Any thinking person not already blinded by their faith would see the obvious and serious problem here.

(John W. Loftus, 10-15-06)

[I]t is apparent that upon careful examination, several fundamental elements of the Christian faith do not stand up to outside critiques, or even, in some cases, to several passages in the same book. In the case of the 'virginal birth' and the accompanying prophecies, it is obvious that the two critical parts of the faith of Christianity can not logically coexist. But then, logic is not what religion is based upon.

(C.J. Baserap, 5-14-06)
But here's one scholar, at least: William Lane Craig:
There's another version of Dr. Ehrman's objection which is even more obviously fallacious than Ehrman's Egregious Error. I call it "Bart's Blunder."
In this paper, presented by you (6-6-06), you yourself state that Craig is a pretty decent scholar, not an idiot and deluded and presumptuous fool like you think I am: "Craig understands symbolic logic, and uses it to his advantage whenever he can. . . . Craig does a masterful job of it."

Since Dr. Craig used the outrageous word "obvious" with regard to one of his own arguments, or regarding the "obviously fallacious . . . Egregious Error" [his capital letters] and "Blunder" of an opponent, then he, too must be (as you say I am) "the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious . . . the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man." Nice little foray into symbolic logic there, John . . .

And again you (5-7-06) cite NT scholar James Dunn (one whom Ed Babinski has tried to cite against my position):
"John's Gospel is 'obviously different' [Dunn] from the other three earlier Gospels in terms of style and content."
So there is another "ignorant and uneducated" scholar, using this dreaded word "obvious" and thus proving that he has no business commenting on anything at all, with such unmitigated gall and hubris, leading him to possess such inappropriate confidence!

Okay Dave. Fine. Where do you get the time to search these things out? For me to answer you I would have to search out the context of every one of these uses of "obviously." But let me guess. Craig does this only in debates for rhetorical effect. Others were talking about their own notions and personal experiences. Still others are indeed fairly obvious.

They're what???!!!

There are other usages you pointed to which I'll let those who used them speak for themselves. But if I'm arguing against a viewpoint that I know my opponent doesn't agree with, or if I'm arguing a minority viewpoint, or a contestable viewpoint then it's ignorant to use the word for anything contestable, especially as much as you use it. And even when you don't use such a word it's in the whole tone of what you write.

For instance it is "obvious" to me that Christianity is false.


It's what???!!! But of course, this is not an arrogant use of the word; only when I use it to defend Christianity. Curious logic . . .

That's my personal belief, and it's proper to use this word to describe my personal feelings about Christianity. But to say it's "obvious" that Christianity is false in an argument that attempts to show another person that it's false, is ignorant, unless done for rhetorical effect, which is merely rhetorical and has no force at all. Ehrman could've simply said "this is not obvious to me."

That's interesting. So to describe an argument as "obviously wrong" is insufferably arrogant, but to utilize a number of different arguments to make a statement describing one's conclusion that an entire religion is obviously false, is perfectly prim and proper. It's a silly distinction. Just let people say what they want to, and give them the freedom to use whatever words they wish. John finds my style offensive and overly-confident. I find his insulting and condescending. Does he really think my being confident that an argument is "obviously wrong" is more offensive than him calling me an "arrogant idiot" and all the additional insults (most aimed at my knowledge and intelligence) seen presently?

I am annoyed by people like you, and it may be a personality problem. I'm annoyed with pompous self-righteous know-it-all's, especially when I know they don't.

See, there you go! LOL Yet another to add to my collection. So John lectures me about supposed attitudes, using examples that don't prove his point, and then absolutely proves that his attitude is far worse than mine, by any objective criteria.

And that is how you come across. Now it might go over well with your supporters and visitors to your site, but not here. Here you will find people who disagree with you a lot more often.

Not only do you think you're right when you haven't read the relevant literature. Now you are attempting to defend the arrogant way you argue. You're just right about everything, or, at least you always come across that way. And in my book that reveals you are an uneducated, ignorant, arrogant know-it-all.

What I am probably going to do is to delete these comments tomorrow so that we can start this discussion all over again. You may copy them if you want to, but they are off track.

Yes, of course (precisely why I knew I had to preserve them). I suppose I would do the same thing, if something made me look like a fool, as this stuff does regarding John.

[to someone else]:

I think people who argue in the manner I see over at Triablogue [an anti-Catholic site], and even Dave Armstrong to some degree, don't care about us as persons. They only want to show to others, whom they do care for, that we are wrong. Many of them think we are ignorant or willfully ignorant deceivers who don't care about the truth at all. So they treat us like non-persons.

Yes, of course. I disagree with a position, and this sort of hyper-paranoid tripe is what I get back. But John is clearly (whoops, OBVIOUSLY) showing tons of "care" for me as "person" when he uses the following descriptions (all now a matter of record):

you continue to waste space

You are ignorant

you present your uninformed arguments as if everyone should agree with you

Any educated person would not state the things you do with such arrogance.

with you there is no discussion to be had for any topic you write about.

You are the answer man. Everyone else is ignoring the obvious. And that's the hallmark of an ignorant and uneducated man.

I am annoyed by people like you, . . . pompous self-righteous know-it-all's

Now you are attempting to defend the arrogant way you argue.

You're just right about everything, or, at least you always come across that way.

you are an uneducated, ignorant, arrogant know-it-all.

I think people who argue in the manner I see over at Triablogue, and even Dave Armstrong to some degree, don't care about us as persons.

Many of them [implied, including me] think we are ignorant or willfully ignorant deceivers who don't care about the truth at all. So they treat us like non-persons.

(all on 11-30-06)

Not bad for a day's work, especially for one who is lecturing another about how to treat folks respectfully. What else has John said about me in the past?:


Dave, as I read this [my critique of his deconversion] I thought to myself, he doesn't think of me as an equal. He looks down his nose at me. As I'm writing he looks for loopholes. He doesn't think I was sincere. I'm probably not even a person to him.

You're a joke. I'm surprised you have an audience. You're also a psychologist, eh? Wow! . . . Again, you're a joke.

. . . that quite frankly is stupid of you.

You're a joke, and I just don't have the time to teach you what you need to understand.

To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don't know me. It's a defensive mechanism you have with people like me.

You have shown yourself to be non-objective with me and to parade before the ignorant how smart and how much more faith you have than I did.

It's called respecting people as people, and Dave's Christianity does not do that with people who don't agree with him.

I'm just tired of pompous asses on the internet who go around claiming they are superior to me in terms of intelligence and faith. Such arrogance makes me vomit.

. . . self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I.

(10-16-06; wow, it'a close call between these two insult-days. I give the nod to 10-16, though, because I love "arrogant idiot" and "joke" the best)

Is God in Time? (vs. John W. Loftus)

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Carina nebula: NASA Hubble photograph. It is 8,000 light-years away and has a diameter of over 200 light-years. Within it is the explosive star Eta Carinae, or Eta Car, which contains the mass of 100 suns, and creates more energy every second than 1 million suns.

The following exchange took place at Debunking Christianity blog, with John W. Loftus, former Church of Christ pastor and now an atheist. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Is God in time or is he timeless?

Obviously the latter.

Either stance a Christian takes leads to some kind of incoherence.

No; saying He is in time leads to insuperable logical and biblical difficulties. Being out of time does not.

Let me simply use Christian philosopher Paul Helm's analysis of this in "God and Spacelessness," Philosophy 55 (1980).

Helm begins with two authors who made similar claims against the timelessness of God. J. R. Lucas made this claim: "To say that God is outside time, as many theologians do, is to deny, in effect, that God is a person." He reasons that to be a person is to have a mind, and to have a mind requires that it be in time (i.e., thoughts require a sequence of events, etc.).

