Response To A Critique By Kevin Lane

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Response To A Critique By Kevin Lane

Kevin Lane wrote a comprehensive critique on my post On How I Became a Christian, called The Fruit of Believing a False Gospel and Refusing Answers, which I encourage you to read. This article is a response to his critique. As always, if you have an opinion, whatever it may be, you know where the comments are.

Who is Mr Lane?

Kevin is a Christian with a keen interest in Christian soteriology—the study of religious doctrines of salvation—having studied the topic for the last seven years.

He is a retired Canadian Forces avionics technician, and worked on such machines as the CH124 Sea King aircraft. He is a published author, professional photographer and musician, blogger, and he is @TheWordBowl on Twitter.

Lastly, he is married to Joanne whom he can’t stop bugging at work 🙂

Kevin is a clearly a creative and smart individual. I doubt that he and I could ever be friends, but apart from his annoying usage of LOL and exclamation marks, Kevin is a nice enough guy. He is Canadian, after all. LOL!!!!

Kevin, if you have any links—to music or books—that you want included here, you’re welcome to leave a comment.

Backstory

I started a Twitter conversation with Kevin about the burden of proof argument. We agreed on some points, and we disagreed on others. As it was pertinent to the discussion, we spoke a lot—and mostly disagreed—about atheism, the word, and what it means. I concede that we have a labelling issue in “No Gods Land”, but I was disappointed that Kevin was unwilling to admit that there is more—or less, rather—to the atheist position than the belief that God does not exist.

I explained that the default position, when considering a binary claim proposition—such as God exists and God does not exist—is to remain neutral. The reasonable starting point is to disbelieve both claims until the required burden of proof, for one of the claims, has been satisfied to warrant belief that that claim is true. If, in your opinion, the burden of proof has not been satisfied for any of the claims, the honest position is to remain neutral. In other words, only believe something when you have good reason to. Kevin labels this as agnosticism, which is incorrect, in my view, as we are only talking about belief and not knowledge, but I’m not going to get too wound up by labels.

Kevin, I recommend philosopher Michael Martin‘s book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. For a quick and dirty, but still a good overview, see An Introduction to Atheism.

Agnosticism is uncool, according to Kevin, but atheism, which he strictly defines as the belief that God does not exist, is indefensible. I disagree, but his claim comes as no surprise. What bothered me was Kevin’s repeated assertions that it is unreasonable and dishonest for a person, who claims to be an atheist, to “hide” behind the lack of belief definition. What he is saying is that such people are too pussy to admit their beliefs, and he doesn’t have time for cowards.

“Why would I care what you lack a belief in?” he says, which brings to mind one of his school-yard arguments, “do you have twitter accounts setup about your lack of belief in purple squirrels?” No, I grant you that, I don’t, and there are not too many of those around. Of course, when people start believing in purple squirrels, making specific claims as to their nature, and trying to convince others that their belief is true, then we might just see a couple of profiles pop their heads out. However, the burden of proof for the claim, “purple squirrels do not exist”, is easily satisfied to warrant belief that the claim is true, so I suspect that there will still not be too many lack of belief profiles. But let’s swap out the rodents for an Invisible Purple Squirrel, and the nature of the discussion changes. Suddenly, Twitter is saturated with fire-brand lack of belief asquirrelists.

Kevin’s views on the atheist position is narrow-minded, and broad-brushed. It is also—ironically—unreasonable and dishonest. However, I will concede this: I suspect that, like myself, many atheists do, in fact, believe that God does not exist—at least not an intervening one. They merely adopt the lack of belief position when engaging theists, not out of dishonesty or because they can’t justify their belief, but because the theist so often expects the atheist to disprove God to invalidate their belief, instead of realising that we absolutely don’t have to. Regardless of the atheist’s position, theists must justify their own damn belief if they want said belief to be taken seriously.

Kevin knows that his belief needs justification, although we differ wildly on what evidence is necessary and sufficient to satisfy the burden of proof. Interestingly, he claims that atheists are not interested in evidence, because the evidence is everywhere. He is suggesting that we are so dishonest as to dismiss the obvious. I’m somewhat amused by that.

Kevin, we are very interested in evidence, but so far, all theistic answers have been found wanting. They just don’t cut the mustard. Our standards for proof are high, that is true. That is because we care a great deal about believing as many true things, and as few false things as possible.

This everywhere-evidence that he is talking about is, at least in part, a reference to the cosmos and life. Creation, as Kevin thinks of it. “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork”, a psalmists says. And Kevin says, “You can accept Creation declares a Creator and so be given more specific revelation…” Does this latter sentiment not reek of a conman’s guile? Invest in this, and I’ll give you something special that others are not privy to. Consider the difference between that and the necessary scientific principal of full disclosure.

