Ten Things Atheists Suggest Theists Should Bear in Mind

Our doughty and affable atheist commenter Taggard has patiently endured and amiably responded to a lot of attention from Orthospherean theists over the last few days, in long, intense, and – to me, anyway – interesting conversations in the comments of two recent posts. I always learn a lot from participating in such discussions, and these were no exceptions. Taggard provided us with two interesting links, one to a graphic that plots the differences between gnostic atheists and theists on the one hand – who believe they know enough to positively assert the nonexistence or existence of God, respectively – and their agnostic interlocutors, who believe they do not know enough to positively assert anything about the existence of God.

The other was to a list of ten things atheists think theists should bear in mind when they are conversing. This post is a response to that list, which is reproduced below in full. If you plan on reading what follows, it will help first to peruse the graphic Taggard provided:

Agnostic v Gnostic v Atheist v Theist

Makes sense, no? I had never seen it before.

Here then is the list that Taggard linked, with my responses:

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

The atheist as Taggard construes him – the agnostic atheist – does not know enough yet to warrant either the claim of the theist that there is a God, or of the gnostic atheist that there is no God. From the agnostic atheist’s perspective, both claims are equally extraordinary, and require equally extraordinary evidence.

Strictly speaking the agnostic atheist has no evidence at all, one way or the other; nothing, at any rate, that he considers proper evidence. If he had any, he would not remain an atheist, but would instead commit himself either to gnostic atheism or to theism.

The agnostic atheist has nothing he is trying to prove. He is not making any claims at all about whether or not God exists. So not only does the burden of proof not fall on him, but he needn’t provide a single jot of evidence of any sort. He has no dog in this fight; has no substantive argument either with theists or gnostic atheists, but rather only isolated methodological disputes over the cogency of the items of evidence they propose.

Thus unless the agnostic atheist or the theist forget for a moment that the former doesn’t claim that there is no God, this point never pertains to their discussions.

It would be interesting to theists here whether agnostic atheists such as Taggard have ever sallied forth against the arguments and evidences proposed by gnostic atheists, or if they reserve their efforts to repudiating those of theists. What is the agnostic atheist methodological critique of the proposition that there is no God?

2. Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

The notion that theism has not grappled with science is simply false. Theists have spent huge amounts of time and effort grappling with science. Why shouldn’t they? Science is a Christian invention, after all. I suppose it’s just that atheists haven’t read what theists have written on the subject.

In any case, theism is not vulnerable to challenge from science. That science should discover that the world works in one way rather than another has no bearing, and can have no bearing, on the question whether the world and the way that it works and the science thereof have their ultimate source in God. To think that the existence of God can be the proper subject of any empirical test is to commit a primitive category error.

Theism is not prescientific in the sense that it is ignorant of science, but rather in the sense that, as a doctrine in metaphysics, it is *prior* to science. Why do atheists so rarely seem to get this? It’s so basic, and so easy.

3. There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

No kidding. An atheist who finds himself debating with an apologist for theism who thinks otherwise is dealing with a neophyte at the same sophomoric level as the apologist for atheism who thinks that theism is susceptible to empirical disproof.

Notwithstanding that, the falsity of theism would entail the falsity of all theistic creeds. So arguing for a prime mover is a logically indispensable first step in arguing for any particular creed. If you are a theist, you are not necessarily a Christian. But if you are a Christian, you are necessarily a theist; so that if you are not a theist, you are necessarily not a Christian.

4. An atheist is under no obligation to take your theology seriously. It’s your belief, you need to justify it in secular terms. Just as a Hindu or a Scientologist would.

Likewise. Any suggestion that the world can explain itself, or cause itself (these amount to the same thing in practical terms), must justify itself without recourse to any extramundane factors in order to be taken seriously by those who hew to a simpler and more logical doctrine. No handwaving or recourses to mystery allowed. No childlike faith in the eventual omniscience of a finite assemblage of finite human minds – it’s a charming, boyish fancy, but no sane, worldly man can afford to indulge in it. Gödel demonstrated the impossibility of success in this fantastic project – no consistent formal language can completely account for itself – so it’s a tough row the secularist has set himself to hoe.

5. The problem of miracles is a serious challenge that must be overcome for any testimony or private revelation of the divine to be taken as veridical.