For finite created beings, sure. But an infinite, self-existent, timeless, omniscient being overcomes this limitation, it seems to me. If a being knows everything at once, no sequence is required to "work through" the patterns of thinking and analysis that we are familiar with, as finite creatures.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


A.N. Prior claimed that a proposition such as "It is raining now" is not equivalent in meaning to "It is raining on Tuesday," and that an omniscient God who knew the latter would not necessarily know the former,

I don't follow this reasoning. I'd have to see the basis for why this person thought that.

and would not know it if he were timeless, since he could not be present on the occasion on which it was raining.

Omnipresence would overcome that. Omniscience, too. I don't see the point of projecting inherent human limitations onto God. Atheists often complain that God is a projection. Yet here the sub-orthodox thinkers do exactly the same thing. The Christian, on the other hand, accepts God as He has revealed Himself to be. The Christian God is not the sort of being Who could readily be made up by man, precisely because His nature is so much more complex than ours and difficult to comprehend.

[These are pretty persuasive arguments, I might add].

Really? I don't see that they are, based on the summary. I would need to see more to understand how they argued their case in full.

But Helm argues against both authors by merely showing that such a claim also entails the denial that God is spaceless, which in turn denies that God is infinite - something these authors want to maintain. Helm writes that "the arguments used to show that God is in time, in effect support the view that God is finite, and so anyone who wishes to maintain that God is infinite, as the traditional theist does, will either have to find other arguments for the view that God is in time, or eschew the idea of God being in time altogether" - this is the dilemma Helm presents to these authors. And he claims, "if the timeless existence of God is incoherent then so is the spaceless existence of God."

A spirit does not have spatial qualities.

[I happen to agree that they are both incoherent].

Big surprise!

Helm does not try to show that God is in fact timeless, nor is his purpose to show that the logic of these two authors is wrong. He admits that he doesn’t even fully understand what it means to say God is both timeless and spaceless. He's only claiming that a denial of God's timelessness is also a denial of God's spacelessness.

After making his arguments he leaves the reader with three alternative consequences to choose from:

1) "Theism is even more incoherent than was previously thought, in that it requires unintelligibilities such as a timeless and spaceless existence." [To this I completely agree with him here.]

2) Recognize that since the belief in God requires an infinite and spaceless God "there must be something wrong" with the arguments against the timelessness of God." [However, it's far from the case that the Bible describes anything but God's activity in time, especially with the purported incarnation. Nicholas Wolterstroff's essay, "God Everlasting" has more than sufficiently shown this, as has Clark Pinnock's essays and books.] The Bible simply does not require that God is timeless. This view of God has been something fully adopted because of neo-Platonism and finally codified by Anselm's conception of the "greatest conceivable being."

3) These authors must "supply an argument against God’s timelessness that does not have a spatial parallel." [To date this challenge has not been sufficiently met].

I would argue, as always, that the Bible is presented in pre-philosophical language. Therefore, one can say that the doctrines later developed to a very high degree by theologians, are usually not found fully-developed in the Bible. Again, this is because it is not presented in philosophical, or "Greek" terms, for the most part, excepting some portions of Paul, and things like Logos ("word") in John, which was, I believe, Greek philosophical terminology.

On the other hand, it is obvious that God must be outside of time, if one accepts the description of Him that the Bible offers.

For example: how does God create everything that exists, while still being in time? How does He create the universe in such a fashion? There is no time, according to modern physics, without the matter which time entails in order to have any meaning. An eternal, omniscient spirit is not subject to time because there is no sequence to either His existence or "thoughts."

One has to explain how there can be some mysterious thing called "time" before there was a material universe. What would it be? How could it be defined? What sense does it make to say that an eternal spirit-being is "in" it? What then changes when matter is introduced to the set of "real" things?

Both Newtonian and relativistic Einsteinian time depend on a material universe by which they are determined and measured: this involves the relationship of matter with other matter. Time is indeed another dimension (at least as I understand relativity, in layman's terms).

Therefore, it is impossible, even by modern physics standards, and any reasonable form of philosophy, to say that God could be "in time" and create the universe while being in such a state. It's a meaningless concept. Whatever the truth is, it can't be that, because it is nonsensical and utterly illogical.

Secondly, the Bible gives ample indication of timelessness; e.g., the description of God, "I AM," from the burning bush and Moses (Exodus 3:14-15). Jesus later repeated this (because He, too, is an eternal being), in saying, "Before Abraham was, I am" [ego eimi] (John 8:58). See also: Gen 21:33, Ps 90:2, Is 40:28, Hab 1:12, Rom 16:26, 1 Tim 1:17.

Greek scholar Gerhard Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) explains the "I am" clauses:

The formulas [eimi: 'to exist' and ho on: 'I am'] express God's deity and supratemporality. Similar formulas occur in Judaism. The Greeks also use two- and three-tense formulas to express eternity (cf. Homer, Plato . . .). These possibly came into Revelation by way of the Jewish tradition, though a common source may lie behind the Greek and Jewish traditions.

ego eimi as a self-designation of Jesus in Jn. 8:58 (cf. 8:24; 13:19) stands in contrast to the genesthai applied to Abraham. Jesus thus claims eternity . . . The point is not Jesus' self-identification as the Messiah ('I am he') but his supratemporal being.

(pp. 206-207 of one-volume edition)
The section on aion ("age, aeon") elaborates:
The double formula 'for ever and ever' (Heb. 1:8), especially in the plural (in Paul and Revelation; cf. also Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11), is designed to stress the concept of eternity, as are constructions like that in Eph. 3:21 ('to all generations for ever and ever').

a. aion means eternity in the full sense when linked with God (Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 1:17; cf. Jer. 10:10)

b. In the OT this means first that God always was (Gen. 21:23) and will be (Dt. 5:23), in contrast to us mortals. By the time of Is. 40:28 this comes to mean that God is eternal, the 'First and Last,' whose being is 'from eternity to eternity' (Ps. 90:2). Eternity is unending time, but in later Judaism it is sometimes set in antithesis to time. The NT took over the Jewish formulas but extended eternity to Christ (Heb. 1:10 ff.; Rev. 1:17-18; 2:8). Here again eternity could be seen as the opposite of cosmic time, God's being and acts being put in terms of pre- and post- (1 Cor. 2:7; Col. 1:26; Eph. 3:9; Jn. 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:20).

(pp. 31-32)
The word was used in the Septuagint translation of the OT (LXX). Plato had used it in the sense of "timeless eternity in contrast to chronos as its moving image in earthly time (cf. Philo)" (p. 31).

So this is how the word was understood. The Greek translators thought it was best to apply this word to God, and the increased development of understanding of philosophical-type issues of this sort added clarification to the Jewish and later Christian doctrine of God.

For further extensive treatment of ego eimi and its meaning, see the article, "What does the Bible say about Jesus?" (about the last quarter of the paper):

That is, Helm argues that one can either, a) Deny (or accept) the unintelligible existence of both a timeless and spaceless God,

I suspect that he would frame the question as being ultimately mysterious and difficult to human minds, but not "unintelligible" - which implies an irrationality and unreasonableness to the Christian doctrine of God. Helm appears to be an orthodox Christian, from what I can tell (he and I would agree on the doctrine of God).

b) Accept the consequences of a God who is both in time and finite, or,

This is radically unbiblical; hence no Christian who accepts biblical inspiration could possibly take this view.

c) Supply other arguments on behalf of a God who is in time which does not also deny God's spacelessness. Not being able to do (c) presents the dilemma of choosing either (a) or (b).

God cannot be in time, according to the Bible, or any rational belief that He created the universe. The first scenario is impossible exegetically, the second, logically, and scientifically (i.e., if one presupposes a creator and then subjects such a concept to theoretical scientific analysis).

Here is a Christian philosopher of some note who recognizes a very serious problem in reconciling God and time. He makes my case for me.

I suspect you are slanting his full argument. If he is orthodox, he would not put it in such despairing terms. He would say it was ultimately a mystery (meaning we can't fully understand or comprehend it; not that it is literally irrational).

