CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


I woke up this morning thinking about this. I mean in that state where one is dropping out of a dream, this idea was already running in my head, like a word document you get to exist before you go to bed. I guess it's "heavy on my heart" as they say. It was a fully hatched idea as I did my morning "business." But by the time I got the coffee brewed I had already forgotten it. The time between dawn and now, which is 6:29 has been an attempt to salvage the fragments I remember.

I have thought of all of these things before. There's really nothing new here for me, but it somehow seems more fresh and its impressed upon my mind.

I guess the place to start is with the impossibility of proving the existence of God. This is a premise I have long since accepted, since my usual tactic is to argue for "rational warrant." I'm not sure that this is even a meaningful phrase, much less a possibility. I think the urge to produce a heuristic structure capable of evoking in the skeptic a sense of the rational nature of belief, is fine and high minded. It might be possible, if one can find a skeptic who is willing to hold still, so to speak. But the whole enterprise runs up against the following problem:

Think of the nature of proving things: Proving things is a "technology." I use this term in the Faucaultian (that is, the postmodern) sense as the manipulation of objects in the world. In this sense "object" does not mean a physical thing, but an idea. We mentally bring before our minds eye objects in the world, such as “being” or “science” or “existence” or the existence of things, the universe for example. We cannot bring before our mind's eye a chunk of sanctifying Grace. We cannot manipulate God as an object in creation. Belief is, therefore, a realization about the nature of reality, not a technology. The use of this technology requires that we have physical referents. We can manipulate ideas in such a way as to understand their reference to physical objects only so long as we understand what we are talking about. We cannot understand God, therefore, we can't manipulate God or bring God before the skeptic as we might a toothbrush or swizzle stick. We make arguments for God in order to demonstrate to others something of the realization that prompts our own belief. We are actually seeking to trigger in them the same kind of realization. To do so we manipulate aspects of reality, and the skeptic proposes alternate explanations for the various aspects we try to manipulate. Obviously this course will have no more success than trying to cram God into the parade of objects we seek to present and manipulate. But the major reason we make God arguments is because we ourselves do not understand what it is we believe. We seek to nail it down. But this is an impossible task, since God is beyond our understanding. What we should do is seek deeper, ever deeper, experiences of God. But we are rational creatures and we must spell it out for ourselves first.

The God of the Christian tradition is the the concept of the basis of reality. God is Eternal, the basis of all that is (what we used to call “first cause”) and is always already, and thus, without cause. This means that God is the basis of reality. The basis of what is, the “ground of being” can’t be manipulated as though an object in creation. If we knew the basis upon which the realization of God is triggered in our own minds, we might be able to suggest to the skeptic ways to trigger the realization. But we don’t know. Of course we do not know. All we really know is that once we realize God is real, it works to live as though God is real. What can we tell the skeptic? I’m sure that what I’ve said so far will bring scoffing and trigger an orgiastic bout of “aren’t Christians stupid?” That’s because atheists have cut themselves off from the basic existential sense of reality that enables one to have this realization. At that rate there’s really nothing one can do. Why even write a book then?

The religious a priori is this realization; the argument I make is not an argument to prove the existence of God, but to seek the realization. That's really the strategy involved in God-argument-making: we seek to show that there is a basis in rationality, a method to our madness. Of course this meets with varying degrees of success. Some atheists are willing to grant even a scintilla of rationality to belief, others are merely waiting for a payoff that never comes. There is a tendency to expect an argument even after it has been stated that we can't prove them. The payoff never comes because they expect that somehow out of all the statements that God is beyond understanding we will show some back door to understanding and make it plain. The less well meaning use this absence of technology, this failure to manipulate God as one more object in the universe, as a sign that there is no God. In a sense there is no God, if by "God" we understand another object in creation. Atheists, and many Christians as well, are always putting God on the level of a big man on a throne, so that God is just one more thing in the universe. This makes God subject to the universe itself. As though the world consists of all these bits and God is just one bit alongside the others: trees, rocks, energy, tin cans, bus tokens, swizzle sticks, God, lotto tickets, ect. Tillich said that God did not exist, and this is exactly what he meant by that; God does not "exist" because "existence" is something contingent things do. God is the ground of being because God is the basis upon which reality coheres.

Atheists expect this to have a high payoff. How could God be that important and not be inescapable. Of course it could be that God is inescapable but they just refuse to look through the telescope. They wont look in the way that finds God because that would mean abandoning their control. By the same token we go on making God arguments because to cease would be to lose our control. We are both sides seeking to manipulate God through a technology, as though God is a physical object to be empirically demonstrated. What we should be seeking is a means of promoting the understanding that our faith is based upon a realization about the nature of our being. What atheists need to understand is that it won't makes sense to them until they face it as a realization, not a set of data to be manipulated. This is why belief in God is a phenomenological problem. It's a matter of letting the phenomena suggest their own categories. This is after all what the believer has done to become a believer. S/he has allowed the realization of one's own being to culminate in belief. The joining of a religious tradition is merely a means of obtaining a vocabulary through which one might speak of that which is beyond words. We speak of it because in the tradition we encounter others who have encountered the realization, and thus talk about things beyond talk is meaningful, to a point. It is only meaningful to a point, because we can say "O that sounds like what I've experienced." But to speak of it is still to load it into cultural constructs, and thus to water it down. The only sure method is to go back and allow God to do again what was done before in the obtainment of the original realization. Thus belief is a language of its own, shared between the believer and God that can only be hinted at in discourse between human beings. The only real conversation about God must forever remain a conversion between the believer and God.

The empirical information that we can manipulate, that is related to objects in the world, is the effect of the ideas upon the individual. We can't prove that a certain life turned out as it did because the subject was too Hegelian, or not Hegelian enough. But we can trace the effects of an experience if it is dramatic enough and if the changes in one's life in close proximity to that experience are dramatic enough. This is what the studies of RE demonstrate. The empirical effects of these experiences change people's lives long term and in dramatically positive ways. That amounts to saying "it works." The one empirical thing we can prove by way of demonstration is that it works to navigate in life as though God is real, and to allow the experience of the reality of God to guide our perceptions of the world. Of course atheists are going to remain resistant to this notion, they will continue to mock and to demand proof. It's not about proof, it's about realization. The skeptic will always miss it as long s/he demands "proof." The skeptics on CARM used to constantly warn against believing things without proof. The stupidest thing one could ever do was to believe something without being able to prove it. That's because they are hung up on a relationship with things. They have not had the realization of God consciousness, and thus all they can think of is technology. They think in technology, as though thinking this way is a language. All they can understand is manipulation of objects in the world. Of course one can hardly blame them, we don't understand much beyond this point.

The best God arguments, ontological, (modal), cosmological, design (even though it fails), even non arguments such as the feeling of utter dependence, are all about reality as a whole; the order in creation, the reason for creation, the necessity of first cause and the contingency of its effects. This is because belief is a form of consciousness, and the consciousness is the realization of an aspect of reality that underlays and predicates all that is. The real achievement of the modal argument is that it gives us a clue about reality itself, and its predication. The problem is when we try to approach it as though it is a God finder technology. No amount of philosophizing can make us have God consciousness. Although I am convinced that the modal argument, as a mantra of sorts, is a gateway to the realization of God consciousness.

