CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I finally got around to ordering a book that was on my Amazon Wish List. It was one of those that I could not remember exactly why it ended up on my list but I am glad it did: Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World. It is a part of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Series; Volume 217 to be exact. It is one of those topically oriented compilation of articles in honor of a leading New Testament Scholar. This one honors Sandy Wedderburn.

The book contains many interesting articles but I have only had time to fully read two of them. The first is a critique of Loveday Alexander’s conclusion that the Gospel of Luke is akin to ancient scientific treatises, by David Aune: "Luke 1.1-4: Historical or Scientific Proomiion." Aune is well-positioned to write such a critique given his past work in the study of New Testament genre. He raises some excellent points, but the article is relatively short and is more of a launching pad for areas of further investigation.

The second article is by Stanley E. Porter, another leading New Testament scholar who has done excellent work in Lucan studies, such as his book, Paul in Acts. His article in Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World focuses on the issue of the Lukan census: "The Reasons for the Lucan Census." He surveys and evaluates various theories put forward on the reason for Luke’s inclusion of the census as well as its related historical issues. He rejects the position that the issue is unimportant, but acknowledges the limitations of our ability to conclusively resolve it. Porter than examines some of the leading theories explaining the census in Luke’s gospel:

1. Luke refers to a census that took place while Quirinius was legate of Syria but not to the well-known census of 6 AD. This theory postulates that Quirinius was legate of Syria twice, and conducted census in both tenures. Although this position garnered some support, problems with the chronology and the lack of firm evidence of Quirinius serving two times as legate, “mean that virtually all scholars today doubt that Quirnius was twice legate of Syria, and hence he could not have been responsible for a census in 6 bce.” Page 173.

2. Luke does not refer to the census as "the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria" but -- properly translated -- refers to "the census that took place before the one of Quirinius." This is strictly a matter of the meaning of the Greek text. Porter evaluates the arguments for and against this translation of the passage and concludes that the door remains open to this alternative. “Ancient Greek grammar must be evaluated in terms of the linguistic evidence available and it appears that there is still warrant for the view that Lk. 2.2 could be rendered: ‘this was the census before Quirinius governed Syria.’ The case is not necessarily strong, but cannot be excluded.” Page 176. I have advocated this translation, and should note that Stephen Carlson has discussed other possible translations at his blog (here and here).

3. Luke meant to refer to the known census by Quirinius in 6 AD. This puts Luke into conflict with the Gospel of Matthew, who definitely places Jesus’ birth earlier, in the reign of Herod the Great. But as Porter shows, it also creates internal tension in Luke, who clearly identifies the reign of Herod the Great as also being the time of Jesus’ birth. I have also discussed, in another context, the problems with concluding that Luke dates Jesus' birth to 6 AD.

4. Luke consolidates different information points about Jesus’ birth into one account that uses a “property return” -- described in an ancient Arabic text that has similar features to the Lukan account -- as the Quirinius census. This position garners much attention from Porter as he discusses evidence about census in the Roman empire, including client kingdoms, during ancient times. He notes that there is substantial, though indirect, evidence of Herodian census during the reign of King Herod. He further discusses the Arab property return documents recently found which include points of comparison with the account in Luke. Porter notes that the match is not exact unless the features of the property tax registration noted in Arab sources was integrated into a census as noted in Luke, but believes this is a field in need of future study.

In conclusion, Porter recaps his discussion and especially notes that the plausibility and evidence in support of Nos. 2 and 4 mean that “there is growing evidence from what we know of ancient census-taking practices to believe that in fact Luke got far more right in his account than he got wrong.” Page 188.

Little is said in the Bible about the spiritual body, i.e., the body that we will have in heaven. Not that Christians have been without understanding about various aspects of the resurrection body. The early Christians used a seed analogy to differentiate between the present earthly body and the resurrection body. 1 Corinthians 15:39-45 points out that our present bodies will have a different flesh than our resurrected bodies. Several verses about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus also give us some hints as to what our post-resurrection bodies will be like. (A good summary of the Biblical teaching can be found in the Blue Letter Bible article on the spiritual body.)

It is certainly true that our life in the world to come will be fundamentally different than the present life. In Matthew 22:22-32, Jesus reminds us that the marriages of this life do not carry forward to the next life. Luke 24 suggests that the spiritual body can eat, but does not necessarily need to do so. But these are hints -- suggestions -- of what life will be like following the resurrection.

Perelandra, the second book of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, has an interesting thought on the nature of our post-resurrection bodies hidden early in the description of the description of the trip that Ransom, the main character, made to the planet of Perelandra in translucent coffin. (I know it sounds bizarre, but that's what happens, and it makes perfect sense in the context of the story.) According to Lewis, the person from whose point of view the story is written, Ransom never directly described the trip to Perelandra in any detail, but at times some of the feelings or revelations that occurred during the trip came out in conversation. According to Lewis:

Another hint came out when a skeptical friend of ours called McPhee was arguin against the doctrine of the resurrection of the human body. I was his victim at the moment and he was pressing on me in his Scots way with such questions as "So you think you're going to have guts and palate for ever in a world where there'll be no eating, and gential organs in a world without copulation? Man, ye'll have a grand time of it!" when Ransom suddenly burst out with great excitement, "Oh, don't you see, you ass, that there's a difference between a trans-sensuous life and a non-sensuous life?" That, of course, directed McPhee's fire to him. What emerged was that in Ransom's opinion the present functions and appetites of the body would disappear, but not because they were atrophied but because they were "engulfed."

In my experience, this is typical. The skeptic wants to limit what God does. He wants to say that man has been limited. The skeptic wants to argue that we will have sexual organs (because the spiritual body is our body resurrected and changed), but that we will have no sex. But that is not necessary. Rather, we will not be denied sexuality -- we will transcend it. That is an important difference.

