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Evil and God: Analytic Counters to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is one of the most commonly pushed objections to the existence of God.There have been, historically, two major ways this problem is presented. The first way is to suggest that evil and God are logically incompatible. The second way argues that evil reduces the probability of God’s existence.

The suggestion that evil and God are logically incompatible has been largely abandoned in recent scholarship due to the writings of theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga. Atheistic philosophers who had pressed such a problem have largely abandoned such argumentation in favor of the second method–the probabilistic problem of evil (see Rowe, Draper, Mackie, etc. to see atheistic turnabout on this subject). It is widely acknowledged that there is no logical incompatibility (in the sense that it is a logical contradiction) for there to exist an omni-benevolent God and evil (Plantinga, 461).

Thus, the argument has turned to probabilistic arguments against the existence of God. These arguments often are something like, “Given the great amount of evil in the world, it seems unlikely that God [here meaning the God of Classical Theism] exists.” Given some amount of evil, E, it seems as though the probability that God exists is lower than .5 (50%). There are many problems with such arguments. I have argued this elsewhere (see here) , but there are further arguments I’d like to expand upon.

First, one major problem with such arguments is to figure out some way to measure evil (hereafter E). How do we objectively measure the amount of E in the world? But then this leads us to a second problem: if we can measure the amount of E in the world, what amount of E is such that the existence of God (call it “T” for theism) is unlikely? Where is the mark at which T is more likely than not, given E?

But apart from even these problems, there is the fact that some rather simple explanations or defenses can be used by theists. For example, the theist could assert that as long as there is any amount of good in the world, T is more likely than not. This doesn’t seem quite fair, so the theist could rather assert that given any E, there is the possibility that God utilizes E for good. But this may be unconvincing as well. There are still other “outs” for the theist.

Perhaps the most interesting and insightful defenses from this kind of problem of evil was made by Alvin Plantinga in the essential work, Warranted Christian Belief. He argues, utilizing a “multiverse” type of scenario:

“…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the worlds… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good over evil. In some worlds there is no suffering and evil; in some a great deal; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds where there is a good deal. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low” (Plantinga, 473).

This defense is almost joyfully simple, yet it reveals a looming problem for the anti-theist wielding the problem of evil. There are indeed countless scenarios just like this, or at least similar to it, in which theism has a “way out.” Plantinga mentions these throughout the same work (see pages 458-499).

There are other ways to defend against such arguments, however. The assertion is that the existence of some amount of E lowers T, given E. But of course the theist can easily grant this and simply argue that on the basis of their own background knowledge (hereafter “k”), the probability of T given E and k is quite high. Plantinga argues for the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, an assertion with which I stand in agreement (Plantinga, 290 and following). But we need not even appeal to a notion that will be as highly disputed as this.

For perhaps the theist has the belief that the cosmological argument seems plausible, or the ontological argument is quite convincing (as here), or perhaps they believe that the other alternatives (the other theistic religions, pantheism, naturalism, paganism, spiritualism, etc.) are even less likely than T. But then the theist has a high probability of T given k, even if the theist acknowledges that T’s probability given E is lower than before.

It then follows that the theist is justified in maintaining such theistic belief even in light of the problem of evil, for on k and E, they still believe there is a high probability that T is true.


Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford. 2000.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

God’s “Purposively Available Evidence”

If God exists, then what kind of evidence should we expect about his existence? How exactly would God operate in allowing for evidence or inquiries into his existence? These are some questions I have been pondering a great deal recently.

Paul K. Moser places questions like this in his book The Elusive God which I recently reviewed. Moser argues therein that questions like “Do we humans know God exists?” must be rephrased because if that (perfectly loving, etc.) God exists, then we should consider how God would interact with humans (4). Thus, argues Moser, such questions should be rephrased as “Are we humans known by God in virtue of (among other things) our freely and agreeably being willing (i) to be known by God and thereby (ii) to be transformed toward God’s moral character of perfect love as we are willingly lead by God in volitional fellowship with God, thereby obediently yielding our wills to God’s authoritative will?” (4, Moser’s emphasis). But even this question must be seen in light of a third rendering of the question “Do we humans know God Exists?” which is “Are we humans known by God in virtue of… our freely being willing to receive an authoritative call to… fellowship with God…?” (4).

I think that Moser raises some very valid points here. If God does in fact exist, then the question “Does God exist?” takes, of necessity, a different tone. Rather than expecting some kind of sterile evidence that makes no demands of us, this evidence may indeed be seen as some kind of authoritative call. Moser’s argument, I believe, is unfortunately not well developed, despite the 280 pages he dedicates to this very issue. My purpose here is not to try to expand on his argument, but to bring it into a context that reflects more what I believe and would therefore use instead.

I believe Moser is on the right track when he argues that God’s purposes in revealing Himself are very important when discussing His existence. Thus, God would not coerce us into belief. Moser argues in “God is Great, God is Good” (cited below) that God, assuming He exists, could seek “to offer a profound existential, motivational challenge to wayward humans” (53). On the other hand, and here is a point Moser seems to make but never develop, the “authoritative call” aspect of God’s existence is something that I believe is of vital importance to an understanding of God’s existence and reality.

He does argue that we need to let God be God (which I read as an assertion of sovereignty) even in the areas of inquiry into His existence. Thus, we cannot make demands of a sovereign God, which would be counter-intuitive. Rather, God can make demands of us.

So how do we answer the question of God’s existence? Moser makes an argument for the existence of God that is essentially an argument from religious experience (see my own posts advancing this argument here and here). His argument is outlined in The Elusive God:

“The transformative gift [is defined as] via conscience, a person’s (a) being authoritatively convicted and forgiven by X of all that person’s wrongdoing and (b) thereby being authoritatively called and led by X both into noncoerced volitional fellowship with X in perfect love and into rightful worship toward X as wrothy of worship and, on that basis, transformed by X from (i) that person’s previous tendencies to selfishness and despair to (ii) a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love and forgiveness toward all people and of hope in the ultimate triumph of good over evil by X” (134-135) Which leads to:

“1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered, and unselfishly receives, the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative leading and sustaining power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely, God).

“2. I have been offered, and have willingly unselfishly received, the transformative gift.

“3. Therefore, God exists” (135).

I’m still pondering this argument and trying to decide how weighty it is. The more I’ve looked it over and thought about it, the more interesting it seems to me. For now, I’ll advance my own argument, based on Moser’s writings and my own input:

1) The question “Does God exist?” must be asked in such a way that we humans acknowledge that if God does in fact exist, the question of His existence involves, necessarily, a life-changing, “creating anew” (2 Corinthians 5:17) that is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is a gift of God, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is because i) if God exists, then, necessarily, His existence would apply to every aspect of all things (specifically, our lives).

2) Evidence of God’s existence thus entails an entirely life-changing event that is the work of God and not of ourselves (e.g. baptism). It can thus be seen (Moser’s words) as “purposively available evidence”–evidence with the purpose of justification/creating a new [see 1) above].

3) God allows people to reject such life-changing evidence

4) We humans are often in rebellion against God and refuse to acknowledge 1), 2), and 3)

5) If we are in rebellion against God, then we reject the life-changing gift as seen in 2)- faith worked by the Spirit

6) Therefore, God’s existence may indeed be justifiably inaccessible to humans who are in rebellion against God, for the most powerful evidence of God’s existence can be found in 2)–the life-changing gift of the work of the Holy Spirit, and humans who are in rebellion against God reject such evidence, despite its being (purposively) available

I believe that this argument avoids some of my theological objections to Moser’s brand of (some kind of) universalism while still advancing an answer to “Why doesn’t God make his existence blatantly obvious?” I agree wholeheartedly with Moser that God could certainly have reasons for keeping his existence hidden. These reasons could be innumerable, but for now I’m content to settle with the argument that God’s purposes are to use evidence for His existence such as to be life changing through the means of grace (eg. baptism, communion, other religious experience).

My argument is obviously not so much an argument for the existence of God as it is an argument about how exactly we should go about trying to discover the answer to the question “Does God exist?”. I am not here begging the question of the existence of God. Instead, this argument is pointing to the means by which one might go about further inquiring into the question of God’s existence. If Christianity is true, then this argument is (I believe) completely sound.

Now it is appropriate to return to Meister’s argument for the existence of God and similarly modify it.

1)If the God of classical theism exists, He is sovereign

2) If the God of classical theism God exists and is (therefore) sovereign, then His existence would likely be purposively available (see argument above)

3) If there is purposively available evidence that is available and life-changing (read: applicable to every aspect of everything, specifically our lives), then God exists

4) I have perceived such purposively available evidence of God’s existence (as a gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, communion, and religious experience).

5) Therefore, God exists.

Clearly this doesn’t solve any issue of religious pluralism, which is something  beyond the range of this post. What it does say, however, is that someone may be justified in holding the belief that God exists based on religious experience of purposively available evidence. Thus, such belief is not irrational or unjustified.

These reflections were based on information found in the following sources: Paul K. Moser, The Elusive God. I’ve also read his discussions in two other places: the book “God is Great, God is Good” (edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister) and the publication “Philosophia Christi” (Volume 11, Number 2, 2009) which is published by the Evangelical Philosophical Society (a society that I am a student member of!).


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The Morality of God: Christ at the Center

Here we have a perfect example of the truth of God’s Word: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-8. Indeed, when man is in sin, he is hostile to God. He doesn’t simply misunderstand or misinterpret God, but he is hostile to God.

This can be seen in the writings of the so-called New Atheists (who bring nothing new to the table). They accuse the God of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) of being an evil, sadistic being (to put it nicely). They defame God’s name and delight in calling Him unjust.

In all of this, however, they betray their complete lack of knowledge about Scripture, God, and the universe.

I believe that there are (among many others) two primary ways that the New Atheists are in error when they attack God in such a way. These two ways are:

1) They forget that if God does indeed exist, then they are in no position to judge God

2) They ignore Christology, which is of utmost importance in any discussion of God

But there is a third point that I have left unmentioned, as I’m still mulling over it. I learned of it upon reading God is Great, God is Good edited by William Lane Craig. I’ll likely write about it in the future.

In the first place, those who attack God’s morality seem to be forgetting a rather obvious point: if God exists, then we are certainly in no position whatsoever to judge whether God is moral or not.

Let us assume for a moment that the God of classical theism exists (i.e. omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent/necessary/sovereign/etc.). If this God exists, then it seems blatantly obvious that it is God who judges what is right and wrong, not us. It’s honestly baffling that anyone could miss this point, but I’ll try to make it more clear.

