Thursday, November 15, 2012

FacePlant of the Day - Debunking Christianity: The Force of the Problem of Suffering vs the Evidence for Christianity

One of the arguments that John Loftus keeps bringing up against Christianity is the Problem of Evil/Suffering.  I don't believer it is a powerful defeater at all and Christians need not cower from it in the least. Here is Loftus' latest attempt to use the Problem of Evil and ending up in a FacePlant.

There are plenty of defeaters to the Christian faith that come especially from evolutionary science, archaeology, psychology, neurology, anthropology, biblical criticism, and so forth.
So he keeps saying, yet he inevitably defaults to this one because it's emotionally charged - easier to get people to turn their minds off. 

Earlier I wrote what I consider a refutation of Christianity when it comes to the problem of suffering, using one specific example, the Black Death Plague.

It didn't help then either. 

I'm guessing Christians just don't have an answer to this problem except to say that God knows best, depending completely on what I call the Omniscience Escape Clause, which pretty much makes their faith unfalsifiable. We have other reasons to trust in God even when we cannot explain his inaction in the world, they say. Okay then, how do these other reasons compare with this particular defeater? That's the question I want to explore.

I find it crazy how someone like Loftus can harp on God's inaction when bad things happen that cause human suffering but unwilling to give God credit when  disaster and suffering is averted. We don't know how much suffering is averted or mitigated. If this makes God unfalsifiable then why do people like him feel emboldened to declare that there is no God.  The best they could say is that they don't know and have failed to debunk God. But I guess that is too much honesty to expect.

Christians have philosophical arguments for God's existence. But if you actually read the literature on both sides they are at best a wash, that is, given the counter-arguments they do not establish the case at all. Furthermore, these arguments do not lead to any one particular god. Much more work needs to be done in order to establish that the Christian God exists. In order to do this the evidence for miracles in the distant ancient superstitious past must lead to that particular God. As I've argued before, theists disagree over this supposed evidence even though they all believe in a creator God. Theists are just as skeptical of each others distinctive religious miracles as I am of them all.

Either way, that would make atheism wrong. 

Take for example the Jews of Jesus’ day. They believed in Yahweh, that he performs miracles, and they knew their Old Testament prophecies. Yet the overwhelming majority of them did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead by Yahweh. Since these Jews were there and didn't believe, why should we? No really. Why should we? Why should anyone? The usual answer is that these Jews didn't want to believe because Jesus was not their kind of Messiah, a king who would throw off Roman rule. But then, where did they get that idea in the first place? They got it from their own Scriptures. And who supposedly penned them? Yahweh. Christians will also claim God needed for them to crucify Jesus to atone for our sins, just as he needed Judas to betray him. So God needed to mislead them about the nature of the Messiah too. But look at the result. Because he used people for whom we're told he loves, Christians have also been given a reason to persecute, torture and kill Jews throughout the centuries for their alleged crime (the Romans are actually the guilty ones). Not only this, but the overwhelming majority of Jews will go to hell, where Judas is right now. Does this sound fair for a righteous omniscient judge? It smells exactly like entrapment pure and simple.

Christians are never told by God to persecute, torture and kill Jew. If Jesus can forgive them while He was hanging on the cross, what right do we have for hating Jews? Loftus is employing faulty logic and ignoring the Bible - by which Christians should follow. It is not like all the Jews of Jesus' day rejected him  ALL of the first Christians were Jews! Need more proof?  Read Romans 9, 10, 11.

Beyond this we know that the supposed resurrection of a virgin-born Son of God took place in an ancient pre-scientific superstitious age where virgin-born sons of God were believed to walk the earth, as biblical scholar Robert Miller shows in his book Born Divine. In addition, Richard Carrier looked at the superstitious nature of the people in the Roman Empire in Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels, and concluded
...the age of Jesus was not an age of critical reflection and remarkable religious acumen. It was an era filled with con artists, gullible believers, martyrs without a cause, and reputed miracles of every variety. In light of this picture, the tales of the Gospels do not seem very remarkable. Even if they were false in every detail, there is no evidence that they would have been disbelieved or rejected as absurd by many people, who at the time had little in the way of education or critical thinking skills. They had no newspapers, telephones, photographs, or public documents to consult to check a story. If they were not a witness, all they had was a man's word. And even if they were a witness, the tales above tell us that even then their skills of critical reflection were lacking. Certainly, this age did not lack keen and educated skeptics--it is not that there were no skilled and skeptical observers. There were. Rather, the shouts of the credulous rabble overpowered their voice and seized the world from them, boldly leading them all into the darkness of a thousand years of chaos. Perhaps we should not repeat the same mistake. After all, the wise learn from history. The fool ignores it.
Again, why should we believe? Why should we believe what some people in a lone place on the planet said took place in the pre-scientific superstitious past? The past is notoriously difficult to mine for its nuggets of truth.

