CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the first for chapter 18, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 18, "Atheism and the Justification of Non-Justification Ability". It also continues the fictional dialogue started in chp 17.]


(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): And this automatic, non-rational rearrangement toward better efficiency could happen to either of us.

Chase (the atheist): ... Well... yes. In principle.

R: Including the possibility that your "idea" (for want of a better word) about atheism might be rearranged to a "belief" (for want of a better word) in God.

C: ...Maybe. I suppose I have to agree that's possible. But I'm confidently willing to take that chance.

R: No, you aren't.

C: Excuse me?

R: No, I won't. We're just automatically reacting here, according to this new proposal of yours. You're not "willing to take that chance"; that's only a metaphorical description you slipped into by accident, and not a very efficient one in this case, under these circumstances. What actually happened (if your theory is true) was that the physical reactions and counterreactions which corresponded to your perception of an argument that ends up with accepting the existence of God, induced a purely non-rational revulsion in you, resulting in another set of reactions and counterreactions which would not lead you "mentally" (for want of a better word) down the "path" of theism--the path that induced a merely non-rational revulsion in you, which you then merely reflexively gagged on. Whether this alternate "idea" of yours is sufficiently efficient to prevent that revulsion (and so that gagging) again, and whether that revulsion is itself a sign of better correspondence to reality, remains to be established.

C: Whatever. This "proposal" happens to have spread very efficiently through very efficient minds over the last two hundred years or so, and seems to have non-materialism-based "philosophies" on the ropes--or at least it has competed very successfully against them in many endeavors.

R: What makes you say those minds were very efficient?

C: A bunch of non-rational reactions inside my mind makes me say it, of course! Thought you'd catch me, eh? Excuse me, you didn't "think" you'd catch me, but that behavior is how you've been programmed to automatically respond; and I must respond by admitting, that... um...

R: That my behaviors seem to be rather efficient, too, despite their theistic flavor, hm?

C: Whatever.

R: This proposal of foundationally non-rational materialism--the proposal of naturalistic atheism, in other words--has been around a very long time, although admittedly not quite in the form it has "achieved" during the last two hundred years. So have not-atheisms.

C: True, I admit this. Just as species compete more and less effectively, relative to each other, when random mutation provides changes beneficial and harmful to their chances of success, and when environmental conditions change; so species of "ideas"--our behavioral means of efficiently interacting with the world--also change, grow, or become outdated.

R: The way atheism became extremely outdated across most of the planet for, oh, about 1500 years or so. After not having really gotten a good foothold to begin with.

C: A harmful mutation in the "idea of atheism" occurred--

R: Or perhaps a beneficial mutation in the "idea of theism" occurred?

C: ...theoretically, I suppose I have to admit that’s possible. And I admit that the behavior of atheism could have had a final "death" as a species. But it didn't. Conditions became favorable for its re-ascendance in a mutated form that better allowed the "idea" to successfully flourish, so to speak.

R: So whether atheism is actually true or not, is not really entailed by your "idea".

C: Well, if it succeeds it would probably, most likely, be reflective enough of actual reality that we could say with some accuracy it was "true"...

R: But it could have died accidentally, thanks to random environmental 'mutation' factors and, shall we say, natural selection processes; just like any other widely spread behavioral pattern within an evolving species, or just like any species itself.

C: Yes, atheism could have "died". But it didn't.

R: Did atheism "survive" because it reflected reality better?

C: Yes... probably.

R: I thought you just told me it survived and began to flourish again thanks to a random mutation that allowed it to spread more efficiently. Do random mutations have some property to automatically provide just the impetus needed to reflect reality better?

C. Of course not; but in this case, that's what happened.

R. So why did the "not-atheisms" also continue progressively developing?

C: The "not-atheisms" also continued developing because... um... the structure of those "beliefs" allowed individuals and cultures to flourish at a number of levels, despite the "beliefs" not actually reflecting ultimate reality accurately--a sort of tellurian ripple effect. And you cannot deny that this is possible!--because if theism is true then atheisms have continued developing in just this way despite not actually reflecting ultimate reality accurately.

R: I wouldn’t deny that; just as you admit that atheism's resurgence could only be the same sort of ripple.

C: ...Technically, yes. We shall see.

R: We shall see, on these conditions, whether or not atheism successfully survives as an idea-species, regardless of whether it reflects ultimate reality accurately or not.

C: Not entirely regardless. The question of how accurately a "belief" reflects ultimate reality should have some bearing on how efficiently its "holder" interfaces with reality, and thus with how effectively the "belief" spreads.

R: But there is no way to ascertain this accuracy from the actual behavior of the "idea-species" per se on an individual basis--such as your own particular "ideas" about atheism.

C: No, if you come right down to it, there isn't. But I think--

R: Think??

C: I say we can be sure that the surviving and developing "idea", as an evolving non-rational behavior in our species, will at least probably have a good chance of being accurate to some degree or other.

R: Well, that's sufficiently qualified! So in effect, you're an atheist by historical accident.

C: Whatever; and given its success in spreading, I seem (by "accident", as you say) to be likely on the side which is more "correct". At least, the current situation is bound to produce that inclination of behavior in me, and for want of a better word this means I think I have a better "reason" than you for my "beliefs".

R: Until and unless the environmental climate changes, so to speak.

C: If that happens sufficiently, I'll either be around to be part of the change, or not; and I'll either be sufficiently affected to be part of the change, or not.

R: You understand, of course, that you've thereby surrendered any claim of accuracy for "atheism" per se.

C: What?! I've done no such thing!


Next up: probability estimation and non-rational justification

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the last for chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry starts chapter 18, "Atheism and the Justification of Non-Justification Ability". It continues the fictional dialogue started in chp 17.]


(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): I repeat: if we stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason, then that ability must ultimately come from a rational cause.

Chase (the atheist): ...sigh. No, not necessarily. We don't have to begin by presuming that it is possible for us to reason.

R: What would we begin by doing?

C: That's the answer: "we" wouldn't "begin" by "doing" anything. Your argument only works if it is possible for us to reason.

R: Are you really sure you want to go this route?

C: Just listen! It's true that--

R: True?

C: No, forget that. ... Behaviors reflect reality. Yes?

R: Seems true. Are you sure you want me to forget the concept of truth?

C: That was a rhetorical question. Whatever may produce behaviors, different causes have different effects. Some of those effects result in a certain composite entity being able to do things--

R: "Do?"

C: --metaphorically! Some of those effects result in a certain composite entity continuing to exist, and to behave, although not actively, as that composite entity--

R: Has this happened?

C: It doesn't matter!

R: Well, you said that these effects result, which sort of implies that they definitely do, which seems like a statement of a truth-claim, which sounds like the result of a rational analysis...

C: Just hold up, okay? Some of those effects could result in a certain composite entity continuing as that entity, despite other effects that could dissolve that entity as such. And some of those entities could be such that, between one thing and another, they happen to be capable of producing entities like themselves. And the chances that they would be able to... I mean that they would in fact exist long enough as those Entities to produce more of themselves, would directly bear on whether the particular non-rational effects which produce their behaviors provide behaviors which happen to facilitate their survival and reproduction. The success of these groups of Entities as distinct groups--call the groups 'species'--the success of these species would in that situation require that they be able to interface effectively with their environment: that the behaviors caused in them by non-rational Nature would be such that they didn't self-destruct. Now, if the process of replication was not perfect, if thanks to entropy (or something similar) the internal reactions which governed the shape and behavior and efficiency of each species member (and thus of the species as a whole) occasionally resulted in a change to the structures by which the individual's behavior was governed; then those changes would either be equally capable of sustaining the resulting 'new' type of individual in the environment, or less capable, or more capable than its peers. If it is less capable, the odds are proportionately good that it and its descendants would not survive long in the same environment; they would either go extinct, or luck-up and happen to be exposed to a more favorable environment (perhaps during a migration), or maybe luck-up and get a new mutation that happens to offset the old one. And if the new individual and its descendants were equally or more efficient, then chances are proportionately good that soon there would be a viable population of a new species, and maybe even it could eventually crowd out the older, less efficient variety. And so on, and so on. Follow me?

R: Are you asking whether I agree that this is reasonable? Or are you only automatically checking to ensure that I am reacting, in turn, efficiently to your story, thus blindly ‘following’ you like a lemming?

C: Whatever... The behaviors we call 'reason' are generally helpful to the individual, and although we may exhibit such behaviors in ways that ultimately do not help us as individuals (messing with a stable society that supports us, etc.), we haven't been on the planet long enough as this species for these behaviors to weed themselves out. Plus, of course, our environments change, which causes problems for old modes of previously effective behavior. But, in general, these behaviors are still likely to become more and more efficient as they help the success of individuals (and thus help get similar automatic behaviors spread through the gene pool); and we call this 'learning', both at the individual and at the cultural or even species level. This can account fully for why our behaviors can be successful, without introducing anything other than automatic reactions taking place inside us, leaving Nature free and clear to be a non-rational cause of all our effective behaviors. So!