This cuts both ways, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what a thoroughgoing, consistent agnostic atheist would have to insist. So long as science has failed to nail down an *absolutely exhaustive and complete* naturalistic explanation for *absolutely everything,* naturalism has some serious challenges to overcome before it can be taken as veridical.

And as Gödel has shown, naturalism cannot overcome those challenges, because there can be no complete and consistently formalized Theory of Everything.

6. Faith is not [a sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.

This is true only if “faith” is taken to mean “belief in a proposition that cannot be defended rationally.” If that is what “faith” means, then:

  • It is true tautologically, by definition, and trivially.
  • Everyone has faith, including the atheist. There is no other way to think, because in order to get started with reasoning, we must perforce presuppose some axiom or other which we cannot but intuit to be true, even though we may not be quite sure why they are true; as for example the Law of Noncontradiction, or the Identity of Indiscernibles, or “cogito.”

But this is not in fact what “faith” means. Faith is the willing assent of the intellect to a proposition whose truth the intellect does not immediately see to be either intuitively obvious (such as the Law of Noncontradiction) or demonstrably true (such as that 2 + 2 = 4, or that there can be no more than one necessary being). We all have faith in thousands of propositions. E.g., when someone believes that Julius Caesar existed on the basis of the testimony of others, he has faith. Likewise, when someone believes that the Earth orbits the Sun without having made the necessary observations and worked out the math for himself, he has faith. Faith is not – thanks be to God – an unreasonable thing to do. If it was, we’d all be nuts.

7. The link between theism and morality has been conceptually (Euthyphro dilemma), empirically (evolutionary ethics), and culturally (morality existing without theism) discredited. Thus coupling God with the notion of Good is not only misleading, but trying to own a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

Begs the very question at issue. Stipulating to this, the theist would stipulate to atheism.

The link between theism and morality is not discredited.

  • The Euthyphro dilemma has force only on a definition of God that has always been rejected by theists as inapt, including Plato. Asking whether God or the Good came first is like asking whether God or the Prime Mover came first; it’s like asking whether 1 or 12 came first. If God is himself necessarily coterminous with the Good, it being incoherent to think otherwise, the Euthyphro dilemma does not arise.
  • The evolution of ethics is just what we would expect to find had happened to a stochastic procedure operating in a context where ethics for creatures were established ab initio by their creator, whether or not they cognized him as such. If anything, the evolution of ethics should be taken as a strong indication that God is the source of morality. Morality seems to be built into the math of the universe: as Whitehead says, “the instability of evil is the morality of the universe.”
  • Morality existing in the absence of an explicit and conscious avowal of theism is just what we would expect to find had happened to a stochastic procedure operating in a context where ethics for creatures were established ab initio by their creator, whether or not they cognized him as such.

If moral order really is moral – is, i.e., really and truly binding on us in an absolute sense, whether we like it or not – and is really order, then its source cannot be either immoral or disorderly, as the falsity of theism would entail that it is.

Identifying God with the Good is the only coherent way to think about him. A god who is evil would not be worthy of worship, and would not therefore qualify as God; for he would fail to meet the definition of God, who as the perfect being possesses all perfections perfectly, including the perfection of Goodness. If you aren’t thinking of God as identical with the Good, you aren’t thinking about God at all. Even the silly old Gnostics knew this. Honestly, this is so basic; it’s been common knowledge for 4,000 years.

8. Atheism is not materialism. Materialism is a scientific doctrine, while atheism is a stance on the position of gods. Arguing against materialism is not going to make the case for theism.

“Materialism is a scientific doctrine” is a basic category error. Materialism is a metaphysical doctrine (in ontology), like theism, and like theism or any other metaphysical doctrine is not itself susceptible to scientific falsification.

If materialism is true, there are no gods. Arguing against materialism is not arguing for theism, true; but if successful it is going to disprove a doctrine that rules out theism. If materialism is false, then theism might be true. If not, it can’t be.

9. Atheism is a conclusion, not a worldview. Atheism is not an answer to life, the universe, and everything – just the conclusion that theism isn’t.

Agnostic atheism isn’t a conclusion that theism is not the answer to life the universe, etc., but rather that the agnostic atheist himself doesn’t know that theism is or is not that answer. Taggard has no opinion about whether or not theism is or is not that answer. He is in the dark.

Thus agnostic atheism is not a conclusion at all. It is rather a radical openness to persuasion on the question of theism.