I am sure one could criticize these ramblings as idealizations of arguments I no longer care to debate. Perhaps that's all there is. It is with all this in mind that I present the following. I do not offer these ideas as arguments for the existence of God, but merely as an understanding as to why the skeptical attempt at explaining away religious phenomena doesn't work. I think that's all we can expect in the way of empiricism, or logical demonstration: the skeptic will approach our realization as though it were a technology, and the skeptic will try to demolish the structure (perceived structure) with the technology of skepticism. All we can do is keep deflecting the attempt by clarifying how and why our view is not a technology, not a demonstration, not an attempt to prove, but merely attempts at clarifying what we have "realized" through the higher consciousness. So I am moving to the east, so to say, by treating God belief not an the object of knowledge, around which revolves the qualia and phenomena of sense of data, but as a from of consciousness, the result of an understanding of what it means to be.

The empiricist path which the atheist trudges is the technology of which I speak. Descartes, even though he was a Christian, places the center of consciousness (the "I") at the center of the epistemic universe and makes sense data to revolve around it. Descartes is labeled "rationalist" but his project really kicked off the empiricist reaction. The empiricists take up with the same place but like characters in a Beckett play are immediately stuck somewhere. In this case, not a trashcan but their own need to manipulate objects in such a way that they satisfy their own need to manipulate. But this is a self feeding process, thus never ends. Unable to demonstrate definitive proof of the nature of reality, they will be forever consigned to reduce all clues out of existence. One can only imagine to which circle of hell Dante would consign them. I guess that would be the bean counting circle.

In reflecting upon the nature of reality, the aspect that triggers the realization of the divine, one finds that there is a continuum. On the one hand we have the demonstration of formal logic which is aimed at showing the predication of existence upon the necessary aspect of being itself. This pole includes the modal argument, and all versions of its grandfather, the ontological argument. The cosmological argument can be included here because it is really based upon the ontological principle in a sense; both deal with necessity and contingency. The other pole is that of personal experience; the experience of God, mystical consciousness, and so forth. What both poles have in common, what makes them a continuum, is their encompassing natures. At both ends of the spectrum we are dealing with the nature of necessary being as the predication of all contingent existence. This is so for the mystical because mystical experience usually includes undifferentiated unity of all things. At the formal pole we are dealing with it as a formally presented conclusion to logical demonstration. For years now my theory has been that what Anselm really discovered was the feeling of utter dependence. Since he lacked the necessary vocabulary for phenomenology he tried to place it in formal terms. I still believe this. The stating of formal God arguments is really an attempt to approach technologically something that cannot be manipulated but must be experienced.

What can we do when the well meaning atheist asks "why do you believe?" Or when asked "How can I know that these "realizations" have anything to do with actual reality. Lack of a God forbid we should be believing wrong, or that we should not be able to prove our beliefs!" The only thing we can do is continue to elucidate the inability of naturalistic explanations to really explain things, and to point to the fact that the realization works for navigating through life. Beyond that the skeptic is going to have to seek God.

This was a post on the Debunking Christianity blog. It's by Loftus and then when I answered some another atheist comes in:


I find it odd that otherwise intelligent people can misread so badly what Beversluis had written about C.S. Lewis. I think it's because many Christians hold Lewis in some sort of iconic status that any criticism, even a mild one, and even if correct, is seen as a personal attack on their hero.

9:17 AM, June 26, 2008
Blogger J.L. Hinman said...

I couldn't stand Lewis for a large part of my Christian life. I only began to finally gain some respect for him as i began going to graduate school and actually learned enough to realize that he knew a great deal more than I did.

The problem is that skeptics can't understand faith. Probably they are too busy being skeptical about it. So faith is transitory. I grows. Growth means change. so when faith changes skeptics think it's been lost. Its not lost it's just changed.

8:59 PM, June 26, 2008
Blogger Logossfera said...

And this answers perfectly the question "Do christians lie for their faith?"

3:38 AM, June 27, 2008

Now what the hell is going on here? This guy assumes that I can't admire Lewis? Is that it? Or is it he doesn't believe that I was ever bothered by Lewis?

I just think it's a reached a point where they cannot be talked to anymore. They are beyond the point where it is possible to have a civil conversation with them. Every time I ask for confirmation that this is not the case they prove to me that it is.

Martin Luther King did not try to sit down with the KKK and have nice little rational discussion. Why? Because they would never do it. They were murdering people, they had no intention of having a discussion. They had absolutely zero respect for MLK or anyone black. Now it appears to me that this is the case with about 90% of the atheists on the net. I ask atheists to prove to me that they want to have intelligent civilized discussions and they just tell me I'm full of hate.

I would really love for them to show me that I'm wrong, by actually having such discussion. They just start every dialogue with the snide arrogant attitude and it goes down hill from there. There are plenty of atheists who don't act this way. John Loftus is one of them. He catches some flak, some of it for things of which I can empathize, but he doesn't act this way. He has never once said anything remotely hostile like this to me.

How can we achieve understanding? Is this a lost cause? Why is there such a large contingent of atheists who act this way, and yet some real gems who don't. Why can't we get them to be the model?

Atheists often demonstrate more zeal for their lack of faith than many Christians do for their faith. Why is that? When I was balancing belief and non-belief, it seemed to me that the choice was between something that offered meaning and Nihilism. It never occurred to me to believe so there would be meaning or to disbelief to escape the burdens of belief. That was simply the choice.

The human yearning for meaning, however, appears to transcend the logical extension of disbelief. This explains why atheist regimes have much more blood on their hands in the last few hundred years than Christians have compiled in its lengthier track record. (For a breakdown of the numbers, check out Richard Deem's article on the topic). It is hard to imagine an atheist believing in something so strongly that they would be willing to die for it, much less kill for it. But millions of victims of atheist states of the 20th Century bear witness to the contrary. Despite arguing that there is no transcendent being or meaning, atheists have again and again found sufficient meaning to kill and oppress. And too often, as with Christians who have done the same, the killing and oppressing was done in the name of what is otherwise a worthy cause. For atheist communists, meaning was attached to the State above all else. For the secularists of the French Revolution, reason and liberty were the values that lead to slaughter on a grand scale. As one victim of the Reign of Terror remarked on her way to be beheaded, "Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name."

New Atheist arguments seeking to pin atrocities on Christianity have force because atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ. The atrocities stand out all the more, however, because they can be criticized on the purported basis upon which they were committed. The same cannot be said for the crimes of atheism. Moreover, great good has been done because of the values of Christianity (such as the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, stigmatizing and criminalizing infanticide, and promoting charity). Atheism lacks a comparable track record of benevolence, nor is there any reason to suppose it would produce one. Nor are there any countervailing beliefs within atheism to mitigate against descents into extremism.