On the one hand we have the Bible, which clearly shows God responds to us in time,

Yes, of course. It must do so, in the sense of anthropomorphism, precisely because we can barely comprehend a timeless being. But God does break into time. We see that with the incarnation. Jesus lived in history. When God took on matter and a human body, the incarnate God subjected Himself to time, because that is the nature of matter and human bodies. It's not a contradiction because God created time and matter; therefore He can partake of it if He so chooses, in terms of becoming incarnate.

along with the philosophical arguments of J.R. Lucas and A.N. Prior. On the other hand, a being in time also denies that God is spaceless. Which is it?

I have given the orthodox Christian, biblical view of God. It is not incoherent or illogical at all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How Atheists & Christians Can Constructively Dialogue, With Mutual Respect (+ Related Censorship, Free Speech, Ethics & "Legalism" Issues)


Benjamin Scott Cheek ("soulster"): a Christian doing a great job in trying to bring about more fruitful Christian-atheist discourse. May his tribe mightily increase!

The following exchange began when I discovered a new blog, called philaletheia ("love of truth"). It is a joint project by a Christian ("soulster") and an atheist ("drunkentune"), intended to bring about more fruitful discussion between the two parties. In accordance with that goal, it began with the twin posts: How to Talk to Atheists, and How to Talk to Believers. I then joined into the conversation about the rhetorically-titled post, Can Atheists be Good? "Drunkentune's" words will be in blue; [atheist] "beepbeepitsme" in green, and soulster's in purple. I've edited the posts somewhat, to remove more personally-directed observations and to keep the flow of the conversation strictly on-topic (those who want to see the originals can follow the link above and read the comments).

* * * * *

I always DID think atheists could be good. That's why I have posted a paper:

Are all Atheists Utterly "Wicked and Evil"? The Multiple Complex Causes of Atheist Disbelief, Romans 1 and 2, and the Possibility of Atheists' Salvation

I have immensely enjoyed the majority of my dialogues with atheists through the years. Others have been a pain in the butt and obnoxious.

On his own blog, e.g., drunkentune posts a picture of "p%#&Christ", the marvelous, artsy depiction of a crucifix in urine. All we need now (for us Catholics) is the other "work of art" (I forget the name) where Mary is covered with feces. Ah, the wonders of some of the more famous and notorious examples of the anti-Christian "aesthetic" imagination!

That's eminently designed to endear Christians to him, isn't it, and to cause them to desire interacting with him in intelligent, amiable discourse?

. . . One can search far and wide on my blog and never find anything remotely that insulting to an atheist - and much quite to the contrary. See, e.g.,:

"Secular Humanism and Christian Humanism: Seeking After Common Ground" (written with atheist Sue Strandberg)

The closest I come to a possible "insult," I suppose, would be a Malcolm Muggeridge-type parody on atheist materialism that is, I would contend, far milder in possible offensiveness than 1001 condescending atheist critiques of Christianity as infantile, identical to belief in Santa Claus, the opiate of the masses, etc. , etc. ad nauseum. See: "The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ('The Atom-as-God')".

I made it very clear that this website would be different from my personal website. I said

While there, I'll be leaving my condescending tone and insular streak behind me: Philaletheia is well-mannered dialogue; Drunken Tune is insane rants. I'll cross-post occasionally, but it will be primarily a dialogue between us - anyone that wishes to comment may do so.

I'm done with insulting people that are genuinely concerned about my future.

You have reservations. That's fine with me. However, asking me to remove something from a rant site when we are having a discussion on a separate site is confounding. If I posted such a picture here, then your words would carry weight, because I would be at fault. If you examine the post in question, a poem [link] accompanies it. Reading it is on par with watching The Last Temptation of Christ: it's a different look at Jesus - a look at the human side to a god. Of course the picture is offensive. However, I did not attempt to use it for shock value.

If he has, alas, undergone a radical transformation of attitude, then let him renounce that "work of art" and remove it! Simple enough, one would think.

I am no different in my attitude. I still preemptively consider many Christians to be ignorant, or in some cases, just plain wrong. Yet, here I swallow my pride and attempt to talk and work around my biases. This site in part is to help clear up misconceptions and enable dialogue. If you go to my personal website, however, you will not receive any kid gloves. I hope you come back some time. Your views would be very interesting to hear.

* * *

I would point out to Christians that drunkentune, in his first post took a confessional attitude and said:

I have debated informally with many believers for years, and it's time for a watershed moment. I'm done with haughty debate, with inane arguments and ridiculous presuppositions. I'm done with insulting people that are genuinely concerned about my future. It is time that atheists and theists alike flense our argumentative shells and have honest conversations without the ad hominem attacks so common today.

This comes as close to repentance (the change of heart and mind we claim to value so much) as you can in cyberspace, so I intend to accept it. There may be slip ups, etc. What we are trying to do is hard and seldom done. We may, at times, lose restraint and say (or more likely type) something offensive. But, if we exhibit the best of possible human-to-human behavior - patience, listening, openness, honesty, appology, concern - I think there is a chance that we will leave this conversation changed for the better.

Likewise, I want to respect drunkentune's freedom of speech on his own blog space because I have my own. I have exercised my freedom of speach by saying I find that picture offensive in the comments to said post, but I have also made it a point not to demand he does anything with his own blog or end this important dialogue over it. If everything else is being censored by someone, let the blogosphere be free.

While I do not generally attack atheism in my own space, I may debunk it, which to some may be offensive. Likewise, I tend, in that space, to talk of Christianity's impulse to be universal or its exclusivity, which some atheists might find highly offensive. I reserve the right to write for a particular readership, as my religious sites are intended for certain readers and may be exited with a click. Just because I might say one offensive thing (or several) somewhere does not mean that anything I say is worthless. Simply take what you can and spit out the rest. In my opinion, that should be our attitude with anything in cyberspace, otherwise we will continue the flaming, the cultures wars, the verbal abuse, and the blog smearing indefinitely. Snore!

I've read drunkentune's blog, and have chosen to dialogue with him because I have (uh, what's the right word . . . oh, yeah) faith in him. I hope many of our readers will do the same. Of course, you may decide not to. But please try to help our project and do what is ultimately helpful to its stated ends, which might not include dragging in past cyber-misbehaviour. I certainly would not want people dragging the darker side of my e-self into this blog.

Dave, please feel free to ask questions or make further comments. I agree that a Catholic apologist would be a great addition to the conversation. Maybe a good place to start would be to check my comments and see if there is anything you would agree with or have a different perspective, us both being believers.

I submit that soulster may want to consider adding another point to his magnificent post, "How to Talk to Believers":

[proposed]:

10. Don't mock or belittle sacred elements of Christianity, if you desire to have mutually-respectful discussions with Christians (examples: the crucifix of Christ in a bottle of urine or Mary covered in feces, or presenting same with approval on one's blog).

Personally, I find it virtually irrelevant that drunkentune posted it on his "rant" site rather than here. The fact of its posting (wherever it is) remains offensive to most Christians, and that is a disconnect with his stated intention to have better dialogue (the sincerity of which I don't deny), because he is not a divided person.

He may try to divide his behavior on a pragmatic or methodological basis, but it doesn't follow that his opinion is schizoid. It is what it is.

It's cognitive dissonance in the same sense that Michael Richards' racist tirade (complete with a reference to lynching, of all things!) is dissonant with his claim to not be a racist (whether he is in actuality or not). Even he recognized that he had a problem and that his behavior and his stated non-racist worldview are at odds.

Likewise with someone who says he wants respectful discussion with Christians, yet posts this sort of thing. People (Christians and fair-minded atheists) don't care that it is in a separate venue; they think it is despicable that it was posted at all.

A word to the wise is sufficient . . .

I don't see this as even arguable, but if someone thinks it is, I'd love to see their reasoning for that.