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One attempt at this bogus atheist social sciences can be found on a site by Rod Swift. Swift wrote to the bureaus of prisons for stats, but unfortunately demonstrates that he doesn't know how to read a table.

I can't reproduce the table here without screwing up the side bar, but I will link to the tables, please read them here. 


Scroll to where it says: "Prison Incarceration and Religious Preference Futher Information"



Look at that link becuase it's extremely important. If you study the two tables you see they are very different but they are supposed to be the same table. I did not make that up, it's on Adherents.com. What that means is that the stats have been re configured by someone.

What's really interesting is what Adherents.com has to say about these stats and Swift's website. Here is a letter by researcher on Adherents.com who checked out Swift's data: Adherents.com

David Rice has written to us (23 October 2002) concerning the origin of the data in the table below: The data came from Denise Golumbaski, who was a Research Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The data was compiled from up-to-the-day figures on March 5th, 1997. (Note that as of the year 1999, Analyst Golumbaski is no longer working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons; I had telephoned Analyst Golumbaski to request the latest figures, and was told by another analyst that Golumbaski was no longer employed there.) The data was requested by Mr. Rod Swift, who passed it on to me for my web site. I later called the Federal Bureau of Prisons and confirmed that the data did in fact come from their database.

I have represented both tables exactly as they appear on the adherents.com website.

Several interesting points. The original says "National of Islam," Swift's Version says "Nation" only. The Original puts Muslims at 5.837% while Swift's version puts them at 7.273%. Swift's has Mormons as seventh from bottom. The original doesn't have Mormons on it.

What's really interesting is the major difference for our purposes, the original includes "none/atheist/unknown as third from the top. Swift puts them much further down. The Originals give the atheist category almost 20% while Swift gives it 0.2% or less.

Examine this table with the one above.

Swift's Table

On Swift's table there is no mention of atheist in the first five categories and atheist is listed fifth from the bottom. In that table atheist are listed as 0.209% of the population. Now here is the table sent by the Bureau of prisons to Rice, first five:

Catholic -- 29267 (39.164%)
Protestant -- 26162 (35.008%)
None/Atheist/Unknown -- 18,537 (19.908%)

Originally I quoted the stats exactly as they appear on the table with the comparison figures exactly as they appear on the other table. But someone edited that and changed it all. They took out the comparison and they thought "well the figures are different so there's a mistake" the whole point is that they are different because they are supposed to be the same. that's how we know there's hanky panky afoot.

but you can still see what I mean if you look at the link above.


In this table Atheist/unknown/none is third from the top and represents 19% of the population! Fifth from the bottom on this version is not atheist but "Hindu." So the version sent by the Bureau of Prisons is significantly different than the version put up by Swift.

It seems Swift misrepresented the data.

So in other words, the actual number of atheists is about a quarter as high as the Christians. It's not this tiny 0.2 percent of the population represented by Swift, it's actually pretty high. Thus, it's pretty clear he fabricated the data. These mistakes are too far off to be merely mistakes in recording.

Swift goes on to explain how the disproportionate number of atheists in prison from the general population means they are so far better behaved than Christians.
Now, let's just deal with the nasty Christian types, no? "Judeo-Christian Total 62594 83.761% (of the 74731 total responses) Total Known Responses 74731 Not unexpected as a result. Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%).

Of course he's distorting these figures too because the total atheist population in the United States is not 8% (and certainly not as high as 16%). He's including people who believe in God but don't like organized religion as well as agnostics as atheists. He's also dealing with his false figures. The actual figure is 20% atheists in prison and 3% in society. So what does this tell us? Atheist are a lot less well behaved.

adherents.com answers Swift's page directly:

One atheist web page (http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm) presented statistics stating that 0.209% of federal prisoners (in 1997) stated "atheist" as their religious preference. This site said that this is far less than the 8 to 16% of the American population that are atheists.

The atheist site, however, provided no source for the notion that "8 to 16%" of Americans are atheists. This statistic is completely without support from the available data. Gallup polls which include questions about religion have consistently shown that between 93 and 96% of Americans say that they believe in God. Presumably atheist writers would not suggest that up to half of their claimed "atheists" believe in God. The actual proportion of atheists in the United States is about 0.5% (half of one percent). This is the figure obtained from the largest survey of religious preference ever conducted: the National Survey of Religious Identification (Kosmin, 1990), which polled 113,000 people. The religious preference questions were part of questioning completely unrelated to religious preference (consumer preferences, entertainment, etc.), so the frequent retort of atheists that their numbers don't like to admit to atheism, and hence are under counted, is unlikely.

Atheists play a little game where they refuse to accept the fact that there are distinctions between people who really have a devotion to a faith and those who merely having a passing identification. They play this game so they can say that all the bad things of history are done by Christians, and Christians can't say "Oh, but they weren't real Christians." Yet real sociologists (which is more than just a matter of dedication but of real credentials) say that there is a valid distinction and not all people who say "I am a Christian" are really examples of dedication to that faith. The refusal to account for depth of commitment is a real flaw in Swift's thinking and this is exactly what adherents.com points out:

Thus, some commentators on one side have claimed that being religious is associated with incarceration. This is based only on religious preference statistics. American sociologists are well aware that nearly all Americans profess a religious preference. But there is a major difference between those who are actually religious affiliated, that is, members of a congregation (approx. 45 to 65% of the population, varying by region), and those who merely profess a preference, likely the name of the denomination that their parents of grandparents were a part of. (One of the best discussions of this phenomenon can be found in The Churching of America, 1776-1990, by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark; New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.)