1. If the God of classical theism exists, then He is sovereign (i.e. the ultimate authority in the universe)

2. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the God of classical theism exists

3. Therefore, God is the ultimate authority in the universe.

Now those who raise this objection somehow think that they are capable of judging the actions of the ultimate authority in the universe. This is not only irrational, but it is an ultimate show of egoism and haughtiness. There is no such thing as a good argument for humans being able to judge the Supreme Being, if such a Being exists.

The second explanation is even more readily ignored by the New Atheists. It’s easy to quote mine Scripture to pull things out of context in order to try to prove a point, but one must understand that Scripture stands or falls as a whole. As such, Christ is to be understood as the interpretive principle for all of Scripture. Every verse should be understood in light of Christ, who is to be at the center of all theology.

So what does Christ have to do with an argument about whether God’s Law as presented in the Hebrew Scriptures is evil? Everything. Christ is the accomplishment of the Torah (the Law). N.T. Wright argues in his work The Climax of the Covenant that the Law “is given for a specific period of time, and is then set aside–not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished.” While some may object to Wright’s interpretation (as they may argue that this view of Torah is anti-nomian in nature, though I think anyone who reads Wright in context will realize this is not the point he makes at all), I believe he makes a wonderful point here. Christ came to save all people (the doctrine of objective justification). Thus, the question should not be whether or not the OT Laws are evil, but the question should rather be “What does this [the Law] mean?”

The answer can be seen in Christ. Romans 10:4- “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The Greek word for “end” in this passage is tellos, which means “end, goal, to set out for an ultimate goal” (Strong’s Bible Dictionary). Christ has now come. The Law is accomplished. It is to Him that we should turn when we are condemned by the Law. Further, Galatians 2:15-16 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Thus we know that it is through Christ that the Law must be interpreted, as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. The Law can make no one righteous, it can only condemn (and that is evident in those who react with hatred to it [see C.F.W. Walther’s “Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”  to examine this point exhaustively). Those condemned by the law react with hatred, as can be seen by the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. But what the New Atheists (and others) need most severely is most certainly the Gospel and the understanding thereof. All Scripture must be interpreted through the Cross of Christ.

This post is part of a series on Jesus: the Living God. View other posts in the series here.


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Why ask the “Why” question?

I can’t help but continue to think about the suffering in the world and how it relates to Christianity. I don’t think people who are not Christian, or indeed not religious at all, don’t wonder about these concepts also. Quite the contrary, suffering so permeates our world that anyone who attempts to downplay it seems obviously wrong. But I continue not to think about the “why” part of the question, but the “how” question. Rather than asking “Why is there suffering?” I ask “Why do people have the concept of suffering?” The former question is answered on the Christian view of the fall into sin (or in various other ways in more depth, see here for a longish response). The latter question I believe Christianity also has an answer for.

I believe that the very question actually presupposes at least the concept of some kind of objective standard of good and evil. Suffering is often defined with such terms as “pain.” The very concept of suffering presupposes that there is some line between what is good and bad, what is pleasure and pain. But these concepts can exist in almost any epistemology. What sets this issue in a new light for me is the very fact that we ask questions about it.

How are we justified in asking questions like “Why is there suffering?”? I don’t see any reason that one can be justified in asking such a question unless they are supposing that there is a very real right and wrong. Someone is suffering. That is wrong. Why must they suffer? But what I must then press is my own question: Why do you think you’re justified in asking that question? It seems to me that a naturalist certainly cannot be justified in asking this question, because on naturalism the concepts of good and evil or right and wrong have evolved into us and are part of nature. They serve evolutionary functions, and no more. So what could justify someone who follows this epistemology to ask a question like “Why is there suffering?”? A possible answer could be that the reason there is suffering is because we have evolved some capacity that understands the world in such terms as right and wrong (similar to Dawkins discussion about the reason we observe that the universe seems remarkable and we seem unlikely within it [my comments here]), but these aren’t objective (we  could have evolved a different experience of the world which would perhaps give us entirely different concepts of what suffering is, or a lack of the concept entirely) and therefore can’t serve as an objective answer to a question that seems to demand it. It seems completely unsatisfactory, especially in light of the fact that the question demands an objective answer. Some may be satisfied by it, I’m not arguing against that, what I am arguing is that naturalists haven’t answered the question in an objective sense. They can only pose it as a challenge to competing epistemologies.

So it seems to me that, on a naturalist ontology, we cannot be justified in asking these kinds of “Why” questions. The only answer to be provided is that it is natural. The question demands more. It begs for more. But in order to justify the question, one has to dig deeper than a naturalist ontology (which may be uncomfortable to accept for other reasons) can provide. One has to delve into that realm of theism. It is only when the objective meaning in the universe is personal that such personal, objective questions can be asked. We cannot ask a meaningless, eternal (or circular? self-existant? etc.) universe “Why is there suffering?” when the question itself demands an answer to “How can suffering be allowed?” We cannot ask the universe of deism or naturalism “Why” and claim we are justified in expecting a response other than “Because.”

This answer leaves us wanting. Others may refer to theism as a crutch. They may see a reliance on God as a way to strengthen a weakness in oneself. It’s not. Rather, it’s the answer. God can answer the “Why” questions that are so synonymous with our nature. And a God who suffers provides an even more personal answer. It may not be the answer we’re looking for. It may not be an explanation. Rather, the answer can come as an understanding. God understanding suffering and even suffering Himself.

The book of Job in the Bible examines this question in some detail. Job suffered. He suffered at the permission of God (Job 1:12). But Job’s faith remained strong, despite the verbal throttling he received from those around him. He says “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).  And Job suffered greatly. But why? What answer would God give to Job? God does answer, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job40:2) and “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall naswer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:7-8). He continues, saying, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (41:11)

Job is left without answers to these questions from God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6). It would seem here that God’s answer to the question “Why is there suffering?” may be a “You don’t understand” or even, “You can’t understand.” Job is content with this, but God isn’t. In the person of Christ, in whom all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), God suffered Himself. Not only that, but instead of answering “Why,” God delivered the ultimate answer: Jesus. This earth may be a time of suffering, but in the end there is eternal joy.

It is here, however, that the Christian now may be accused of not providing a satisfactory answer to the question. “Forget about all this theological garbage [1 Corinthians 1:18-31] and answer the question!” This is where the Christian can thank God for the gifts of logic and reason, for the answer to the question can be determined from them. I’m not going to rewrite everything, as I’ve already gone through the question here.

It therefore stands, in my mind, that the justification for such “Why” questions can only be had on theism. Naturalism, without objective right and wrong, has no stance from which to ask the question, and no answer that it can give achieves the transcendental meaning it demands.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Suffering God: Christianity, Evil, and God

Christianity is confronted with many questions in this era.

What is it that makes Christianity different?

Aren’t all religions the same?

Are not all the gods people worship really just the same god?

I (and many before me) suggest, however, that there is an answer to all of these questions. One of my professors, the Reverend Dr. Richard J. Shuta, told a story in our class. He was on the way back home, waiting for a cab. A man was waiting with him. Rev. Dr. Shuta is a theologian, and the man, who would be travelling in the cab with him, was a professor of philosophy. The man cut to the chaise and said, “I have just one question. If I stand on a street corner and I see a church, a mosque, a hindu temple, a buddhist temple, etc… why should I enter the church instead of any other?”

Dr. Shuta’s answer was simple, but profound. “Suffering.”

It is remarkable, in my opinion, that suffering, which is often used as a weapon against theism (see my post on this topic), can be such a remarkable explanatory tool for Christianity. For it is suffering itself which sets Christianity apart.

If a list of all the things that united all humanity were compiled, I am sure that suffering would be near the top of the list. Suffering is something each and every individual experiences on some level. It is how we make sense of this suffering that is different.

The God of Christianity understands this universal concept. The God Christianity worships is symbolized by a Cross, the image of suffering. Other religions demand that humanity approaches god. They demand that humanity make oneself better, purify oneself, become nothing, etc. Christianity has God do it for us. God came to us, God suffered, God took the burden on Himself so we may live in eternity.

The Suffering God is the God of Christianity. The Loving God is the God of Christianity. What is it that makes Christianity different? The God of Christianity knows pain, and understands it, and experienced it.

Again, it is the Cross that defines Christianity. What do Christians believe? Christ crucified for all.

Ravi Zacharias states, in Can Man Live Without God? “It is the cross that invites us to die to self that the life of Christ may live in us fully. Without the cross there is no glory in man. The difference between man-made utopias and a God-made heaven is the cross (178).” [Emphasis his]. It is the cross. It is this symbol of suffering Christ. The symbol of our Suffering God. Suffering unites humanity, and God knows this suffering intimately.

Modern theism, according to N.T. Wright, seems to tend towards Enlightenment Deism. I’d tend to agree. Even Christians tend to think of God as some far away being that “loves us” but doesn’t really interact with us. It’s a concept that must be abolished from Christianity, for our God is the God who is Here. Our God is Immanuel, literally “God with us.” This God of Christianity is the one which we have too often abandoned and modified with our philosophical meanderings, allowing worldly concepts to permeate a personal, truly loving God.

The Cross is suffering. The symbol with which we refer to Christ is a symbol of suffering. It is this idea that is vastly important when thinking of Christianity. Christianity acknowledges suffering. Its symbol is one of suffering. Christianity explains suffering in human terms, rather than reducing it to naturalistic accounts, trying to explain it away, and the like. Christianity realizes there is real suffering in the world, and worships the God who suffered Himself that we be reconciled to Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that great German pastor, martyred for his faith by Hitler, wrote in Ethics, “It is with the Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in His Church that justice, truth, humanity, and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary… (61).”

Christ’s suffering is our shelter.

I’d like to conclude that there is therefore a kind of argument because of evil, not a problem or argument of evil that can be presented in defense for Christianity, rather than as an offense against it. I haven’t fully developed this argument, so I don’t have a formal layout yet. Instead, I’ll present it in informal fashion:

There is a universal suffering which leads to a universal need for comfort. This universal need seems to imply that there is comfort to be had. There is, in fact, some comfort to be had. If there is comfort to be had, it further seems that this comfort must be, possibly, universal. Comfort can only be transferred on a personal, rather than an impersonal level. Thus, the universal comfort must interact on a personal level. A universal comforter that is personal tends to point towards theism rather than any other worldview.

This is only the bare-bones of an argument I’ve only recently started to develop, and I’d be happy to receive feedback, positive or negative.

Debate Part 2

Part 2 of a continuing debate. Part 1 can be found here. This is a debate between an atheist and myself. The non-bolded text is his (when he’s quoting he is quoting my responses in part 1). The bolded text is my response.

“He then argues that Jesus does not remove responsibility from the law by quoting Matthew 5:18ff…leaving out (5:18 – I understood) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.””.