Kevin, “creation”, wonderful as it is, contains so much imperfection, struggle, and ugliness, that I do not see design, not to mention intelligent design.

Having made up his mind that atheists—and therefore the majority of scientists—are dishonest conspirators, Kevin instructed me to read John. Hearing the gospel is my only hope.

It is at this point that I admit that I have read John, and that I had been a born-again Christian for seven years. This excited Kevin greatly. One had the sense that I had walked into his domain. This was something that he knew a lot about. I avoided the rapid-fire questions that he “threatened” me with by directing him to my blog. He asked me almost immediately if he could write a response, and after a day or two he had written a 10k word critique. Like I said, Kevin loves salvation.

Appreciation

When I added a comment on my post linking to his critique, Kevin seemed genuinely astonished. He was impressed and appreciated the gesture. I am saddened somewhat that, in his experience, most people would not have bothered, or if they did, they would have done so mockingly. I don’t know how true that is, but maybe there is a rebuke in there somewhere for us atheists to remain civil, and to treat people with respect. Most people deserve it, even if their beliefs might not.

I appreciate that Kevin spent the time to “take me to task.” It is useful for people to see both sides of a story, and there is always more to learn.

Kevin is rather complimentary of me personally, and I appreciate that too. He comes across a little condescending at times, but I’m sure he’ll feel the same after reading this response; it’s the nature of the conversion, I guess. I feel a little cynical about being referred to as “dear soul”, but you know what? I am dear 😛 I know he intends well, and so do I.

Kevin on me, “He is thoughtful, clever, and at times very honest. I learned today, the day after I originally published this article that he can be very likeable as well. At other times he is abrasive, dismissive, unreasonable and fallacious in his argumentation.”

I guess, at other times, I am only a little honest. I debate passionately, but I try to do so with civility, and at the very least, I try to give as good as I get. We’re all prone to frustration in debate, but I try to avoid being abrasive and dismissive. It is tough, however, when people argue dishonestly, but I’m happy to apologise when I’m in the wrong. I try to do my research to avoid being fallacious; this is where debate is useful and educating. Lastly, being reasonable is important, and I would happily amend any unreasonable argument.

Overview

These are Kevin’s primary points:

  1. I was not a true Christian
  2. I have a misunderstanding of the bible, and many of its doctrines
  3. My false conversion produced despair, and hatred towards God
  4. I latched on to atheism because it relieved my despair, and soothed my guilt
  5. I wilfully refuse to accept the evidence for God
  6. I believe God exists because you can’t hate something that doesn’t exist

1. True Christian

It is impossible to divorce Jesus if you have been legitimately married; Kevin cites more than thirty biblical scriptures to back this up, so I guess it’s true. I must confess that I’m relieved. Jesus and I had irreconcilable differences, and a forced marriage is a depressing thought. Yes, I know I’m being facetious, I can’t help it. The point is, I was not legitimately married. I was never a born-again Christian, because my story does not match what scripture says. By Kevin’s definition, I was not a true Christian, and I would have to agree with him.

Instead, I was a method actor so immersed in the role of playing a Christian that I had convinced myself that I truly was a follower of Christ. Kevin doesn’t question the sincerity of my seven year stint; he just thinks I got it wrong. When he asked me why I think I had been a born-again Christian, I replied somewhat inarticulately that I had surrendered my life to Jesus, and the only decision I had made was to accept His grace. This is a popular, but false gospel.

“Christianity isn’t decision or effort. It is actually a change of relation,” Kevin says, which is a meaningless maxim. He defines what is required to become a true Christian; notice the necessary decision and effort that must be made: “You need to repent, be convicted of Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment. You need to judge yourself guilty, that your sin is sin, and that it is righteous for God to judge you for it. In short you need to agree with God about how evil you are. Having agreed with God about your debt, you are then in a position to put your faith in the One Who [sic] graciously paid your debt.”

Every time I read these words, I’m disgusted at the sentiment. What a poisonous thing to believe. But it made me think back to when I was a believer. Did I repent, and put my faith in the Debt Payer? Well, I remember admitting to God that I was a sinner, and that I was sorry. I accepted that there was nothing that I could do to earn forgiveness; I believed myself to be a wretched creature, undeserving of redemption. I praised Jesus for dying for my sin, and welcomed him into my life to be my Lord and Saviour. Finally, I tried very hard not to live my Christian life through my own strength—yes, that is a contradiction—but to let Christ work through me. That sounds pretty close to repentance and faith to me.