In March 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey which contained a number of new, up-to-date details of American Life. Initial reaction to the study could be found in a press release issued by the Center for Inquiry on March 3, 2008. Of course, the pontification about the meaning of the data found in the press release is unbelievably slanted. However, the Center for Inquiry Press Release trumpeted a rather interesting fact.

According to the Center for Inquiry Press Release, atheism is on the rise and now includes a whopping four percent of the American Population. This is up from 3.2 percent which was the number reached by the last survey apparently completed in 2004. That's an increase of 0.8 percent or roughly a twenty percent increase in the total number of atheists!

Obviously, atheism is taking off, right?

Well, maybe not.

An article in the New York Times entitled Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance by Neela Banerjee gives more details about the initial survey, including a link to the actual survey (unlike the Center for Inquiry press release). The New York Times Article includes following interesting tidbit:

The new report sheds light on the beliefs of the unaffiliated. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, 70 percent of the unaffiliated said they believed in God, including one of every five people who identified themselves as atheist and more than half of those who identified as agnostic.

Okay, so if one in every five people who identify themselves as atheist hold a belief in God, then that means that twenty percent of self-identifying atheists aren't really atheists (unless we are going to start changing definitions). So, if the percentage of the population that self-identifies as atheist is up to four percent of the total U.S. population ,but twenty percent of those aren't really atheists then (let's see, 4.0 divided by 5 is .8, so 4.0 less 0.8 is . . . .) the atheist population is really 3.2 percent!

Isn't that where we started?

A few weeks ago I did a post discussing the characteristics of ancient historiography displayed by the Gospel of John. In response, a commenter asked, “Which other ancient histories never name the author?” As pointed out by another commenter, this question was irrelevant to the point of the post because I did not claim that the Gospel of John was an example of ancient historiography, only that it was influenced by that genre in important aspects. Nevertheless, I provided four examples of Greco-Roman historiography that did not seem to identify the author in the text and asked the commenter whether he could offer any authority indicating that ancient historiography always identified the author in the text. He failed to respond.

The Failure to Identify the Author in the Text

A few weeks later, it was with great interest that I ran across an article on this very subject during one of my visits to the local seminary to check out the periodicals. In the latest issue of Novum Testamentum, I found "The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books" by A.D. Baum, Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142. Professor Baum notes that none of the “historical books” in the New Testament -- the Gospels plus Acts -- identify the author in the text. He then examined Greco-Roman historiography and concluded that Greco-Roman historians almost always identify themselves in their text (usually in the prologue) and did so because of their desire for personal fame:

Only secretaries and copyists worked anonymously. Their names are mentioned only in exceptional cases. Greco-Roman historians mention their names even if the amount of work they invested in collecting their material and adorning it stylistically was rather limited.... The fact that almost all Greek and Roman historians published their works under their names is probably due to their distinctive longing for fame.

Id. at 132.

Greco-Roman historiography was not the only game in town, however. Professor Baum points out that historical writings from the Ancient Near East tended not to mention their author. The most prominent and relevant examples are the Old Testament historical writings. “In contrast to the works of Greco-Roman historiography, the Old Testament historical books are anonymous without exception.” Baum, op. cit., page 127. Examples include Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles. This practice carried forward into later times as 1 and 2 Maccabees attest. These Maccabees writings are particularly notable as they are otherwise indebted to Greco-Roman historiographical practices.

Other Ancient Near East historical writings also were “anonymous.” “Acadian literature was for the most part handed down anonymously as well. In Mesopotamia, historical epics were generally published without their author's names. And Egyptian literature was mostly written anonymously as well... Writings on the deeds of the Pharaohs [] were usually written by unknown authors.” Baum, op. cit., page 128.

Focus on Personal Fame or Subject Matter?

Why the difference? According to Professor Baum, the focus of the ANE authors -- especially of the Old Testament historical books -- was their subject matter, rather than their own fame. This carried over to the New Testament historical books. “By adopting the stylistic device of the anonymity from Old Testament historiography the Evangelists of the New Testament implied that they regarded themselves as comparatively insignificant mediators of a subject matter that deserved the full attention of the readers.” Baum, op. cit., page 142.

This is an invaluable point of comparison by Professor Baum. In my article on Acts, I point out that the author of Luke-Acts likely saw himself as continuing the story of scripture, as had been recorded in the Old Testament historical books. The same thought had likely occurred to other New Testament authors. Although scholars often look for the influence of the Old Testament on the New, they have given insufficient attention to that influence when it comes to issue of genre, in my opinion.

I would add that there may have been another reason for New Testament anonymity. As Richard Bauckham points out in a different context, becoming known as an advancer of Christian ideas was not without its risk. See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. In other words, it might have posed more problems than benefits for the author of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, to gain fame and notoriety as the author of evangelistic texts for an outlawed religion.

Exceptions in Greco-Roman Historiography

But going back to the beginning of my post, what about those four examples of Greco-Roman historiography that I had listed for my skeptical commenter? Do they show that the practice of self-identification was not as widespread as Professor Baum concludes? The four are Sallust's The Jugurthine War and The Conspiracy of Catiline, and Tacitus' Agricola and Germania.

I emailed Professor Baum to ask him about these examples. He was quite pleasant and confirmed that the four historical works I mentioned in fact did not identify their authors in the prologue or anywhere else in the text. I find this a significant point. Professor Baum had identified at least one other Greco-Roman work that did not self-identify, Anabisis by Arrian. That brings the count to at least five. Notably, the works of Sallust and Tacitus are not aberrations. Sallust wrote in the first century before Christ and his works were “much admired throughout classical antiquity.” Sallust, The Jugurthine War/The Conspiracy of Catiline, page 8. Tacitus is considered the preeminent Roman historian of his time. He wrote in the late first and early second centuries. Both Sallust and Tacitus were leading Romans of their day, having served in the Senate and as Governors of Roman provinces. Their failure to self identify in the texts of significant historical writings calls into question the pervasiveness of this practice.

The breadth of Professor Baum's survey of the relevant literature is unclear. He includes two works by Josephus, and Polybius, Callimorphus, and Justin in a chart. Elsewhere in his article he refers to Miletos, Thucydides, some Jewish authors who wrote according to Greco-Roman historiography conventions, and biographers such as Eurpides, Isocrates, Lucian, Philo, Plutarch, and Suetonius. But opposed to these are Arrian, Tacitus, and Sallust. That is not an insignificant minority. I would also add that it is almost blind luck that I stumbled across Tacitus and Sallust. I am attempting to survey Greco-Roman historiography, but given work and family obligations it is slow going. I had just happened to have read these works when I was questioned about ancient historiography and anonymity. This means that it is possible that there are additional examples of mainstream Greco-Roman historians who did not self identify.