* * *

Hi soulster,

I think your comments are great; those that I have seen. Yours is an impressive, praiseworthy Christian mind and disposition indeed. Kudos! It's good to see that atheists seem to think so as well. This is a wonderful goal that you have here (and I include drunkentune in that appraisal as well).

I agree that drunkentune's statement you cite above is an admirable effort and I am perfectly willing to accept that he is making a good faith attempt to improve in that regard. I have no problem with that at all.

But it doesn't affect my point that posting the crucifix-in-urine is at cross-purposes to what he wants to do here, even though it isn't posted here. HE posted it. That is the point; not WHERE it was posted. The fact itself of posting such a thing sends a clear message to Christians that they will be mocked and have even their most sacred visual representations dragged through the mud . . . er, pee. We're sick to death of that, needless to say.

Likewise, I want to respect drunkentune's freedom of speech on his own blog space because I have my own. I have exercised my freedom of speach by saying I find that picture offensive in the comments to said post, but I have also made it a point not to demand he does anything with his own blog or end this important dialogue over it. If everything else is being censored by someone, let the blogosphere be free.

I'm a complete advocate of freedom of speech (I've only banned one person from my blog in almost three years, and that was a notorious anti-Catholic troll so offensive that even many prominent anti-Catholic blogs have also banned her). Even so, she was allowed to rant and put me down for over a year, even against the will of many of my vistors, before I and everyone else had had enough and she was banned.

When I moderated my own ecumenical discussion board in the late 90s (I've been online since March 1996), I only banned one person, too, and that was a "traditionalist" Catholic who insisted on running down Protestants. Even he parted on friendly terms!

So that is my record. I have consistently lived by my belief on this, and have literally more than 350 dialogues posted where the opposing view gets vigorously aired on my blog, as well as my own. I believe people should see both sides of an argument presented, and then make up their mind with the best available data on both sides.

Nor have I made any "demand" (rightly-understood). I would say that my present concern completely bypasses the freedom of speech issue. The debate isn't over whether speech should be free and uncensored, but over the quality and constructive or non-constructive nature of free speech (per your goals on this very blog). That can't be forced legally; it can only be voluntarily offered, intellectually and ethically.

It goes beyond mere legalism and coercion, to mutually agreed-upon atheist/Christian ethics in conduct towards one another. I would say it even has a pragmatic, "supra-ethical" element:

1. An atheist desires mutually-respectful, constructive discourse with Christians.

2. Christians (in this instance, you and I both) have made it clear that certain images deliberately or arguably mocking and belittling their most secredly-held beliefs and symbols are offensive and "below the belt."

3. The atheist then has a decision to make:

A. He can stand on an absolutist principle of "free speech" and absolutely refuse to remove the offensive article in question, no matter how it makes Christians react.

or:

B. He can recognize that talking [to Christians] in a constructive, charitable manner is at cross-purposes with continuing to post such an offending thing, and voluntarily remove it, as a good faith gesture, thus supporting his stated sincere attempts to talk in a constructive, charitable manner.

4. 3B is not, therefore, done because of coercion and suppression of free speech in a legalistic sense, but rather:

A. Out of either an ethical concern, in charity, for the feelings of those he is trying to dialogue with,

or:

B. At the very least a pragmatic effort to do those things which sensibly and in great likelihood improve the prospects at success of said endeavors.

5. None of the foregoing, therefore, entails any denial or denigration of the right of free speech in the least. Rather, it transcends that consideration and is simply submitting what are sensible and ethical things to do, given certain other related desires and goals.

6. It's the same as saying that you don't use the "n" word if you want to get along with black people, or deny the Holocaust if you want to get along with Jewish people or continually make fun of menstruation or menopause if you want to get along with women or say that Arabs or Muslims are inherently terrorist supporters or anti-democratic, if you want to get along with them. There are lines not to be crossed. We all have them and we all exercise them; it is only a matter of where and when (and why).

7. Likewise, if you want to get along with Christians, you don't make fun of beliefs that they hold sacred, under the tired justification of "free speech," as good discussion always (I would even say, necessarily) transcends the ultimately arbitrary limits that mere, bald legal-type conceptions involve.

Dave,

You have the right to go to my personal website. You also have the right not to visit, or to write what you wish about my website here. However, even if a post offends you, I should remind you that my blog is full of such offending statements, ad hominem attacks, and general meanness. Should I remove all of which that offends you?

I don't try to hide my animosity. It is commentary, an editorializing of the world around us. I thought I made it clear that the picture, in conjunction to the poem, was something other than mere baiting. The rest of the post details the dangers I see when some forms of Christianity claim dominion over others, influencing public policy. All this time, Christ's image is used for an agenda that he may not have stood for. Religion should never get special treatment.

Please understand that from my position, I cannot remove the image. I stand in opposition to political correctness, but I do not actively engage in attempting to offend. It may have offended you, but the image is not pertinent to this website or its content. If soulster asked me before we began Philaletheia to remove the image, I would have considered doing so.

For example: If soulster had images of Darwin on his website that he Photoshopped in an inappropriate manner, I wouldn't find it necessary for him to remove the offending picture. To me, at least, this website is the equivalent of a church: anything you may have done outside is of no importance; what matters is that while you are here, you will be safe from personal attacks. Outside of this website, no promises of the sort can be made.

soulster again puts it into better words than I could:

But please try to help our project and do what is ultimately helpful to its stated ends, which might not include dragging in past cyber-misbehaviour. I certainly would not want people dragging the darker side of my e-self into this blog.

While it is not a slippery-slope argument, consider for a minute that a young-earth creationist commented here, asking on good terms with excellent prose and wit for me to remove content pertaining to evolution or cosmology. The creationist may find the content offensive, but it is mere editorializing on an altogether different website. I run a small website, read by a small group of acquaintances. It is for "insane rants." You've written your letter to the editor, and I understand your objection to the content, but the picture will stay.

. . . And again, I reiterate: my objection has nothing to do with free speech. I don't censor. I don't even demand removal. I try to persuade others that some things may not be conducive to other goals that said person is trying to achieve. A word to the wise . . .

What are you trying to accomplish?

Constructive discussion between Christians and atheists, of course, just like you and soulster.

Are you asking me to remove the picture, acknowledge this division inherent, or shut down my website?

I've explained my purpose in these comments more than adequately. I'm trying to help you fulfill your stated goal.

I recognize that these are two different websites, and if an idiot comments on my blog, I'm going to give him Hell and send him on his way. If he's a Christian that wishes to engage in dialogue, his time may be better spent here.

So you have a blog for idiots and one for good discussion. I see.

. . . I could be wrong, but it feels like you're trying to poison the well from the start.

You can think what you will, and so can others. This is what free speech and rational discussion is about. Reason and persuasion are utilized. Far from trying to poison any well, I'm trying to make it clean so the highest possible amount of people can enjoy the well and drink from it.

Remember, the post under which this discussion is occurring has to do with how atheists are shabbily treated by some (probably many) Christians.

I am simply dealing with the related problem on the other end of the spectrum (just as you and soulster did when you began this blog): how I feel that Christians are shabbily treated by some (probably many) atheists.

I offered the offensive photograph as an example. You think it is better to leave the picture up. So there is nowhere else to go with this. I thought it was good and helpful advice. You didn't. We (and our fellow atheists and Christians at large) still have to learn to accept each other on a personal level and learn how to intelligently interact despite that disagreement and many others, right?

Dave,

You're correct, of course. It's a difficult process, but I believe it is the process itself that matters.

Seeing it from your side, it does make sense, and I recognize this. It's an excellent example, but I believe that we're going to have to learn to work around it.

Far from trying to poison any well, I'm trying to make it clean so the highest possible amount of people can enjoy the well and drink from it.

While I may still have reservations, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I do feel that you entered this discussion with an axe to grind as large as mine when we first met, but you are willing to dialogue. This can hopefully be only for the best.