10. Attack the arguments for what is said, not what isn’t. Though this should apply to everyone – not just theists. Arguing against interpretations not in the text is setting up a caricature, as is arguing against uncharitable interpretations of what is said.

Amen. E.g., arguments against the Flying Spaghetti Monster are tilting at windmills. The FSM has nothing to do with the theist proposal.

41 thoughts on “Ten Things Atheists Suggest Theists Should Bear in Mind

  1. Pingback: Ten Things Atheists Suggest Theists Should Bear in Mind | Reaction Times

  2. Boy, I had been wondering when I should bust out the ontological argument, and now I know.

    Incidentally, atheists shouldn’t ask for Christians to justify their religion in the same manner as Hindus. If the Christians ever got as persuasive as the Hindus, atheism would be wiped out of all Western countries…

    • Hi zhai. I’m hijacking your thread.

      I’m a nihilist. I don’t like agnostic atheists. They make me feel very alone. So please pardon my language. If you’re a theist, please don’t talk to me. Theists intuitively accept that the universe is fundamentally absurd without their God. Therefore we have no qualms and I respect theists. I am only interested in atheists who are not nihilists. Agnostic atheists are a joke to me. They are pathetic to me. They are blind to their own religion, which is typically humanism. I deny humanism. It is just another religion with a different definition of god. I am the inhumanist. I deny god, humans, and everything else. It’s all beyond comprehension. I’ve studied physics, philosophy, theology—it’s all absurd. Everything is absurd. The entire cosmos—that it should be, that it is the way it is, that I am experiencing it– all absurd. All you have to do is stop being religious. Stop being a humanist. Deny yourself. Skeptics are not taking their methodology far enough.

      1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

      That was a claim. It is an interesting claim. It is a dumb f*cking claim. Do dumb f*cking claims require dumb f*cking evidence? Most people read the things I ask and dismiss them because they cannot let go of their humanity. Bad language, oh noes! They cling to manners and form. They dismiss the madness. Feelings all hurty! Think about it. Do dumb claims require dumb evidence? Do funny claims require funny evidence? It seems Taggard has bitten into one of those slogans that get promoted without much thought. They sell well on the NY Times Best Sellers list.

      What is extraordinary? Does the humanist get to define extraordinary? Or was there a vote? Are theist claims more extraordinary than atheist claims? Is emergent property ordinary? Are fractals ordinary? Are quantized electron voltages ordinary? Are inertial frames ordinary? If you’re not a human like me, then no. Relativism is not extraordinary. It just is. It is just fact. It is not any other way. Without you there nagging “that’s extraordinary” like the trifling noise you are, it is ordinary. Ordinarily meaningless, like the rest of it.

      6. Faith is not [a sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.

      What is a sound epistemology? I’ve yet to find one. I’ve studied them all. Every epistemology ever written in the history of human kind. I suppose Taggard knows what a sound epistemology is? Would it care to share it? Is there an epistemology that comes along with agnostic atheism? I believe there is. It is called sniveling cowardice. But that’s just my opinion. I am nothing. Another noise.

      7. The link between theism and morality has been… discredited…

      Neither is there a credit to agnostic atheism’s account for morality. There is no credit to any non-religious account of morality. By atheist standards, morality is the very definition of religion: a made up book written by men to control the masses. Yeah, that’s what they say about Bibles, but they won’t say that about morality. Well… some do. Then I stop feeling so lonely when they say morality is made up. But my feelings are quickly crushed. Nobody who admits morality is nonsense dares to live that way, like I do. Therefore I end up lonely again. They also think I am a monster. I am only living out what they cannot bring themselves to do. I am only going where they cannot go, because their humanism blocks the way. Their pathetic little religion, with their pathetic little god. Cowards! Here is the simple truth: morality does not exist. If you don’t believe in gods because there is no evidence, then why would you believe in morality, since there is no evidence for it? It’s never been found under a microscope. It’s not a law. It’s not a scientific doctrine. It’s not testable. It’s not there! The humanist simply redefines morality to fit his comforts. He clings to it. He needs it. And this is where we discover the name of the humanist’s silly little god. It is him! He defines morality. Except, like the pathetic little creature that he is, he didn’t will it himself. No will to power. No, it “evolved” in him. So it’s not even his own delusion. It’s a mass delusion he inherited, like a moo-cow, a funny sound that comes out of his mouth one way, and then out of another’s mouth another way: Might doesn’t make right, mooo makes right. “Moooooo?” “Baaah!”