In his email, Professor Baum said his “first guess” would be that Sallust and Tacitus might have identified themselves in the title of their book. This is possible, of course, but not confirmed. And I am reluctant to treat the two practices – identifying one's self in the text versus on a tag in the title – as materially similar for present purposes. Moreover, it is also possible that one or more of the New Testament authors of the historical books were identified in the title or on a tag. In his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, E. Earle Ellis concluded that this likely was the case with Luke-Acts. “Before placing a book-roll in the library it would be tagged for ready reference with a title and the author’s name. In all likelihood Luke’s volumes were so tagged by Theophilus since this was the common custom.” Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, page 65.


The New Testament historical books' failure to identify their authors is notable and deserving of more attention than it has received. Such so-called anonymity was apparently the rule for Old Testament historical books, as well as common practice among other ANE historical authors, which were an important influence on the New Testament authors. But the suggested near uniformity of Greco-Roman historiography in identifying the author in the text may have been overstated. There are important exceptions, and may even be more, pending additional research. Accordingly, the New Testament historical books' failure to explicitly mention their authors does not count against their being of the genre of ancient historiography generally, and is not evidence against the influence of Greco-Roman historiography.

The most recent installment of CT Direct includes an interesting interview with Pastor Tim Keller entitled Tim Keller Reasons with America. If you are unfamiliar with Tim Keller, CT Direct notes:

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and cofounder of the Gospel Coalition, is behind some of the most ambitious — if not the most radical — efforts to reach urban professionals. Now he's expanding his ministry in book form, with the publication of The Reason for God, which moved its way up to number seven on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Pastor Keller responds to a number of questions in the article each one containing interesting insights into his view of apologetics. For example, he is asked, "Are the doubts that believers face the same as the doubts that unbelievers face?" Pastor Keller begins his response by noting that the doubts that people have about Christianity can, in many respects, be the result of the society in which he is raised. Thus, the doubts that people in the Middle East have about Christianity are going to be different than the doubts of an urban professional raised as an atheist in New York City.

It's your society that gives you the doubts. If you go to the Middle East and ask people what makes Christianity implausible, they're not going to say, "Because there can't be one true religion." They're going to say, "Because of how oppressive America has been as a Christian nation, and if you look at their culture, it's lascivious and debauched."

If you ask Americans, "What makes Christianity implausible to you?" they're not going to say, "Your popular culture is filled with sex and violence." They will say, "How could there be one true religion?"

It seems important to stress here that this is not a relativistic view that has been adopted by some atheists. At least one atheist who comments on this blog has tried to make the point that what we believe is almost totally determined by the society in which we have been raised. In other words, the truth that a person holds is fashioned by his or her up-bringing. This post-modernistic view of truth is not what Pastor Keller seems to be advocating. Rather, he is suggesting (as C.S. Lewis suggested about 60 years ago) that the society in which the listener lives will change the place from which apologetics must start. Lewis suggested that he would rather try to evangelize a pagan than an atheist because the pagan begins with the common ground that there is something more than the physical universe. Pastor Keller is simply saying that the doubts that arise about the truth of Christianity will vary depending upon the society in which the doubter lives.

After a couple of additional comments, Pastor Keller drops this interesting tidbit:

I do think a lot of Christians — because they don't understand the grace narrative — get out into the world and find it very tough to navigate. I think it's because they don't understand the gospel, not because they can't answer all the theological questions.

This is absolutely key. Too many Christians don't understand the Gospel. To paraphrase Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason, too many Christians (think they) can tell you all about the symbolism found in the Revelation of St. John including the identity of the anti-Christ and the whore of Babylon, but they don't understand the work of the cross. But the symbolism of Revelation is irrelevant if the grace of Jesus Christ cannot properly be communicated. It is even less relevant if the grace of Jesus Christ is not understood. Knowing the identity of the Whore of Babylon will not save me. Understanding what Jesus did on the cross for the world and accepting that free gift of grace will save me.

The typical Christian needs to get a whole lot better at the basics of the faith and stop futzing around with details if we are to make a true impact on the world.

A recent letter written to Dr. Billy Graham and published on has me scratching my head. Here is the letter:

DEAR DR. GRAHAM: I want to make myself clear: I have no interest in God or religion, and I don't care who knows it. As far as I'm concerned, God doesn't exist, and this life is all there is. Don't even bother to write me back, because I'm not interested. -- G.P.

G.P. makes several very interesting statements in this short letter. Let's read them again, one at a time:

1. "I have no interest in God or religion" -- Really? Then why are you writing to Dr. Graham to tell him so? Certainly, you have some interest, don't you?

2. "I don't care who knows it" -- But you want Dr. Graham and all of the readers of his column to know it, right? Why is that?

3. "As far as I'm concerned, God doesn't exist, and this life is all there is." -- Did you give this any thought? I mean, if you don't believe he exists or that there is anything beyond this life, that's the result of some level of consideration, isn't it? This seems to show an interest in God or religion -- at least a negative interest -- which you have disclaimed.

4. "Don't even bother to write me back, because I'm not interested." -- So, you were just emoting about something you don't care about?

G.P., if you should stumble across this blog, I did want to respond. I'm not Dr. Graham, but your letter reads like there is something really wrong in your life. If you really didn't care about God or heaven, I cannot imagine why you bothered to write the letter in the first place. Were you simply bored and said, "Gee, I'll write a letter to a famous Evangelist telling him that I don't believe in God just because"? That hardly makes sense.

While I could be wrong, I suspect that you wrote the letter for entirely different reasons. I suspect that you wrote the letter because the God who "as far as you are concerned doesn't exist" is calling out to you. You, for reasons of your own, have chosen to reject Him, but you cannot shake the feeling that He's out there. Thus, like a person who is afraid to admit that he is actually bankrupt, you don't want to check your bank balances. You want to write letters to people saying, "I'm not bankrupt! I've got plenty of money, if I need it", when, in fact, you are greatly overdrawn.

I really would like you to reconsider the truth claims of Christianity. Don't simply reject them without considering much of the work that has gone into the many historic, philosophic and scientific arguments that cry out that God exists. Don't simply accept some friend's rejection of these arguments as good cause to reject them yourself. Many people, such as myself and the writers on this blog, have examined these arguments and found them quite intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

It really is too important of an issue to summarily dismiss, and it certainly is too important to think that firing off a letter to Dr. Graham without concerning yourself with how he might respond would be a satisfactory way to deal with it.

I am an aspiring amateur astronomer. That is, I aspire to have enough time to even be considered an amateur in this field. I have a small telescope, several books, a pair of gigantic binoculars, and a subscription to Sky & Telescope. Of these, the subscription gets the most use.

Anyway, I ran across this little entry noting some new discoveries that indicate the earth's privileged status is the result of even more unique processes than we knew:

Genesis: Earth is Weird

When NASA's Genesis spacecraft crash-landed in the Utah desert in 2004 after collecting samples of the solar wind, the mission seemed lost. But scientists have painstakingly salvaged the solar-wind samples, and these tell an odd story.