On that same page adherents.com quotes Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Census of the Jail Population 12/31/95) as saying: 72% affirm Christianity, 54% actually declare themselves religious, and only 33% actually practice their faith (by attending chruch).

Sociologists would laugh themselves silly over the simplistic nature of Swift's thinking. It's just not enough to assume from raw data on the stated affiliations of prison population that some belief system leads to crime. The adherents.com page also notes:

Thus, some commentators on one side have claimed that being religious is associated with incarceration. This is based only on religious preference statistics. American sociologists are well aware that nearly all Americans profess a religious preference. But there is a major difference between those who are actually religious affiliated, that is, members of a congregation (approx. 45 to 65% of the population, varying by region), and those who merely profess a preference, likely the name of the denomination that their parents of grandparents were a part of. (One of the best discussions of this phenomenon can be found in The Churching of America, 1776-1990, by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark; New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.)

As that same article points out someone on a survey answering "I'm a Methodist" is virtually meaningless, not sociologically but truly meaningless, because that person may be just remembering the affiliation of the family or the grandparents or parents not his own actual beliefs. A more reliable indication would be enrollment on church membership rolls, but these statistics are not available. Even more reliable than that would be records of actual church attendance.

Swift does not even take into account depth of belief, he doesn't bother to determine when the inmates started their beliefs. If I went to prison I would join a church and say I was a Christian, even if I wasn't. You are more likely to get parole, you have a group to identify with which may be able to protect you in certain cases, and you may get favored treatment. Parole boards really love to hear about religious conversions.I knew a guy who fakes a religious conversion because he went to jail and he continued the deception even while the was out on parole latter. When he got off parole, that ever day, he left his wife. He was not a Christian when he went to jail. He became one in jail.

Here is the analysis of Chris Price, a friend of mine and member of the CADRE apologetics group:

Priceless comments

CADRE Comments, Oct 16, 2007

First, I note that when atheists are trying to emphasize their numbers, they include agnostics and nonbelievers and skeptics among their ranks. But when they want to deemphasize their involvement in negative social characteristics, they take a more limited approach to the data. This study only mentions atheists, not unbelievers, irreligious, unbelievers, skeptics, etc. So, you may think there are more “atheists” in the United States than the data supports. Most stats at Adherents.com, for example, puts the number of “atheists” at less than 1%.

Second, atheists tend to be more privileged than the rest of the population, especially the prison population. They are predominately white, more educated, and middle class. These are typically the result of birth, which is not something for which their atheism can claim credit.

Third, the study tells us nothing about the timing or strength of religious identification. There is a strong motive to “clean up your act” in prison, complete with visits by prison chaplains and evangelists working to reform the inmates. Add to this the fact that religious conversion may be a good way to signal to others—such as the warden or parole board—that the inmate has reformed, there are ample reasons to find increased religious identification among inmates.

Fourth, your review of the data is over simplistic. For example, you ignore the fact that Protestants make up a much smaller percentage of the prison population (35%) than they do the population at large (53%). Mormons make up about 2% of the population, but are a negligible portion of the prison population. Now, this may also be linked to other issues such as income, race, or education levels.

...Actually, if you compare church attendance (and thus exposure to the preaching of Christian values) you get plenty of improved morality. This article by a self-styled "secular liberal" who is also an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia admits that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people."

The article Price sites is The Third Edge by JONATHAN HAIDT, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Price's comments are "priceless," but it's worse than he thought. He assumes the atheist is fudging by just not including unbelievers and those who have no opinion as atheists (as they usually do). But more than that is happening. In this case, Swift is willfully misrepresented the stats. Counter data: Swift is not a social scientist and his fabricated data is not a real study. But a large body of real social scinece proves that religious belief and participation deter crime. Dark Larson proves there are 400 studies done by real social scientists that show that religious participation reduces the likelihood of Juvenile delinquency. Consider the following from the Cities on a Hill Newsletter, 1999:

Dr. Larson laid the foundation for the discussion by summarizing the findings of 400 studies on juvenile delinquency,conducted during the past two decades. He believes that although more research is needed, we can say without a doubt that religion makes a positive contribution. His conclusion: “The better we study religion,the more we find it makes a difference.”

The benefits from religion (especially Christianity) are numerous:

* [] Attending services is the most significant factor in predicting charitable giving. (Robert Wunthnow, Acts of Compassion, Princeton University Press, 1991.)

* [] Attending services is the most significant factor in predicting volunteer activity. (Ibid.)

* [] Sixth through twelfth graders who attend religious services once a month or more are half as likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual excess, truancy, vandalism, drunk driving and other trouble with police. (Search Institute, "The Faith Factor," Source, Vol. 3, Feb. 1992, p.1.)

* [] Churchgoers are more likely to aid their neighbors in need than are non-attendees. (George Barna, What Americans Believe, Regal Books, 1991, p. 226.)

* [] Three out of four Americans say that religious practice has strengthened family relationships. (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century," The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Church attendance lessens the probabilities of homicide and incarceration. (Nadia M. Parson and James K. Mikawa: "Incarceration of African-American Men Raised in Black Christian Churches." The Journal of Psychology, Vol. 125, 1990, pp.163-173.)

* [] Religious practice lowers the rate of suicide. (Joubert, Charles E., "Religious Nonaffiliation in Relation to Suicide, Murder, Rape and Illegitimacy," Psychological Reports 75:1 part 1 (1994): 10 Jon W. Hoelter: "Religiosity, Fear of Death and Suicide Acceptibility." Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Vol. 9, 1979, pp.163-172.)

*The presence of active churches, synagogues, or mosques reduces violent crime in neighborhoods. (John J. Dilulio, Jr., "Building Spiritual Capital: How Religious Congregations Cut Crime and Enhance Community Well-Being," RIAL Update, Spring 1996.)