I didn’t intend to argue that point (the fulfillment of the law), and have at least a rudimentary understanding of this. I was attempting to interject some connective tissue into your original comment to more accurately reflect what I thought Harris was referring to. I will at least mention a couple of points that I’ve questions about to get your take on them.

Indeed, Jesus said “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (It’s impossible for me to think Harris is not aware of this. I wouldn’t speculate as to why it was omitted. Being that he and likely any of his readers know full well the concept and the passage, it seems something dubious was unlikely).

I would ask how you reconcile the next line, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear,…” with the one before it that you mention? ‘Until heaven and earth disappear’ – surely this has not yet happened, and it would follow that the rest of the verse, then, still applies today and until that does happen (“…not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law…”). It seems that that which must come to pass before the law he spoke of would be fulfilled, has not.

I notice as well as the verses continue that Jesus in fact, quite opposed to rendering these laws somehow null by fulfilling them, seems to systematically magnify and amplify each. It follows logically that he has not yet ‘fulfilled’ them in a sense of completion. Anger is elevated to the sin of murder and a lustful look elevated to that of actual adultery. It seems he not only didn’t relegate these laws to the past, but raised the bar quite a lot on what actually constituted sin.

The first and easiest thing to point out is that you’re assuming knowledge you don’t have: what Harris is or is not aware of, and that his readers “know full well the concept and the passage.” How is it that you know this information? Are you suggesting that everyone who reads Harris knows what comes before the verses he cites, and that they know enough of Scripture to interpret it in light of context and other verses?

But your claims to knowing of others’ background knowledge aside, this argument from Harris and others seems to show a misunderstanding of both the concept of justification and the concept of the separation of Law and Gospel. A simple response can be found in one of the greatest Doctrinal works of the Lutheran Church: Pieper’s ‘Christian Dogmatics,’ Volume I, page 532 “Holy Scripture also determines exactly which laws applied only temporarily and locally, for instance, only to the Jews under the covenant of the Law, and are therefore not the divine norm for all men of all times. A great and harmful confusion of the consciences of men is, even to our day, caused by generalizing temporary and  local laws. With reference, for instance to the commandment given Exodus 31:14-15 “Ye shall keep the Sabbath… everyone that defileth it shall surely be put to death,” and Leviticus 19:26 “Ye shall not eat anything with the blood,” and Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (the catalogue of clean and unclean beasts), the New Testament distinctly says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days,” Colossians 2:16. We get this result: Only that is divine Law for all men which is taught in Holy Writ as binding on all. Not even the Ten Commandments in the form in which they were given to the Jews (Exodus 20) are binding on all men, but only the Ten Commandments as set down in the New Testament, as we have them… Commandments given to individuals, e.g. the commandment received by Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, do not obligate others. In general, the rule to be applied to the life and acts of the saints is, in the words of the Apology [to the Augsburg Confession]: ‘Examples ought to be interpreted according to the rule, i.e., according to certain and clear passages of Scripture, not contrary to the rule, that is, contrary to Scripture.’”

Acts 10:15 is another example: “’Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’”

To say that Jesus expanded the Law is inaccurate. He clarifies it and outlines largely which laws God intended for all peoples. Surely one would not suggest he does so for all of Levitical law and otherwise. One of the rules of Biblical interpretation is to interpret scripture in light of scripture, and when one does so in the case of the Law, one can see that to argue that all people are to follow the ceremonial laws and others is not formed on the basis of a Scriptural argument, but on pulling only certain verses and ignoring others.

As far as reconciling “Until heaven and earth disappear,” with what I’ve said, it becomes clear after the previous explanation. Jesus is affirming the presence of the law which continually acts as a mirror to show us our sin and need for Him. He is not abolishing the Law, but affirming it. He’s fulfilling it on our behalf, because we all inevitably fail—especially when compared to the standards He sets in Matthew 5:21ff. His statements must be taken in light of the rest of Scripture. The ceremonial laws set in Leviticus were for the Hebrew people in the Covenant of the Law. We are not bound by these laws, as stated in other passages (Acts 10:15, Colossians 2:16, Galatians 5:6, and elsewhere). To argue otherwise is to argue against Scripture.  It is to argue by selective observation (a logical fallacy).

**I’ve taken a question out of chronological order here, which I generally don’t do, as it felt a bit like a summation to me. As this will likely be the final formal response from me in this particular debate, I thought I’d use it as a conclusion of sorts. It is now the final response**

“Arguing against Christianity by saying it’s bad does nothing to its claims of truth, making the argument an ad hominem attack on the character of Christians rather than an attack on Christianity.”

You mention two separate things here;
1) Arguing that Christianity is bad, and
2) arguing that Christian’s are bad.
Though I would suggest that there is no way to disassociate one from the other. You need only imagine everyone that self labels as a Christian suddenly vanishing from existence – does the religion remain? Of course not. The people ARE the religion.
Arguing that Christianity is bad does indeed call into question the claims of its truth, as it is claimed to be good. If it is shown that it is bad, it is also shown that it is false. Showing that Christians are bad, at best, would show that either the message is terribly unclear (and after two millennium, likely undecipherable to the degree that anything more than a negligible consensus can be achieved), and at worst that it simply, as a system, doesn’t work.

To illustrate with analogy; I imagine a company manufacturing some product. It is shown, let’s say, that none of this company’s worker’s produce anything of merit (or very few if you prefer). Perhaps they are lazy, have a poor work ethic, or arrive to work drunk each day. Whatever the reasons, they each produce substandard products that make it out the door. An outsider visits the company site, and sees all of the substandard products and remarks that the company is substandard. How could one maintain that this company is good despite it continually turning out inferior products? I argue that they couldn’t. Reverse engineer the old garbage in, garbage out saying. If after thousands of years there is still no consensus as to the meanings contained in the bible, and evil is still routinely performed in its name, it is time to reevaluate the merit of the texts.

This is an example of a false analogy. It also again shows a misunderstanding of the core of Christianity. Just as you feel the need to correct me by saying atheism is not a belief, I must correct you by saying that Christianity is not about being good people. To argue against Christianity on the basis that its people are bad is to ignore the central claim of Christianity, that we are sinful, that Jesus washed away our sins in His fulfillment of the law and offering as a sacrifice for our sins, and that Jesus Christ is Lord God over all.

If you want to argue against the track record of the organized religion of Christianity, one can do it in the fashion Harris is doing. But that is to ignore the truth claims of Christianity. Not only that, but Christians acknowledge their own sinfulness that has been around since the fall into sin. It sets up a straw man in place of the truth claims of the argument by saying “you claim to be good [I don’t], and your religion claims to make people good, so you should all be good or your religion is wrong” Christianity is about the core beliefs I outlined above, not about being good. To say a Christian sins is to confirm what the Christian knows: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The institution of the church itself is not inerrant.
“(i.e. condom use, etc.) could be valid against Catholicism, which is not the Christianity I (and about 50% of Christians) ascribe to.”

Certainly you aren’t writing off one of the most powerful and influential churches in history, along with over a billion adherents, as not relevant to a discussion about religion?
I think it reasonable to assume that when he addresses those that hold such beliefs about condom use for example, that it’s understood that he is actually speaking to those that have that particular belief, no? He was after all, addressing the entire nation, of which a good quarter of are Catholic.

I must simply point out that once again a stance of the Catholic Church or other church on an individual issue is to argue about points that aren’t central to the teachings of Christianity. The church can mess up, the church can error. This is because we are human, and it does nothing to the claim that Jesus is savior.

“It seems dishonest of Harris to assert that atheists are completely different…”

I would ask that you give a single example of something that all atheists share other than the lack of a belief in god, if you found that dishonest. Or was it merely the comparison?

It was for comparison.

Day states, “By applying his metric to the state-wide voting instead of the more
precise and relevant county,…”

OK, brakes please. Though I dread the thought of this, if you would like to proceed with these mountains of data, I will be obliged to do so – but only after I check all of these numbers for myself, and from both angles mentioned. I am not prepared to take either of these men’s assessments on…faith, any further. I was willing to stick out my neck a tiny bit as to the veracity of Harris’ method, but to debate specific numbers from his and another source, neither of which I have verified myself, is a bit much – not my style. I couldn’t in good conscience do so. This would of course take a bit of time, so let me know if you wish to argue this to its end.
I can be rather obsessive with research, and will hand you the specifics on a platter with references sited, likely with better detail than both of them. But I ask you be certain this is something worthy of your debate, as it will take quite some time to compile, and it was not my original intent. That said, I am willing.

I will continue to assert I believe that either way this statistic is utterly unimportant. I would like to simplify any search you want to make by pointing to the CIA World Factbook on the U.S. ( ) and its stats on religion: “Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.).” Atheists are decidedly a minority. It seems illogical to point to atheists as the reason for less violence in an area. It also is reading into statistics, a lot. Overall, I just think this entire argument is nothing but irrelevant. Unless you really want to argue that it is relevant somehow, I’d be happy to drop it.

“Day points to a 2001 ARIS study that shows that 14.1% of Americans are atheists.”

Again, the research would need to be done on my end to go much further with this.

“I’ll concede again that I should have been more clear here. Harris does admit that religious people do good things, but it seems to me that his argument centers around the idea that no religion = better people.”

I think that’s a fair assessment of what he says, or at the very least, that religion is not required to do that same good. But I believe what you’ve said here is valid, yes.

“He seems to argue that if religion were removed, more good would be done.”

I believe he does, if for no other reason than the impediments that religion erect – i.e. the issue of condoms mentioned (and the hordes that die because of it), the IUD (birth control) issue and the related cancer tat results, the stem cell research issue… – all of which that, if it were not for the church, would save innumerable lives.
So yes, if religion would stop attempting to legislate morality, much more good could be done. Removal of said religion would likely produce the same effect, though I am not advocating it’s ‘removal’. I’m unclear as to whether or not he is. I didn’t get that impression, but it would depend on how you mean removal, of course – and by what means would be of utmost importance.

This is utilitarianism to the max: What makes the greatest good for the greatest number of people? I don’t think this is a valid moral stance to take whatsoever. The biggest problem is one of the classic examples against utilitarianism: Let’s say that there are 1,000,000 people whose happiness would increase if a minority group of about 100 people were killed. Simply following utilitarianism, one would have to advocate killing these 100 people. A counter argument could then be made that being dead is a very big unhappiness, while the 1,000,000 people wouldn’t be super happy about it, just a little happy. But what if 1,000,000 people would be happier if 1 innocent person were tortured? What if they’d be happier if 1 innocent person were just beaten? Either of these cases seems wholly within the utilitarianist view of ethics. But we can see they are clearly wrong (unless one wants to argue that torture or beating an innocent person can be a good thing). To argue on the basis of a utilitarian view is to accept that ethical stance as a standard of judgment, which, as we’ve just seen, is awkward at best.
“I could stand to reword that part of my blog entry, but again I don’t think I’m attacking a straw man when Harris specifically tries to detract from the good that religious people do (i.e. his Mother Theresa example in which he says she was “…deranged by religious faith.”) If she were not so deranged, she would have been better. That seems to be a valid way to argue from what he is saying.”