R: So.

C: ... Yes, so! What do you--

R: Think?

C: (sigh!) Say! What do you say to that?

R: Are you saying you care?

C: ... No; what I call "caring" is merely an emotion which by being present helps foster the spread of what we call "ideas". I may for convenience say I "care"--

R: That seems rather dangerous, as it could lead to other conveniences which in turn could lead you to speak of yourself as if you do take actions; and thus lead via the route we went over earlier to the conclusion that we should consider atheism to be false if we believe our rationality to be true.

C: It doesn't matter. I just want... I am feeling that you should respond to this... uh...

R: Idea?

C: For want of a better word. "Idea". Sometimes we have to speak metaphorically, as you well know.

R: Just remember that.

C: I will. I am feeling that you should respond to this "idea", which will in turn lead to better levels of efficiency in our behavior.

R: What if I respond in a manner antithetical to your "idea", for want of a better word?

C: Well, that is your affair.

R: No it isn't; it would just be happening automatically, according to my conditioning. What would happen if I responded antithetically to your "idea"--if I didn't "agree" with it (for want of a better word)?

C: Then we would bounce it back and forth automatically until the efficiency sorted itself out, or until other non-rational causes intervened to stop the exchange.

R: The exchange of what?

C: Of... of air molecule vibrations, which thanks to a delicately and supremely complex biological arrangement will translate, purely through non-rational physical reactions, into electroneural reactions, which in turn will rearrange electrical potentialities in our brains so that we, as individuals, may be more efficient.

R: Or at least this is likely to happen.

C: To an extent likely; the likelihood probably depends on randomly unpredictable quantum flux, genetic differences, microscale and macroscale health, etc.

R: And this rearrangement toward better efficiency could happen to either of us.

C: ... Well... yes. In principle.


Next up: the problem with leaving a bridge unburned... (is that it still leaves you in just the same sauce as the geese. Or words to that effect.)

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the third for chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes chapter 17.]


(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): Evidently, we both share some kind of criteria as a fairly reliable clue when we're no longer talking about our human ability in general, but about particular instances of that ability instead. Let us see if we can put our common agreement into play. I claim that Christianity is true; and let us say that I claim this because of automatic knee-jerk reactions to the cultural stimuli that have pummeled my mind since childhood. Any comments?

Chase (the atheist): I seem to recall already addressing this example.

R: Indeed, you yourself introduced it earlier! What did you say back then? Or what would you say now? Would you say my belief, under these conditions, is rational or non-rational?

C: As a rational agent myself, I would judge your belief to be, at best, irrational, and maybe non-rational.

R: Are you at least ready to stoutly presume I am in principle capable of rational behavior, just like you presume about yourself?

C: Yes. But you are not being rational within these circumstances. So you wouldn’t be behaving non-rationally, perhaps (presuming you are a rational agent), but you would be behaving irrationally (as if you were not a rational agent).

R: Given this explanation for my belief, would you accept my offer to go to church next Sunday and be baptized?

C: Certainly not!

R: And why not?

C: I don't have to do anything I don't want to do; I'm a free person!

R: So you're an atheist only out of your own subjective aesthetic taste.

C: Absolutely not! Admittedly, my aesthetic taste for or against atheism might in theory have something to do with why I believe it--just as it might in theory have something to do with why a Christian or any other religious person believes their religious beliefs! But in my case, no, I assure you I reject my mere aesthetic taste as a criteria for believing what is ultimately true.

R: I quite agree! So, you wouldn't go to church on those grounds? Don't you consider them to be an intrinsically reliable means of leading you to truth?

C: No! Do you think they are?

R: Frankly, no. And I suspect we agree why this hypothetical condition on my part would not be a reliable path to the truth. Do you want to say it, or shall I?

C: It isn't rational.

R: I agree. I only gave one qualifier for the existence of that ‘belief’, (if we want to dignify that behavior with the label ‘belief’). Why should we not consider that belief to be rational?

C: Because...

R: ...that belief was totally produced as a series of automatic non-rational responses to non-rational causes.

C: ...yes.

R: If you yourself decided my belief was logically valid anyway, would that therefore mean my belief was actually rational after all and worthy of attention and assent on its own grounds? Or, if you decided that my belief, although logically invalid, still happened to match up with factual reality. Would you go to Church and be baptized because my belief that Christianity is true was entirely produced by automatic knee-jerk reactions to my environment?

C: No. That would be the externalist fallacy. If I did decide you were right, it would be due to my own responsible judgment of the matter.

R: And would you then abandon your own responsible judgment in order to ‘believe’ according to the utterly non-rational causes of my belief?--throwing away the rationality that led you to God?

C: Absolutely not! That would actually be less than totally pointless!

R: Which of course is why atheists often denigrate religious belief, or try to do so, on exactly the ground you’ve been using all throughout your side of our dialogue. You’ve transcended such unthinking acceptance of beliefs.

C: Exactly. And I am a better man for it.

R: I don’t have any problem agreeing with that in principle, and maybe even in practice!

C: So why are you smiling?

R: Because you’re proving my point the whole time. The claims you make for yourself and your own responsible judgment, are just the reason I reject atheism for theism: because I accept and respect your responsible personhood. And also the implications of your responsible personhood.

C: So... you’re a theist because you believe in atheists.

R: That’s an excellent way to put it! And it looks like you and I agree pretty closely on the application of a general principle: the first conclusion to draw about behavior utterly produced by non-rational causes, is that the behavior is itself not rational.

C: All right, I’ll grant that.

R: So, if you propose to me that your and my reasoning ability--which will include all particular behaviors which we term "reasoning"--is produced ultimately by non-rational causes, what should my first response be?

C: Yes, I understand that your first response should be "No, that's nonsense." But that doesn’t have to be your only or last response.

R: Then you will have to show why the normal judgment can (or even should) be set aside in this instance. You will have to show why, against this sceptical threat, it is possible for non-reason to come from reason.

C: Which I am reasonably confident I can do.

R: Except that this presumes already (whatever method you go about trying it makes no difference) that it is possible to successfully set aside the sceptical threat of "non-reason into reason is nonsensical". Otherwise I could level that at your explanation itself--because your explanation for why it is possible, is also (according to you) ultimately a product of non-rational causes.

C: Fine! But that doesn't mean God exists.

R: If it is nonsense to claim (whether we go the long road or the short) that rational behavior is ultimately a product of only non-rational causes; and if we must stoutly presume that you and I nevertheless can be rational; then what is the conclusion of combining these two principles?

C: Our rationality must be at least partially produced by rational causes. Which is something I have affirmed and not denied!

R: Causes? Plural? Such as?

C: Such as other humans!

R: Yes, I recall you trying this back at the beginning. I also recall you admitting that other humans are not ultimately a rational cause.

C: We presume they can be rational.

R: Agreed. Are you ready to presume they are ultimate causes, though?

C: What does an ‘ultimate cause’ mean? That's just playing with words.

R: Was the first reasoning animal taught to reason by his or her reasoning parents?

C: No, that would be ridiculous. And certainly any competent atheist would have enough sense not to say that.

R: Is Nature ultimately non-rational?

C: If atheism and naturalism are true, then yes.

R: Were we caused by something more basic and fundamental than Nature?

C: No. Unless supernaturalism is true. But supernaturalism could be true and also atheism.

R: Would that Supernature be ultimately rational?

C: No, as I just said: not if atheism is true.

R: So as an atheist, you do accept, in principle, what the phrase "ultimate cause" means. I'm not just playing with words.

C: sigh...

R: I repeat: if we stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason, then that ability must ultimately come from a rational cause.



Next up: Chase shifts to denying rational action in thinking (i.e. defense type b)

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Holding's new book. Defending the Resurrection.   It's an excellent compilation of articles from different independent scholars and laymen, in answer to the Secular Web's Anthology The Empty Tomb. See the Article "Story of Empty Tomb Dated Mid First Century," by Joe Hinman.

J.P. Holding (Tekton Apologetics) is despised by atheists. They hate him, they go out of their way to heap abuse on him. They say that he is an arch-fundamentalist. Since 90% of the atheists have no idea what a fundamentalist is and don't know the difference, and since atheists slandered me constantly and many have called me a fundie, I figured Holding might not be such a bad guy. Actually I began contacting him and exchanging views year ago, way back in the 90s when I first discovered internet apologetics. I still don't know him very well, but he accepted my article. I was kind of hurt the he didn't ask me to contribute to his anthology on the Jesus Myth since I have so many article about that on Doxa. I voiced my disgruntlement to him one day and he told me about his Resurrection project, so I sent an article and he put it in. Now the book is out. True to form it's being slandered by atheists on Amazon.