The Sun's oxygen-isotope ratios don't match Earth's. Instead, they match those of the earliest meteorites. So, when the solar system was forming, it's Earth that somehow became the oddball, not the meteorites as scientists had assumed. Now there is "no plausible model" to make Earth with the oxygen ratios it exhibits. Kevin McKeegan (UCLA) told the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. "It's always been a challenge to supply Earth with the water it has. Now we're wondering how it got the rocks it has."

Sky & Telescope, July 2008, page 16.

I have been reading Timothy Keller's The Reason for God. Although I might not classify him as an academic heavy hitter apologetically speaking, he has a knack -- somewhat like C.S. Lewis -- of putting his finger on important points and evaluating claims and evidences from a novel perspective.

In the Introduction, Pastor Keller has a section titled, "The Enemies are Both Right." He points out that many skeptics would claim that the fundamentalists are a rising threat, gaining ever more political power and growing mega-churches. On the other hand, conservative Christians see ever increasing skepticism and hostility in major universities and media companies. So Pastor Keller asks the question, "Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today?" As the section title suggests, he thinks both are right. "Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion is growing in power and influence. But at the same time, robust, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is growing as well."

It is undisputed that church attendance has declined somewhat in the United States. Those marking "no religion" to poll questions has increased more significantly. Chalk those up for the "skeptics are winning" column. On the other hand, the share of conservative religious believers among those who go to church has dramatically increased. Belief in miracles and charismatic expressions of Christianity are growing in the United States and exploding in other parts of the world. In academia, all is not lost to secularists. "It is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of all the teachers and professors of philosophy in the country are orthodox Christians." Leading Christian scholars, such as Richard Swinburne, N.T. Wright, and Alvin Plantinga are recognized leaders in their fields, not just in the Christian Churches.

In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. There was once a confident belief that secular European countries were the harbingers for the rest of the world. Religion, it was thought, would think out from its more robust, supernaturalist forms or die out altogether. But the theory that technological advancement brings inevitable secularization is now being scrapped or radically rethought. Even Europe may not face a secular future, with Christianity growing modestly and Islam growing exponentially.

Keller, op. cit., at x.

So whether we like it or not, it appears that the Skepticism versus Christianity divide is in for the long haul.

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.

This is the final entry of the section, and concludes a summary of positions reached in previous entries. I recommend reading at least the previous entry first. I concluded that entry with a paragraph where I stated that even as a sceptic "I would not propose that we can discover nothing useful and/or true about the IF."]

Closely related to this, as a sceptic I think I would discount worldviews (atheistic, pantheistic, theistic, whatever) that require the IF to be an abstract generality. The implication of such a worldview, when followed through, ends by denying the existence of the IF--or else holding such a worldview in name, I would still end up contradicting myself by treating the IF (after all) as a particular highly concrete thing. Put another way, I would understand that the implications of the relationship between the IF and 'derivative' things (even if they turn out to be parts of the IF considered as separate for purposes of convenience) require by default that the IF must be the most real and (in some way) minutely articulated, complex thing in existence. So, for instance, if I was a philosophical naturalist, I would consider the field of Nature (taken as a whole) to be by default the most real, minutely articulated and complex thing in existence. It is not a generality or an abstraction--it could not be an 'abstraction' for the very simple reason that it is by default (per the naturalism philosophy) the Total. More to the point, I would understand that generalities and abstractions and relationships describe things: they are adjectives, not nouns (even if we for convenience often treat them as nouns). It is nonsensical to claim there is an entity corresponding to Pink. Pink describes the attributes of something.

Closely related to that, I would as a sceptic reject theories which require that I do not exist, or that my thoughts must be illusionary, or something of that sort. Such philosophies can only get going by immediately positing and overtly embracing contradictions; and at the best this means I can have no reason to believe them to be true. Put more bluntly, if I really did not exist then 'I' would not be in a position either to discover this for myself or even to flatly assert it!

As a sceptic, although I would perhaps consider the question of derivative gods interesting, I would be much more concerned (at least at first) with discovering the characteristics of the IF. Put another way (for instance, in terms of typical Greek mythology), I would consider the question "Does Zeus exist?" to be subordinate to the question "Is Chaos the fundamental grounding aspect of reality?" Otherwise I would only be putting the horse behind the cart.

As a sceptic, I would be extremely suspicious of philosophies which require the IF itself to be both sentient and non-sentient; again, because deep internal contradictions are necessary to propose this belief, and also because when this type of belief is put into practice it eventually 'collapses' into a practical belief in either a SIF or an n-SIF anyway.

As a sceptic, I would try to treat metaphors fairly and realistically. When reductive metaphors are used, I would try very hard to remember that we should not then subsequently refer back to the distinctive characteristics represented by the reductive metaphor. For instance, although I might have to speak for convenience as if molecules and atomic particles made choices and initiated actions, I would be extremely careful not to hang argumentative points on the requirement that they did those things (assuming I didn't really think they did those things--which, by the way, I don't). People who talk as though parameciums and other microscopic lifeforms 'choose' and 'act' don't always think this is what microorganisms 'do'; yet sometimes these same people will require their metaphor to be literal--that more is going on than what they would otherwise propose was going on. I would always be on the watch for that kind of fudging, be it from supernaturalistic theists or atheists or pantheists or whomever--and I would especially be on the watch for it in my own arguments.

Yet, I would as a sceptic also understand that most of the time when we use metaphorical language we mean more, not less, than the language indicates. The biologist who speaks of a paramecium 'deciding' to go thataway for food probably means less than his imagery suggests--most biologists don't consider paramecia to be capable of conscious choices and other actions, but only capable of automatic reactions and counterreactions. But such use of metaphor (though important) is relatively uncommon. More often, we mean more than the imagery suggests. Language is necessarily reductive, so we have to use similar words for multiple meanings. For example, by 'reductive' in the last sentence, I don't mean that language makes real things smaller. I mean something more complex and nuanced than my language indicates. And I would also play fairly by not requiring that people somehow abandon metaphor and 'talk plainly'. It can't be done; the effort to do so results in choosing other metaphors (without realizing they are metaphors) which are often less efficient at helping the idea across than the original metaphor. On the other hand, sometimes it isn't a bad idea to restate the contention using different imagery and then using a comparison of the two images to help correct and refine the perception of the idea I am trying to communicate. This same process takes place on a somewhat larger scale when analogies are used to help illustrate a previously developed argument.

[Footnote: I would, of course, be on the lookout for the so-called 'argument from analogy' where the analogies only illustrate a blanket assertion--the argument only being presumed to have been made--but I would also be careful not to fall off the horse on the other side and accuse someone of arguing by analogy simply because he happens to use a number of illustrative analogies.]

As a sceptic, I would be very interested in 'evidence', for both my own side and another's. But I would require the burden of proof to be on the instigator of the debate (although if I was going to counter-convince I would need to be ready to marshal my own arguments and evidence).