* [] People with religious faith are less likely to be school drop-outs, single parents, divorced, drug or alcohol abusers. (Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Roland, "Correcting the Welfare Tragedy," The Center for Public Justice, 1994.)

* [] Church involvement is the single most important factor in enabling inner-city black males to escape the destructive cycle of the ghetto. (Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, eds., The Black Youth Employment Crisis, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.354.)

* [] Attending services at a church or other house of worship once a month or more makes a person more than twice as likely to stay married than a person who attends once a year or less. (David B. Larson and Susan S. Larson, "Is Divorce Hazardous to Your Health?" Physician, June 1990. Improving Personal Well-Being.)

* [] Most happy people are also religious people. 96% of people who say they are generally happy agree that "My religious faith is the most important influence in my life." (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century?", The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Most people who find their work exciting and fulfilling are religious people.

* [] 80% of those who say they are "excited about the future" agree that they find "comfort and support from my religious beliefs." (Ibid.)

* [] Most people who feel close to their families are religious people. 94% of people who "feel very close" to their families agree that "my religious faith is the most important influence in my life." (Ibid.)

* [] Eight in ten Americans say religious beliefs help them respect themselves. (Ibid.)

* [] More than eight in ten say that their religious beliefs lead them to respect people of other religions. (Ibid.)

Religious Belief has a Positive Impact on Health

* [] Regular church attendance lessens the possibility of cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema and arteriosclerosis. (George W. Comstock amd Kay B. Patridge:* "Church attendance and health."* Journal of Chronic Disease, Vol. 25, 1972, pp. 665-672.)

* [] Regular church attendance significantly reduces the probablility of high blood pressure. (David B. Larson, H. G. Koenig, B. H. Kaplan, R. S. Greenberg, E. Logue and H. A. Tyroler:* " The Impact of religion on men's blood pressure."* Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 28, 1989, pp.265-278.* W.T. Maramot:* "Diet, Hypertension and Stroke." in* M. R. Turner (ed.) Nutrition and Health, Alan R. Liss, New York, 1982, p. 243.)

* [] People who attend services at least once a week are much less likely to have high blood levels of interlukin-6, an immune system protein associated with many age-related diseases. (Harold Koenig and Harvey Cohen, The International Journal of Psychiatry and Medicine, October 1997.)

* [] Regular practice of religion lessens depression and enhances self esteem. (Peter L. Bensen and Barnard P. Spilka:* "God-Image as a function of self-esteem and locus of control" in H. N. Maloney [ed.] Current Perspectives in the Psychology of Religion, Eedermans, Grand Rapids, 1977, pp. 209-224.* Carl Jung: "Psychotherapies on the Clergy" in Collected Works Vol. 2, 1969, pp.327-347.)

* [] About half of religious people "have a lot of stress" in their lives, but only half of these "often get depressed." (George Gallup, Jr. "Religion in America: Will the Vitality of Churches Be the Surprise of the Next Century?" The Public Perspective, The Roper Center, Oct./Nov. 1995.)

* [] Church attendance is a primary factor in preventing substance abuse and repairing damage caused by substance abuse. (Edward M. Adalf and Reginald G. Smart:* "Drug Use and Religious Affiliation, Feelings and Behavior." * British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 80, 1985, pp.163-171.* Jerald G. Bachman, Lloyd D. Johnson, and Patrick M. O'Malley:* "Explaining* the Recent Decline in Cocaine Use Among Young Adults:* Further Evidence That Perceived Risks and Disapproval Lead to Reduced Drug Use."* Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 31,* 1990, pp. 173-184.* Deborah Hasin, Jean Endicott, * and Collins Lewis:* "Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Patients With Affective Syndromes."* Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 26, 1985, pp. 283-295. * The findings of this NIMH-supported study were repilcated in the Bachmen et. al. study above.)

* This data is reprinted from RIAL Update which is edited by Robert B. Lennick and published twice a year by Religion In American Life.

Swift has responded to this counter-evidence. Here's what he said:
December 23, 2009 4:56 PM

Delete

Blogger Rod Swift said...

As *the* Rod Swift who gathered the data I can verify that adherents.com has completely misrepresented the data that was presented to me by the US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The fact is that, yes, the data table provided contained an 'unknown' factor. This is because some prisons do not survey prisoners for data about religion. This is why the original table excluded these individuals.

The data is valid, and has been statistically emulated by surveys of prisoners in other nations -- like the UK -- which found the rate of offence for atheists is far lower than that of other groups.

Here is my response to Swift:
December 28, 2009 6:46 AM

Blogger Metacrock said...

I'll give you the benefit of a doubt and not accuse you of lying. I withdraw (conditionally) my accusation. you may be mistaken. you may be lying, I will find out. But in the mean time I'll accept your statement that you are blameless.

Adherents.com is not a Christian apologetic site. they have no real motive for saying that. They have professional demographers so it's not likely they made the mistake. I will try to contact them and get to the bottom of it.

In all fairness to you I will put this on the website.

I want to be fair and seek the truth. I know the accusation that Christians are more likely to go to prison is idiotic. I notice he doesn't respond to any other arguments such as the parole argument or the sociologists saying that his methodology is poor. In fairness to him, it's his word against adheret.com. I'm going to check into it. There are four possiblities

(1) he's lying (since he says he's not I'll suspend that suspicion--innocent until proved guilty and all that);

(2) he is mistaken, so his data in error for some reason but he didn't intentionally deceive;

(3) he's right and his data is right; or

(4) both sets of data of data are wrong.

We shall see.