When you stated “whether people like Harris want to admit it or not.” you in fact posited something that he did not say, and then refuted it. That is essentially what a straw man is, to set up and refute a position that your opponent did not take.

With regards to Mother Theresa, I have very little information as yet – though it is now  apparently available. Hitchens also has some pretty scathing things to say about her in ‘God is Not Good’. Regardless, I would hesitate to argue her virtues, but would also caution you until you can digest information that surfaced (I believe from her personal letters?). It’s worth taking a look at from what I gather, as it is rather illuminating and casts her in a grim light after all. It was this information that he was basing things on, not the old, untarnished saintly image she’s enjoyed in the past. It’s something I need to look into as well.

Harris wants to discredit the good that religious people do by name calling. Attacking Mother Theresa is simply an ad hominem fallacy. Further, I’ve read some of these things from her diaries, etc. They point to her having the same struggles as all people of faith do—wondering if we’re doing what’s right, wondering if God exists, etc. That doesn’t seem damaging to me.

“…doesn’t do anything to hurt the message of Christ…”

This is one thing we may agree upon, for I have no particular malice towards the figure of Christ, nor much of his teachings. Not all mind you, but much of them. It is religion as a whole, and the behavior of its adherents that I find to be a problem, not the teachings of one philosopher. It is the interpretations of that philosopher, the justification – however ill advised – in his name, the imposition of this code of morality through legislation on to those who do not share the beliefs, etc. Not the man.

Christ claimed to be God. To call Him simply a philosopher does no credit to what He did and said while He was on earth. I’d agree that Christians do not always (or perhaps even often do not) follow the teachings of Christ. This is something I think the church does deserve criticism for—embracing a morality that wasn’t Christ’s. Dietrich Bonhoeffer does a good job in his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” But that is a whole other issue, seeing as how we agree truth claims are untouched.
“It is wholly possible that Christians do good things out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Agreed, it is possible.

“…it implies that the only reason a Christian does good is for reward,…”

I’ve certainly heard this argument, yes. There are many Christians that do just this – as wrong-headed as it may be. But I would tend to focus more on the ‘do good because they are commanded to’ aspect myself. I argue this from personal experience with a rather substantial number of Christians, both on line in and in real life. The quotes from many-a-video for example of Christians stating that;
1) If it weren’t for biblical morality spelling things out for them, they’d likely be completely immoral (I kid you not – perhaps you would be surprised by how many say such things?). -that what prevents them from committing these acts, is that it says so in the bible. ‘How else would one know right from wrong?’ they say.
coupled with;
2) Their complete inability to grasp that an atheist, because they do not have this book that they follow, can still be quite moral indeed. It seems utterly unfathomable to them. That to me says a great deal about their morality.

I am deeply saddened to hear #1 and 2 together. The Bible even says that “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”-Romans 2:14-15.

Thus, Scripture itself shows that those without belief can know and do the requirements of the Law. The core argument, however, is based on an assumption [that Christians only do good for reward] that is not a logical truth and is invalid.

“The point you make about the result being the same is interesting, given that you just argued above that it is somehow better to do good things without a responsibility to do so.”

It seems you are confusing the result, with the intent? Yes, I maintain that the intent of said act is important when attempting to assign a value judgment to that act – even if the outcome is identical.
For example, giving a large sum of money to charity when one has little to give would rightly be considered more altruistic, than giving money when you’ve plenty to give because you expect to get a tax write off.

Your correction from obligatory to objective is noted. Though if I were a student of Freud… 😉

Again this whole argument is based on the assumption that Christians have questionable intentions when they do good (i.e. they do it for wanting a reward). This may be true for some, but it is untrue to apply it to all. It also seems to assume that the only reason atheists or nonreligous people would do good is out of the kindness of their hearts. This also seems an invalid assumption, as [you noted] tax write offs and other rewards (a feeling of being a good person, having others see how charitable one is, etc.) could influence some.

“One could make the same argument for the history of irreligion.”

By irreligion, are you referring to essentially every cause not directly tied to religion (as it can mean absence of, indifference to, or hostility towards religion)? If that’s the case, then I would certainly agree. Religious reasons for violence vs. every other possible reason for violence…religion might stand a chance in that instance!

It seems like you had access to “The Irrational Atheist” by Day judging from your more recent e-mails, and so can see that from the Encyclopedia of War one can determine that religion is the cause of 6.98% of war. This seems to undermine the idea that it is a major cause of war in the world.

St. Augustine said “We are never to judge a philosophy by its abuse.” I believe that violence in Christianity is not just abuse of Scripture, but it goes against the core tenants of the teachings of Christ and the beliefs that the church was founded on. The same beliefs that exist in the core of Christianity today.

“I think simply looking at an overall # of death rate, it is possible that irreligion has lead to more violence than religion.”

I don’t know that that would be possible, but I would be interested as well in the results of such a tally. One reason of the cuff, is that the inherent inequalities in technology, transportation, etc. presented by the times would make comparable calculations impossible. Much like how we adjust today’s value of a dollar to day’s of old to see how much something was worth a hundred years ago.

By the time a man could openly admit being atheist without fear of being say, burned alive by the church, technology had progressed by leaps and bounds which always, always translates into more advanced warfare. So certainly these (atheist) leaders that you site had much more gruesomely efficient ways of disposing of their fellow man than did their theist predecessors. I shudder to think of the Catholic church (for example) having in their possession advanced WMDs during the dark ages.
I’d still be morbidly interested in the count if it were possible, but it would hardly be equatable.

Your use of “Dark Ages” exposes a presupposition against religion. Historians in general are completely abandoning the phrase because it paints a picture different than what is historically true.

Arguing that the church being in possession of different technology would mean they would have killed more people is an example of a non sequitur argument. It doesn’t follow logically that the church would have used those weapons. It also is arguing from common sense—yet another fallacy. We can’t know what would have happened in this case. You can only argue that it “makes sense” that the church would have killed more. This does nothing in the sphere of logic.
“It is also worthy of note that Harris specifically tries to get around these people by calling them irrational and makes some attempt to try to put them outside of atheism…His argument here seems to be that these people are irrational, so they can be dismissed. Yet I’d make the argument that Christians in particular who try to use that belief system for violence are irrational. Either both can be discounted, or neither can.”

I think we’ve touched on this already, but it bares repeating even if we have. He attempts to stress, as does any atheist thinker I have read, that one can not be said to do something ‘because’ they are atheist.
This is because there are no tenets, beliefs, dogma, rules, laws, scripture…nothing necessitated by atheism, excepting a lack of belief in a god. This leads to nothing necessarily. Humanism, for example, may indeed have some things to answer for. I’m not the one to ask.
But atheism in and of itself says nothing, asks nothing, certainly instructs or demands nothing. It is a lack of belief. Period.
Therefore, one can not attribute any particular act to an individual ‘because they are an atheist’. I hope this becomes clearer to you as we go.

But one can say that an atheist does an action, i.e. Stalin killing millions of his own people. Also, this argument seems to smack of a double standard, because again, Harris specifically points to rationality as being the judge by which people can disassociate with people of the same background (i.e. atheist). If this is the standard, then those who kill in the name of Christ can be discounted as well.

I, however, don’t want to argue that atheists are violent automatically, and I believe it is wholly false to do so for religious people, especially in light of the evidence (like that of wars).
“1. God is morally perfect   and   2. God commands killing
are incompatible…alternative readily makes itself available: 3. There are some whose moral depravity is such that God will not suffer them to live”

Of course, this only works (assuming for the moment that it does in fact work) if you assume that number 1 is in fact true. I have no reason to suppose this. I would further suggest that this argument places the proverbial cart before the horse. To judge an entity as morally perfect in advance, and then proceed to insist that all of his actions are moral because of this and based on nothing else – certainly nothing objective – is completely backwards for a reasoning animal.

I expect this may come up in our future dialogue, so I’ll leave it at that.

I do indeed assume that God is morally perfect in that post because the argument is against Christian theism, which asserts that God is morally perfect. The argument says that those two points within Christian belief are incompatible. So it is a completely valid presupposition.

Further, Alvin Plantinga points out in “God, Freedom, and Evil” that the theistic definition of God is a maximally great being—maximally great would include maximally great in morality, hence God is morally perfect.

To argue with me on that point is to miss the entire argument. Theists are attacked on their own idea that God is morally perfect, so that premise is simply granted for anti-theists to argue against.

“…clearly not recording stories of massed killings in the name of the Lord for the sake of showing God’s moral imperfections (which, I would argue, points even more towards the innerrancy of Scripture, but that’s a whole other issue),”

Yes, the idea that the more outlandish the possibility, the more true is the statement. I’ve heard many versions of that very peculiar argument, but I wouldn’t mind hearing yours at some future point. This is why the tacking on of miracles to the old, rather dry bible, had such a profound effect. Sadly, it works.
Interesting use of adjectives there. What this paragraph has shown is simply an argument based on nothing. I could call atheists anti-theistic arguments dry and old and have similar logical effect—none. Please refrain from such terminology in the future of our debate. I’d like to keep it at a more intellectual level.

Further I’m not sure what you’re implying when you say the “tacking on of miracles.” Surely you are not implying that miracles were written into Scripture later. That would be an interesting argument to make, and the burden of proof would certainly be on the affirmative.
“Those who argue that the God of the Bible is evil are merely skimming scripture for verses they believe will back them up in out-of-context situations.”

That’s a rather rash and sweeping generalization. Along with many other theists, you rest on the position that if one does not come to the same conclusion as you have, that they must not have read it. I imagine you know full well this is not the case.

I would further submit, that there is simply no context that one can place some stories of the bible in, to somehow make them justifiable (sending bears to rip apart children for teasing a bald man comes to mind, and that’s one of the less extreme stories. There is no proper context for this that would elevate to some moral platitude, no moral justification whatsoever. It’s a disgusting little story used to frighten people, and nothing more).