So where do you draw the line? Think about it. If Loftus, Carrier, and many liberal scholars are correct then we cannot know what really happened at any time in the past before Newspapers, and modern technology. History becomes suspect. Why study it? What happens to the idiom "Those who don't know the past are doomed to repeat it.". I disagree that it's that dire and we can't reliably know anything about the ancient past. 

 This problem is exponentially compounded by the fact that we're supposed to believe that miracles took place in this era. Gotthold Lessing puts a fine point on this problem when he said:
“Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles…[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?" Link.
I disagree. God is still working today in the 21st Century and I see no reason to understand that he worked in the 18th century also.

All that Christian apologists have is 2nd -3rd, -4th handed written testimony found only in manuscripts dated to the 4th century AD when we know that Christians doctored up texts like the Testimonium Flavianum (Ant. XVIII. 63 - 4) in a time when they also forged the Donation of Constantine, as but the most recognized examples.

Really? Even the most liberal atheist scholar would agree that the autographs date back to the 1st century even if our copies are from later.

The evidence of the Gospels would be thrown out as unreliable testimony in any reasonable court proceedings. Even if not, we couldn't trust this testimony until we could interrogate those so-called witnesses ourselves. Almost all of our important questions are left unanswered. We cannot interrogate these ancient texts, their authors, nor the people who they claim testify of such things. Furthermore, there is the utter lack of a great deal of independent collaborative evidence..

Has anyone ever interviewed Julius Caesar? According to what Loftus just wrote we should throw out everything we know about him because we can't talk to him or any of the people who first wrote anything about him. Is he willing to do that? I'm not. As for his claim that the Gospels are not reliable evidence better people then him have tried to demonstrate that and failed. 

Christians will argue their faith has unique elements to it so it must therefore be more credible. Although this is almost certainly debatable, what does it prove if so? Most religions have unique elements to them, as does Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventism, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and the late Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate group. In fact, uniqueness is what can propel a new religion forward. But it says nothing about whether it's true at all.

The only sane thing he wrote in this entire post.....

If God wanted to shoot himself in the foot, he did a great job of it.

...followed by the lamest. 

Undeterred, Christians claim they have religious experiences from their God that confirms their faith. But important questions abound. Why is it that only people in their particular faith have these so-called veridical experiences? Why is it that most all Christians claim to have had these experiences when some of them condemn the others to hell?

 Read Romans 9 and Acts 1. And non-Christians do have dreams and visions supporting Christianity.

 If God is granting these experiences to others then he is offering non-Christian believers evidence that their own faith is true and will subsequently send them to hell for not accepting the one true Christian faith.

No. Hell is the default destination. Because of our sins it was already on lock.  We are saved from hell because of what Jesus did for us. Rejecting it means that you just keep going on your merry way.

Why is it that so many people on the planet with different conceptions of God all claim to have these same type of experiences? What value is it to have an experience when the content of that experience only confirms what you already believe? We know that every believer thinks God agrees with them about everything!

Not true. The goal is to align yourself with God. It will never be the other way around. The reason why becoming a Christian means a necessary transformation (read Romans 12) is because by default we are not like God and need to be changed and only God can do it. He replaces your heart of stone with a heart of flesh.  

So I put it to you. Does the the force of the empirical evidence for the problem of suffering outweigh the force of the evidence for the Christian faith?

No because like R.C. Sproul said when asked why do bad things happen to good people, "It has only happened once, and he volunteered."

I think it does, most emphatically. All Christians can do is skirt the issue, depend on the "you too" fallacy, appeal to ignorance, special pleading and begging the question. In other words, they got nothing, nothing much at all. And like I said, this is just one of many defeaters.

 John Loftus should invest in the other "defeaters" because this one does not fly very far.

No wonder I call Christianity a delusion.

Yeah a deluded person thinks that people who disagree with him thinks they are deluded. 

And no wonder I cannot argue Christians out of their faith, since as deluded people within their Christian culture, they were never argued into their faith in the first place.

Exactly. Christian faith is a gift from God.

Debunking Christianity: The Force of the Problem of Suffering vs the Evidence for Christianity