[the following is referring back to soulster's paper, "Can Atheists Be Good?"]:

So, the question seems to be one of: "I believe that only theists can be good, but I am willing to let atheists provide an argument for their ability to be good, which I can reject if it doesn't comply with premise number 1.

(Premise number 1 states that only believers can be "good.")

In other words, the framing of the question has an inbuilt bias.

I didn't see it that way at all. Soulster is obviously making an attempt to counter certain false and widespread Christian assumptions about atheists. The title was rhetorical and directed against those falsehoods, not intended to agree with them (as the paper itself shows beyond doubt).

To me, as I read it, the implied rhetorical reply would be, "yes, of course." In similar fashion, the title of my paper was "Are all Atheists Utterly 'Wicked and Evil'?" The implied rhetorical reply was, "no, of course NOT." The titles themselves are intended as exercises in reductio ad absurdum and comments on the false notions unfortunately prevalent.

Soulster can speak for himself, as to his intent and meaning, but I think he would agree with what I've written here, and I'm trying to show how another Christian perceived his title and what he was trying to get at.

He thinks that the denial that atheists can be good is a "fallacy" - as he stated in the post itself in the third paragraph (second quote box).

Or, more specifically, he declared as a "fallacy" your statement describing the belief of some Christians, which included the following:

". . . therefore those who do not believe in god, must be immoral evidenced by their stated lack of belief."

He denies this; so do I, and I would go further and say it is self-evidently false, both from the Bible itself and observation.

There are further discussions, from a theological standpoint as to what exactly being "good" entails and so forth, but I don't want to get into that. I think we are all assuming for our purposes here, a general viewpoint of the "good" and "bad" human being, based on common (not technically theological) usage. The Bible itself habitually does this, by the way, in its wisdom and poetic literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.).

None of us have a right NOT to be insulted. I recognise this. You might consider this yourself.

I don't have to consider it because it's already what I believe. I made it very clear that my comments transcended the mere legalistic framework of "rights" and "coercion" and so forth.

That said, it remains relevant (particularly in a discussion of how atheists and Christians can best get along and converse) that certain things are insulting and not conducive to such desired harmonious relations.

If you can't see that as anything beyond the usual politico-legal language and discussion of rights and victims and all that, then the fault lies in your limited paradigm, not my point as it stands.

Good discussion, like good marriage, is not governed by lawyers and legal rights and detailed regulations, but by freely-offered love towards the other, or in discussion, the charity of the benefit of the doubt and accorded minimal respect to the other for the sake of peace and progress. Putting a crucifix in urine doesn't fulfill that end; sorry.

There is no equivalent that a Christian can do to an atheist, because you have no sacred symbols that I am aware of. What would they be? Desecration of a statue of Thomas Paine (who was a deist, not an atheist)? It's silly to even think about. But the Christian is an easy target because we have many well-known sacred symbols. Indeed, we worship Jesus Christ. You guys don't worship anything (except perhaps reason, in an "Enlightenment" sense), so we can't mock you in this way.

I realise that religion and god belief has received special privileges over the centuries where to question the existence of a god, or the words of scripture, or religion, have been met with decisive and exacting punishment.

There's the legal language again. You can't get beyond that: "privileges" / "punishment."

Certainly blasphemy laws were enacted for this very purpose, so that criticism of religious beliefs would be curtailed.

What does that remotely have to do with anything I wrote, pray tell?

I don't see this as intellectually or morally healthy as beliefs, even religious ones, should be open to discussion and enquiry.

And what did I write that remotely disagrees with that? Or are you not talking specifically to me here?

I don't accept that any belief is sacrosanct. (free from enquiry or criticism)

Good; me neither. I fail to see how putting a crucifix in human waste and taking a picture and pretending that this is "art" has anything to do with "enquiry" or "criticism." I fail to see or comprehend how any atheist could possibly think that this would promote better, mutually-respectful discussion between atheists and Christians.

But, I do think that how we question beliefs is important. So, it might be preferred that we act with sensitivity concerning other people's beliefs, but it is not mandatory that we do so.

"Mandatory" is again the language of legalism and rights. I am going beyond that to ethics or even simple prgmatism.

If you find something offensive, you may claim it as your right to complain about it.

I said nothing about rights. This gets so wearisome! We're discussing how Christians and atheists can best get along. If you care little about what offends us, then chances are you're not the type of person who will likely have constructive discussions with us. That's just how reality works; like it or not.

But don't forget that the same right can be enacted by anyone who does not agree with your beliefs as well.

You're free to critique anything I've written that you think harms Christian-atheist dialogue. If you said it was offensive or potentially offensive to you and by extension possibly many atheists, I would probably remove it, since I recognize that turning people off and offending them will not lead to the good discussion that I desire. That's not a matter of "rights" but of rudimentary respect one toward another, regardless of creed, color, etc.

Thousands of Muslims have complained bitterly that they were insulted by various satirical cartoons which depicted their god in a less than favourable light.

Yes; and I would take exactly the same position: those who do this ought to voluntarily refrain from it (as opposed to passing laws of censorship), just as everyone recognizes it as inappropriate for someone to, e.g., engage in sexual acts [on the stage] during a movie in a theatre or some such (even if all adults were present), or defecate on the stage, or other similarly ridiculous act (in that context). Certain things are inappropriate, and this can change according to the audience or recipient. Is this not utterly obvious?

It may be counter-productive to deliberately insult people, but I do not agree that by default, beliefs should be granted immunity from insult.

Great; I get that. I'm talking much more about "counter-productive" acts, arguments, and strategies. On that we can, if nothing else, hopefully agree.

* * *

Exactly Dave. By the way, it's Benjamin Scott Cheek. [his name]

I do think it's true that

[C]ertain things are inappropriate, and this can change according to the audience or recipient. Is this not utterly obvious?

However, when one does not speak out of a fear of offending someone else, then we are reduced to self-censorship and extreme political correctness. Not all ideas are equal, and political correctness and its counterpart of cultural relativism imply that you cannot poke fun of Islam, or even make an argument against a false claim without all manner of people raising a stink.

I do believe that we must reach a point where we recognize that from the atheist's standpoint, the earth isn't flat, it's sad that it offends people, but we need to move to a different level of discussion.

Although I admit, while poking fun of flat-earthers doesn't help solve the problem, it can be very satisfying.

You mean the earth ain't flat????!!!!!!

I'm CRUSHED.

Hah! I'm sorry I was the one to break it to you, Dave.

Does this question have an inbuilt bias?

"Can theists be good?"

How about this? -

"Can theists ever be expected to join the real world?"

(Get my drift?)

No; obviously you don't get mine, either. The proper rhetorical question from an atheist designed to puncture through certain tendencies in atheist criticism of Christians, is:

"Can theists be smart?"

[your second proposed statement more closely approaches this]

It's exactly the same dynamic. Many atheists think not, and so the question draws them in, out of curiosity if nothing else, to see how any atheist could possibly think a theist was smart.

The same dynamic applies to political conservatives and pro-lifers and creationists: all are fashionably considered dumb and clueless simply by virtue of having these beliefs.

Dave:

If you believe as you espoused, that no one has the right to NOT be insulted, I really don't know what you are going on about. I may find religious people bashing at my door trying to convert me to the worship of the almightly "holy grail and holy python" to be insulting, but I usually deal with them in a polite manner.

I may find "in god we trust" to be insulting. Especially on money. Ugghh. That an omnipotent being would be happy advertising money, shampoo or garden equipment is beyond me. However, I am under no obligation to treat people politely as long as my actions do not contravene law.

I am only obligated in a legal sense AND according to what benefit I may perceive if I respect the other person's position, or how much empathy I may feel for the other person's feelings. Frankly, I am insulted every day by what some people do according to their religious beliefs. Or according to what they believe their religion espouses. But, I do not have a right to be protected to NOT be insulted by this.