I have proven that the Swift data on Christians being more likely to go to prison is wrong. He denies changing the numbers and I said I would not accuse him until I have positive proof but someone did. Either he did or the guy who sent him the data did. It could be that the guys who sent the data to adherents did, but I don't see what their motive would be. Neither the Bureau of prisons nor adherents.com have a motive to falsify but an atheist would.

It is the question that has derailed more than one well-meaning Internet apologist. Skipping along the vast digital superhighway, our hero, the intrepid Internet apologist, cruises from atheist bulletin board to skeptical blog responding to the all too common ill-informed objections to the historicity of Jesus or the existence of God. Suddenly, he runs into the incensed atheist (the second most common of the breed next to the loud-mouthed boor) who says something akin to what this forgotten atheist on some forgettable infidel bulletin board said:

The whole idea that anyone who doesn't ascribe to belief not only in a higher power, BUT in this one particular 'God' over all others, when there is no real evidence that this god is right or the others wrong, would go to hell for eternity...this whole idea just seems to me idiotic. Like not only atheists, but all Hitler's Jewish victims would be in hell, Gandhi and the Dali Lama in hell......but Ted Bundy could say "I'm sorry Jesus."

Our hero gasps. How can he respond? Here is someone accusing God of having a cosmic pop-quiz that sends everyone who fails to believe that Jesus is God to a fiery pit where they will burn forever in agony while all of the slovenly Christians, including nasty mass murderers who knew the magic phrase, lounge idly on puffy white clouds, playing harps and eating soy-based escargot. The only thing that the poor non-believer is guilty of is not believing in God, right? And look at the list of really good people ordinarily cited by these atheists who are going to spend eternity in hell just because they didn't believe in God: Gandhi (the most common member of this list of really good people going to hell), the Dalai Lama (which one in particular is never stated) and ... uh ... other people like Gandhi. (Side note: Oddly, I've never seen a atheist on the list of people who should somehow be entitled to get into heaven because of what a great life he or she lived. I wonder if that's oversight of Freudian.) It's so totally unfair. What can our hero say in response to such criticism?

When I read this objection, I wonder exactly how much traction it got (if any) before modern times. At its heart the objection is based in the entitlement mindset which arises out of our modern societies' belief that we are all entitled to whatever we think we need. It is a belief that society owes things to us. Thus, under this mindset, you are entitled to free speech. You are entitled to freedom of conscience. If you get fired from your job, you're entitled to unemployment benefits. When you get older and can no longer work you're entitled to government support in your old age. If you get sick you are entitled to free health care.

When you die, you are entitled to go to heaven? Is that right?

I hate to shatter some delusions, but in my world there is nothing that I am entitled to that hasn't been paid for by someone else at some time -- often in blood. If I get sick, the government may have to pay for my health care (if I live in a country that has a universal health care system), but that isn't really free health care. The government is paying for it out of the taxes that it levies against its people. If the government pays for my support in my old age, that also comes from taxes. Freedom of conscience and speech? As the sorry history of the world shows, not everyone in every country has these precious rights. In America, where I sit, these freedoms were earned (and continue to be earned) by those willing to stand up and die in fights against tyranny. My ability to sit here and write what I please on this blog about my religious beliefs is owed, in a very large part, to the lives sacrificed by our forefathers and by those presently serving in uniform so that I could live in this free country.

So, if someone has to pay for any entitlement, who paid the price that says that everyone can go to heaven? Obviously, in Christianity the answer is Christ. His death on the cross was the price paid in blood that bought our way to heaven. And if we have an entitlement to heaven that was purchased by the blood of Christ then that entitlement comes through Him. Equally importantly, that entitlement comes on His terms, and those terms may not be open to everyone. But then, we instinctively understand that.

But wait, one might argue, if I have universal health care, then everyone should be entitled to health care no matter how poorly they care for their own health, shouldn't they? And if I have an entitlement to free speech then everyone should have free speech regardless of how stupid or sick their speech may be, shouldn't they? So, if I have an entitlement to get to heaven, shouldn't that mean everyone should be entitled to get to heaven, too? Or is there some limit?

It seems to me that everyone recognizes a limit to this. The incensed atheist quoted above implies that there is a limit when he says, "Like not only atheists, but all Hitler's Jewish victims would be in hell, Gandhi and the Dali Lama in hell......but Ted Bundy could say 'I'm sorry Jesus.'" You see, this atheist does not believe that it is right that Van-Morrison-look-alike Ted Bundy should be able to get into heaven after killing 30 (or maybe as many as 100) young women. And I certainly concur. I don't think that Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung (or whatever phonetic spelling you choose), Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin Dada, Jack the Ripper, or any of a long list of tyrants, felons, serial killers, rapists, child molesters and other bad people should be entitled to get into heaven either. In fact, I am certain that everyone would agree that if there is a heaven there are certain levels of degradation and evil that should disqualify people from going there.

This opens up an entirely new way to approach this question. Consider the following mock conversation:

Skeptic: As a Christian, you think all non-Christians are going to hell, don't you?

Christian: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler should be in heaven?

Skeptic: What?! I didn't say anything about Hitler.

Christian: I'm sorry, I thought you were saying that everyone has a right to get into heaven. I mean, at least your question seems to assume that everyone has the right to get into heaven. So, I thought you might be saying that you thought Adolph Hitler had the right to go to heaven.

Skeptic: No, that's not what I was saying at all. I was saying that Christians believe that anyone who doesn't believe in their god should be sentenced to hell to be punished for all eternity.

Christian: Hold that thought about the nature of hell for a moment. We can get back to that. But I am more concerned with the assumptions of your question. After all, in generally-held Christian theology there are only two places to go: heaven or hell. You seem to be arguing that heaven is some type of place that we are all entitled to go to. Is that what you are arguing?