Are you suggesting that you have the authority to interpret Scripture? Reading is not equivalent to understanding. There is a long line of people whose lives have been dedicated to hermeneutics, exegesis, and other methods of studying scripture who have not come to the conclusion that it endorses violence. The church fathers, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, countless studies in Systematic Theology,  and modern voices in the church (Bonhoeffer, Van Til, Walthier [maybe not so modern]) and the like can all be found to assert a central teaching that Christ is Lord and savior. The teachings of Christianity are not of violence. To take the extremists as the norm is to be intellectually dishonest.

Not only that, but to claim that one outside the church (i.e. yourself) can find scriptural authority to back up violence the church has endorsed is to employ the argument from authority. You’re claiming yourself as the authority on scriptural intepretation and as the authority to judge the motivations of the church now, or hundreds or thousands of years ago. That alone is enough to reject such an argument. I’ll not deny that you can read the Bible, but to argue that you have better knowledge of it and its meaning than those within the religion, with accumulated knowledge of thousands of years, is false. And I can say all of this without appealing to God. There’s simply no way to justify you placing yourself in the position to interpret scripture over and above the actual authorities on the text.

Now this is also an argument from authority, but one that trumps yours. And an argument from authority, whilst weak and not formally valid in logic, is informally an argument that can be made within the structure of logic—in that we can show that people who are experts in the field (not us) have this position. The problem is that your authority (yourself) is not even close to the authority of thousands of years of accumulated students of Scripture backed up by entire fields of study that are governed by the rules of logic and have an intimate knowledge of the religion.

“by the assertion that God’s role as Judge could mean He cannot allow certain evils to pass unpunished.”

Again, the evil of teasing a man about his baldness required that children be mauled by bears? Is this god’s idea of the punishment fitting the crime?

“but it is also to argue without a knowledge of the culture that such a text originated from.”
Again, children – teasing – bears. In any age, that is simply sick. We can get more into other stories of course, that one is just so elegantly morbid, it served well.

I don’t really want to go through and discuss every violent story in Scripture. But if you’d like to, I’d willingly go over each one at length. Because the bear story is a hard one, it bears (pun unintentional) repeating:

“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths’ came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!’  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” -2 Kings 2:23-24.

An initial point I’d make would be to point out that we are not the judges of the world, God is (according to my worldview—which whoever brings this argument up is arguing against, so my presupposition is valid). Therefore we do not define what is “morbid” or “sick,” God does. Arguing that God is evil because of this act is to stand in judgment of God. This is unacceptable from a theistic view which presupposes His supremacy.

But I do believe a better explanation is needed in this case. I used a couple sources here, but my main one was Geisler’s “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.”

1. These men were holding the prophet of God in contempt (see previous chapters and verses to see just how God selected this prophet). This was no innocent mocking, but a direct attack on God’s authority, as Elisha was acting as the voice of God to the people. Hence, these young men were mocking the voice of God.

2. These young men were not innocent. Their great number compared to Elisha shows the danger he was in, especially in light of their sin of mocking God. Not only that, but it says the young men came out of town to jeer at him. They didn’t want the confines and authority of the city to limit the actions they could take. Calling him a ‘baldhead’—a reference to the baldness of the lepers was another sign of the contempt with which they held Elisha. He was not safe.

3. Elisha’s curse served as a warning and a sign. He was God’s prophet, and God would not suffer threats or mocking.

4. The nature of their mocking becomes clearer looking at what they say. “Go on up…” When looking at what had happened just before (Elijah ascending into heaven), it can be seen that this was essentially a challenge to Elisha’s authority as God’s prophet. The Hebrew word here, alah refers to “ascend.” It is the same Hebrew word used in 2 Kings 2:11 to describe Elijah’s being taken into heaven. What cannot be seen in the English is revealed in the Hebrew.

God’s punishment can then be seen as protecting His prophet, a warning, an act of Divine Judgment, and a confirmation of Elijah as prophet.
“This is an issue of semantics and I’m willing to concede the point that Harris does not adhere to Jainism.”

Though I appreciate the concession, I have to make this clear.
‘Semantics’ is generally conjured when the difference between words is somewhat trivial, and not important to the point being made. When you pronounce a very well known atheist who’s made it his work to combat religion, an adherent to a religion, that is certainly not just semantics, but an egregious error that I felt needed correction.

“Though it is clear that he has some interesting views on spirituality”

I believe you are referring to the fact that he practices meditation perhaps? I’m not clear on the significance of this? To be clear, it is meditation utterly devoid of anything ‘supernatural’ if that helps.

I was hoping we wouldn’t have to get into this. “Harris presents himself and atheism as rational, yet he doesn’t apply very rigorous standards of rationality when dealing with the subjects of reincarnation and the paranormal.”

“’These are people who have spent a fair amount of time looking at the data,’ Harris explains. The author … Dean Radin … proclaims: ‘Psi [mind power] has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments.’”

“That Harris would take seriously Stevenson’s beliefs about xenoglossy is disconcerting.”

I also find it hard to believe that this is coming from a man who claims to be a voice of reason. Harris indicates that Stevenson’s stories about xenoglossy are either true or they’re fraudulent, which is a false dichotomy. Stevenson could have gotten the translation wrong, he might be gullible, he may have made a mistake, he may be  exaggerating, or  he could be a pious fraud. Harris says that he can’t see how something could be a fraud if it makes so many people miserable. What about religion?”

“The fact that I have not spent any time on this should suggest how worthy of my time I think such a project would be. Still, I found these books interesting, and I cannot categorically dismiss their contents in the way that I can dismiss the claims of religious dogmatists.”- Harris

“Most criticism of Sam Harris comes from religious theists, but secular atheists have also found things to disagree with. The most prominent criticisms from atheists probably focus on his ideas about “rational” spirituality and mysticism which sound to many like little better than the sort of mysticism served up by traditional religions. Harris argues that “we cannot live by reason alone” and that it’s possible to tune one’s brain to perceive the world differently than usual and that this lies at the heart of spiritual traditions, including religious ones. He believes it’s important to cultivate skills in this area, not just to cultivate skills at skepticism, science, and critical thinking.”

Quotes from The End of Faith:

“There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.”

“Spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply rational.”

“Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith.”
“combined to his specific exclusion of Eastern religions from his general attack on religion show at least a predisposition”

Predisposition? No, I wouldn’t extrapolate that at all. If anything, I would guess (and that seems to be what we are doing now), that he prioritizing. That is, focusing his efforts on the religions he sees as the largest threat to our well being (i.e., the Abrahamic faiths).

“Fair enough, then I’ll say that these men were atheists. The people who did violence and were Christian can still be compared to as a legitimate analogy. Atheists who do violence. Christians who do violence. I’d argue both are bad.”

Yes, of course both are bad. No one in their right mind would argue other wise in my opinion. The point being, that a theist has a book chock full of violence that their god has committed or commanded others to commit, on which they base their morality. They have used this for centuries to justify some very nasty behavior indeed!
The key difference when one tried to attach some act to an atheist ‘because’ he is atheist, is that there are no such texts, tenets, dogma, etc. as mentioned. I’m repeating myself too much now, I’m sure you’ve understood.

I’m repeating myself too much too. As my friend pointed out, justifying claims doesn’t make something true or valid. Eisegesis is not the same as exegesis.

“Belief in a God can, however, give an objective standard by which all actions must be judged. Thus there is a better basis by which to reject certain actions than if there is no objective standard.”

I’ve more responses to this than would be manageable. I’d like to merge it with the above questions of objective vs. subjective morality above, and give them a separate debate. It deserves and requires it in my opinion, as I hear nothing more frequently from theists, than the morality questions.


“To argue that Christianity is violent is to go against the core teachings of Christianity from its founding”

Yet it stands in direct opposition to the reality of what the religion has produced in practice. In this case, the intent of the original if it is as you posit, and I’ve no particular reason to object, does nothing to rescue the reality of what it has been, in reality, in practice. The reality trumps the ideal.

Reform in the Church has been needed in the past and will be needed again.

“as we do have a strict definition of what it means to be Christian in the Bible.”

Again, those 30,000 sects scream loudly that the clarity you believe you have is either an illusion, or 29,999 sects have it wrong, and you got very, very lucky by picking precisely the right meaning. Additionally, that number is undoubtedly much larger concerning those that disagree on the meaning. Certainly even you, in your own congregation, disagree about the meaning of some text with another in your flock. I pick that number because it is easily understood.

You’re confusing doctrinal differences with theological ones. Christianity is built on Christ as savior and Lord. The “30,000 sects” have disagreements about things that are not the core of Christianity. I trust I will not have to repeat this again.

“Christians who use the Scripture to justify violence have missed what Christ himself says about violence.”

Ah, but we just got a little closer. I don’t deny this. I am not necessarily saying that all the evils done in the name of the bible, were done in the “true spirit” of what Christ taught.
But it is this vast majority, that are in your eyes ‘getting it wrong’, that comprise the religion, and dictate the policies of the religion on massive scales. It is they that are fighting the wars, killing the doctors, withholding the birth control, mutilating the genitals, retarding scientific progress, urging the end times by deliberately flaming the wars in the middle east, interjecting their pseudoscience into public classrooms, wedging their warped agendas into politics, into ours laws…it is they that OWN your religion and always have. If you are this type of Christian that I think you are claiming to be, you are indeed a minority, and you should be as horrified by their actions as I am. They are a death cult, pure and simple. And these are only the more overt damages caused by religion, speaking nothing yet of the psychological injuries it necessitates among other things.

Ad hominem attacks against Christian actions don’t dispute the truth claims of Christianity. They can dispute individual doctrinal stances, of which there are many differences.

Also, “retarding scientific progress?” That’s utterly false. Newton? Copernicus? Galileo? Pascal? Boyle? Leibnitz? Francis Collins? Bacon? Kepler? Descartes? Faraday? Mendel? Kelvin? Planck? Need I go on? Theists. All of them. I could make a longer list. I’m sure these names are easily recognized. Einstein was a deist, not an atheist. It seems clear that there have been a number of rather major scientific discoveries by theists. I challenge you to claim that someone like, oh, Gregor Mendel, was “retarded” by religion.  These men were not “retarded” by their faith.

“Conceded. Though the atheism you are describing is a “soft atheism” that goes against the definition of atheism as seen in both the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy”

I would actually refer you, rather than a definition in a book, to the real world community of atheists, where the type of atheism you seem to think is universal, is quite the minority.
This is one sampling of the community at Richard Dawkins’ forums. Your version of atheism is trumped roughly 2.5 to 1. Incidentally, if you’re still searching for your ‘real’ atheist, they are there as well, and would love to speak with you I’m sure!

Argumentum ad populum. Here you’re arguing from consensus in order to redefine a word. “My version of atheism” is that which simply defines the term. Logically, your claim of a 2.5 to 1 ratio does absolutely nothing to the definition of atheism.