* * *

I would prefer a question without prejudice or bias. Especially if people are intent on conducting their discussions in goodwill.

Ok. So the question sucks. It has an inbuilt bias because I was trying to use the inbuilt bias of some theists to get them to read this post. Notice, however, that my actual questions at the end of the post are descriptive and do not hold a bias (I think), but rather are intended to debunk a common fallacy (namely the fallacy of condemnation by association and the assumption that atheist are, by definition immoral) through description rather than argument. This is how I really feel about the question as posted on the "How to Talk to Atheists" post:

I'm glad if beepbeep wasn't offended. I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible about the topic, but it seems from comments on the new article that I have offended some anyway. Oh well.

I do agree that many Christians think atheism is a precursor to all sorts of corruption personal and social. I think both "Can Atheist be Good?" and "Can Theists be Good?" are silly questions. Of course they can using the conventionaly idea of "a basically good person".

Given the doctrine of the Fall prevalent in Christianity, I should wonder why believers even ask this question. They should, from our own doctrines, simply assume no one can be totally good, even ourselves (and especially ourselves, given our call for authenticity). I will go on record here as saying I do not think I am a good person, so there is no point in me condeming anyone else for not being good. Absent grace and later perfection, isn't everyone "sinner" and "saint" to some degree? If such is true, there is no value in proving our faith or the condemning others based on ethics or morality.

And then there are all these other questions: What do we mean by good? Is there any promise that they will always be good? How can I make sure others around me are also trying to be good? Etc.

But the conversation [here] promises to be good, and might unearth some understanding in the process, so it was worth asking a silly question to do some digging.

Perhaps it's time to talk about renaming the post if it's still a problem. My intent has never been to answer such a stupid question as "can atheists be good", but use it as a hook of sorts like any newpaper headline so the real questions could be asked.

Dave Armstrong and beepbeep both brought up important issues in their own right, soulster and I have both addressed them, . . .

I find it interesting that soulster is willing to change the title of his post on the grounds that an atheist finds it offensive (even on grounds that I think are highly questionable because it greatly misunderstands soulster's intent).

The main critic of his title (beepbeep) takes pains to argue that no one has the "right" to be offended. Yet he keeps being offended by the title (and, I think, on unreasonable grounds). Both soulster and myself have, I think, adequately explained why the title was used.

On the other hand, drunkentune is unwilling to remove the picture that both soulster and I have argued is severely offensive to Christians, because it mocks one of our sacred symbols.

Takes two parties cooperating in the effort to achieve mutual respect, dontcha think?

No need to revive some huge controversy. I'm just rendering my opinion. And with that, I'll cease on this topic.

Overall, I do think it's very good that we talk and even disagree vigorously. Better to talk about things, even if they can't be totally resolved to everyone's satisfaction, than not to talk at all. It's a beginning. We can't expect to split the atom on the first day of trying to do so. The effort and willingness are the most important things at this early stage.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stanley Kubrick's "2001 A Space Odyssey" + Pink Floyd's "Echoes"

Now THIS is cool! I do think, however, that the radical atonal music in the original movie scene is even more effective. One of my favorite movies of all time. I got to see a restored version of the film about five years ago at the Detroit Institite of Arts, on a wide screen. James Earl Jones was there in person to introduce it.

I admit I'm getting carried away, having just figured out how to post You Tube videos on my blog. But it won't be (per my earlier critique of lack of substance on blogs) to the exclusion of serious theological / philosophical / historical / ethical discussion.
Stephen Colbert interviews Richard Dawkins

This is hilarious. Why not have fun with the atheist-Christian debates? I'm all for it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Does Anyone Do Apologetics and/or Theology Anymore?

This post is simply to ask if anyone knows of some good blogs (particularly Protestant ones, other than the anti-Catholic nonsense) that still do apologetics and attempt to defend a particular Christian point of view.

The big thing now in blogdom is politics and culture and fun-loving stuff (even some Catholic apologists, strangely enough, seem to major in those things now and hardly even do apologetics), which is fine, but I think that serious discussion about comparative Christian theology and apologetics is also enjoyable and fun, as well as educational and (at least potentially) edifying. It's so bad that I can hardly find good Protestant blogs where the person is willing to discuss theology with someone who differs, in an amiable, constructive way. I know they must be out there somewhere. It's true that I haven't looked real hard lately, but that's mainly because it is so time-consuming. Hence, I'm asking for suggestions.

The Reformed blogs I've seen (not an exhaustive list by any means) seem to roughly fall into two camps: the anti-Catholics and the so-called "Reformed Catholics" who seem to get a charge out of mocking Catholic converts and Cardinal Newman, and doing apologetics for their position while oddly claiming to eschew apologetics in general (which they, of course, allegedly uniquely rise above). Others seem to concentrate mainly on predestination or inter-Calvinist squabbles, which is usually about as exciting to an outsider as, say, watching the grass grow or studying the clock for an hour. Where are the Reformed sites of wider scope that will defend their position and talk intelligently to Catholics (or for that matter, Arminians) about theology?

Lutherans (again, in my admittedly limited experience) seem similar. There are the anti-Catholics or the quasi-anti-Catholics who seem to be obsessed with Catholics and would rather make fun of us and caricature than talk to us (I have less than no interest in that). Then there are the more "moderate" and ecumenical ones. You see these guys often writing about beer or whether Lutherans have a sense of humor, or Luther's gastro-intestinal problems, and equally silly stuff (all in fun and self-deprecating humor, of course). I love German culture, and Wagner and Beethoven and the black forest and the Alps and the Rhine River. My parish church is a German Gothic revival cathedral. My wife is partly German and Austrian. I could even rightly be regarded as a Germanophile.

But I look around every once in a while to see if someone is writing about theology and/or apologetics. Does anyone know of some good (non-anti-Catholic) Lutheran blogs that still do that regularly (not just once in a blue moon)? Or generic evangelical blogs? Some additional Anglican sites (i.e., people who still believe what Anglicanism traditionally stood for) would be good to know about too.

I confess that I am getting a bit intellectually bored and would love to discover some new challenging, thoughtful folks who like to discuss all areas of theology: people who are confident in their position and willing to defend it and subject it to scrutiny, while not being haughty and disdainful of those who differ.

PLEASE; any suggestions would be most welcome (any additional tidbits or descriptions of blogs would be appreciated too).

[and note that I use a little bit of stereotypical humor above in very broadly generalizing. No offense or insult to anyone is intended. I'm just frustrated at what I perceive as too-frequent lack of theological / philosophical / historical substance. I know there must be some, even many blogs of the sort that I am looking for (and I do have a great deal of respect and affection for my Protestant brethren), which is precisely why I'm asking for some recommendations. I find it ironic and interesting, too, that atheist blogs seem, for the most part, more interested in serious discussion and important topics than many Christian blogs]

Is the "Strong" Logical Argument From Evil Largely Discredited If Not Dead, Or Alive & Well? (Atheist Confusion)

[photo to the left: atheist philosophy professor Graham Oppy]

[for general, philosophically-lay-level background, see my paper: Alvin Plantinga's Decisive Refutation of the Atheist Use of the Problem of Evil as a Disproof of God's Existence, Goodness, or Omnipotence (+ Discussion) ]

Atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder (prime mover behind the influential "Internet Infidels / Secular Web" network) maintains that the former position is currently widely accepted:
Ever since Alvin Plantinga refuted J.L. Mackie's logical argument from evil, the majority of contemporary philosophers of religion have come to believe that logical arguments from evil are unsuccessful. This opinion is not unanimous, however. Philosophers Richard Gale, Quentin Smith, and Howard Jordan Sobel challenge the conventional view regarding the prospects for logical arguments from evil. Indeed, Smith has formulated a new version of the logical argument from evil to avoid the pitfalls of Mackie's argument. Nevertheless, many philosophers remain highly skeptical regarding logical arguments from evil.