Skeptic: No, I am not arguing that. I am saying that people shouldn't be kept out of heaven for failing some spiritual pop-quiz.

Christian: Okay, we agree with that. But then that's not what Christianity teaches. You see, your question assumes that there exists some type of right to go to heaven that is taken away by God. Where do you get that idea from?

Skeptic: You're trying to twist things. What about devout Hindus and devout Jews? What about Gandhi and the Dalai Lama and ... uh ... other people like them? They don't go to heaven in your beliefs, do they?

Christian: Wow, you're harder to tack down then an eel. Look, I am asking a very simple question: why do you think that people start off with a right to go to heaven? Your question assumes that is the case. But since no widespread religious belief of which I am aware makes the claim that everyone has the right to go to heaven, I am wondering why you think that everyone should go to heaven. And if that's your belief, I am wondering why you believe Hitler should have a right to be in heaven.

Skeptic: No, you are twisting what I'm saying. I'm not saying everyone is entitled to go to heaven. I'm certainly not saying that Hitler should be in heaven.

Christian: Good, because, based upon what he did, I don't think that Hitler is entitled to go to heaven either.

Skeptic: But that's not the same as a good Hindu -- like Ghandi. If Ghandi can't get to heaven, then that's wrong.

Christian: Well, you know, I don't think that Ghandi has a right to get into heaven. But then, I can't think of anyone who has ever lived who has a right to get into heaven. So, I guess that I believe that no one -- Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Christian -- has that right.

Skeptic: Huh? No, you believe Christians will go to heaven, while the others will go to hell.

Christian: I don't believe that Christians are entitled to go to heaven.

Skeptic: Sure you do.

Christian: No, I believe that Christians are exactly like every other person who is a non-Christian. None of them are entitled to go to heaven. The only way that anyone gets into heaven is through the grace of God.

Of course, the conversation will never take place exactly this way. Skeptics are more unpredictable than quarks and enough of them think that "freethinking" means that they are entitled to make up facts in defense of their faith that the conversations take many unexpected dips and turns. But the mock discussion does bring out certain points that could be made.

The points are these: the skeptics who argue from this position fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel. Part of the Gospel message is this: all have sinned and fallen short of what God requires to get into heaven. Hence, no one -- no matter how good or Gandhi-like -- can earn their way into heaven. Once a person starts saying that someone like Jamphel Gyatso (the eighth Dalai Lama) should have an entitlement to get into heaven, then that person either has to draw a line saying what is good enough to get into heaven (and, concurrently, what is bad enough to keep someone out of heaven) or admit that her view requires that everyone be entitled to get into heaven -- even human slime like Theodore Bundy and Adolph Hitler. If they argue for the latter, then they are arguing against our innate sense of justice that would hold that people like 'Dolph and Teddy should not be allowed to simply have their tickets punched at the pearly gates. If they argue for the former, then we can ask why God cannot set the standards as He wishes -- after all, he's the one who paid the price that bought the tickets.

"There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." So says the silly atheist advertisement that has been making its way around London on the side of buses. While Ariane Sherine is the inspiration behind the cruising commercials, Richard Dawkins has inserted his publicity seeking self (or accepted an invitation to have his publicity seeking self partake) as the face of the movement. I earlier commented on Dawkins' interview with an irrelevant atheist interviewer in a blog entitled It's Easy Not to Worry When You Ignore the Problems, but now I want to return to what originally drove me to the story.

On the Last Laugh, blogger Laughing Boy published a short article about the advertisement. Entitled Dick says, "Enjoy your life", Laughing Boy posted a photo of Richard Dawkins standing between the memorable Ariane Sherine and the forgettable Polly Toynbee clearly showing Dawkins' right hand resting rather low (some would say scandalously low) on Ms. Sherine's backside. Laughing Boy noted,

The 'visual context' of the ad seems basically to be saying, "Hey, I can grope this woman as much as I want, despite my marriage, and frankly I'm thinking of going further the first moment I get a chance (if I haven't done so already) -- AND YOU CAN, TOO! ISN'T ATHEISM GREAT!?"

While I don't want to suggest that Dawkins has gone farther with Ms. Sherine, he has a point. Laughing Boy continued by asking a few very pertinent questions -- the last of which was the most pertinent and which he most directly answered:

Is this the first ever ad campaign for a philosophical position? Who's paying for these ads and how widespread are they? How successful can they possibly be? What couldn't that brunette [Ms. Sherine] sell me? Is she cold? Is Dawkins' left hand as far down the older woman's backside [Ms. Toynbee] as his right hand is on hers? This lead naturally to the most obvious question—as believer in God, what worries inhibit my enjoyment of life?

Laughing Boy is onto something here. What does belief in God hinder in the typical person? Well, I suspect that belief in God can be seen as repressing a person's desire to engage in sins that the person may want to pursue. So, I suppose that belief in God leads some not to rob the local bank, although I suspect that the risk of going to jail would be enough to disuade most people. And it's equally true that belief in God probably has disuaded at least one person from killing his neighbor when her dog does its business in the wrong front yard. But it hardly seems reasonable that the bus ad should be saying "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and start killing your neighbor when her dog piddles on your bushes." So, I suspect that the ad is aiming at other things.

I'm fairly certain that the type of activities that skeptics believe God interferes with are the social vices: gambling, drinking, sex, smoking, drug use, etc. Perhaps, what Icky Dick is really saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and get plastered if you want." Maybe he's saying, "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and gamble away the family fortune." Of course, these vices are what can be called "Anonymous sins." All of them are addictive, so they all come with support groups that contain the name "Anonymous", e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Nicotine Anonymous. That adds a new slant on the advertisement. What Icky Dick may be saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and engage in addictive, self-destructive behavior." Yup, this is sounding more appealing all the time.