Also, if I was going to be fair, then as a sceptic I would recognize that a purported supernatural event would very probably leave evidence not much (perhaps not any) different from a natural event. The good news (if I happened to be a naturalist) is that this usually cuts both ways. If a city buried by volcanism is found near the Dead Sea, or another city in Mesopotamia turns up the base of a large ziggurat with attendant documents suggesting that a confusion of language prevented the ziggurat from being completed, then although I might be inclined to accept that the historicity of these accounts in purported scriptures has more strength than I originally allowed, I am not necessarily obligated to assign a supernatural cause to the natural effect--no more than I am necessarily obligated to accept the existence and character of the Greek pantheon after Troy's existence and history are finally corroborated by archaeologists. Then again, if on other grounds I was persuaded that something exists which could be expected to exert supernatural influence to produce those effects, and if the stories tended to match in metaphysics the characteristics of the entity in question, I would be much further along the road to accepting the accounts as presented in the documents. Similarly, if the Greek pantheon could be established metaphysically, I might decide to take Homer's stories as being even closer to history than I originally thought.

So the evidence would have to be something that didn't depend solely on (purported) historical documents; because how I interpret those documents is always strongly affected by my trans-historical beliefs. This is true, even if that trans-historical belief reduces simply down to: "My parents and teachers (and/or preacher) told me so, and I find them to be otherwise trustworthy."

Therefore as a sceptic, I would require that the evidence in favor of, for example, a Sentient Independent Fact (SIF) should be of a type closely related in character to the proposed SIF--and that I should be able to figure out this close relation from inferences about the evidence (not have it dictated to me as an unexaminable premise). In other words, if I thought reality had only two dimensions (length and width) and did not have depth as a third dimension, I would require evidence from the 3-D proponent that some kind of 3-D effect takes place where I can detect it.

I might possibly allow that the effects would be immediately represented in terms of a 2-D effect, and so not hold this necessarily against the 3-D proponent. [Footnote: When a sphere progressively intersects a plane by passing through it, the 2-D man would see a circle grow from apparently nothing and shrink back to apparently nothing--he would not see what we would consider to be the 'shape' of a 'sphere'.]

However, I would at the same time require that this proposed evidence should not be effectively reducible (or fully explainable) in terms of 2-D causes. If the evidence can be explained that way, then although I might still allow that the evidence might perhaps still be explainable by a 3-D cause, I cannot see that I would be under any fair obligation to exclusively accept the 3-D cause over the 2-D cause. The evidence must be such that in principle it cannot be the product of 2-D causes--even if I am naturally restricted from directly perceiving the 3-D cause by being an entity with 2-D perception.

Similarly, the evidence for supernatural ultimate sentience should be such that the evidence cannot in principle be fully explained as a product of the Natural system (taking into account whatever characteristics of the Natural system we can discover, or at least agree upon). Otherwise, although I might allow that the evidence could perhaps be caused by the SIF, I would be under no fair obligation I am aware of to accept the existence of the SIF rather than accept the explanation of purely non-sentient natural causation.

I think this leaves a wide range of potential opposition to Christianity. I can see myself holding these views, and still being an atheist (of various sorts); or some type of polytheist; or perhaps a positive pantheist; or a nominal deist (God created Nature, but has never interfered with it afterwards). I could still be an agnostic (although not an 'intrinsic' agnostic). I think I could be a Jew or Muslim, or an adherent of any of a number of theisms which oppose (to whatever degree) Christianity. I could even be a Mormon, I think.

But I am not any of these. I am an orthodox Christian. And now the time has come for me to begin to build, if I can (or not, if I cannot), a positive argument for the existence and characteristics of God which, although some of my opponents may also find it useful, will (in hindsight) exclusively answer the question: "Why do I think Christianity is true?"

[Coming eventually: Section Two, Reason and the First Person]

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]

Having followed a path throughout this section that leads to the question of evidence, I am now ready to proceed with my positive argument. However, before I begin my next section, let me summarize where I am.

As I said near the beginning of this book, my goal for this section is merely to level the playing field so that misunderstandings about religious propositions don't lurk undisclosed in the background, inspiring unwarranted and spurious opposition. In the process, I have necessarily had to pare off certain propositions here and there. But I have at least followed one of my core positions for this chapter: no matter how complicated the proposition, if it is built on a fundamental misunderstanding of the implications of propositions, then the proposition ought to be rejected.

This does not mean I necessarily reject absolutely everything proposed by the adherents of the beliefs that I have had to treat rather shortly in this section. As I explained back in Chapter 1, I am still obligated to recognize at the very least where I agree with them and to thereby acknowledge real credit of theirs on those issues. Furthermore, it is in principle possible that many of their subordinate points may be valid taken as themselves, and might even be deductively valid if grounded using different foundational principles.

Surely the most obvious illustration of my potential relationship with these people and their beliefs, involves my actual relationship with some of my Christian brethren. I think some of them ground their positions (often without them realizing they are 'grounding' anything!) on some drastic misunderstandings; nevertheless, I actually agree with them on virtually all of their ultimate positions and very many of their subordinate ones. I just don't think they can get there from where they start.

Relatedly, an ontological dualist and I will rapidly come to many serious disagreements; but we also share a few common beliefs (sometimes even for the same reasons). The ontological dualists perhaps make a better example, because I think their core proposition of multiple-IFs, ends up becoming really a proposition for a single IF, if I follow through the implications of their position. I suggest this is one way that reconciliation can take place between myself and at least some of the advocates I have mentioned in this section.

Meanwhile, the advocates with whom I am least likely to find common ground, are the ones who explicitly or implicitly deny their (and my) own rationality (whether or not they are technically on 'my side'). But that should not be surprising: digging a philosophical hole, jumping in, and pulling it in after you, not only leaves no bar to further progress by me but also leaves no means for common dialogue (and thus no means of having, much less finding, 'common ground') between us.

In most cases, however, very many of my opponents should still be on board as viable opposition. I submit that if I had started this book sceptical of Christianity, I would still be a sceptic. But what kind of sceptic would I be?

I would be a sceptic who recognizes that it is entirely possible to discover at least something regarding religious (or anti-religious) propositions. I would not be what I have called a "negative agnostic". I would understand that the statement "discussions about religion can reach no useful answers" undercuts itself, and so cannot be true. If I was an agnostic, I would have reached my agnosticism by evaluating competing claims and finding none of them satisfactory--all of them would, in my opinion, have major problems, including naturalistic atheism. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.] But I would therefore be affirming that in principle useful answers one way or another could be discovered (just that, as far as I could tell, nothing I had seen yet had sufficiently accomplished this).

Very closely related to this, I would be a sceptic who does not accept that all statements about God are equally false. I would understand that such a statement refutes itself, because I myself would be claiming thereby to make a true statement about God. My claim would thus end in a necessary contradiction.

Closely related to that, I would be a sceptic who does not accept that all statements about God can be equally true. It cannot be equally true that God really exists in a particular fashion, and also does not really exist in that fashion. Various religions and anti-religions make exclusive claims about what is true or not true about God, Nature, man, etc. To accept that they all hit the mark equally well, I would have to be willing to accept flat contradictions.