What I see happening on Amazon is exactly what's going to happen to my book. My book has already been slandered and libeled and treated like a pile of crap on CARM by ignorant cretins who refuse to even click on a link and read a page from a text book. They complain because I don't make the evidence available to them. These are the geniuses who think it's a methodological attack on a study, to attack a study because it turns up in a bibliography with other sources of which they disapprove. I know my book will be panned by people who have never read it.

The comments on Amazon about Holding’s book are all from atheists who haven't read it, and they are all about why Holding is a bad buy on a message board. One in particular from a certain G. Palazzo is by a guy who posts on Tweb called "Little Monkey." Monkey man is a coward, who refuses to argue. When one disproves the things he says, he asserts victory without even bothering to deal with any kind of issue or demonstrate any support for his opinions.

Palazzo:

Holding is nothing but a balls-to-the-walls, obnoxious egocentric who thinks the world of himself and exalts his views to the level of the bible which he tries to defend. The heavy sarcasm, the open derision, the sophomoric recourse to insult, the sneering tone: these are readily recognizable as the all-too-common reaction of those whose cherished beliefs are being threatened or even questioned. Holding systematically mischaracterizes the views and arguments of his "opponents", and his argumentation is characterized by strings of ad hominems, non-sequiturs and other sorts of fallacious reasoning.


Everything in this review is about Holding as a man and not the book, which is an anthology and not all by Holding. Everything that guy says about Holding I can easily say about him, Little Monkey, G. Palazzo. The things he is saying about Holding are lies. Holding is a fine researcher, his views are not fundamentalist. I've been discussing things with him; he's fairly open minded. He can be harsh and he will drive you nuts with puns but he's a fine researcher, has a steel trap mind, and can be extremely penetrating in his insights. We really need people to read this book and rate it highly, it deserves to be so rated!

More importantly this book is great because my article is in it! This book deserves to be rated highly.

My article argues that the story of the empty tomb was circulating in writing by around AD50. That in itself is extremely invaluable because it puts into place all the McDowell arguments about the guards on the tomb. It pins down the event to something circulated during the life time of eye witnesses.

Here is an excerpt form my article: "The Story of the Empty Tomb Dated Mid First Century"


Skeptical machinations are endless, anytime the tide turns toward the apologist the skeptic will take a further step back and seek to change the ground rules in a fundamental way. So it is with the perennial resurrection debate since the tide was shifted by McDowell and then by Craig, years ago. One of the major tactics used by skeptics to change the ground rules has been to uproot all points of the compass so the apologist can’t get his/her bearings as to what events are actually historical and thus defensible. To accomplish this, the skeptic has partly pulled off a resurrection of his own, by resurrecting old ninetieth century clap trap that was dismissed ages ago. One of the major examples is the historical nature of the empty tomb. McDowell then Craig both did fine jobs of demonstrating that if the facts about the tomb are in place the debate goes to the apologist. But then the atheists used the Jesus myth idea, long disproved and discarded, to set up a new round of doubt about the historicity of the tomb. For skeptics today the four Gospels are not even factors, they are totally ignored as though they offer no evidence at all, and all that they proclaim is regarded as pure fiction. It is of paramount importance, therefore, to establish some historical facts about the case and to nail down some of the points of reference. In this department of points of reference pertaining to the narrative there can be no more important point of reference than the issue of when the story of the empty tomb began to circulate. This is a crucial issue for several reasons: (1) it’s the lynch pin upon which is hung all the empty tomb logic arguments of the major apolitical moves of the last fifty years. That means two things: (a) it would mean the writing is too early for the events to allow for development of elaborate myth; (b) it would mean that a large number of eye witnesses were still around, depending of course on how close to the events the writing could be placed. (2) The earlier the date the more it would undermine the Earl Doherty’s Jesus myth theories by distorting their time table. Thus in this article I will be focusing upon the one issue: when did the empty tomb story begin to circulate in writing?
         There are a few assumptions that must be discussed up front. Why focus on writing if we can assume it was told orally first? Obviously whatever point at which the writing started, we can assume the material was orally transmitted before that point. Writing gives us a concrete means of pinning down a time frame. There’s no way to trace oral tradition as to when it began except in the most general of terms. But dating a text, however, we can be much more precise as to when the circulation began. The other major assumption that must be understood is that no one single individual wrote the Gospels. There were redactors and they came out of the communities and the communities are regarded as the authors now, not merely individuals. These communities of which I speak are those into which the earliest follows of Jesus began to group after the events which ultimately come to be represented in the Gospels. Each of the Gospels is taken by scholars today as representative of its own community.[1] So there was a Matthew community, a Mark community, a John community, and perhaps a Luke community, although I tend to attribute Luke to the Pauline circle as a whole and to the individual Luke himself. The problem this sets up for the Evangelical apologist is that it may open some other areas of conflict depending upon how deeply committed one is to an inerrant view of the Gospels. I have encountered atheists who just assert that redaction itself is proof enough that “it was all made up.” No serious scholar believes this and it’s simply a matter of understanding the more adult and sophisticated view to dismiss that bit of amateurish thinking. Yet accepting the liberal assumptions may create more problems for apologetics than it solves, this is a major issue that must be solved, and it must be solved it in the most decisive way. I will suggest solutions to the problems that are more evangelical friendly, and I assert these positions for the sake of argument, to show that even granting the assumptions of liberal scholarship the resurrection still enjoys the support of the evidence. Be that as it may my one overriding concern in this article is in proving that the resurrection circulated, in writing, by mid first century period. Therefore, I will be using the assumptions of liberal scholarship and the evidence of liberal scholars. My reason for doing this is to demonstrate that the case can be made not merely with materials from writers skeptics expect to take the conservative side, but with fairly liberal scholars who skeptics would expect to be skeptical.
         In order to understand what we need to answer we must first understand the skeptical claim. The major point undermining the historicity of the empty tomb is the argument form silence; the tomb is never mentioned as such in any of the epistles or any other early Christian literature until the middle of the second century. Dale Allison remarks: "Paul did not know about Jesus' grave, and if he did not know about it, then surely no one else before him did either. The story of the empty tomb must, it follows, have originated after Paul."[2] For certain kinds of skeptics that seems like a crushing indictment. It’s actually not as powerful as it seems since it’s only an argument form silence, and argument from silence doesn’t prove anything. The apologist is apt to answer that some of the passages in the Pauline corpus imply the empty tomb, even though they don’t actually speak of it directly. While these are good points, we can do better. There’s some pretty strong evidence that the story of the empty tomb was circulating, in writing, as part of the end to the Passion narrative as early as middle of first century. The great scholar Helmutt Koester argues for a conclusion of textual criticism that can be demonstrated by scholarly methods. The point he’s making is that all four canonical Gospels and the non canonical Gospel of Peter all share mutual connection to an earlier text that included the passion narrative and that ended with the empty tomb. He says:


"Studies of the passion narrative have shown that all gospels were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb.[3] 

[and again]

"John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century![4]