      8. Atheism is not materialism.

      Of course not. That’s because “atheists” cling to their immaterial religious doctrines so dearly. Free will. Justice. Human rights. Medical ethics. Law. Morality. Reason. Human value. Humans are nothing more than matter, just like trees and rocks. Right? No. Humans are special. Humans can go, “Mooooooo! I’m a man! I’m special! Moooooo!” That makes them special. Right? HA! All those values are religious. Not a shred of evidence for their existence. Not ordinary evidence. Not extraordinary evidence. Not dumb f*cking evidence. Not funny evidence. No evidence.

      I once met another inhumanist. I asked him if he believed in “good.” He said no. He said the closest thing you can do to something that is “good” is to kill yourself. REJOICE! DIE!

      Want to know what’s funny? It’s true for the theists here. That’s why I have no beef with them. They accept that truth. They know they must die. It is the only good that can be found for them. It is the access to knowing goodness. John 3. Galatians 2:20. Luke 9:23. Mark 8:35. Romans 6. John 12.

      • Cool gravatar, inhumanist.

        You’re right about theism and death, you know. Theism in practice as a religion is death done right: intentionally, carefully, lovingly. That is to say that it is life done right: bushido without enemies. As 11:59 PM is to 12:01 AM, as iconoclasm is to iconodulia, so is true honest nihilism to omnism.

        What’s your favorite Kierkegaard book?

  3. I don’t understand the point of debating atheists. All this intellectual discussion about atheism vs faith is nothing more than smart guy porn. You talents could be better used rooting out heretics that rob Christians blind (focus on the family and others) and building strong families and communities through promotion of the Pauline model of the Christian family. Stop with the intellectual masturbation and tilting at atheists. The church will die if you don’t root out the enemies at home.

    • The point of debating atheists is that it can bring souls to Christ. Not the atheists themselves, most likely, although that happens all the time, too, but mostly readers who observe the conversation. Many of them will never have heard the arguments before, and will be surprised – and pleased, or relieved – to hear that there is a rational case for theism. This is true for many Christians, too, or even most, perhaps. Such folks can find their hearts and minds opening to the Lord as a result. I’ve heard from some of them that this is so, who reading such arguments have been led to seek out baptism. You’d be surprised how many people are on the fence, and are looking for a way to believe.

      Apologetics can get old, I agree. Same old arguments and counterarguments, every time. I often find it a bit of a slog these days. But when the opportunity arises, I still go for it, because *you never know.* Plus I do almost always end up learning something from the process.

      There’s no reason that apologetics and evangelization need to conflict with rebuilding the tradition, building strong families or communities, and so forth. On the contrary; for, converts and reverts tend to be the most ardent traditionalists of all.

      So thanks, but I’m going to keep at it when the opportunity arises. St. Peter has ordered me to do so.

    • I don’t comment on this site because the arguments are above me but I come here often. I woke up one day and realized that whilst I was an atheist of conviction I wasn’t one of reason. I had absorbed via cultural osmosis all the popular tropes of my society (England) against God and religion and for a long while wallowed very comfortably in the unearned warmth of an ‘enlightenment’ I discovered I couldn’t express. No doubt this realization is as much a reflection on my intellectual ability as it is on society and culture but consider how many people like me might be hiding in the wings out there? In the England at my cultural level these questions are considered answered, where else can people go for a different answer but places like this?

      Also canned theistic arguments are all well and good but don’t underestimate the benefit of seeing real life theists in action, of getting a flavor of the person behind the arguments. I’m thinking of a party I went to recently where discussing the film ‘Philomena’ the speaker offered the group her opinion “It just goes to show how evil and self righteous religious people are” murmurs of approval followed. A metaphysical argument however well expressed embalmed on a page fortified against rebuttal is surely a poor defense against this sort of thing.

      Whilst I remain an irrational atheist grappling more with the question than the answer even if I’m not up to argument yet the confidence and quality of argument here defies easy dismissal. Obviously armor plated atheists aren’t an easy catch, why should they be? Are they really all you’re after though?

      • Amen.

        Obviously armor plated atheists aren’t an easy catch, why should they be? Are they really all you’re after though?