(Logical Arguments for Atheism: Logical Arguments from Evil)
van inwagen

Theist philosopher Peter van Inwagen
[hear a talk of his on the problem of evil]

It's interesting that even some of those who argue against Plantinga's famous free will defense, do not purport to have totally, decisively overthrown or refuted it. For example, philosopher Quentin Smith writes about his colleague Richard Gale's attempts (both men are mentioned above):
Gale points out that his argument is not conclusive . . . the analogies may not be sufficiently strong. Nonetheless, Gale thinks his argument has some force against Plantinga's free will defense. But does it? . . . I think Plantinga's free will defense can survive this attack.

Gale has much more to say about the problems with Plantinga's free will defense, none of which he thinks conclusively refutes the defense.

(A Sound Logical Argument from Evil, from pp. 148-157 of Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language, Yale University Press, 1997)
Smith thinks his own rebuttal does succeed where Gale's fails, but it is interesting to note what he says about the other attempt, and how Gale himself regards his own efforts; he writes:
Obviously, any analogy between man and God will be an imperfect one, since there are such striking disanalogies between the two. For this reason I do not see my argument as in any way conclusive. At best, it might take the smirk off the face of a Free Will Defender and replace it with a worried grin.

(Freedom and the Free Will Defense; originally published in Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall 1990; emphases added)
Noted atheist philosopher Graham Oppy elaborates similarly on the current consensus about this particular version of the atheological argument from evil:
. . . it is one thing to suppose that 'the problem of evil' has some kind of justificatory role in non-theistic rejection of theistic beliefs; it is quite another question whether 'the problem of evil' poses some kind of insuperable problem for reasonable theistic belief . . . While it seems clearly reasonable for non-theists to allow 'the problem of evil' to have some role in their reasons for rejecting traditional Western theism, it is much less obvious that it is reasonable for non-theists to claim that 'the problem of evil' raises insuperable difficulties for theists.

In her book, Weisberger argues a case for the stronger claim, i.e. Weisberger argues for the conclusion that 'the problem of evil' amounts to a disproof of the existence of the god of traditional Western theism. For various reasons, I think that her case is not quite as strong as she supposes, and that she doesn't manage to establish that anyone who is both reasonable and fully apprised of the facts about the amounts, kinds, and distribution of evils in the world will deny the existence of the god of traditional Western theism.

. . . Perhaps the main fault which I find with the overall line which Weisberger takes lies in her appeals to the burden of proof. It seems to me that the right method here is to formulate the competing views - i.e. theistic and non-theistic theories of the world - and then to ask which one is best supported by the total available evidence. If theists can reasonably suppose that they have lots of evidence which supports the claim that God exists, then they may reasonably believe that there is a solution to 'the problem of evil', even if they do not know what that solution is. To insist, that theists have to provide a satisfactory theodicy or else abandon their theism, is to fail to pay proper regard to 'the principle of total evidence'.

(Review of Weisberger, A. [1999] "Suffering Belief: Evil and the Anglo-American Defence of Theism," Toronto Studies in Religion 23, New York: Peter Lang, pp. xvi+245)
David O'Connor is a non-theist professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University. His book God and Inscrutable Evil: In Defense of Theism and Atheism (Lanham/London, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998) was reviewed by Dean Stretton (2001). Note how O'Connor, too, doesn't regard the logical problem of evil as a conclusive, unanswerable refutation of theism:

In the shorter part II, O'Connor moves to discussion of direct empirical arguments from evil (namely, those whose evidential base comprises certain facts of evil), and in particular the argument formulated by William Rowe. O'Connor then considers the skeptical defense of theism advocated by Stephen Wykstra and others, and concedes that this defense not only succeeds to a large degree against Rowe's argument, but also refutes (or at least justifiably departs from) the assumptions of the standard model of debate on the problem of evil, and thus undermines the indirect empirical argument of part I as well. This is the defense of theism referred to in the subtitle. The facts of evil, O'Connor says, constitute sustaining evidence for atheism (p.211), in the sense that someone who is already an atheist will regard those facts as further reason to remain an atheist (since those facts are just what we would expect if atheism were true); but those facts do not settle or even tend to settle the debate in favour of atheism, since, as the skeptical defence shows, the facts of evil are equally what we would expect if theism were true (or at least are not particularly surprising given theism).

O'Connor thus argues, in the end, for a "detente" between "friendly theism and friendly atheism"- the term "friendly" denoting "each side's recognition of failure to either refute the other [side] or to gain decisive cognitive advantage over it" (p.227). "[T]heism," he says, can be justified for certain persons in certain circumstances, atheism for others in other circumstances" (p.xi); thus the need for an "intellectually tolerant, live-and-let-live view" on the issue of God's existence (p.236).
Atheist Dave Holloway concurs:
Historically, and in terms of popularity, the argument from evil (AE) is the most important argument of any argument that has attempted to justify disbelief in the existence of a God. Philosophers from Epicurus to J.L. Mackie have put forth the argument; theologians from Augustine to Plantinga have taken the problem seriously and attempted to grapple with it.

The classic statement of the argument maintains that the existence of God, defined as all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, is incompatible with the existence of evil in the world. Atheologians historically stated this as a deductive argument, attempting to show that the following statements are inconsistent:

(1) God is all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2) God is all-good.

(3) Evil exists.

However, this approach is generally regarded as unsuccessful. The logical compatibility of 1-3 can be seen when one considers that (1) and (2) entail, respectively,

(4) God could prevent evil unless evil is logically necessary.

(5) God would prevent evil unless God is morally justified in allowing it.

(4) and (5) combined entail

(6) Evil exists only if it is logically necessary or morally justified.

which is compatible with (1) and (2).

Because of the general perceived failure of this approach, the focus has shifted to evidential arguments from evil.

(Skeptical Theism and the Evidential Argument From Evil; bolded emphases added)
The former Christian and doctoral candidate in philosophy "exapologist" (these ubiquitous and unnecessary Internet nicknames will be the death of me) concedes less than all that but still takes a view far less triumphant than traditional post-"Enlightenment" atheism:
[A]pologists are being misleading when they claim that Plantinga has refuted the deductive argument from evil. At best, he's shown that we can't be confident that the deductive argument from evil is sound.

(Some {Temporarily} Final Thoughts About the Free Will Defense)

What, then, does Plantinga's Free Will Defense really show? In light of the previous discussion, just this: for people who aren't theologically conseverative Christians, it's not conclusively ruled out as impossible that the Free Will Defense saves theism from the logical problem of evil . . .

(On the Force of "Possibly" in Plantinga's Free Will Defense)

Now based on what I understand so far of the current literature on this clarification, the FWD is still problematic even on the correct construal (though I can't say so with any confidence yet).

(blog comment under the above paper)
But alas, there is division in Atheist-Land, and not all realize what has occurred in philosophy and philosophy of religion in the past 40-50 years. Steven Conifer, a sharp, zealous young atheist (whom I have debated at least three times: one / two / three), confidently states:
Conversely, many atheological arguments, such as the Argument from Evil, Theodore Drange's Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion, various incompatible-properties arguments, and the Lack-of-Evidence Argument (which is based on the very assertion that there exists no good objective evidence for God's existence) have never, to my knowledge, been seriously challenged.

(The Argument from Reason for the Nonexistence of God, 2001)
[Note: I debated Dr. Drange regarding his "ANB" argument, too; I don't think I did that bad of a job, seeing that I am a mere layman with the formal experience of eight to ten college philosophy classes going against a philosophy professor]

John W. Loftus, former (semi-heretical sect) Church of Christ pastor-turned-atheist and blogmaster of Debunking Christianity, throws all restraint and nuance to the wind when he writes about the current philosophical status of the logical problem of evil:
The Logical Problem of Evil Is Still Very Much Alive! [title of post]

Of course, this is nothing new to educated people, but I still read where Christians proclaim the logical problem of evil is dead. What gives? In the future if someone says such an ignorant thing, refer them here, and to the books listed below.