He is talking in both cases about the original passion Narrative of “Ur Gospel” that he sees standing behind these five works. Here he tells us that this original work, this “Ur gospel” was circulating at the mid century point and that it contained the story of the empty tomb. Thus, the empty Tomb was part of the Gospel narrative as early as mid century. If we take the conventional accepted dates it was within 20 years after the original events. How does he prove this?
         The argument Koester is making comes from another scholar named Jurgen Denker, a textual critic. The basic proof of the argument is the result of textual criticism. Textual criticism is a science. Though many on both sides of the fence, skeptics and apologists find textual criticism assailable, they both assume and use it when it suits them. The atheists who argue for Q as a proof that “it’s all made up” have to accept the validity of textual criticism in order to support the idea of Q. Evangelicals, who quote Josh McDowell talking about how the NT text is 98% reliable, are actually accepted whole sale the validity of textual criticism, because that is how such a figure is arrived at.  The evidence of an Ur Gospel in the passion narrative comes from readings in several manuscripts which seem to date from periods much latter than the canonical Gospels. This is deceptive, however, because even though the texts are latter than the canonical gospels, the readings in the texts are much earlier. That sounds contradictory but it is not because the manuscripts (MS) are copied from earlier readings. The earlier readings leave traces of their original sources in the way they read. In other words if we had a book written in 1950 it would probably read like a 1950’s book. The speech, the form of the language, the slang would all be like the 50s. But suppose parts of that book were copied from a book written in Shakespeare’s time. In addition to the fifties slang you would have some parts that would read like Elizabethan English. Those parts would be easy to pick out and we would know that the author was either copying something old or trying to sound old. The situation with these MS is similar. For example one of them called “The Diatessaron” is an attempt by Tatian at making a harmony of the four Gospels. This attempt dates to about 170 AD. But some readings in the Diatessaron seem to from a much earlier time. So we know by this that they are copied form very early copies that were written in a more Jewish style.
         There are a couple of other aspects of this copying phenomenon that need to be understood. First of all, one often hears conservatives saying things like “there is no textual evidence for Q.” The reason for that is that when Q was incorporated into the synoptic people stopped copying it and eventually stopped using it, because it was incorporated into a text that seemed more complete. Overtime the copies of Q rotted away and on one bothered to copy it further. Secondly, as to the assumption that redaction (which simply means “editing”) in and of itself is proof that “It was all made up,” this is manifestly wrong. The assumption is based upon the fallacy that no one could purposely combine two holy books without believing that they were not “inspired.” But the reason this is a fallacy in relation to the New Testament is because at the time the process of redaction on the Gospels started the redactors did not imagine that they were editing “the New Testament!” They were not regarded as holy books. While some might think that’s a green light to make things up, its’ also reason why they would not make things up, because while they did not have a concept that they were writing the Bible (thus no need to conjure up the fabricated essence of a new religion) it does not prove in any way that they had no respect for the truth. They were neither making up the Bible nor creating the rudiments of a new religion; they had no idea of either of those things. They were merely producing a sermonic document for the edification of the community. They intended these works to be read by people they were living with and perhaps to spread into a larger circle of those who worshipped with them. But they did not think of themselves as writing “the Bible.” The process is more analogous to a modern preacher writing a sermon for Sunday; he doesn’t want to fabricates thing that aren’t true, but he’s free to change certain aspects of the order, combine different portions of other “sermons” and place ideas in different contexts and create a document that will hold the audience’s attention and teach them things, but in so doing communicate truth and a story they already knew. No intention of “make things up” need be read into it.
         This is not to say that the redactors did not have great reverence for the sources they used. They saw the prior sources as testimonies of holy men signifying holy truth, even if they did not see them as scripture. As we move up in time to the post apostolic age they have an ever greater reverence for anything that tells them about the origins of the faith and the words of Christ. Yet that doesn’t mean they thought of themselves as writing the Bible. They were free to quote and blend the quotes in with other quotes from other valuable sources, but not free to “make thing up,” not free to lie or fabricate. Thus we have the creation of the works we know as the canonical Gospels as “patch works” put together out of prior sources. They didn’t see themselves as producing the canonical Gospels, they saw themselves as accurately reflecting truth for the edification of their flocks, and pulling together the great sources of truth left to the church into their own little humble sermonic contributions. In so doing they left traces of early versions and as their products were copied some of those traces hung on and they continue to testify to us of the earliest roots of the faith. Several traces of these early documents, these lost “Ur gospels” show up in the latter works of non canonical gospels, some of which are tainted with Gnosticism. The famous Nag Hammadi find The Gospel of Thomas is such a work. While it is clearly set within a heavily Gnostic framework of the third century, some of the passages prove to be an early core some of which are thought to be authentically spoken by Jesus, some of which have been theorized as making up the Q source. While Thomas is Cleary Gnostic some very anti-Gnostic traces are left. The same process of redaction we see at work in the canonicals is also at work in the non canonical gospels. So we find traces of an earlier age. Of more direct bearing on the resurrection story is the non canonical Gospel of Peter.

Gospel of Peter and the Empty Tomb

         The Gospel of Peter (aka “GPet”) was discovered in the ninetieth century at Oxryranchus, Egypt. It was probably written around 200 AD and contains some Gnostic elements, but is basically Orthodox. There are certain basic differences between Gospel of Peter (GPet) and the canonical story, but mainly the two are in agreement. Gpet follows the OT as a means of describing the passion narrative, rather than following Matthew. Jurgen Denker uses this observation to argue that GPet is independent and is based upon an independent source. In addition to Denker, Koester, Raymond Brown, and John Dominick Crossan also agree.[5] It is upon this basis that Crossan constructs his "cross Gospel" which he dates in the middle of the first century, meaning, an independent source upon which all the canonical and GPet draw. But the independence of GPet from all of these sources is also guaranteed by its failure to follow any one of them. Raymond Brown, who built his early reputation on study of GPet, follows the sequence of narrative in GPet and compares it in very close reading with that of the canonical Gospels. He finds that GPet is not dependent upon the canonical, although it is closer in the order of events to Matt/Mark rather than to Luke and John. Many Christian apologists think it’s their duty to show that GPet is dependent upon the canonical gospels, but it is basically a proved fact that it’s not. Such apologists are misguided in understanding the true apologetic gold mine in this fact. The fact that GPet is not dependent enables it to prove common ancestry with the canonicals and that establishes the early date of the circulation of the empty tomb as a part of the Jesus narrative. As documented on the Jesus Puzzle II page, and on Res part I. GPet is neither a copy of the canonical, nor are they a copy of GPet, but both use a common source in the Passion narrative which dates to AD 50 according to Crosson and Koester. Brown follows the flow of the narrative closely and presents a 23 point list in a huge table that illustrates the point just made above. I cannot reproduce the entire table, but just to give a few examples:

 

Sorry, you have to buy the book to see the rest of it. It's fascinating, I go on to prove my point with a close reading and textual analysis of the various sources. It's got everything in it, answer to arguments that Jesus didn't raise bodily, Paul's lack of mention of the empty tomb, the assertion that Jesus was buried in a mass unmarked grave and much more. This is really fine compilation of good apologetic defending the resurrection.


BTW Look for my article under the name Joe Hinman.





[1]Stephen Neil, The Interpritation of the New Testament 1861-1961. London, NY: Oxford University press, 1964, 239.

[2]Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: “The Earliest Christian Tradition and It’s Interpreters,” Journal for the Sutdy of Pseudepigrapha: supplement. T & T Cllark Publishers (September 30, 2005) 305-6.


[3]Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, Their History and Development. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, 208.

[4] Ibid. 220

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the second for chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 17, part 3 of 4.]


(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): Why should I agree that your evaluation of those clues is rational?

Chase (the atheist): What?! That's rather rude!

R: Pardon me; let me try a different approach. Would you say you have drawn some reasonable conclusions, about the development of our sentience from non-purposive Nature, from these clues?

C: Yes. Would you like some examples?

R: No, thank you; it isn't really necessary.

C: You aren't even going to look at the examples for yourself!? That seems rather like you're afraid you'll find something that disarms your point!

R: It could only disarm my point if the inferences drawn from those clues could possibly be rationally established.

C: I assure you, they can.

R: Really? Would you mind explaining again why we would be drawing inferences from those clues in the first place?

C: To explain how it is possible, in principle, for non-rational causation to produce rational thinking.

R: And you're confident that this explanation is rational?

C: There is in fact a wide battery of explanations along this line that I think are rational, and I would be happy to show them to you.

R: If you're confident these explanations are rational, why are you bothering with the inferences from these clues?

C: Excuse me?

R: Supposedly, you're going to show me these inferences drawn from experiments or principles or whatever, so you can explain that it is functionally possible for non-rational causation to produce rational thought.

C: Yes, and I will if you'll just let me!

R: But you apparently don't need them; you are already confident that your thought processes are at least possibly rational even though you consider them to be produced ultimately by non-rational causation.

C: Well, I'm not doing it for me; I'm doing it for you, since you're the one having a hard time with the concept!

R: All right; I say it is intrinsic nonsense to claim that non-rational causes and only non-rational causes can produce rational behaviors. What types of things are you going to show me?

C: I have a whole boatload of data and arguments which demonstrate that you are wrong, and that such things are possible--although you seem suspiciously afraid to look at them!

R: And these arguments (including the analyses of the data) will be reliable because they are rational?

C: Yes!

R: So I must begin by jettisoning my contention, and then accepting instead from the getgo that it is possible for non-rational behavior to produce rational behavior, before you get to the arguments explaining that this is possible. How convenient!

C: No, all you have to do is look--

R: All I have to do, is accept that your arguments which purport to justify that your ability to justify your arguments is possibly rational, are themselves possibly rational.

C: I think you are twisting my words around.

R: Let's start again. These arguments of yours are rational?

C: Yes!

R: And you claim these arguments of yours are themselves rational behaviors ultimately produced by non-rational causation?

C: Yes; that is what it means for me to be an "atheist", among other things.

R: And your arguments will make it clear that this is a possible situation?

C: Yes!

R: So we have to sheerly accept first that this must be a possible situation, before we get to the arguments that show it is (or even can be) a possible situation.

C: No, you don't have to sheerly accept it, that's what the arguments are for.

R: If I offered to demonstrate to you that God does exist if you would only begin by accepting that God must exist, I suspect you would refuse my offer.

C: Absolutely: that's a circular argument. It can't go anywhere.

R: So if you offer to demonstrate to me that your demonstrations can possibly be rational, if only I will accept first that your demonstrations can possibly be rational, what should I do?

C: You should refuse it: that’s a circular argument. It can’t go anywhere. But my strategy is different than that.

R: What is the difference in principle?

C: Well, I'm not talking about God.

