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Friday, April 13, 2007

Sonata For Unaccompanied Atheist: Carrier's "Why I Am Not A Christian" - section 1

>> Richard Carrier's Why I Am Not A Christian

As I begin to respond to your RC comments I'm reminded why I just archived your response and didn't reply in the first place (which I admit was a little rude). I honestly couldn't think of anything to say that I haven't said before. But since you asked, here you go.

In the below I will summarize what I think his arguments are per section and respond to your comments per section.


This essay is an attempt to explain why he doesn't believe in the Christian God. His basic method is to use a fairly non-controversial definition of Christianity then propose what sort of world you would expect given this sort of model. He then argues that the world predicted by this definition is different from what we actually observe. This is taken as evidence that the Christian hypothesis is untrue.

As a definition of Christianity he uses one proposed by CS Lewis in "Mere Christianity":

"mere Christianity" consist[s] in the belief that "there is one God" who "is quite definitely good or righteous," "who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another," and who "invented and made the universe." But this God also "thinks that a great many things have gone wrong" with the world and thus "insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again," and to this end arranged the death and resurrection of "His only Son," Jesus Christ, who is or embodies or represents the Creator, and can alone "save" us from "eternal death" if we now ask this Jesus to forgive our sins.

RC argues that the above fails as a hypothesis for the following 4 reasons: God is silent, God is inert, evidence is inadequate, and physical universe is different than we'd expect.

SUMMARY SECTION 1 God is silent (my summary plus some additional thoughts by me)

Because God loves us and wants the best for us and has unlimited resources then we should expect that he would make the rules of life completely clear to every person. Even we fallible humans have almost no trouble getting important points across to each other most of the time. The best communicator should have no problem making sure that we all have this information and realize its importance.

I think it is hard to argue that the information *is* clearly and unambiguously available to all. Competing claims of unique paths to the truth (different religions, different denominations) are allowed to flourish. Many people at many times in history didn't and don't have access to a bible not to mention the barrier of illiteracy. Compare this to the example of the apostle Paul who never met Jesus in the flesh but was given the good news directly. It's hard to imagine why every person ever wouldn't be given the same courtesy.

Attempts to explain the silence by the hypotheses that God wants to preserve our free will are non-starters. Giving people clear information and then giving them a choice happens all the time and doesn't strip them of free will. E.g. a doctor can give me clear info on how to take care of myself and I can choose how to use this info. Even if we were somehow able to resist God with our willfulness its unclear why a good God who loves us wouldn't overcome this stupid/willful part of us. E.g. a good lifeguard will fight a panicking drown victim if necessary.

For any reason you come up with to explain why God might appear to be silent but isn't really you need to ask your self is this reason supported by evidence or is it just an ad hoc idea that *if* true would explain the silence. You can't rescue an unsupported hypothesis by heaping on another unsupported hypothesis.

So for the everyday meaning of silent, God is silent. This contradicts what you would expect from a loving all powerful God who wants us to have important information on the most important aspect of life

[Your reply with my comments]


You complain that he doesn't give any reasons for why he assumes God would be a certain way. It seems pretty clear that he's taking CS Lewis definition of Christianity as his basis. He then attempts to extrapolate what we would expect by using the normal meaning of love, goodness, etc. Everything I know about love and goodness comes from my interaction with people so it seems fair as a first attempt to use what I would expect of a good and loving person as a predictor of what we would expect of God. I played with this idea myself here. If you have evidence that good and loving means something different when applied to God than when applied to a person then you'll have to make your case for this. But there is a problem, I agree. If you talk to 10 Christians you'll get 11 definitions of Christianity so there is a pretty small chance he was going to agree with your definition of Christianity and prediction of God's behavior. While I think he makes a pretty good stab at taking CS Lewis's definition of Christianity seriously the problem is no one knows what God would do in any situation and what his true attributes are. That fact alone supports the point of this section.


Your idea that God used to speak to us directly but stopped because we were rebellious needs to be supported somehow. You can't just state this is obviously true and expect that he should have addressed this.


You assert that God gave us the bible. I'm curious to see your evidence for this. Also even if that's true the fact that people seem "hell-bent" on interpreting it in different ways from each other without access to an unambiguous way to verify interpretations seems to support the idea that God doesn't care if we get an accurate interpretation. You assert that God speaks to us by giving us a conscience. What is your evidence for this? You simply criticize his arguments by making unsupported assertions. This is not very convincing to me. Can you give me some evidence that God gave us a conscience and that this was intended as a message? You have to show both of these independently since one doesn't necessarily imply the other. Also you say that the majesty of creation speaks to us. Even if I accepted the idea that the majesty of nature implies God, what about the majesty of creation says Jesus rather than Vishnu? I mean if God wants us to know the truth then gives us imperfect information and imperfect truth detectors its hard to see how this supports the hypothesis that he loves us and wants us to know the truth.


I'm glad you don't believe the "God wants to preserve our free will" argument since it's not a good one but it *is* very common so I think it was appropriate for him to address. But then you give a view of salvation that is so strange I'm not even sure how to respond to it. If I understand correctly you are saying that people are only saved by God overcoming their resistance. And no one can resist. So the implication is that God doesn't want some people to be saved. If that is true it hard to understand how this jives with God loving everyone. But even more importantly we need to establish the bible as having *any* authority to speak on the nature of God and salvation before it's even worth looking at this argument.


To what ever extent RC is just "making up" things about how God works, it's hard to see how you are doing anything different. You are just saying that book x says that he's wrong. He is attempting a reductio ad absurdum so it's appropriate for him to start with CS Lewis' definition and see where that takes him. You on the other hand need to give some evidence that God is the way you say he is.

He definitely doesn't address your beliefs on salvation specifically but I think even you will admit that your beliefs are not exactly main stream Christianity so how could he even know to address your specific arguments? And just to reiterate, your arguments hold no weight until we establish the perfection of the bible.

And I guess I feel like I should point out that saying something *could* be true is not evidence that it is. Many apologist arguments seem to come down to: well it could be the case and you can't prove it's not. This of course says nothing about the actual truth of things.

The next response will address section two. As a quick aside I have to wonder why you find meaning in a universe where God chooses who gets salvation and who doesn't and overcomes their resistance or ignores them at his whim. Seems a lot like predestination and the negation of freewill. That's about as pointless a life as I can imagine, but this would be an interesting line to pursue at some point.

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