Closely related to all of the above points, I would be a sceptic who understands the devastating effect of requiring necessary contradictions in a theory. I would understand that contradictions are propositions which borrow their seeming force from the coherency of language, not from any other sort of reality they may seem (on the face of it) to represent. [Footnote: for that matter, sometimes a contradiction won't even involve a merely grammatic coherency of language!] However, I would also fairly recognize that a properly paradoxical claim is not a true contradiction, but only looks like one--it points to a further link to be discovered which reconciles the apparently exclusive claims of the paradox. Of course, I would check extremely closely to ensure that a proposed 'paradox' really is a paradox and not a contradiction claimed as 'paradox' to deflect analysis (and thus save the theory by cheating). The paradox invites further analysis, in the real hope of truly reconciling the (merely) apparent conflict. I would obviously be on the lookout for requirements of contradictions in religious theories; but if I was a fair sceptic I would also keep a sharp watch for theories from any anti-religious side of the aisle which require necessary contradictions.

Furthermore, as a sceptic, I would keep an eye out for circular argumentation as support for a conclusion, on any side of the aisle; because I would understand why such methods lead a thinker precisely nowhere.

I would be a sceptic who understands that a successful system check of a theory grounded on a hypothesized proposal does not necessarily exclude other theories from being true explanations; and I would also understand that a failed system check does not mean that a given attempted conclusion must necessarily be false. Also, I would be ready to apply this concept both to theories I sympathize with, and to ones I oppose.

As a sceptic, I would be rather suspicious of theories which require that I accept anything without analysis; and this would include theories which hinge on accepting documents as normative without such confirmational analysis. At the same time, if I was going to be fair, I would be ready in principle to acknowledge when documents have details that can be historically corroborated. That would not mean I would be suddenly ready to believe everything else the purported author has claimed; but I would be ready to revise my opinions (to at least some degree) about why and how those documents were produced. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.]

Although I might not have started with an understanding of the intimate interrelationship between religious beliefs and reasoning, I think that after studying how we develop beliefs in other venues I would be prepared to reject any attempts (by any side) at divorcing the two concepts. As a sceptic, I think this means I would fairly conclude that religion is not necessarily a private assertion separated from the 'real' 'practical' world by some kind of negatively spiritual ditch. If I did think that, then I might be justified in blowing off the whole proceeding as not having any possibility of relevance for myself. But once I check how beliefs develop in other topics, I would be ready to allow that religious beliefs might possibly be something other than isolated psychological effects. To put it another way, in order to be fair I would deny that "only believers believe their beliefs are based on something other than belief" (as a respondent once dismissively told me). At best such a position would be fatally contradictory to my own beliefs, whatever they are as a sceptic! (It might also be grossly unfair game-rigging if someone showed up for the discussion who really did have reasons other than sheer wish-fulfillment impulses.)

Closely related to the last few points: as a sceptic I would not accept that a flat assertion functions as a belief. Of course, it could easily (and very often does) reflect a developed belief. But that isn't the same thing as being a belief in and of itself. Put another way, I would see such a position as being perhaps the ultimate in wish-fulfillment: to claim reality is such-n-such a way with no justification for this claimed truth other than my mere say-so. As attractive as that position might be to my nature (especially to my ego and my sense of self-preservation), I would still reject it not only for fairness' sake but also because I am not sure I could even reach that position (much less maintain it) without contradicting myself. Put yet another way, if I brutely claim 'no reasons' for holding a stance (no matter what pious coloring I give it using religious-faith language), then I also have 'no reasons' why I should not hold a different stance (much less 'no reasons' why something other than my assertion cannot be true.)

As a sceptic, I would not advocate the concept of an infinite regress. I would understand that this position either denies a real ground to any conclusion (rendering all theories invalid, especially any theories of mine concerning infinite regressions!), or if examined carefully actually turns out to be itself grounded on an Independent Fact. This would also, in passing, close off yet another potential attempt at claiming that 'all religious ideas are equally true/false, therefore I can safely ignore religious questions'.

As a sceptic, I would not advocate the existence of multiple Independent Facts. I would not, for instance, be a ontological dualist, either in terms of a God/Nature dualism or a God/Anti-God dualism. I would understand that the implications of such a stance either cancel themselves out in practice, or else in practice actually reflect the existence of some type of IF above and beyond the entities for which (or for Whom) I was previously claiming that title.

Putting together, to some degree, many of the previous points: as a sceptic, I would not propose that we can discover nothing useful and/or true about the IF. I would understand that such a proposition immediately contradicts itself: if it is impossible to discover true things about the IF, how did I discover that? And I would be extremely leery about proposing that the one possibly discoverable characteristic about the IF is that nothing else can be discovered. For example, there is a good chance that if I was not a Christian, I would be a philosophical naturalist. (More likely a neo-pagan naturalist than a naturalistic atheist, though--at least aesthetically...) And virtually any philosophical naturalist will affirm that true things can be discovered about Nature--which, for the philosophical naturalist, is the IF. [See third comment below for a deferred footnote here.]

[Next time: the leveled playing-field (and the end of the Section)]

Several years ago, Time magazine published an article about archaeology and Christianity. the article appeared to concede that there was a great deal of archaeological evidence consistent with the descriptions of the places and events described in the New Testament (as Christians contend). However, as one heads further back into the murkier days before King David, the article announced unreservedly that the archaeological evidence actually contradicts the Biblical account. One of the breaking points that I recall was the account of the fall of Jericho to the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land as recounted in the Book of Joshua, Chapter 6. According to the Time story, Jericho hadn't even been occupied at the time that the Israelites would have entered into the Promised Land. Hence, the entire account had to be a myth made up at a later date.

My own personal thought was: how do they know that? After all, there really is no confirmation as to the date of the Exodus itself, so how could the authors of Time or the archaeologists consulted know that Jericho fell so early in comparison to the arrival of the Israelites?

In fact, it appears that much of the problems in dating of the fall of Jericho and the claims that the city was unoccupied during the time of the Exodus come from the work of Dr. Kathleen Kenyon, a Christian, who excavated the site in the 1950s. She concluded, reluctantly, that the fall of the walls could not possibly have occurred during the supposed time frame that Joshua would have entered the Promised Land. I guess it is certainly reasonable to conclude that if a Christian says it didn't happen, then that's good evidence that it didn't happen. (Admissions against interest are given a great deal of credibility in courtrooms.)

However, just because a Christian archaeologist reached this conclusion 60 years ago does not mean that the conclusion is correct. The real question is: was Dr. Kenyon (and those that followed after her) correct? Was the city really unoccupied during the time frames that Joshua most likely entered the Holy Land?