R: I said "in principle", not "in topic". What's the difference between the two tactics?

C: But it isn't really necessary to demonstrate that I might be rational. You said it yourself earlier.

R: True; we can start with that as a necessary presumption: you and I can be rational. It is entirely proper to go on to ask: "What produced this characteristic of ours?"

C: Nature.

R: Non-rational Nature.

C: Right, not a pantheistic or theistic God.

R: Are you claiming non-rational Nature produces rationality so often, that the odds are pretty good you and I are rational no matter what possible physical condition we have?

C: Of course not. Rationality only comes with certain physical structures in Nature, as you are well aware.

R: So, overall in Nature, it's rather rare?

C: Taking Nature as a whole, yes. Solar fusion is rather rare in Nature, too, considering the physical space of Nature as a whole. Nevertheless: there's the Sun (and billions of other stars besides)!

R: I agree. So why do you think that this particular physical arrangement has done the trick?

C: I don't have to justify it. You said I can just stoutly assume it.

R: We can (and in fact do) stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason. Do you stoutly presume that every given case of human mental behavior is rational?

C: No, of course not!

R: Neither do I. So evidently, we both share some kind of criteria as a fairly reliable clue when we're no longer talking about our human ability in general, but about particular instances of that ability instead. Let us see if we can put our common agreement into play. I claim that Christianity is true; and let us say that I claim this because of automatic knee-jerk reactions to the cultural stimuli that have pummeled my mind since childhood. Any comments?


Next up: will Chase accept and believe Christianity, or at least theism, when grounded this way!?

(spoiler: no. {g})

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, beginning chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 17, part 2 of 4.]

The previous entry ended with: "I will illustrate this formal problem underlying the connection between atheism and human justification attempts, by presenting an imaginary dialogue between Chase (whom I will arbitrarily assign to the atheist role) and Reed (whom I will assign as the theist, using a variation of the theistic Argument from Reason)."

(As with all my dialogues, unless I have specifically said otherwise, this one is fictional--I am arguing against myself, in both directions, as an illustration of the application of the principles I have been discussing. I will add parenthetical notes like this on occasion however.)


Reed: So, you claim that reality is, at bottom, non-rational.

Chase: Yes, I do; in the sense of being "non-sentient".

(Note: Chase is not using 'non-rational' to mean invalid. It would be silly for him to claim that reality is at bottom 'invalid'!)

R: Is your claim itself non-rational, or is it rational?

C: My claim is rational; if it was non-rational, it would not be worthy of potential trust.

(Note: Similarly, Chase is not using ‘rational’ to mean valid; so he is not instantly introducing a category error here by jumping between concepts. I will return next chapter to the question of trustworthiness in a world with only non-rational behaviors.)

R: I agree; although of course an honest mistake or a dishonest cheating is also rational.

C: I agree; those are rational behaviors. The dishonest man, such as the Christian who fudges on his history to mislead the simple and gain power over them, is still engaging in a rational action. That is why I consider such a person wicked, not merely misguided. On the other hand, if I have added up my logic incorrectly due to human error, that mistake also does not negate the rationality of my action.

(Note: Chase is committed to avoiding the externalistic fallacy: his rationality is not merely the formal validity of his thinking, and he does not claim the rationality of other people on that ground either. (His ethical judgment against this hypothetical Christian would not necessarily extend to all Christians, of course; he would think the other ones, like Reed, are making an honest mistake somewhere.))

R: I agree with your judgment of both those examples. Very well. Non-rational causes can have non-rational effects, yes?

C: Yes, that is elementary.

R: You say your mental behavior, corresponding to what you claim is a "belief" about atheism, is rational. Also, you say that this belief ultimately was produced by non-rational causation.

C: It may have its origin partly from other rational humans, like myself; we don't need God to explain it.

R: Are these rational humans the ultimate foundation of all reality?

C: No, of course not; they were produced by non-rational Nature.

(Note: Chase, like most atheists, is also a philosophical naturalist. He could be a supernaturalistic atheist, but the basic principles of this dispute would remain the same.)

R: So bringing them in only puts the question one stage further back for no gain. I grant that your rationality might be partly derived from their rationality in some fashion, but you claim that their rationality is ultimately derived from non-rationality; so whether we go the long road or the short, we're still talking about your rationality being ultimately produced by non-rational Nature.

C: I concede the point. And I see where you are going with this: if non-rational causation at least sometimes produces non-rational effects, why should I be considered correct in claiming that my own belief concerning atheism is itself rational instead of non-rational?

R: It seems to me that it is nonsensical, to claim that rationality is totally produced by non-rationality. A Christian may have a "belief" in God, but if you happened to know that her "belief" was utterly produced by her automatic reactions to her environment, you would claim her belief was non-rational.

C: This is true. But my beliefs are not utterly caused by my automatic response to my environment. I am different from her case.

R: How was your belief produced, then?

C: I drew inferences from principles, and drew further inferences from experimental data using those principles. I am a free thinker; I think for myself, and am not in thrall to the millennia of cultural pressures that promote such superstitions.

R: I think that this is entirely proper. This means you did not automatically respond to your environment, then?

C: Correct. When I was a child, I unthinkingly, automatically accepted what my family and friends in the Church told me, but not anymore.

R: So your current opinion about God was not, in fact, utterly produced by non-rational causation after all.

C: Exactly; as I already said, not thirty seconds ago, my beliefs are not utterly caused by my automatic response to my environment. Unlike the theist of your example, or when I was a child; I am now a free thinker who thinks for myself, and I reject theism as a result of my own competent, responsible and rational inference that theism is either certainly or most probably not true.

R: For what it is worth, I suspect that as a child you in fact drew quite a few inferences, to reach your belief in God. Specifically, you inferred that certain people could be considered trustworthy; and you inferred that if they told you something (God exists and has certain characteristics, the Bible has such-n-such level of reliability), you could therefore trust what they told you on that subject as on others. You may have decided later that they were honestly mistaken after all; or you may have decided later that they were being dishonest after all, either on this topic or generally on other topics, and so could not be relied on to provide you truthful answers to such important questions. These things happen; but I seriously doubt that you unthinkingly automatically accepted what they told you across the board. You do yourself, and children in general, a great disservice by describing such a reactive behavior as being distinctively childlike. Meanwhile, have you decided whether your rationality, including your rational belief in favor of atheism, comes from ultimately non-rational causes, or not? Because it seems like you are saying they do, when you want to claim atheism to be true; and also like you are saying they don't, when you want me to take your beliefs about atheism seriously.

C: Just because my inferential ability was produced by an ultimately non-rational cause, doesn't mean my arguments are thereby non-rational.

R: In the same vein, just because your arms were produced by non-rational causes, does not mean every behavior they exhibit is non-rational.

C: Quite so.

R: Similarly, just because your mouth and vocal cords were produced by non-rational causes, does not mean every sound you utter is non-rational.

C: Correct.

R: Do you understand that I have altered your proposal slightly to avoid a nonsense statement on your part? Your arms and your mouth are not your ability to move your arms and to speak. This ability to 'infer', which you mention, is really an abstract way of describing the behavior of actual materials in your body, brain-matter presumably being chief among them.

C: So what?

R: Are your arguments actually produced by your inferential ability?

C: Yes, of course.

R: So are you claiming an abstract description produces an actual event?

C: No!

R: Then what is your "inferential ability", if it is not an abstract description of an actual behavior set?

C: Okay, fine; but what it describes is what produces my arguments.

R: What does it describe?

C: The movement of certain electrical impulses across certain neural structures in my brain.

R: So would you say that this explanation, in principle, effectively and sufficiently describes your thinking behavior without having to bring in anything other than non-purposive Nature?

C: Correct. There is no need to bring a purposeful God into it, supernatural or otherwise.

R: So these movements in your brain, corresponding to your beliefs about atheism, are completely non-purposive?

C: No, I am causing them.

R: They aren't merely an automatic, non-purposive knee-jerk reaction to your environment, then?

C: No, not hardly! I have said this already.

R: So they are something other than non-purposive Nature. I thought you said we didn't have to bring in anything other than non-purposive Nature. Here it is!

C: I didn't "bring it in"; non-purposive Nature produced it.

R: I see. Is this a usual result of the effects of non-purposive Nature?

C: It is, under the type of conditions inside my head.

R: What makes these effects of non-purposive Nature something other than merely more non-purposive behaviors?

C: We don't know yet.

R: So you are simply sheerly asserting that these particular results of non-purposive, non-rational Nature are rational and purposive?

C: No--I am only saying that we haven't exactly figured out why it should be different this time.

R: But you apparently already have some clue as to the principles involved. If you didn't, there would be nothing to distinguish your proposition from a sheer ungrounded assertion--essentially a flat wish.

C: It is not a mere ungrounded assertion! We have some clues here and there; enough that we can be sufficiently confident that we are on the right track.