Kevin: “He apparently asked Jesus into his heart, and willingly became a slave to God. This is how he explains ‘how I became a Christian.'”

The “slave to God” comment is a present day reflection on religion. At the time, I only felt joy, relief, and awe at God’s goodness.

Kevin tells the story of a man who grew up under a witch-doctor: “He had believed there was a Creator God, and this same Creator God was giving him more revelation. He kept responding and eventually a preacher of the Gospel came to him and preached the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why is it that God sent me poor preachers, I wonder? I accepted Creation. I craved revelation. I was hungry for God, and I tried to respond to his quiet voice. Were my prayers for guidance somehow less worthy than the witch-doctor’s apprentice?

Maybe salvation is like those pattern pictures where some people see the 3D object with little effort, while others break their eyes. Maybe, in this case, people are staring at a pretty pattern, and seeing what they want to see.

The truth is, Kevin’s Christianity is an exclusive club, and despite the “Free Entry” sign on the wall, not everyone gets to enter the VIP lounge, even if they really want to. And you can rest assured: if you were refused entry, it was your fault, always. There are thousands of these clubs, and in many of them, the bouncers would throw Kevin out on the street.

I fondly remember the good times, and I regret the bad times, which overshadow the former. Regardless, I’m glad my clubbing days are over. I much prefer to stay at home and watch a movie.

2. Misunderstanding the Bible

2.1 God Did a Bad, Bad Thing

Unsurprisingly, Kevin disagrees with my assessment that the God character in the Old Testament is a monster, and says, “I could spend days refuting just this section…” I bet he can, but not without sacrificing his humanity. “…but David Lamb has already done the work.” He recommends that I read Lamb’s book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist?

Here is an example of how far people will go to defend Yahweh. Let’s consider Deuteronomy 20:13-18:

“And when the Lord your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies’ plunder which the Lord your God gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.

But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.”

This is what David Lamb has to say about the scriptures:

“First, feeling sorry for the Canaanites isn’t like feeling sorry for European Jews in WWII, it’s like feeling sorry for the Nazi’s.”

“Second, the Canaanites had been doing evil things for literally hundreds of years but God had given them a long time to repent…”

“Third, God showed mercy to all the Canaanites who showed mercy and hospitality to Israel…”

If you’re nodding to these justifications, you should pause and take stock. We’re living in a modern age now, where you can’t preach genocide any more. I don’t care if the Canaanites were more evil than the Nazis, or if they’d been evil for a very long time, or that they had ample opportunity to change their evil ways. The solution is never the mass murder of every man, woman, and child—something God chooses to do several times in the Old Testament. Even Lamb seems uncomfortable:

“These passages are the most troubling texts in all of Scripture. When people ask me, ‘Why did God command the slaughter of the Canaanites and the Amalekites?’ my response is, ‘That’s a great question, one I struggle with daily.'”

This is Dr William Lane Craig—apologist extraordinaire—commenting on the same story:

“But why take the lives of innocent children?”

“…if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation…”

“Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think… the Israeli [sic] solders themselves.”

“I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God’s command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites, but to drive them out of the land…”

“If the Canaanite tribes had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all.”

“… only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated.”

In the words of Professor Laurence Krauss, “That obscenity [referring to the quoted text], is the reason that my friend and colleague, Richard Dawkins, will not appear on stage with this man [Craig].” Indeed, Dr Craig’s justification is abhorrent, and shocking.

Kevin makes the usual objections: Atheists cherry-pick scriptures. We ignore context. We try to make God and the Bible look bad. We’re not allowed, and fundamentally unable, to judge, because we can’t have an objective morality—I’m actually impressed that Kevin only played the morality card twice in his critique.

Kevin, there are some things that context can’t fix. I’m sorry that there’s bad things in your holy book. It doesn’t just make your God look bad, it makes him a monster. Go ahead, defend the God of Anger, Sexism, and Racism, but know that you’re doing it at the expense of your humanity. I recommend this lecture on the superiority of secular morality. The “no objective morality” is old hat.

2.2 Doctrine of Ancestral Sin

Kevin has a section about the doctrine of Ancestral sin that is quite interesting and insightful. I recommend reading it.

He says, “As discussed above the Scripture says we sin because we are sinners born in the image of Adam, and we are condemned because we are sinners. When Adam sinned mankind gained a conscience; knowing good and evil. We are sinners, and even though we know the difference between good and evil we choose to do evil. We are condemned by who we are, not by what Adam did.”