In all sincerity, I have been avoiding the most obvious solution to what the existence of God may cause Mr. Dawkins, Ms. Toynbee and the other God-deniers to worry about. It is the biggest of the social vices and the same answer that Dawkins' overly enthusiastic right hand suggested.

...as believer in God, what worries inhibit my enjoyment of life? The answer was just as obvious. I was worried that I displeased God with my fleeting desire to be Richard's right-hand man. I felt ashamed that I had never confessed and sought forgiveness for my infatuation with thin chicks of Mediterranean heritage. All became clear. God was interfering in my sex life. If I would only lay aside my belief in God and His meddling ways, that brunette—or another like her, or not like her at all, anybody who struck my fancy—would be mine for the taking.

Yes, belief in God (at least, as He is accurately described in Christianity) clearly inhibits rampant sexual gratification. In God's world, sex is supposed to occur only between two people of different genders within a marital relationship. That definitely throws a monkey wrench in the whole copulate copiously thing. So obviously if God exists then that should be something to worry about to the free love crowd. So, this makes a great deal of sense out of the bus ad because now the saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and start ..." well, you can fill in the rest. (Of course, free love isn't exactly free -- it isn't working out too well for Tiger Woods.)

Is this what we ought not worry about? It seems to fit, but I personally believe that the ad is addressing a mixture of several of the social vices and free sex. But I think that Dawkins' bus-bound advertisement is not so much a cry for freedom from the sexual limits placed on us by a good and holy creator, as an unrecognized acknowledgement of a common argument for God's existence.

What exactly is the common thread of all of these possible things about which we need to stop worrying? They all relate to moral limitations that God has placed upon us as the result of his holy, moral nature. So, the advertisement is actually saying that belief in God is causing people to worry that they are breaking the moral laws put forth by God. Logically, if there is no God then you are free to do what you want. So, here is the new configuration of the bus ad: "There is no moral lawgiver, so stop worrying and do what you want because you can't violate His moral law."

Isn't that admitting the main points behind the Moral Argument for the Existence of God? I mean, the ad is basically implying that if there is a God then there are moral laws that we must follow. (A very logical conclusion.) But since there is probably no God, i.e., there is probably no moral lawgiver, then morality is subjective and relative and we are free to do whatever we want that makes us temporally happy. Isn't that the mirror-image of what Christians argue when they say that that without God there is no way to explain morality? And isn't the fact that we have to be told not to worry by atheists while we ride the bus home from the office evidence that Romans 1 is correct when it teaches that God's law is written on our hearts which is what leads us to feel guilty when we violate that law?

For myself, I suggest that the better bus ad would read, "There's probably no God...aw, who are we kidding? You have to be in serious denial to believe there's probably no God." That's an ad that is truly something to consider.

Do Christians live inside an intellectual box? That's the opinion of the self-promoting John Loftus in a blog on Debunking Christianity entitled Christians Live in an Intellectual Box and Cannot Think Outside of it. He wrote it in response to a series of very good questions that Brad Haggard wrote responding to a post by Loftus. Loftus clearly ducked Brad, but when I chimed in and pointed out a problem, Mr. Loftus decided to fire off his "see how smart I am that I can respond to you" post when he really makes no good response at all. And much as I don't like to give any blog space to Loftus and his arguments (because he almost invariably takes the opportunity to plug his apparently weak book in the comments), I thought it was appropriate to respond.

Let's look at what Mr. Loftus said.

Brad asked:

How exactly do you imagine God would have given us the knowledge? Would it be written revelation, instincts, or some sort of self-presenting knowledge?

I’m arguing at a more fundamental level. If God created us then he did a poor job of it and/or placed us in an environment that is dangerous, sure to kill us without notice or provocation. He could have created us with better immune systems if nothing else. No, I don’t think there was some sort of Fall in Eden, either. The process of evolution won’t allow it. That’s science, but you won’t accept it. The Genesis 1-3 stories are mythical tales like Aesop’s fables. And if God couldn’t create us better then he could've at least performed perpetual miracles such that even if lead poisoning could kill us it wouldn’t do so because of a perpetual miracle inside our bodies that would not allow it.

Of course, Loftus knows the Biblical answer to this question: God didn't create us and set us on earth in an environment that was sure to kill us without notice or provocation. He created humanity to rule His creation. Humanity fell into its present situation through the Fall. But Loftus dismisses the Biblical account as "mythical tales like Aesop's fables". In a variation of the "poisoning the well" fallacy, Loftus dismisses the Christian claim simply because his own limited worldview does not allow for it. As a result, Christians must be living in an intellectual box because they don't see things with the clarity and truth that Loftus imagines he sees things.

More importantly, Loftus is mixing his explanations resulting in a mess. Either humanity evolved through billions of years of evolution or God created man specially and placed him on Earth. (The only in between positions are (1) that most of creation arose through evolution and God created man specially and (2) theistically guided evolution, but these are not what Loftus appears to be arguing.) Since Loftus is clearly rejecting the idea that humanity was specially created and placed here by God, then he is almost certainly accepting the idea that man evolved through evolutionary processes. If man arose through billions of years of evolution, then God did not "place him in an environment that is dangerous" because man evolved over billions of years in that environment. By the time what we understand to be human (homo sapien sapien) got here, he was already familiar with his environment (as the result of billions of years of evolutionary training) and that familiarity would have warned him what to eat, what not to eat, what is dangerous, etc. Moreover, our bodies are exactly what they ought to be as the result of the fine-tuning that comes with natural selection.

So, what's his complaint? That God didn't make us better? Having rejected (in fact, having belittled) the idea that God specially created man, then why is he arguing that God should have given us more information to keep us protected or created our bodies to be more resistant to possible dangers?