Biblical Archaeology, a fine website put together by the Associates for Biblical Research, has posted an article that evaluates the original conclusions of Dr. Kenyon. The article entitled The Walls of Jericho concludes that while Dr. Kenyon did excellent excavation work, she was in error on her dates by a century. According to the article:

The meticulous work of Kenyon showed that Jericho was indeed heavily fortified and that it had been burned by fire. Unfortunately, she misdated her finds, resulting in what seemed to be a discrepancy between the discoveries of archaeology and the Bible. She concluded that the Bronze Age city of Jericho was destroyed about 1550 BC by the Egyptians. An in-depth analysis of the evidence, however, reveals that the destruction took place at the end of the 15th century BC (end of the Late Bronze I period), exactly when the Bible says the Conquest occurred (Wood 1990).

A very interesting part of this article includes some discussion about the Biblical statement that the dwelling of Rahab (the Jericho prostitute who aided the Israelites) would be spared. The article gives credence to the fact that it very well may have been spared.

Excavations at the outer (lower) fortification wall by the three major expeditions to Jericho. At the north end (numbers 1–5), a portion of the mud brick wall (shaded) atop the stone retaining wall survived, demonstrating that the city wall did not fall in this area. Nothing remains of the mud brick city wall at other points investigated, showing that it had collapsed everywhere else (numbers 6–13). Remnants of the collapsed city wall (shaded) were actually found still in place in three places at Jericho: number 11 (German excavation), number 12 (Kenyon’s excavation), and the 1997 Italian-Palestinian excavation extending Kenyon’s south trench at number 8.

According to the Bible, Rahab’s house was incorporated into the fortification system (Jos 2:15). If the walls fell, how was her house spared? As you recall, the spies had instructed Rahab to bring her family into her house and they would be rescued. When the Israelites stormed the city, Rahab and her family were saved as promised (Jos 6:17, 22–23). At the north end of the tell of Jericho, archaeologists made some astounding discoveries that seem to relate to Rahab.

The German excavation of 1907-1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else. A portion of that mudbrick wall was still standing to a height of 8 ft (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). What is more, there were houses built against the wall! It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was located. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped. From this location on the north side of the city, it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Jos 2:16, 22).

The article is a fascinating read. I certainly recommend it.

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.

I ended the previous entry (which continues chapter 12), by asking, "If I was a sceptic, what kind of evidence would I accept?"

Please note that this is one of those entries which might not necessarily be agreed to by all Cadre members.]

I will presume I am not in the grip of a strong emotional pull toward some belief. I do not (speaking actually as a Christian) deny that God can and does convict many people through a process that doesn't seem, at first, to have much to do with analysis. But I think that sooner or later the converted sceptic, whether to or from a religious belief, should face questions of coherency and intelligibility in the new position he is taking. Otherwise, I cannot see how he would be acting responsibly. I think it is easier for errors (or ‘heresies’, religiously speaking) to hide behind overt inscrutability than behind dense logic; indeed, the density of a train of thought can only hide an error by being difficult to work through and thus effectively inscrutable to people who lack the tools and training to sift through the claim. But that kind of inscrutability can, in principle, be effectively 'seen-through', to discover real strengths and weaknesses; while the overt inscrutability of 'mystery' claims (improperly so-called, for ‘mysteries’ involve new knowledge, not un-knowledge or currently-held secrets), or of 'glorious contradictions', never pretended to be intelligible. But this also means they are humanly indistinguishable from error. That means it would be entirely up to God (insofar as a religious belief goes) to provide an emotional impulse so powerful that people are headed off from false beliefs. And this obviously is not the case; if God exists, He does not (regularly) do that.

Some of my Christian (or other theistic) brethren might say that He never compulses, but He does always provids enough information in this life for someone to know which is the true belief, so that a rejection of it is due to willful rebellion. Perhaps He does--I am certainly not convinced that this is how He works in regard to a set of religious doctrines per se--but by advocating even this, these fellow-believers have abandoned a 'faith-not-reason' stance: for they are now saying that people are faced with a rational choice and are responsible for analysis of something as part of accepting or rejecting truth.

And, at bottom, that is exactly what I have been proposing throughout this section; we would only be differing in regard to what God provides for the analysis.

But if He provides one thing, we cannot automatically exclude the possibility that He would provide something else to help people to the same critical point. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.]

So, sooner or later I should honestly and responsibly check evidential claims, if I care about whether I follow a true belief rather than a false one. And if I was a sceptic who cared about believing true claims rather than false ones, I would be acting responsibly to require sufficient evidence of some kind. Psychologically speaking, different people will require different levels of 'evidence' before they choose to accept a belief. But if I wanted to maximize my chances of choosing the most 'realistic' belief--the one that most closely matches the way reality 'really' is--what kind of evidence should I responsibly look for?

Let me go a bit further: as a 'sceptic' I am not sitting around in some positivistic vacuum, even for purposes of argument--only newborn babies who have never thought at all, yet, are in that position, among living, conscious persons. Even if I am a 'sceptic', then I already have a definable opinion of some sort (with attendant reasons of varying strengths) for believing (or doubting) reality to be a certain way. The question should be: what kind of evidence might I responsibly require to actively reject my (sceptical) belief and accept another view of reality as being more accurate?

As I think about it, it becomes clear that not just any evidence will do. The best type of evidence would need to have the following characteristics:

a.) It must be evidence I actually have access to, and that I can clearly detect that I have access to.

b.) It must be evidence that is clearly distinctive without question-begging. It might take a lot of detailed and difficult study to ascertain that some documents claiming to be God-inspired are more historically grounded than others (especially if I am a sceptic); and even then, that conclusion doesn't immediately demonstrate that the documents may be trusted to convey metaphysical truth. If my brethren have trouble understanding this concept from the sceptical point of view, let me remind them that historians have demonstrated Homer's Iliad contains quite a few accurate historical details; but virtually no one (especially an advocate of one of the Big Three Theisms) accepts this to mean the truth of the Greek divine pantheon as represented in the Iliad has thereby been solidly established.

c.) Ideally, it must be evidence which can in fact provide a solid foundation from which a deductive argument can be developed; because only a deductive argument can be functionally exclusive. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.] This would be important to me as a sceptic; because I am not being asked to reinforce a belief I already have, but instead to reject a belief (or beliefs) I already have in favor of another belief; and this requires some type of exclusive conclusion. Furthermore, it is, perhaps, technically possible that the deductive argument will not exclude my belief I am being asked to reject; the result may be parallel and complementary to my own belief, in which case you (the believer) would be unfair (and making a logical misstep) to ask me to give up my belief. So if I am asked to reject my belief in favor of the alternative, the alternative must be functionally and formally exclusive.

d.) The argument deduced from this evidence must be valid. If the logical pathway from the evidence to the conclusion is broken, then by default I should not be expected to reach that conclusion via that pathway.

I think these general guidelines are fair ones for an apologist (of whatever belief, religious or non-religious or anti-religious) to work within when arguing a position with an intelligent, informed sceptic. These are the general guidelines I would apply if I was a sceptical opponent of Christianity; and they are the general guidelines I do apply as a Christian when I am asked to reject part or all of my beliefs for an exclusive alternative!

Having established these parameters for my positive argument, it is time for me to finish this section.

[Next time: what kind of sceptic should I be]

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