. . . Most Christians claim the logical problem has been solved, but there are still versions of the logical problem of evil that have not been sufficiently answered. There are those written by Quentin Smith, "A Sound Logical Argument From Evil;" Hugh LaFollette, "Plantinga on the Free Will Defense;" Richard La Croix, "Unjustified Evil and God's Choice" [all to be found in The Impossibility of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier (Prometheus Books, 2003)], Richard Gale's On the Nature and Existence of God (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 98-178, and Graham Oppy's book Arguing About Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 262-268, who argues at length for the thesis that Plantinga's treatment of the logical problem of evil is inconsistent in several respects. See also A.M. Weisberger's critique of Plantinga's free will defense in her book Suffering Belief (Peter Lang, 1999), pp. 163-184. Just because Plantinga answered Mackie's formulation, and just because Mackie admitted it, doesn't mean that all formulations have been answered, or that others agree with Mackie's admission.

Christian people like to tout any successes they have since they have so few. But it's propaganda, plain and simple, and based on out of date information.

(blog article of 10-26-06)
At the risk of showing how un-"educated" and "ignorant" I am, I beg to differ, based on what we have seen above. The fact is that Plantinga accomplished about as much as anyone can expect a philosopher to achieve, visa-vis his peers: he caused a major change of perception regarding what was previously thought to be a virtually unanswerable weapon in the atheist arsenal. Very few philosophers (theist and atheist alike) are able to manage that.

Of course
there will be continued replies and arguments and claims of some that Plantinga failed in what he is widely-perceived to have done. We expect this, but it doesn't change the fact that the consensus (which is not, as we know, itself decisive, but certainly something to be taken into consideration) is that the traditional logical argument has been seriously weakened: particularly in the premature dogmatism of its classically-triumphalistic atheist claims.

I've documented above how Quentin Smith didn't think that Gale succeeded in refuting Plantinga. Gale himself admitted the same regarding a 1990 version of his critique. We also observed how Oppy thought that Weisberger's argument against the logical argument from evil (1999) was too ambitious and failed in some key respects. He certainly didn't think that the logical rgument trumped all feeble theist replies, since he wrote [see above for sources and more context]:
. . . it is quite another question whether 'the problem of evil' poses some kind of insuperable problem for reasonable theistic belief . . . it is much less obvious that it is reasonable for non-theists to claim that 'the problem of evil' raises insuperable difficulties for theists.
Perhaps Oppy has changed his mind in the ensuing years (I don't know), but that is what he thought then, at any rate. The fact remains that Plantinga and other influential theistic philosophers in the last 40 years or so, have changed the very nature and emphases of the debate. Atheists used to run around with an attitude of complete superiority and the thought that theist philosophers were basically (though not stated as bluntly) ignorant, outdated troglodytes and intellectual neophytes and pretenders, improperly mixing mere religion in with supposed theistic "philosophy."

Bertrand Russell even went so far as to say that Christianity and philosophy were altogether incompatible and contrary, so that even St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine could not be considered philosophers in any reasonable sense of the word. Those heady days of atheist hubris (along with ludicrous positivism) are long gone, praise be to God!

I don't know about the other people that Loftus mentions above, but if he got it that wrong concerning three of them, I suspect that he is exaggerating about one or more of the others, too. Yet Loftus kept up his insults and exaggerations in comments on my blog about my article on Alvin Plantinga (cited at the top of this post):
Since you seem so well-read, have you read A.M.Weisberger's Suffering Belief? She's written over 40 pages on the Free Will Defense. Have you read the essays in The Impossibility of God? I don't think so. There are still versions of the logical problem of evil that have not been answered, by Quentin Smith, Richard La Croix, and Richard Gale. Just because Plantinga answered Mackie's formulation, and just because Mackie admitted it, doesn't mean that all formulations have been answered. This is just bogus. But Christian philosophers like to tout any successes they have till their blue in the face, since they have so few. But it's propaganda, plain and simple, coming from an old boys club of guys who hang around togethers in the Society of Christian Philosophers.

(10-13-06)
Right. Well, he is entitled to his opinion. But professional philosophers and other atheists don't agree that Christian philosophers have fared so poorly or that the logical argument from evil has not been significantly refuted insofar as it claimed to be an absolute disproof of God's existence and of the supposedly inherently illogical nature of Christian belief. Loftus's colleague and fellow blogger, the agnostic Edward T. Babinski, who has a BS degree in science, outdoes even Loftus's triumphalism: he thinks that he refuted Plantinga (one of the most highly-regarded philosophers alive today) with a phone call and one "difficult" question.

As I believe I noted in my previous paper on the topic, philosopher James R. Beebe, in his Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, "The Logical Problem of Evil", reiterates the position for which I have been contending:
Since the logical problem of evil claims that it is logically impossible for God and evil to co-exist, all that Plantinga (or any other theist) needs to do to combat this claim is to describe a possible situation in which God and evil co-exist. That situation doesn't need to be actual or even realistic. Plantinga doesn't need to have a single shred of evidence supporting the truth of his suggestion. All he needs to do is give a logically consistent description of a way that God and evil can co-exist. Plantinga claims God and evil could co-exist if God had a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. He suggests that God's morally sufficient reason might have something to do with humans being granted morally significant free will and with the greater goods this freedom makes possible. All that Plantinga needs to claim on behalf of (MSR1) and (MSR2) is that they are logically possible (that is, not contradictory).

Does Plantinga's Free Will Defense succeed in describing a possible state of affairs in which God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil? It certainly seems so. In fact, it appears that even the most hardened atheist must admit that (MSR1) and (MSR2) are possible reasons God might have for allowing moral and natural evil. They may not represent God's actual reasons, but for the purpose of blocking the logical problem of evil, it is not necessary that Plantinga discover God's actual reasons . . . since (MSR2) deals with the logical problem of evil as it pertains to natural evil (which claims that it is logically impossible for God and natural evil to co-exist), it only needs to sketch a possible way for God and natural evil to co-exist. The fact that (MSR2) may be implausible does not keep it from being possible. Since the situation described by (MSR2) is clearly possible, it appears that it successfully rebuts the logical problem of evil as it pertains to natural evil.

Since (MSR1) and (MSR2) together seem to show contra the claims of the logical problem of evil how it is possible for God and (moral and natural) evil to co-exist, it seems that the Free Will Defense successfully defeats the logical problem of evil.

. . . The desire to see a theistic response to the problem of evil go beyond merely undermining a particular atheological argument is understandable. However, we should keep in mind that all parties admit that Plantinga's Free Will Defense successfully rebuts the logical problem of evil as it was formulated by atheists during the mid-twentieth-century.

If there is any blame that needs to go around, it may be that some of it should go to Mackie and other atheologians for claiming that the problem of evil was a problem of inconsistency. The ease with which Plantinga undermined that formulation of the problem suggests that the logical formulation did not adequately capture the difficult and perplexing issue concerning God and evil that has been so hotly debated by philosophers and theologians.

(bolded emphases added)
As for recent literature; well, that works both ways. Theists have made further arguments also; e.g., see:

The Problem of Evil, by Peter van Inwagen (Oxford University Press, 2006)

The Problem Of Evil And The Problem Of God, D. Z. Phillips (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2005)

Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, edited by Stephen T. Davis (Westminster John Knox Press; Revised edition, 2001)

Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion), Marilyn McCord Adams (Cornell University Press: 2000)

Providence and the Problem of Evil, Richard Swinburne (Oxford University Press, 1998)

The Problem of Evil (Oxford Readings in Philosophy), edited by [theists] Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford University Press, 1991), including articles by theistic philosophers Terence Penelhum, Alvin Plantinga, Stephen J. Wykstra, and John Hick