        No, they are not. We are after people like you, too, Baxter, and also wavering or heterodox Christians, or those who are faithful and orthodox but confused or mistaken about what the Church teaches, and why. Almost everyone who believes he has a problem or disagreement with Christianity really has a problem with something or other *that the Church does not actually teach.* Either that, or he is operating under some mistaken – indeed, often incoherent or self-refuting – notions about science, metaphysics, or man.

        I’ll offer an example. I stumbled on an atheist’s blog the other day, and he was trumpeting his knockdown argument against Christianity: that it was just absurd to believe as Christians do that God would damn billions of people to eternal torment who had never believed the right doctrines, even if they had never heard the Gospel. Just one problem: the Church doesn’t teach that.

        You are right that some people cannot be reached by argument: those who hate Christianity or religion with an irrational hate, or whose minds are simply and stubbornly made up, and impregnable to new information. The latter sort can be moved only by a demonstration of the incoherence of their notions; it’s the only sort of thing that will disturb their equanimity enough to get them thinking. The former sort, exemplified by the speaker at the seminar you attended, cannot be moved by any argument. They can however be moved by personal acquaintance with a Christian who is reasonable and charitable, particularly when his life and comportment are on the whole and manifestly holy, righteous, good. Such personal witness can be extremely influential, especially upon a group of friends who see the formerly dissolute, unhappy life of one of their number transformed by a conversion to faith.

        Thanks for your comment, Baxter. I’m glad you find the Orthosphere helpful. Please feel free to chime in, comment and ask questions. If you find an argument here difficult to understand, please ask for clarification. You won’t be the only one wanting it.

  4. Of these items, the only one that interests me is #7. The link between morality and religion is absolutely undeniable based on historical evidence. Machiavelli discusses this in his “Discourses on Livy”. The only reason this link isn’t widely known is that modern culture has replaced facts with “reason” as if facts could be constructed by reason alone, and as a result, ignorance of history is widespread which allows liberal fantasies to exist.

    I’ll make brief comment about atheism from a non-Christian point of view. The problem with denying the gods is that each religion defines its own gods in its own way. Some religion may define God as cheesecake in which case atheism would be a denial of the existence of cheesecake. It is the lack of the definition of god(s) that makes the atheist position absurd. One cannot meaningfully deny the existence of something that is not defined. It is meaningful to deny a particular religion, for example saying that one isn’t Muslim or isn’t Christian, because religions are defined. But rejecting religion universally is just an expression of egotism which says that nothing outside of oneself can ever be more important than oneself.

  5. … theism is not vulnerable to challenge from science.

    Except that in practice, science has challenged theism in the minds of many people. The reason is that most theists are not classical Christian philosophers (Thomists and so on), nor is an essentially Thomistic or Platonic view of God required for theism.

    Similarly, when science discredits aspects of the Genesis account of creation traditionally understood, or renders a large part of it explanatorily superfluous (i.e., materialistic evolutionary theory, contemporary cosmology, and so on), this is a challenge.

    God, for most people, is not the God of the absolutist philosophers.

    • Sure. But then, I didn’t say that Genesis is not vulnerable to challenge from science. It certainly is, or at least it certainly seems to be. But we haven’t been talking about any particular theistic creed. Rather, we have been talking about theism in general: the doctrine that the God of the Philosophers exists. If theism in general is false, then so are all the theist creeds.

      • 1. Theism in general does not equal the doctrine that the God of the Philosophers exists! Theism is more complex than this.

        2. You are ignoring how atheism has developed in the West. A significant way is: You start by being told that Genesis is divinely inspired, and more generally, a set of standard Christian beliefs. You then find out that at least some of these beliefs seem wrong. You then lose the basis for your Christianity. This in turn leads to rejecting theism – the whole thing starts to seem silly. People don’t tend to operate by figuring out whether some God of the Philosophers exists, and then assenting to theism (or moving the other way). The lines of change tend not to be as abstract, bloodless, academic.

      • 1. Sure, there is a lot more to theism than just the notion that God exists. There is for one thing all the stuff about what we can properly mean by “God.” But whatever else theism involves, at the very least it involves belief in the existence of God, or of a god.

        2. I can’t answer all the objections of all the readers out there with every single blog post. Right now I’m talking with people who disbelieve, not just in YHWH, but in any god of any sort. One thing at a time.