R: Why should I agree that your evaluation of those clues is rational?

C: What?! That's rather rude!


Next up: the teeth of the sceptical threat

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 16, can be found here.]

[This entry starts chapter 17.]


A philosophy that posits that the Independent Fact (the ground of all other facthood and the base for all reality) devises purposes, makes plans, initiates events or otherwise takes action, will fall into one of two mutually exclusive philosophical branches: ‘theism’, or perhaps better for our present purposes, 'not-atheism'.

'Atheism', by contrast, posits that the IF behaves only automatically, nonpurposefully, noninitiatively. An atheist could be (but usually is not) supernaturalistic. She could even (but usually doesn't) propose that the IF is 'alive' in some sense. Neither of these posited IF characteristics necessarily entails that the IF acts. An atheist might even allow that a Most Powerful Thinking Entity exists, which could without gross abuse of language be considered 'a god' and which might very easily and forgivably be mistaken for 'The God' (in other words, be mistaken for the Independent Fact, and thus inspire a belief that the IF itself is rationally active). However, such an 'emergent' god (if its/his/her existence could be established) would not technically falsify atheism, which concerns the properties of the IF itself.

So: I think an atheist, as an atheist, has a vested interest in proposing and defending the proposition that the final, ultimate base of reality does not act.

Granted, most atheists would probably say rather that their vested interest is to defend the proposition that the IF does not think; but if I was an atheist, I wouldn't require much introspection to recognize that this 'thinking' ability attributed to 'God' involves at a more basic level the practical exhibition of action initiation; or else, if not, then I might as well comfortably stay an atheist.

Let us say I am an atheist. A nominal deist claims to me that God exists, but (going a bit too far and transitioning inadvertently into cosmological dualism) also claims that God takes no actions whatsoever in my sphere of reality. What, as a consistent atheist, would be my response? As far as I can see, it would amount to a variation of one or both of two replies:

1.) 'Oh. That's rather... um... interesting. But if God never takes any action that relates to my reality, then on every conceivable and practical point God might as well not exist. That being the case, I'll just stay an atheist, thank you.'

2.) 'Ah. But if God never takes any action that relates to my reality, then you cannot possibly have any grounds for proposing God's existence other than your own sheer assertion. That being the case, I'll just stay an atheist, thank you.'

In other words, a consistent atheist will (with admirable prudence!) either consider a non-acting God to be a non-issue, or else a non sequitur (and thus a mistaken belief).

In either case, the proposed ability of God to 'think', as such, makes no practical difference to 'atheism', as such. If the nominal deist replies (as a nominal or even minimal deist would in fact do, not being a cosmological God/Nature dualist) that God doesn't only think, but also creates my reality, then I would consider it a real challenge to my atheism (to be defeated, of course, if possible). Now the claim would encroach on my actual beliefs. A claim of 'sentience' sheerly by itself would not be a major problem, to me, because sentience can be so variously defined as to be rendered innocuous. (God is sensible to stimulus??) But when a claim about God entails practical action by God, then things become much less ambiguous--and so much less safely ignored.

To put it bluntly, actions have consequences; and proposed actions of God have the most far-reaching of consequences. As an atheist, I would have no particular compunction to waste my time bothering about a claim that a thinking God just sort of exists somewhere out there. But if a thinking entity designed, instituted and maintains me? Now I have a serious issue.

God has a purpose for my life; God expects me to do certain things; God will act as ultimate judge of my conduct, and will take further actions to uphold that judgment; God sends messages to me and to other people; God grants authority to people and expects them to share in His plans and purposes as vice-regents, and thus as authority over me: these are propositions which strike me right in the face.

A man attempts to gain political power in my country, who merely claims 'a thinking God exists': what do I care about his opinion on this matter? He might as well be claiming that galaxy NCC-1701 has a black hole at its center. I am more concerned with whether he can manage governmental functions competently and honestly.

A man attempts to gain political power, who claims that God acts in the history of our reality. Now I (as an atheist) am concerned, because this is a man who could easily be trying to 'act' 'with' 'God'--and if I think he is mistaken about God's existence, I will conclude it would be dangerous to have a man so incorrect about reality to be in a position of such great power: because even if he has the best possible ethical intentions he will be acting in a way which (I think) cannot help but be questionably inefficient. To be mistaken about reality and to act on that mistaken belief is to court disaster, because you will be expecting reality to behave one way, and it will instead behave in another way--quite possibly (or even probably) at direct odds to your intention! This is not a person who should be in public office, other things being equal; certainly not who should hold the strongest authoritative power in our country (if not the whole world). But the person who merely proposes that a 'thinking' God exists? No problem.

And, of course, hyper-minimal deists (or, for that matter, hardcore God/Nature cosmological dualists) are rather rare. Someone who proposes the existence of God, usually means more than the mere proposition of a 'thinking' entity; they mean that the ultimate Fact of reality takes actions--one type of action being 'thinking'. This person may be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, some type of pagan henotheist, perhaps a positive pantheist, or even a 'non-religious' theistic ethicist. Strictly speaking, even the nominal deist would be claiming God takes actions, even if the deist restricted this claim to the absolute minimum of a one-time creation event beginning our Nature’s history; but as a matter of history, nominal deists have a tendency to appeal to God’s institution of Nature as a ground for practical moral action. Sometimes they acknowledge God as an active judge of morality, too, beyond death if not today in this life.

So what I will care about at bottom (if I am an atheist) is whether this 'God' of theirs acts--and especially whether this ‘God’ of theirs is still supposed to be acting in relation to the Nature I live in. Not just whether He, She or It 'thinks'.

Similarly, one type of pantheist (such as an Early Stoic) who claims that Nature is sentient but that Nature never takes actions, would not be worth my time as an atheist, except perhaps in a purely abstract debate--where my reply would probably be, "What is the point of proposing a 'sentient' Nature if you simultaneously deny its ability to act? The claim is contradictory. I also deny Nature's ability to act; that means Nature cannot be sentient, either. And that claim is self-consistent."

So when I put myself in an atheist's shoes, I discover pretty quickly that an atheist as 'an atheist' claims at bottom that the ultimate fact of reality, the Independent Fact upon which all other things are based, does not act--and, in passing, this also happens to mean It doesn't "think", either.

On the other hand, as an atheist, I would probably be very insistent that I can act--especially in my own judgments! "You are only an atheist because you were brought up that way," a theist might tell me. At this point, I would have one of two basic options open to me:

1.) "Hmm. I guess you're right," I could reply. "But," I might continue (assuming I don't thusly abandon my atheism as being irrational) "it doesn't matter, because those environmental pressures are such that they can be relied upon to produce true beliefs in, or through, me."

or,

2.) "That is most certainly not true!" I could hotly retort, whereupon I would launch into a string of arguments to demonstrate that my beliefs about the non-existence of God are not only automatic knee-jerk behavioral responses of mine to my environment (even if I did happen to be raised by atheists).

The first type of defense would agree that I am not capable of action, but that this doesn't matter with respect to my 'thinking' behaviors. The second type of defense certainly involves a defense of my action ability.

These options may seem rather different modes of defense; but essentially, both these defenses involve the justification of what I call my 'reasoning ability', whether or not I consider this ability of mine to be utterly reactive.

And this leads me back to the end of my previous chapter. There, I had concluded that my ability to think (and otherwise act) either comes from a fundamental reality which engages in action itself; or else blindly automatic reactions must be considered capable of producing events which are themselves capable of active or only (yet sufficiently) reactive justification.

If the ultimate fact of reality--what I have been calling the IF--acts, then the whole wide-flung branch of 'atheism' must be untrue, and should not be reinstated later under any circumstances or conditions.

On the other hand, if reactions are proposed to have produced actions, then either this contention is intrinsic nonsense or it is not nonsense. If it is nonsense, then it is removed from the option list, to be replaced either by the proposition that mere reactions can be reliably self-justifying, or by the conclusion that a purposefully active IF exists. If this last defense of atheism turns out to be nonsensical, then it is also removed from the possibility list, leaving the existence of a Sentient Independent Fact--a purposeful, active IF--as a deduced conclusion: God (of some sort) will be deductively established.

(A successful conclusion of this type would still have some highly important qualifications to keep in mind, however, as I will discuss later.)

A defense of atheism therefore sooner or later entails defending the contentions 'it is possible that actions are ultimately produced by reactions'; or 'it is possible that reactions can be reliably self-justifying.'

Claiming that 'action' and 'reaction' are terms too vague to support the deduction runs almost immediately into the atheist's (or even the agnostic's) own practical acceptance of some such clear distinction as a professing atheist (or practicing agnostic). Thus, this tactic cannot be successfully used to defend against an anti-atheistic deduction.

Claiming that 'reactions' don't really exist, only actions, essentially means accepting that the IF purposefully initiates events after all; thus it would be a rejection of atheism.