Also I’d at least like to think a book has a better chance of getting it right than a forum on the internet. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy and the Encyclopedia of Philosophy seem to me better sources from which to define a term.

I never claimed my idea of atheism is universal. I claim that those who assert their atheism are actually just agnostics in disguise.
regarding this; “the definition of atheist was written by a soft atheist, afraid to embrace the totality of the stance.”

That’s just silly. I would say ‘offensive’, but I don’t offend easily. The majority of atheists I have met and spoken with (no small number), adopt the position they do because it is the intellectually honest position to take.
One can not know with complete certainty that ‘anything’ does not exist (or for that matter, does exist if you’re in the solipsist camp), and this is conceded by any thinking person. It is simply not possible. To claim such a thing involves FAITH, which most rational minds I’ve encountered, have little use for. It is not out of fear as you suggest, but out of integrity evolving from a carefully thinking, reasoning, logical mind.

“One can not know with complete certainty that ‘anything’ does not exist.” Hence the problem with atheism. Interestingly, “not knowing” is agnosticism.

“This seems ad hominem to me. Rather than attacking any specific argument, he is attacking, say, Catholics, for preaching abstinence”

The argument he puts forth throughout is essentially, that religion does harm. He lists in your example, many ways in which religion is doing harm. I see no ad hominem attack. Perhaps the personal nature of the address is what’s distressing you. It is, more than a formal argument here (which would take a very different form), as if he were standing before a room of people speaking to them. It certainly does contain emotional appeal, granted. But i would hesitate to call it ad hominem, as he is directly addressing the ills he claims are doing the harm.

But what is it that he is arguing then? If he’s arguing that religious people can be violent, I’d agree. If he’s arguing Christians have used scripture to justify violence through eisegesis—incorrect interpretation of the text—I agree. But it seems that he is trying to discredit Christianity with his argument, an argument that is arguing against the people within a religion, not against the beliefs of that religion. Hence it is ad hominem… unless he is simply arguing for reform within the church.
“Another thing I’d love to point out is that Harris is a wonderful example of the argument from atheism”

You’ll get no argument from me on that. I find the argument quite silly. I can appreciate what its inventor might have been trying to do, but I find the delivery completely sloppy, and as you say, never should have included the word ‘atheist’. I find it to be a play on words that just didn’t work well.

I’m glad.

**The following was moved to the end to act as a conclusion. I will break from form some for this reason, but I trust the ideas conveyed are still quite rational, and offer some insight…**

“As far as whether Christianity sanctions bad things, I think that is nothing but an unfair charge…It seems clear that the Christianity Christ preaches is not one that condones violence. ”

That is ‘seems clear’ to you is of little consequence to the reality that it is most certainly NOT clear to many, many millions who use it as their moral compass.

This would be one of the major points of contention. Allow me a bit of a diatribe in an attempt to explain…

But this is not now, nor apparently has it ever been, what the church (and ergo the majority its followers) has actually done in practice. This is indeed, the ultimate no true Scotsman fallacy here.
That the church itself, the institution that presumably has the clearest understanding of the meanings contained within the bible, has been the perpetrator of such unimaginable evil (just peruse the medieval torture devices crafted and implemented by the church for a tiny sampling of its horrific past) is precisely the point.
If the church itself, responsible for disseminating this sacred information to the masses, has acted thusly – what are the masses to take from this? The result is unavoidable – the hatred, bigotry, paranoia, intolerance, etc. that we see daily from the religious. They are only regurgitating what the church has fed them for centuries. This in no way exonerates them from responsibility of course, but certainly the vile men at the top of the heap have much to answer for. This is the ‘religion’ that those like myself are speaking of.

The cry I hear again and again, invariably, is that the other guy simply didn’t understand what the bible really said, or meant. But the one speaking of course, ‘has it’. They, of all the millions of believers present and past, understand the word of God like no other. They have unlocked the code at the end of the labyrinth which is the text of The Holy Bible. This would help explain the 30000+ sects of Christianity. There is simply no consensus as to what the book means or even what it says for that matter, and that, coupled with the unending amount of the physical and psychological brutality it contains…it is no wonder that such evil is committed in its name. It could hardly have resulted in anything else.

I suggest, that complete and unquestioning FAITH without reason or logic or evidence of any sort is the true violence. Blind faith in another man’s doctrine is a violence to the mind – a thinking, reasoning mind, which is truly the only thing that gives us our privileged status on this rock. Through faith, one seeks to extinguish this, and they succeed.
It was after all men that wrote these texts, codified them, rewrote them, translated them, added bits, subtracted bits, enforced them through the ages. And what evidence have we that these men had the authority to do so? These men told us so. They were instructed by God directly the theist proclaims. And we know this, as well, precisely because these men said they were.

At the end of the day though, honestly ask yourself, do you think that I or any other atheist cares in the least what thoughts you have in your mind? What faith you claim to have in some matter? It is precisely because of all of the things mentioned that we would even bat an eye towards a man of faith. I can’t imaging having given such things a second thought if it weren’t for the actions of the theist down through history, and more importantly to me – right now. I am perfectly content having someone believe whatever it is they choose…if they can refrain from attempting to force it on any one else.
So far, theists have been notoriously, almost constitutionally incapable of doing this. That, is the problem with religion.

The “no true Scotsman” argument applies if and only if there is no definition of what it means to be whatever it is that is being argued. Christianity has a clear definition within the Bible, complete with the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Any who does not follow that command and claims a Christian action is indeed not a true Christian, based on the central text of the religion.

I, too, shall now conclude.

Christianity has been the central belief of the Western world for well over a thousand years. During this time, there have been huge leaps in science, medicine, human freedom, and the like. The greatest discoveries in the history of science have all been made within a Christian era.

The Bible stands as a whole. Taking any single verse outside of the context and not allow it to be interpreted by the whole of Scripture is arguing from selective observation—a logical fallacy. One need only look at Systematic Theology and find that violence is not the result of the church, it is the aberration. I’m not claiming that I know Scripture well enough to interpret it perfectly. I’m claiming that thousands of scholars of the Bible over the past two thousand years do know it well enough to interpret it correctly. Those who have used it for violence suffer either the flaw of selective observation or they simply use emotional appeals—not scriptural ones—to make their point.

Christ Himself is the Light of the World. Christians are told in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Scripture teaches clearly a life of love and peace for the Christian.

St. Augustine, in one of the greatest works in Christianity, “City of God” says of the Kingdom of God in Book II, Chapter 29, “The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.” This is what Christians look forward to: a city in which the standards of this world are no more. A city where holiness, truth, and felicity are enjoyed for eternity.

He says of a Christian life in Book XIV, Chapter 7: “When a man’s resolve is to love God, and to love his neighbor as himself, not according to man’s standards but according to God’s, he is undoubtedly said to be a man of good will, because of this love.”

The core of Christian faith is not doctrinal concerns over baptism, communion, or the like. Christians believe in the Triune God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. And the commands that are given are to love God and neighbor.

I close, with the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Debate on Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”

I have received permission to repost this. Some things are quotes from my blog, specifically “But Christians are Bad People” and others are quotes from Sam Harris’ “Letter…” (abbreviated due to laziness, not lack of respect). Some editing was done (i.e. removing names and extra info at the beginning, also added “if you’d like” to my bracketed side note on Matthew 22, and a few spelling errors were corrected).

This is a debate between an atheist and myself on Christianity in general. We decided to use my most recent blog and Sam Harris’ “Letter…” as the starting point. This will likely be only the first of many such posts.

His text is in normal print. My responses are in bold.

“Christians do bad things, so Christianity must be bad.”

I would argue that opponents of Christianity such as Sam Harris, would likely say that “Christians do bad things – and as the Bible specifically instructs in and sanctions such things – Christianity must be bad.”

I realize Sam Harris attempts to outline a case that the Bible commands evil in the beginnings of his book–citing Deuteronomy 13:6, 8-15. He then argues that Jesus does not remove responsibility from the law by quoting Matthew 5:18ff (page 5-6 in PDF form, 8-10 in the book). The problem is that Harris takes the Matthew verse out of context by either unintentionally or otherwise leaving out 5:18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” One of the core teachings of Christianity is justification. Jesus paid the price. The Law that is written in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) is indeed not abolished, but fulfilled in the person of Christ. Jesus’ statement that He came to earth to fulfill them (the Law He states will not be overthrown) outlines this idea.

Paul makes this point clearer throughout his letters to the churches. Galatians 5:4-6, 14 (the rest of the passage can certainly be read, but I don’t think its wholly necessary to get the meaning)- “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [a requirement of the Law] nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love… The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

This is ultimately a doctrinal and theological issue. It seems it is one that Harris does not understand. His argument stems from taking Bible passages out of context and arguing against one of the core teachings of not only the church fathers, but also of Paul and Jesus himself–that Christ came as the sacrificial lamb to fulfill the Law, which no man can ever do.

As far as whether Christianity sanctions bad things, I think that is nothing but an unfair charge. Christianity’s command can be summed up by what Paul stated before and by what Jesus Himself said of the law (Matthew 22:37ff [read before it for context if you like]): ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It seems clear that the Christianity Christ preaches is not one that condones violence. Whether one wants to twist it to do so is another matter entirely.

“Christians are bad, so Christianity is false.”

In the second paragraph, you have changed the premise of your argument from
“…so Christianity must be bad.”
“…so Christianity is false.”.
Those are quite different. If you intend to argue both positions (or rather that someone else holds both positions) that’s fine, but a clearer distinction would be helpful.

“This is blantantly false, and I’m honestly shocked that someone like Sam Harris…”

Again, your first premise is closer to what Harris has stated – the second I find questionable. The second is what you refer to here, and attribute it to Harris. I find no reference in his book that suggests he takes this position – correct me if I’m mistaken. That is, have you a reference that indicates that Harris thinks that because Christians do bad things, Christianity is false?

I should have stated that more clearly. It’s a problem I’ll hope to rectify a bit by taking —‘s advice to lessen my amount of posts and increase the editing and thought on each. Harris doesn’t specifically argue that Christianity is false. He does seemingly believe it should be rejected because of the initial premise, however. Though, to be fair, if Christianity is true (i.e. exclusive claim to eternal life in heaven), then it should be embraced by all means. The only logical reason to abandon it would be if Christianity were false. Arguing against Christianity by saying it’s bad does nothing to its claims of truth, making the argument an ad hominem attack on the character of Christians rather than an attack on Christianity.