      • 2. Yes, but their trajectory in the West is typically ‘Bible seems silly’ -> ‘Christian God doesn’t exist’ -> ‘no gods or God exists’. I presume you would be an atheist if you didn’t think something like the Christian God existed, and I think the difference between you and the sorts of atheists who frequent this blog is exactly the difference that makes you go from ‘there are no gods or God’ to ‘there is a Christian God’, but perhaps I am mistaken.

      • If I was not a Christian, I would still be a theist. Probably some sort of Neo-Platonist, like Plotinus. But then, the God of Plotinus is awfully like the Christian God, so …

  6. “If I was not a Christian, I would still be a theist. Probably some sort of Neo-Platonist, like Plotinus. But then, the God of Plotinus is awfully like the Christian God, so …”

    Exactly. I came to the realization lately that even if (God forbid) I were to lose my Christian faith, I am nevertheless utterly convinced of God’s existence philosophically. I can’t think of any way in which the way I live my life would change, except that I might not go to Mass any more.

    • The God of Plotinus is pretty much exactly the God of Philo. The God of Philo is the God of Moses. The God of Moses is Jesus. And there you have it.

      • Indeed. When I went through my agnosticism (about Christianity) stage, I always remained a Platonist. Philosophy was a tether that held me from flying toward the nihilistic abyss (by the way, I really enjoyed Inhumanist’s comment above). When I encounter jeremiads about philosophy’s relationship to Christianity, as with the (non-Mohammedan) reaction to Benedict XVI’s Regensburg speech — or, say, in Charlton’s frequent musings on the topic, I am tempted in reaction to state that my Platonism is prior to my Christianity and that I find dehellenized religion abhorent. But such is really absurd. Truth is truth; one path is not prior except _to us_ — in how we came to have a chance glimpse at that mighty spectacle.

      • Unfortunately, this can work backwards, from Jesus and Moses to Philo of Alexandria, who influenced the Church Fathers and who was a Jewish-Hellenistic syncretist with stoic views, to Plotinus. And from Plotinus to Ammonius Saccas, and from him to Plato and Aristotle. This is not bad company, but the chain leads away from the Hebrew roots of Christianity and the Bible, manifested, for example, in a distain for materiality and the body. Consider the tradition of Origen’s self-castration. Origen was said to be a pupil of Ammonius Saccas.

        Neither Moses, nor Jesus, nor Paul came to their faith and belief by philosophical methods or this chain of authority. Plotinus et al had no burning bush, no descent of the dove, and no road to Damascus experience.

        A syncretic system has been imposed on revealed religion, resulting in the bringing souls to the Western philosophical tradition, which is a venerable tradition, but which should not be confused with the Kingdom of God. Thus while some Orthospherians can conceive that they might lose their faith in Christ, they are absolutely rooted in Neo-Platonism, which they believe cannot be refuted by any means.

      • Who said anything about chains of authority? We were talking about doctrines of God. Those of Plotinus, Philo, the Apostles and Moses *really are* quite similar. This would be so no matter who had propounded them.

        A syncretic system has been imposed on revealed religion …

        It would be more accurate to say that a revealed religion has insisted from the beginning that it was itself both source and end of that syncretic system. Philo and the Fathers argued that Plato and Pythagoras learnt their doctrines from the Hebrews. It was a common opinion in the first century, at least in Palestine and Syria. So St. John and St. Paul felt comfortable couching Christianity in the technical language of Greek philosophy, which every educated Mediterranean learned in those days.

  7. Kristor,

    I think it might be more promising to lead people to doubt the reigning and default Naturalism. The easy and lazy equation of mind, brain and electronic computers they have precludes a serious belief in God. In fact, naturalism immunizes one against theism.

    The arguments for God are necessarily rather complex and require a framework that is itself not naturalistic. That’s why these theistic arguments generally fail to persuade moderns.

    We must lead them to look skeptically at the thesis of naturalism itself. Make them see that the minds are not brains, that they are not some fancy digital computer.

    Only then, the theistic arguments should proceed.

    • I totally agree that the complacent and naïve (indeed almost innocent) naturalism of the typical modern must be disturbed by radical doubt before he’ll ever give theistic arguments the time of day. But I doubt that philosophy of mind is the best approach. Very few moderns have even the slightest familiarity with the subject, and it is among the most abstruse and counterintuitive in philosophy.