This leaves the two basic lines of atheistic proposition, either one of which may be used as attack or defense (depending on who goes first in a discussion of the topic).

The atheist may claim that only reactions in fact exist (thus entirely avoiding the question of whether it is nonsensical to claim action-from-reactions--or even agreeing that such a claim would be nonsensical), and yet these reactions may produce behaviors that for all practical purposes equate to reliably 'rational' behaviors in us (particularly in our arguments).

Or, the atheist may attempt to establish experimental and/or formal arguments of reactions producing actions, concluding that the principle is not nonsensical.

The attempt to establish the consistency of the claim 'all actions could possibly be produced ultimately by reactions' seems to me to be the more popular of the two branches--atheists have a wide and impressive battery of claims along this line. That is, these claims are impressive in their density, and in the apparent scientific validity they possess, or in the apparent reasonableness of the proposed enterprise (assuming the relevant experiments haven't exactly been run yet). The claims are also impressive in their sheer number, and in the strident (sometimes triumphant) authoritativeness of their proponents.

But as impressive as such attempts may look, I think they are all, in principle, founded on a devastatingly circular argument; a circular argument actually shared by those who attempt to claim that reactions and only reactions can reliably justify conclusions.

I will illustrate this formal problem underlying the connection between atheism and human justification attempts, by presenting an imaginary dialogue between Chase (whom I will arbitrarily assign to the atheist role) and Reed (whom I will assign as the theist, using a variation of the theistic Argument from Reason).


Next up: the dialogue begins

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting chapter 16, can be found here.

This entry concludes chapter 16.]


[The previous entry ended with: "If the proposition 'reactions produce actions' is nonsense, then either atheism is false, or we might as well treat it as false because it can never, in any legitimate way, get going even as a live proposition (much less as a possibly cogently defended one). Atheism could still be sheerly asserted; but a sheer assertion is not a reliable conclusion upon which to form a subsequent belief."]


There are two categories of defense against this deduction that we should reject atheism being true.

da.) The proposal 'reactions produce actions' is not nonsensical.

db.) Defensible arguments (such as, for instance, atheism theories) can be produced purely by automatic reactions without actions.

Adherents of the first defense would proceed by one of the general following methods (with variations):

da1.) The terms 'reaction' and 'action' are proposed or demonstrated to be so vague and subjective that no distinctively useful definition of them can be formed, therefore aborting the question of whether it is nonsensical to say one comes from the other.

da2.) Reactions really exist, but actions are not distinctive from them, as they are merely our subjective perception of reactions, considered to be something 'other than reactions' purely for convenience in certain discussions. Therefore, it is a non sequitur to claim that 'reactions produce actions' is nonsensical.

da3.) Reactions don't really exist, all events being purely action; what we call reactions are only a term of convenience for particular discussions. Therefore, it is a non sequitur to claim that 'reactions produce actions' is nonsensical.

da4.) Real actions and real reactions both exist; but we can successfully argue that reactive systems produce actions. Therefore, it is not functionally impossible for reactions to produce actions, thus undercutting by demonstration the grounds for my attempted deduction.

da4 will be saved for last: although the principles of my counter-rebuttal to it are simple, they are also subtle and will require some extended discussion on my part.

da3 succeeds by affirming that the IF can behave with real purposes, which is the same as affirming the truth of some type of not-atheism (perhaps pantheism); so if successfully proposed and defended, it would refute atheism rather than defend it.

da2 is essentially the same as defense b above, as it denies real actions altogether, leading to the question of whether the lack of real initiative can still result in cogent arguments. Therefore my counterdefense against it will be equivalent to my reply to defense b, to which I will return later.

da1 might seem a worthwhile tactic; but its feasibility is sharply limited by inconsistent practical application. Specifically, it would be contradictory for an atheist as 'an atheist' to claim that the distinction between action and reaction is only our subjective perception of an otherwise inscrutable property of reality--because the atheist as an atheist proposes that ultimate reality doesn't instigate, doesn't initiate, has no purposes: doesn't act. There is no God, he will say, only a blindly automatic mechanism, which may have random events but those random events by their utter randomness are also unpurposive. [See first comment below for footnote here.]

But the moment the atheist proposes that reality doesn't initiate events--and as an 'atheist' he will have to propose this or some polysyllabic variation--he has simultaneously affirmed that he understands and accepts quite robustly a necessary and real distinction between actions and reactions. If he didn't, his own profession of 'atheism' would be meaningless.

The da1 defense, therefore, would not bulwark atheism if it could be successfully proposed and defended. But perhaps it would bolster some type of agnosticism.

Maybe; but the person using this defense must consider whether she actually accepts the consequences of applying this defense successfully. And I think this will always be untenable. The moment the agnostic defender attempts to employ this defense--and if she isn't going to employ it, then there is no good reason to make it--she will be tacitly refuting herself; for she will be making a tacit but quite necessary exception of the proposal 'reactions and actions are only subjective descriptions we perceive of events' in favor of her own deployment of the tactic to defend against (for instance) an encroaching not-atheism.

[Note: What the agnostic defends against, however, makes no difference; she could be defending against an encroaching atheism or cosmological dualism instead. That she will employ agnosticism to counter a move one way or the other is the main point I'm making here.]

She will not be able to maintain that this defense is usable without simultaneously requiring (whether she mentions it or not) that her own thoughts definitely have a certain quality or characteristic pertinently related to the distinction between action and reaction.

'Reactions into actions is nonsensical,' I say, for example. 'And we require actions to be real for our own arguments to have even the bare possibility of cogency. Therefore, ultimate reality--the IF--must be capable of actions, not only blindly automatic non-purposive behaviors. Therefore, God, the ultimate Act-er, exists.' [See second comment below for a footnote here.]

'That argument might work,' the agnostic may say, 'except it depends on there being a real distinction between actions and reactions. Maybe there is, but our perception of an event as "action" or "reaction" is utterly subjective, therefore unreliable as to the actual state of the event. Therefore, we cannot be sure that any given event really contains an action or is "only" a set of reactions. Therefore, any event you propose as being necessarily an action, cannot in fact be accurately said to be "necessarily" an action; and as you require certain abilities of ours to be "necessarily" actions for your argument to work, then your argument fails because it cannot get off the ground.'

'That looks like quite a good reply,' I return. 'Too bad there is evidently no way to tell whether it was produced in you by the non-rational environment around you; or whether you might have contributed something yourself, instead, such that something other than non-rational events took place in your mind as you said that. So, why should I bother to give your defense the time of day?'

'Because...' begins the agnostic (perhaps a little heatedly!)

'You can stop right there,' I interrupt. 'Why should I accept that your explanation for your defense might itself be something other than a purely reflexive unthinking response? You yourself require that your own utterances should be accepted as being functionally distinguishable in a real and truly distinct fashion between initiation on your part and blindly non-rational responses on your part. For your own defense to have any even merely apparent success as an argument per se, you must make a tacit exception in favor of you yourself and your argumentative defense. You necessarily presume the truth of my contention, that such distinctions are real and detectable, in order to get your opposing contention off the ground.'


In refuting this type of agnostic defense, I am not merely arguing that someone hasn't lived up to her own standards. I fully agree, for instance, that procrastination is an ethically wrong behavior: a facet of gluttony. I also happen to procrastinate quite a bit. (There is a very good chance I was procrastinating from doing something else while drafting this chapter, for instance!) This doesn't change the fact that I consider procrastination to be an ethically wrong behavior, and in my honest moments I emphasize this and ask people to realize that when I procrastinate I am misbehaving, whatever justification I may attempt to give at the time.

If my imaginary agnostic wishes, she may try the same tactic: 'No matter what I may seem to imply on occasion, being only human; please remember that it is in fact impossible for us to distinguish and apply a true and useful distinction between action and reaction.'

Very well; but then so much for any attempt at justifying why I should pay any more attention to her defense than I would pay to a rushing brook or to the cackles of a gaggle of geese (depending on the aesthetic quality of her voice!) Whenever she attempts to employ her defense, which assigns a tacit possibility of distinctive value to it, I will remind myself that she has asked me to disregard any tacit claims of that sort which ride along with any of her propositions; because she wanted me to understand that she is only human and so often makes the mistake of assigning the possibility of definite value to her own statements!

In point of fact, she cannot jump off her shadow, either. Whatever she says, she will continue to require that her own utterances and mental behaviors are practically and usefully and (potentially, at least) truly capable of being graded according to the level of actions and reactions they contain, with consequent conclusions about the relevance of her remarks--including perhaps most tellingly her own practical opinion of their relevancy.

This being the case, the defense of action/reaction inscrutability can never be anything better than a daydream--once the principles of the defense are actually applied and followed through.