And exactly what would be enough warning or resistance? Humanity does have a great deal of resistance to disease and poisoning. Speaking from a creation-oriented viewpoint, it seems apparent that God created us with pretty darn good immune system and a strong healing capacity. When we get cut we don't bleed to death. When we get a disease, we have white blood cells built in that fight the disease. How much more resistant do we need to be? Do we need to have Superman-type immunity before Loftus concludes that God made us well enough? Maybe Loftus doesn't understand that Superman is the real folk tale here.

Loftus continues,

Once you get past those insurmountable problems then I can talk about how God would give us the knowledge not to drink polluted water. But that problem can never arrive since those previous problems cannot be solved. Still, if we can teach primitive people not to drink polluted water then so could God teach us from the beginning. He could have made it one of his hygienic laws in Leviticus. And yes, as you say he could make such things instinctual. There, that was easy.

First, the problems that Loftus sites are obviously not insurmountable except in the mind of an a skeptical ostrich who is unwilling to pull his head out of the ground long enough to consider the Christian claims. But having gotten past them, what makes Loftus conclude that God never taught us to not drink polluted water? Because he doesn't see a law about it in Leviticus? Loftus apparently doesn't seem to recall (despite his having studied under Dr. William Lane Craig) that not everything God has revealed or done is written in the Scriptures.

Even if God didn't directly reveal it, God gave us minds to work things out for ourselves. So, when ancient people approached a waterhole and saw dead animals lying around it, I suspect that humanity (being gifted by God with intellect) was capable of seeing that there was probably something wrong with the water. So why should God make it instinctual (as Loftus proposes) when God gave us a mind to be able to work some things out?

But now we see where Loftus does not answer Brad Haggard's question. Loftus says,

As far as plumbing goes, yes, I see no reason to suppose God could not have given us the proper information both to use plumbing and to tell us about lead poisoning at the same time. Sheesh.

Brad's question was "How exactly do you imagine God would have given us the knowledge? Would it be written revelation, instincts, or some sort of self-presenting knowledge?" Loftus does not answer this question. Certainly, he seems to believe that knowing which waterholes are bad for drinking should be instinctual, but now the question becomes how God is supposed to give us knowledge about plumbing and lead problems from piping. Should that be instinctual, too? Should God have implanted us with detailed knowledge of how to create household plumbing and municipal sewer systems together with running tap water? And if that's what should be instinctual, why stop there? Should God have implanted within our instincts detailed knowledge of all of the means of generating power so that we could have built green energy efficient power plants when we were in our human infancy? Or is that asking too much of our "instinctual knowledge"? If it is, should God have given us written plans? That's appears to be what Brad is asking, and that is what Loftus has not come to grips with because he doesn't answer it.

Loftus, having missed the point, takes the time to try to belittle Brad:

Don’t you see what’s going on here? I do and it’s plain as the nose on your faces. You cannot think properly because you’re hamstrung by an ancient canonized set of superstitious pre-scientific documents called the Bible. The reason why you cannot think is because your first priority is to defend them. So it becomes obvious you lack the capacity to think because you cannot think outside the box that those so-called inspired documents put you in. Only if you come out of that box can you properly think about these questions. And they are all easy to solve from outside that box.

Ironically, the phrase "think outside the box" has become the most overused inside-the-box phrase in history. But regardless, I do see exactly what's going on here. Loftus, in his hurry to show us how smart he is, has failed once again to think the matter through. Rather than dealing carefully with the issues, he rushes out a post that reveals that he his view is an odd concoction of views that doesn't answer the question asked.

Having already failed to answer the first question, Loftus continues:

Brad again,

I sometimes give my girl some freedom (or responsibility) in order for her to "learn from her mistakes." I think she is better for it, but according to you, does that make me a bad parent?

Let’s say she was about to drink polluted water, okay? Let’s say you lived in Indonesia just after the 2004 tsunami. And she was ready to take a drink of that polluted water that in the aftermath killed as many people as the tsunami itself. What would you do? Come on now. All you have to do is think. It’s easy when you step outside that pre-scientific box the Bible forces you to live in.

Ah yes, the old "you wouldn't let your kid do something that would kill her" response. This has a visceral appeal because the answer is: "Of course I wouldn't do that." But there is a big difference here: God has different priorities that I have. God does not see life and death in the same way that we humans do because God has an eternal and life-after-death perspective. We, who see death as a tragedy because we have no way to really grasp what happens after death, see it much differently. Even so, Christians have a much better understanding of this than skeptics who live not so much in the box, but totally within the mortal coil which is even more suffocating than the box. More could be said on this, but I will leave it here for now.

Loftus continues:

Brad again:

Could God not have other reasons for "withholding" information other than just malice or incompetence? Are you presenting a false dichotomy with this argument?

Listen, Brad. If your God exists and created me with my mind how can he expect me to believe in him if I use it and cannot see any good reason for why he did not do the things I would easily expect from a good parent? It’s like giving me something that in the use of it will cause me to disbelieve. That makes your God duplicitous. Again, that was easy, but only for people willing and courageous to think outside the mental confines of this superstitious box.

As Loftus' answer makes clear, the answer to Brad's question is yes, Loftus is presenting a false dichotomy. Yes, Loftus, God created you with a mind and he expects you to use it. However, merely because you are the one who is closing down avenues of possibility because of your limited scope of thought is not any reason for any other person to believe the way that you do. God could have other reasons for withholding information, and simply because you cannot grasp these other reasons does not mean that they don't exist. And, as I said above, you don't have the eternal and omniscient perspective that God has.

With all due respect Mr. Loftus, you are the one living inside the box.

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