      In my experience, the most vulnerable chink in their armor is moral relativism. It takes almost no education for someone to see the shaft of the reductio neatly skewering him through that aperture. E.g.: “So child sacrifice isn’t absolutely wrong then, is what you are saying. It’s only wrong if you *think* it is wrong. Right?”

      • Another opening could be to question the grand standing of the modern physics. Even far too many theists START from physics and treat the questionable and fleeting speculations of cosmology or quarks etc to be the most fundamental descriptions of reality.

        I suggest the approach of Fr Jaki, himself a physicist, to start with the Things. The things we see or hear or touch with our bare senses. All physics is built from the Things. And it is the Things that we should hold fundamental, and not Atoms or Quarks or photons.

        In fact, I doubt if one who starts with Atoms and Quarks, that person could be led to view the universe in Thomistic terms. Your four causes and finality and forms would always be some kinds of tricks to him.

      • Philosophy of mind was not what I had in mind, Something more on the Chestertonian lines.
        Philosophy itself is ever unlikely to move many, plus the current age is not amenable to the appeal of perennial philosophy. The reason itself is perverted and misdirected. And not because of some bad arguments or bad philosophy but due to an evil enchantment.

        When a person doubts his own self, and is unable to see and justify that he is not a machine, I very much doubt some correct philosophy of mind would help him.

  8. Kristor,

    I apologize for for this off-topic comment. You mentioned Wolfgang Smith- I happen to be currently reading his “Christian Gnosis.” Incidentally, I came to reject Scientism/materialism largely by way of reading Perennialist writers. Since then, I have struggled to affirm the compatibility of Christian theology with Perennialist nondual metaphysics. It seems to me that Smith along with some others like Jean Borella and Robert Bolton have moved to a more exclusive Christian position while still upholding a universalist point of view. Any thoughts?

    • I’ve read several of Smith’s books. I finished Christian Gnosis a couple months ago. Smith is Christian, orthodox, and traditionalist (and brilliant), so believes that in the Church is to be found the summit and integration of all truth. But as a Perennialist he would agree with CS Lewis and the Catechism that other faiths do indeed partake of truth inasmuch as, and insofar as, they echo or foreshadow the doctrines of Truth’s Body.

      I have not read Borella or Bolton.

      With respect to non-dual metaphysics vis-à-vis Christianity, I have for several months been pondering a post on Advaita Christianity. Stay tuned.

  9. Yes, there is a first step, theism-by-default for many Christians one supposes.
    Then they take the next step with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “[o]nce you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
    Or perhaps Sir Winston’s, “[i]t has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried,” attributable to the Count di Cavour. Replace democracy with Christianity, and government with metaphysical explanation.
    Christianity seems to me inevitable, for a life of principle. I occasionally dislike this conclusion–to my discredit–but it stays with me.

  10. Leo:

    You write, “Thus while some Orthospherians can conceive that they might lose their faith in Christ, they are absolutely rooted in Neo-Platonism, which they believe cannot be refuted by any means.”

    Speaking for myself, I did not mean that my Christian faith is less solid than my philosophical conclusion of God’s existence. I have no intention of ever giving up my faith, and do all I can to sustain it. I was only saying that as it stands now, even if I were to lose my faith, I would still believe in God’s existence, and I think my idea of God would stay pretty much the same, i.e., that he’s personal, all-powerful, goodness itself, etc., such that I believe I would continue living my life according to the same moral standards.

    I did not mean to say that my philosophical conclusion of God’s existence, and of his nature, is immune from refutation, whereas my Christianity might be lost at any moment. I was simply stating where I am at this stage in my thinking. At this stage I am a seriously devout Christian and also intellectually convinced that the Christian God exists, even apart from divine revelation.

    • Agellius,

      This is good to know. However, if a more adept philosopher somehow refuted your conclusions regarding God’s existence and nature, I would hope your faith in Jesus and practice of the morality of the New Testament might continue.

      Christianity cannot exist without divine revelation and still be Christianity. See Amos 3:7, 1 Cor. 2:9-14 & 12:3, Rev. 19:10, Alma 5:46-47, etc. In other words, Christianity must be founded on the prophets and apostles, with Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Otherwise is not Christianity. If it is founded on Plato and Aristotle, it is founded on sand.

  11. “if a more adept philosopher somehow refuted your conclusions regarding God’s existence and nature, I would hope your faith in Jesus and practice of the morality of the New Testament might continue.”