The refutation I have just employed may also be leveled against the fourth variety of defense 'a' (which general defense was 'reactions into actions is not nonsensical'). This fourth defense (da4) attempts to conclude, via experiment or logical argument from principles, that sometimes reactions do produce actions. As my reply to this contention shall draw on points I have previously developed in this chapter, and as my reply to defense 'b' ('cogent human thought can take place without any actions whatsoever') will feature essentially the same tactic--and as this chapter has already been rather lengthy--I will continue my discussion in the next chapter.


Next up: atheism and rational action, further considered

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, chapter 15, can be found here.

This entry starts chapter 16.]


You and I can act. I think we also react; but evidently we must presume, for the sake of our own arguments, either that we can also act or that somewhere someone else (who can judge our proclamations) can act.

This is why, for instance, we have mental competency hearings in our legal system. A person or group of people who are presumed not to be utterly and automatically reactive to environmental stimuli, sit in judgment to decide whether a given person (not themselves) is or is not utterly (or at least significantly) reacting to the environment: a decision that carries subsequent conclusions about notions such as 'ethical responsibility' (although I must defer that particular issue until Section Four). The jury may say 'This man was not responsible for his actions'; what they really mean, however, is that although the man is responsible for his actions (whatever those may be), the behaviors being judged in court were not his actions. They were the equivalent of a sneeze, even if rather more complex. This is the difference between a sick man, and a guilty man.

Or, put another way: if an atheist posted a defense of atheism on a website, and then added that the beliefs and arguments represented in his letter were purely the result of his automatic response to environmental conditioning, I do not think his defense would be considered worth listening to (assuming we believed he was serious about his explanation for his own beliefs). At best someone might charitably write in: 'Don't worry; I ran through your argument and you seem to be on target anyway'--a response which itself would only have weight for the original 'argument' as an argument, if the charitable responder was presumed or concluded to be doing something herself other than merely responding automatically to her environment.

I don't think it is possible to jump off the shadow of real action. A presumed and commonly accepted distinction between action and reaction (whatever words we use to describe the distinction) is irreducibly and irreplaceably fundamental to the acceptability of a formal argument.

But any distinction accepted as real has deductive consequences; and if this particular proposition is (as I am arguing) the Golden Presumption itself in its most basic possible form, then the deductions will be proportionately monumental.

Specifically, any attempt to propose further positions (either as hypotheses or conclusions) should be discarded if they contradict this position.

Very well then; we can act. But any variety of atheist forthwith is faced with a serious problem. Action entails addition to, instigation in, and freedom (in some fashion) from the web of reactive causation. Atheism, as a chief branch of philosophy distinctive from "not-atheism", either provides for this ability, or it does not. If it does not even in principle allow for this ability, it should be considered false and deducted from the option list.

I do not mean, 'If experiments, run under the presupposition of atheism for purpose of argument, never adequately demonstrate real action ability, then atheism should be considered false.' If I was at that stage, I would be agreeing that it is at least possible in principle for an atheistic universe to produce creatures (specifically you and me) who can act, and that now we should look to see how this might have come about.

But I haven't agreed that such a situation is even intrinsically possible yet. If it is intrinsically impossible, then consequently no experiment can ever possibly succeed in demonstrating the reverse.

Atheists really should have no problem with this principle, because they apply it all the time in regard to other questions. If, for instance, a supernatural God does not exist, then no amount of clever historical argument or hypothesis-testing could ever possibly correctly conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was supernaturally resurrected by that God. Some other explanation would have to be true; and any conclusion we reached that seemed to suggest otherwise, no matter how strong it might look, can and logically should be reliably dismissed as an error, even if the error has not yet been specifically detected.

I have not found any atheist who has any problem whatsoever applying this principle at this level; I know I certainly would apply it! But the principle itself is topic-neutral (distinctive states have consequent impossibilities and thus deductively certain consequential conclusions of one sort or other); and I am applying it here, at a very much earlier stage of argumentation than any historical question. If atheism as a general branch of philosophy is intrinsically incapable of allowing us to meet the Golden Presumption (you and I can act) then it should be discounted as a possibility. Some sort of not-atheism would be deduced to be true; and we may reliably hold to this conclusion even in the face of apparent evidence to the contrary.

[Footnote: Apparent evidence to the contrary might be intuitively gauged by us as strong enough to warrant rechecking the original logical grounding, in order to ensure a mistake had not been made in the preparatory philosophical conclusion; but apparent evidence to the contrary would not be enough by itself to legitimately overthrow the prior deducted possibility-filter.]

What does atheism entail? The Independent Fact (usually Nature--thus 'atheistic naturalism'--but it could be Supernature), the ultimate Fact upon which all other facts are based, does not act. It does not initiate events. It does not choose to do one thing, nor choose to refuse doing another.

The IF may feature random events, such as quantum fluctuations; but then again, it is difficult to say whether these events are truly random or whether they are merely permanently incalculable to us. Either way, if you ask an atheist, "Do these fluctuations mean there is an acting, thinking Ultimate Fact after all?", he will (as an 'atheist') still say "No." The fluctuations may be random, but there is still no active initiative involved. Nothing is being 'chosen' (except in a merely convenient descriptive sense). No actions are being taken.

So, even if quantum behavior might require abandoning naturalistic atheism for a technically supernaturalistic atheism--such fluctuations may be evidence of a Supernature--this by itself will not entail the falsification of atheism. Whatever 'level' of reality the fluctuations come from, as long as they are considered to be ultimately random, then precisely because they are considered to be ultimately 'random' they cannot cogently be proposed to be exhibitions of real purpose, initiation, choice, action. If they were, they would not be 'random'; they would be intentional. (Rigidly determinate results can, of course, be another type of 'opposite' to random results; and yet also not be intentive.) Leaning over a craps table to turn a rolled pair of dice so that two sixes are showing, may be probabilistically indescribable; but it is not, technically speaking, a necessarily random behavior. (Unless it is true that all behaviors are necessarily random and so non-intentional. But presuming this would void the Golden Presumption again; and certainly it cannot be intentionally argued that all behaviors are non-intentional, whether randomly or determinately so!)

If atheism is true, then the IF is utterly reactive as a system. But if arguments to atheism (or to any other notion) are to be considered even potentially reliable, then the arguers (or the judgers of the argument) must be capable (as I shall demonstrate presently) of at least some action. For us to be able to act in an atheistic reality, reactions must be capable of producing actions.

But if it is nonsensical to propose that reactions can produce actions, then one of two conclusions will follow:

A.) None of us can actually act;

or,

B.) The IF is itself capable of actions.

If A. is true, then the accuracy of what we call our 'arguments' is indefinitely mooted in a limbo; which incidentally includes any argument in favor of atheism itself. Granted, this limbo would also incidentally include any argument against atheism; but if atheism entails a consequence (our inability to do anything other than automatically, blindly, necessarily respond to our environment) which prevents any argument (including atheism) from getting off the ground as a real argument (not just something that looks like an argument), then there is no point--it would literally be impossible--for us to 'accept' atheism as being even possibly true.

Notice that I am not saying 'Atheism must therefore be false if none of us can act'. Atheism might still be true if we cannot really act. But we would never be able to cogently propose or defend it; the quality of all of our apparent behaviors in that category would be an illusion, just as it sometimes seems that genetic proteins are actively 'choosing' to do one thing or another, although virtually all of us agree that they aren't doing this.

Passive agnosticism may at first glance seem to be the best alternative under this proposed condition--except, of course, that even 'passive agnosticism' would not be rationally defensible under such a scheme, due to the simple fact that without the ability to act there can be no such thing as a rational defense for any proposition. (If I cannot act, then 'I' cannot be defending a proposition at all. If no action capability exists at all, then no human at all--including you, my reader--can be defending any proposition at all.) Therefore I would be unable to rationally accept passive agnosticism to be the 'best' option. My beliefs would only be a reflection of my environment, possibly true, possibly false, and with no way to adequately analyze their accuracy, because any attempt at analysis (by anyone, not just me) would contain the same inherent defect: the 'attempt at analysis' would itself be one more automatically blind knee-jerk response to my environment, whether it happened to 'feel' that way to me or not.

Option B, on the other hand, would entail the falsification of atheism altogether: some type of not-atheism would be true. We would be concluding that the Independent Fact can itself act, initiate, with true purpose, not merely behave unpurposively.

If the proposition 'reactions produce actions' is nonsense, then either atheism is false, or we might as well treat it as false because it can never, in any legitimate way, get going even as a live proposition (much less as a possibly cogently defended one). Atheism could still be sheerly asserted; but a sheer assertion is not a reliable conclusion upon which to form a subsequent belief. (Atheism can certainly be presumed for sake of argument; but unlike the GP, it is not a necessary presumption for every argument. Neither atheism nor any other notion presumptively granted for argument (including the GP) can be deductively concluded by any argument requiring that notion, except in a trivially meaningless circular fashion.)

Two categories of defense may be attempted against this deduction.


Next up: considering those categories of defense.

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