Harris, it could be said, argues that Christianity specifically teaches bad things, but I’ve already demonstrated his lack of theological knowledge on the first point, and his other points (i.e. condom use, etc.) could be valid against Catholicism, which is not the Christianity I (and about 50% of Christians) ascribe to. It seems dishonest of Harris to assert that atheists are completely different while shoehorning the Christian right into a Catholic view. There were several times, whilst reading his book, that I found myself saying to his “You believe…” statements “No I don’t.” Those times are straw men arguments to me, though I would say that Christians who believe, say, in not having birth control, should try to defend their position (one I disagree with).

“The first is that there is no way to test whether or not removing religion from an area would lead to an increase or decrease in violence.”

I would suggest a simpler test; read the text of their holy scripture, and see if it advocates and/or sanctions said violence. If it does, the religion is violent. If it’s holy scriptures are replete with violent act after violent act, the religion is violent.

Admittedly, I do find (at least) the international data concerning religious vs. non religious nations rather interesting. Though, Harris himself states;

“Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality…these statistics prove that atheism is compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; (and) …that widespread belief in God does not ensure a society’s health.”

“A very good breaking down of Harris can be found in The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day…”

Day states, “By applying his metric to the state-wide voting instead of the more
precise and relevant county,…”
Perhaps you could explain to me why a ‘smaller’ sampling of the public would give a more precise result? When gathering a stat, a larger sample is surely a better indicator? A minor point of contention on my part, but I do find it interesting (perhaps even disingenuous) that he felt the need to invent yet another category of stats, in an attempt to prove the ones used invalid.

Let’s do justice to what Day is pointing out, however. He’s taking the same sample size (i.e. the U.S.) and simply giving a more in depth analysis of what the statistics show. He’s being more specific with the data. Rather than showing that red areas have higher violence than blue areas, they show that blue counties have higher violence on average than red ones.

Examples Day gives: Florida–11 blue counties account for 44% of the state’s population, but more than 50% of its murders and 60% of the robberies. Maryland–5 blue counties with a murder rate of 13.22/100,000 verses 0.89/100,000 in the red counties. Washington, D.C.–voted 91% blue but has the highest murder rate in the nation, almost 7 times the average national rate.

Harris’ examples of cities are also taken by state, but not by county. When one goes by county, 13/25 of the safest cities are in red counties (verses the by state of 8/25), while 21/25 of the most dangerous cities are in blue counties (verses by state 12/25). In other words, when one gets specific with the data, it can be shown that red areas are potentially safer than blue areas.

To say that it is a “smaller” sampling is inaccurate. Rather, it is looking more specifically at the same sampling. An analogy could be the body. Sam Harris points to one’s midsection and says there is something wrong with it. We can use that same data and zero in on, say, the kidney and point to that as the problem area. The same amount of data is there (we have examined the midsection), but the more specific information leads to a more correct conclusion.

“…how is it that showing violence by political beliefs automatically shows a correlation to religious beliefs?”

Because it can be shown that there is a strong correlation between the population’s political and religious beliefs. Therefore, show a correlation between violence and one’s political affiliation, and one can extrapolate from this.

It is fair to say that certain geographical locations in the U.S. are in fact predominately one party or another (thus the whole red state – blue state dichotomy), and that those parties do in fact represent certain religious affiliations more than others – the stats bare this out quite well, and candidates stake their chances of winning an election on it.

e.g. – The ‘deep south’ is predominately quite religious  – compared to say, the much more liberal coastal areas, and to some extent, the mid west. The break down is shown here;

The blue and red correlates very closely to this reality;

Certainly it isn’t perfect, but it is quite illuminating, and certainly enough to gain some reasonable insight as to the connections present between political and religious beliefs in the U.S..

Okay, let’s examine this in detail as well. Day points to a 2001 ARIS study that shows that 14.1% of Americans are atheists. About 1/2 of eligible Americans vote. So assuming that every eligible atheist voted, that means that 28.2% of the vote was potentially atheist.

The problem is that exit polls show that atheists were less likely to vote than religious people, accounting for about 10% of voters in CNN exit polls. They went about 2/3 blue. But the problem is that Harris seems to want to use this to show that non-religious people are less violent. This discounts all those who didn’t vote, and it also means that only 16% of blue voters were actually non-religious. It seems kind of ridiculous to attribute all that nonviolent behavior to a lack of religion when it is only 16% of the voting total.

So I stand by my idea that using votes to determine religious belief seems pretty silly. Not only that, but if we do use it as a determining factor, it would show the opposite of what Harris wants to argue.

“…religion does do a lot of good, whether people like Harris want to admit it or not.”

“It is undeniable that many people of faith make heroic sacrifices to relieve the suffering of other human beings.” – Sam Harris
“While there is no doubt that Christian missionaries are also moved by a desire to alleviate suffering, …” – Sam Harris
“While missionaries do many noble things at great risk to themselves,…” -Sam Harris

He has no trouble admitting that at all. (straw man)

I’ll concede again that I should have been more clear here. Harris does admit that religious people do good things, but it seems to me that his argument centers around the idea that no religion = better people. Note especially pages 12-13 in the PDF version of “Letter…” He seems to argue that if religion were removed, more good would be done. I could stand to reword that part of my blog entry, but again I don’t think I’m attacking a straw man when Harris specifically tries to detract from the good that religious people do (i.e. his Mother Theresa example in which he says she was “…deranged by religious faith.”) If she were not so deranged, she would have been better. That seems to be a valid way to argue from what he is saying.

But one major thing could be said here theologically as well. Christianity isn’t about achieving goodness. It isn’t about being good. It’s the fact that we are not good that means we need Christ. Whether or not one wants to say Christians are worse than non-Christians doesn’t do anything to hurt the message of Christ–because it’s not based on being good people, it’s based on being saved people.

“But those who are, say, Christian, are commanded to be good,…”

This is in fact a strike against Christianity in many an atheist’s mind; that the idea of Christian morality is ‘commanded’ of its adherents.
Atheists, while also displaying morality, which you concede (“…people who don’t believe in God do good things too. Okay. I’ll agree,…”), do not require this command, nor the promise of reward or threat of punishment.
As Harris states;
“…which is more moral: helping people purely out of concern for their suffering, or helping them because you think the creator of the universe will reward you for it?”
– or in my own words, ‘because he commands you to do so?’

Here Harris completely misunderstands large amounts of Christian belief. Again the assumption is that being Christian = better morals. But that’s not what Christianity is about.

Also, this explanation of goodness begs the question entirely against the Christian. It assumes that a religious person only does good things out of belief of reward (or perhaps fear of punishment). The conclusion has snuck [edit: sic, blast!] into the premise. It is wholly possible that Christians do good things out of the kindness of their hearts. The Christianity I believe means that I am saved. Any good that I do is for other reasons, not for the hope of reward. The premise in the argument begs the question because it implies that the only reason a Christian does good is for reward, so the good acts they do aren’t as good as one who doesn’t do it for a reward.

“…whilst atheism can at best offer an evolutionary view of morality that is not obligatory”

Perhaps you can explain to me what the negative is here, assuming that the result – a person acting with moral responsibility – is the same?
I should mention also, I find your choice of ‘obligatory’ very interesting! As it is defined; “required as a matter of obligation; mandatory”. Again I refer you to the above question, of which scenario might make one more moral.

I meant to say “objective” not “obligatory.” This was wholly a mistake I can ascribe to lack of sleep. The point you make about the result being the same is interesting, given that you just argued above that it is somehow better to do good things without a responsibility to do so. But again, the use of obligatory was a complete mistake. Read it as “objective” and that is my meaning.

“…unclear as to whether or not institutionalized religion is indeed a major cause of violence.”

I had a ridiculously long list here, and have decided it would be of no avail, at least not in this discussion. The violent history of religion would require its own debate. It does after all entail a couple thousand years of history.
Suffice to say for now, there is more than ample evidence to support the notion that religion not only breeds and justifies violence, it also aids and abets and condones it when it isn’t directly responsible for it. Political violence and the power and persuasiveness of religion have on countless occasion had a rather symbiotic relationship.

One could make the same argument for the history of irreligion. Harris concedes as much when he points out that Christians bring up people like Pol Pot, Stalin, and the like. Interestingly, I think simply looking at an overall # of death rate, it is possible that irreligion has lead to more violence than religion. It is also worthy of note that Harris specifically tries to get around these people by calling them irrational and makes some attempt to try to put them outside of atheism. Page 14 on the PDF version of his book (40ff in the book) demonstrates Harris in a very uncomfortable position.

“The problem with such tyrants is not that they reject the dogma of religion, but that they embrace other life-destroying myths. Most become the center of a quasi-religious personality cult, requiring the continual use of propaganda for its maintenance. There is a difference between propaganda and the honest dissemination of information that we (generally) expect from a liberal democracy. Tyrants who orchestrate genocides, or who happily preside over the starvation of their own people, also tend to be profoundly idiosyncratic men, not champions of reason. Kim Il Sung, for instance, demanded that his beds at his various dwellings be situated precisely five hundred meters above sea level. His duvets had to be filled with the softest down imaginable. What is the softest down imaginable? It apparently comes from the chin of a sparrow. Seven hundred thousand sparrows were required to fill a single duvet. Given the profundity of his esoteric concerns, we might wonder how reasonable a man Kim Il Sung actually was.”

His argument here seems to be that these people are irrational, so they can be dismissed. Yet I’d make the argument that Christians in particular who try to use that belief system for violence are irrational. Either both can be discounted, or neither can.

“Further, is it not obvious that much religion embraces peace?”

No, it isn’t. (begging the question) The Christian Bible is simply one of the most violence-ridden pieces of literature I’ve encountered. Page after blood soaked page espouses more brutal rape, slavery, torture, genocide, sacrifice – and often to the elation of, or under the direct command of, the Creator – than you can shake a stick at.

The Bible does indeed have much violence in it. I’ve argued that things such as killing that is endorsed by God can be logically defensible here. I can sum up:

“In this case, the one presenting the argument is suggesting that:

1. God is morally perfect


2. God commands killing

are incompatible. Thus, in order to counter this argument, all that needs to be done philosophically is show there is no inconsistancy. In other words, all that needs to be done is show another alternative. That alternative readily makes itself available:

3. There are some whose moral depravity is such that God will not suffer them to live

This third explanation gives a logical “way out” of the supposed dilemma presented by the first two statements. While this explanation may not seem satisfactory to some who would wish to debate the finer points of individual verses, cherry-picking out-of-context Scripture does nothing in light of the fact that option 3. is logically valid. The defender of the faith need not even demonstrate that this statement is true, only that it is possible.

Thus, I conclude that to have 1. God is morally perfect and 2. God commands killing is not a contradiction in light of 3. There are some whose moral depravitiy is such that God will not suffer them to live.