    By God’s grace may it be so.

    “If [Christian faith] is founded on Plato and Aristotle, it is founded on sand.”

    Yes. Faith is not a matter of being intellectually convinced. You’re preaching to the choir. : )

  12. I posted a response on the original site:

    I have for most of my life been vehemently and adamantly atheist. This is why I know how full of it you are.

    1. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in our human knowledge exists without depending on something(s) prior to it to create it and for its continued existence. Thus the atheist, who claims that all of existence exists absent a creative force (which is soft theism, if not of the Christian variety) must bear the burden of proof. The theist concludes logically that if everything has a creator there is a Creator which created everything else. The atheist concludes illogically that if everything has a creator then everything was ultimately created by nothing. That atheists don’t understand this illustrates how impossibly stupid they are. Some atheists do understand this; I personally admire their faith in atheism, which is far greater than my own faith in God.

    2. The scientific method, which is a direct inheritor of the philosophical tradition of Scholasticism, which was invented by the Catholic Church, has always and only ever confirmed those truths revealed by God in Scripture. Each new human realization about the natural world confirms things that were told to our ancestors by God when they lacked the tools to discover those truths for themselves. That there are discoverable truths (laws) at all illustrates that we live in an ordered, created reality, and that belief in an ordered, created reality the fundamental laws of which can be discovered is the entire reason we have “science” in the first place.

    3. True. However, the veracity and provenance of Christian Scripture passes absolutely every test ever devised to determine the historical veracity of a document or its original sources. We have far more evidence that the resurrected Christ appeared to the Apostles than we do that Caesar ever crossed the Rubicon.

    4. An atheist is under an obligation to take atheism seriously, see #1 for example.

    5. This is simply further evidence of the retarded state of the atheist intellect. If God exists, miracles have an easy explanation. You can’t claim a logical conclusion by assuming only the necessary prior, this is called post hoc ergo procter hoc, it’s a fallacy, and if atheists weren’t so inanely stupid, they would stop trying to make this failed argument.

    6. Defend rationality on rational grounds. Ready, go.

    7. Fine, define Good without God. Alasdair MacIntyre (former president of the American Philosophical Association) wrote a book about this, called “After Virtue”. In the process of his philosophical studies on the nature of Good he converted from a Marxist atheist to a devout Roman Catholic. So please by all means, tell us all about how you can define “Good” without “God”. I look forward to your conversion as well, may your face be brightened by the peace and love of God our Creator, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

    8. True, but also wrong, as materialism is not any kind of scientific doctrine. In fact the scientific method intrinsically assumes materialism is not true.

    9. Atheism is a conclusion without any supporting evidence. Theism, on the other hand, is a logical conclusion based on the evidence of our senses and our reason.

    10. Don’t use straw man arguments, good point, although what is not said is of course just as important in an argument as what is said. If I take you to court and accuse you of stealing my car because you have a car, the fact that I still have my own car and you own the title to the one you drive is a pertinent fact, even though I didn’t mention it.

    • Hah! You burst into the salon with two guns blazing! You must be a chevalier from Texas.

      I see that the host has responded to your volley with what he takes to be a reply. I started to read it, but had to stop almost immediately because he started in on “What caused God?” I don’t understand how atheists can think that question makes sense. It’s like asking, “What is nothingness like?” As a former atheist, can you shed any light on that?

      • It’s a vocabulary issue. CdJ is imprecise when he says “everything has a creator,” but he’s also speaking casually there, not literally about “everything” but something more like “everything in our experience,” which obviously excludes God. We, as fellow theists, get that, hence we gloss over the imprecision; we see the forest despite the trees. Atheists don’t get that because the language of non-atheistic discourse is largely cognitively unavailable to them, a condition I’ve sometimes called “spiritual autism.” Since they don’t get it, they fixate on it.

        They fixate on it especially because they’ve heard the argument before from several of the vast majority of theists they’ve encountered that are not, like us, well-educated and articulate Thomists with an eye for mincing precision.

  13. As well as just being another scientific doctrine, I would say Materialism reflects the frame of reference for the decadent mind. The more material becomes central to your sense of worth and value, the more it becomes a personal, and by extension scientific metric. This is a key sign of decay.

    I expanded upon an analysis of the modern strain of materialism and its societal impact in my first article at Social Matter



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