The case for God’s love could fill numerous volumes, but it is clear from Scripture that God is intentionally portrayed as the definition of Judge, morally perfect, and righteous. The writers of the inspired Word are clearly not recording stories of massed killings in the name of the Lord for the sake of showing God’s moral imperfections (which, I would argue, points even more towards the innerrancy of Scripture, but that’s a whole other issue), but they are rather recording these stories to show that God is indeed God and He is in control. In His moral perfection, there are things He cannot tolerate. Those things are punished in righteousness. Those who argue that the God of the Bible is evil are merely skimming scripture for verses they believe will back them up in out-of-context situations. Further, they are rejecting the Holy Spirit’s role in directing true and upright teaching of the word.

Finally, even if one does not accept Scripture as innerrant, the Word of God, or as being passed on by the Holy Spirit, the philosophical problem of evil in the Bible is solved quite simply, contrary to general belief, by the assertion that God’s role as Judge could mean He cannot allow certain evils to pass unpunished.”

Arguing that God portrayed in the Bible is evil is to not only do so by specifically searching for verses to support the case in light of much evidence to suggest otherwise (just see God’s interactions with the nation of Israel in light of their constant apostasy, the example of Jesus, the Psalms, and all kinds of other verses that deal with the mercy and goodness of God), but it is also to argue without a knowledge of the culture that such a text originated from. In other words, to argue that God is evil in light of the Bible is to look on such acts with modern eyes and completely discount the fact that the Biblical world was a completely different place than the world we have.

“Harris himself actually endorses a religion: Jainism. How is it that one can decry religion while adhering to it?”

There’s a couple of things wrong with this statement – almost to the point that I would respectfully ask that you amend your blog, and make the correction. But that feels beyond the scope of what we’re doing here. I’ll abstain from that request – but do consider what it is you’ve actually said;

First, he does not endorse this religion. He highlights it as an exception to the rule. That is, he notes that it “preaches a doctrine of utter non-violence”, and he does so in order to contrast it with Christianity, which is replete with violence.
He states, “If you think that Christianity is the most direct and undefiled expression of love and compassion the world has ever seen, you do not know much about the world’s other religions.” He then goes on to use Jainism as an example of a more compassionate religion.
This is not an ‘endorsement’. It’s simple compare and contrast for the sake of illustration.

Second, you then choose to use the unfortunate phrase ‘adhere to’ when describing Harris’ statements about Jainism – stating he in fact adheres to Jainism. Certainly you know he does not adhere to this or any religion?
He neither endorses nor adheres to this religion, and never attests that he does. Do consider your words.

This is an issue of semantics and I’m willing to concede the point that Harris does not adhere to Jainism. Though it is clear that he has some interesting views on spirituality (I grant that Wikipedia is not the best source for this type of thing, but the quote from End of Faith, combined to his specific exclusion of Eastern religions from his general attack on religion show at least a predisposition).

“…it is telling that Harris feels the need to include a chapter about Are atheists evil?”

Do tell? I’m not at all clear what you think this exposes about Harris?

I can explain for you why this inclusion was quite necessary in a book of this sort. Day in and day out, the American atheist is absolutely inundated with accusations from his Christian neighbor, that he is without morals, “spiritually” bankrupt, brimming with sin, in a word, evil.
This type of misguided thinking has earned the atheist the ‘least trusted minority’ in America award. A 2007 Gallup Poll showed the following; The question was whether or not you would vote for a particular (minority) for President. The following groups and the percent that ‘would’ vote for them that follows was the result;
Catholic-95%, Black-94, Jewish-92, Woman-88, Hispanic-87, Mormon-72, married three times-67, 72 yrs old-57, homosexual-55, and finally atheist-45%.

The need for a look into the morality of the atheist was an important component of the discussion – esp. in a book addressing a ‘Christian Nation’.

I’d personally never argue that atheists are evil. My inclusion of that little tidbit was generally pointless and I’ll acknowledge that.

“and proceed to try to move atheism as far away from the evils that have been done in the name of rationality/atheism as possible.”

Or more accurately, to show that no such connection can be made. A simple question; Do you honestly think that any of the evil that Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao perpetrated, could be said to have been done in the name of ‘rationality’? I’d be quite curious to hear you justify that if it is your belief. I consider what these men did to be the very height of irrationality.
I should note though, that there is no necessary link even between rationality and atheism. While I certainly see atheism as a rational position, one need not come to it exclusively through rationality. I have encountered atheists that believe in ghosts, for example. Quite irational in my opinion.

Yet Harris, and it seems you, continue to argue using points from people who are Christian and irrational. This doesn’t really seem fair. Also, I doubt that someone like, say, Stalin, would say they were being irrational. My main point is that either both types of irrational extremities (violent Christians and violent atheists) don’t need to be addressed, or they both do.

Regarding the inclusion of atheism in that quote, simply, nothing can be done in the name of atheism. It’s a statement without meaning. As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, atheism is simply the lack of a belief in a god. Nothing more. How you one do something ‘in the name of’ a lack of a belief?

Fair enough, then I’ll say that these men were atheists. The people who did violence and were Christian can still be compared to as a legitimate analogy. Atheists who do violence. Christians who do violence. I’d argue both are bad.

If you wish to tack on some other world view or belief system (secularism, humanism, etc.), they actually begin to carry some baggage, and one might say they did something in the name of some ideal that that particular world view or ideology holds. But then you are no longer talking exclusively about atheism.
Atheism has no system of belief, no doctrine, no dogma, no worldview…only a lack of a belief in a god.
When we say something was done ‘in the name of a religion’, it is precisely because religion does include all of the things I mentioned. It is quite simple to open any cherished scripture, and find justification for practically any evil man can dream up. No such thing is possible by simply not having a belief in a god.

Belief in a God can, however, give an objective standard by which all actions must be judged. Thus there is a better basis by which to reject certain actions than if there is no objective standard.

“Sam Harris accuses Christianity in particular…He goes on to attempt to disassociate atheism with these obvious atheists” by saying “While it is true that such men are sometimes enemies of organized religion…”  [Here I’d like to note that this is completely deceptive.”

I will agree, within this section anyway, that he did seem to directly avoid saying that the men were atheists. It felt disingenuos to me. He does elsewhere, but that isn’t relevant. I have to concede that he might have been more direct here. I don’t appreciate the dodge either. That said…

“These men absolutely were enemies of organized religion and wholly atheist. Harris is attempting to downplay the evil of these men.] “

It’s entirely honest on his part to say ‘sometimes’ in this case, as Hitler was in the list. Hitler’s atheism, as you know, is quite debatable, and he was a staunch bedfellow with the Church as well (however opportunist that relationship may have been). It would have been inaccurate to claim that ‘all’ of his list were enemies of religion and that they were all atheists. I can’t say for sure that this is why he stated it this way, but it would have been inaccurate to do other wise.
I saw no effort on his part to downplay the evil the men did either.

“Isn’t it obvious that those who champion murder in the name of God are just as irrational as these atheists that Harris, Dawkins, and the like are quick to condemn as irrational?”
Yes, it is quite obvious to me that they are indeed just as irrational. The point is they have centuries of dogma and scripture to justify (or lay blame on if you prefer, not really the point) their horrific actions, as I explained above.

Arguing this is false in light of the points I’ve already made, but it seems to be the central issue, so I’ll address it again. To argue that Christianity is violent is to go against the core teachings of Christianity from its founding (and indeed the person of Christ) to the present day. Not only are the two core law statements to love God and neighbor, but Christ specifically condemns violence in all forms. To argue otherwise is to beg the question. Again, it would be easy to pick out violent examples from Scripture and debate them on a verse-by-verse basis, but that is not the core issue. Christianity teaches the entire Bible points to Christ at the center. What does Christ teach? Nonviolence.

This may sound like a variation of the “No True Scotsman” argument, but it isn’t, as we do have a strict definition of what it means to be Christian in the Bible. One need only look at what Christ Himself says and one can find what is indeed a “true Christian.” Not only that, but Paul, Peter, etc. are further examples of what Christianity means.

“Either Christians are evil because of religion and atheists are evil because of a lack of religion”

Again, I refer you to the above statements. Christians can use the very scripture their religion is based on to justify the evils they do. Atheists have no such justification. An atheist committing an act of violence must assume the responsibility solely on their own. There is no dogma to point to and say “See, that’s what happens when you are an atheist.”. No ancient scripture or holy text, no authorities from whom rules and such are handed down, only an individual making a choice.

Christians who use the Scripture to justify violence have missed what Christ himself says about violence. There can be nothing more clear than this when one simply reads what Jesus says.

“I’d argue that atheists like Stalin could defend their killing from an atheologically defensible position as well: personhood doesn’t matter, so we can kill as we please.”

There is no such position in existence. Not having a belief in a god says nothing of one’s beliefs about the worth of a human life. It does not put special value on it, nor does it devalue it – it says nothing at all about it – or anything else for that matter. It only denotes that one has no belief in a god.

Conceded. Though the atheism you are describing is a “soft atheism” that goes against the definition of atheism as seen in both the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. See further points about that here.

“I do, however agree that either side can use those beliefs (or lack thereof) to condone violent actions.”

How is it you arrive at some belief system (that would ‘condone’ an action), from the statement that one dose not have a belief in a god?
How is it one would use a ‘lack of a belief in a god’ to justify any particular action, let alone a violent one in particular?
I urge caution and thought here. What I am asking is how you arrive at that solely from a lack of a belief in a god, which is precisely what atheism is. Anything extraneously tagged on, and you are no longer discussing atheism.

“His examples include preaching abstinence over use of condoms,…All of these are ad hominem attacks (or ad Deum)”

How is mentioning that the church preaches abstinence an ad hominem attack? I submit that it most certainly is not.

“One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not—that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral—that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year. You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults—and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex—are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. Your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.”

This seems ad hominem to me. Rather than attacking any specific argument, he is attacking, say, Catholics, for preaching abstinence. I’m almost willing to concede your point here except for the virulent nature of his attack in this section. I may be reading too much into it, but this passage seems full of emotional appeal and very much like an attack on people who would dare believe such things and less like a legitimate complaint.

I won’t comment on your subsequent three fold explanation – mostly in the interest of length (this is already ridiculously long!). I’m quite interested in discussing morality as it pertains to religion and atheism in the future though. Let’s hope we can return to this.

Well. That’s quite a lot. More than enough for now, I’m sure. Hopefully it wasn’t too terribly dull, and I’ve left you with something worthy of response. Hope to hear from you soon,

Another thing I’d love to point out is that Harris is a wonderful example of the argument from atheism (page 5 in PDF) which I address argument is demonstrably false because by definition a theist is not an atheist, check out the blog for a longer rebuttal.

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