In my original post I said: “original sin declares that we are all guilty, wretched creatures, tainted by the bad choices of Adam and Eve.” The only disagreement Kevin has with this statement is that our depravity is not the result of Adam and Eve’s choice to sin. Adam and Eve were themselves depraved; it was in their nature to sin. It was how they were made; it is how all humans are made—in the image of depraved Adam. We effectively inherited our sinful nature from the First Couple. And their bad choice—which they were doomed to make—only gave us the knowledge to tell right from wrong. Conscience is their gift to us. Fair enough, that’s another way to see it.

I also said: “This doctrine [of ancestral sin] is the contemptible belief that my children are accountable for my actions.” I meant this to be an analogy to illustrate that we are condemned for something that is not our fault. And this remains true. Either it’s original sin that we’ve inherited, or it’s our sinful nature that we were made with. Either way, according to scripture, we are born broken. God’s condemnation of us remains immoral. And the Divine Lifeline does not change that fact.

I don’t accept for a second that we are born depraved, and it angers me that Christianity teaches people that they are evil. It is a poisonous teaching from a book written by ignorant bronze-age people. It is ignorance that breeds suspicion, and fear and prejudice, and discrimination, and hatred. But we are not so ignorant as then. That is science’s gift to us. We know that humans are naturally altruistic, and we have a brain to reason with, and with reason we can work out how to live together so that the maximum number of people live without suffering, and enjoy productive and meaningful lives. That is the foundation and purpose of morality. We are born human, and we are the “imperfect” product of our environment, so what?

Kevin makes this rather typical argument, “Find me a perfect man and you have proved the doctrine that says all mankind is depraved, having been born in the image of sinful Adam wrong.  Do it and you have proved the Bible wrong. You only have to find one. Don’t forget to take breaks, you’re going to need them.”

We use the word “depraved” differently. Despite their innocence, you look at infants and see depravity; I see privileged humans about to start the experience of life. Despite good lives led, you look at the elderly and see depravity; I see humans who are truly privileged to have experienced life for so long. I see people who probably made more good decisions, than bad ones. I see people who probably took responsibility for their bad decisions, and learned from them, and became better people. Most people are perfect humans, despite their “imperfections”.

2.3 Doctrine of Atonement

I made the point that vicarious redemption is immoral. Kevin disagrees and spends a fair amount of time explaining again that humans can do no good, and that the act of forgiveness always results in the innocent party paying. He summarises it like this, “God, the innocent party, has paid for us, the guilty party, so that He may forgive. However, not only can He forgive, for I suppose He could do that by just suffering the loss. But God is Just, and so He Himself PAID the debt so that there would be no loss, so that evil would be judged and dealt with. So that He could be JUST while being the justifier of those who believe in Christ.”

In response, I’ll quote Christopher Hitchens:

“Is it moral to believe that your sins, yours and mine, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, can be forgiven by the punishment of another person? Is it ethical to believe that? I would submit that the doctrine of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice is utterly immoral. I might, if I wished, if I knew any of you, you were my friends or even if I didn’t know you but I just loved the idea of you (compulsory love is another sickly element of Christianity, by the way), but suppose I could say, “Look, you’re in debt, I’ve just made a lot of money out of a God-bashing book, I’ll pay your debts for you. Maybe you’ll pay me back some day, but for now I can get you out of trouble.” I could say if I really loved someone who had been sentenced to prison if I can find a way of saying I’d serve your sentence, I’d try and do it. I could do what Sydney Carton does in a Tale of Two Cities, if you like—I’m very unlikely to do this unless you’ve been incredibly sweet to me—I’ll take your place on the scaffold, but I can’t take away your responsibilities. I can’t forgive what you did, I can’t say you didn’t do it, I can’t make you washed clean. The name for that in primitive middle eastern society was “scapegoating.” You pile the sins of the tribe on a goat, you drive that goat into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. And you think you’ve taken away the sins of the tribe. This is a positively immoral doctrine that abolishes the concept of personal responsibility on which all ethics and all morality must depend. It has a further implication. I’m told that I have to have a share in this human sacrifice even though it took place long before I was born. I have no say in it happening, I wasn’t consulted about it. Had I been present I would have been bound to do my best to stop the public torture and execution of an eccentric preacher. I would do the same even now. No, no, I’m implicated in it, I, myself, drove in the nails, I was present at Calvary, it confirms the original filthy sin in which I was conceived and born, the sin of Adam in Genesis.”

Kevin missed the point of the injustice I tried to highlight in this section, so I’ll state it more plainly. Consider two men. One is an old man who spent his entire life causing serious harm: rape, murder, the worst of the worst. The other is a normal young man in his twenties that tried, and succeeded, to avoid causing serious harm. Now, the old man becomes a true Christian, dies and gets rewarded. The young man does not become a true Christian, dies, and get punished. That is devoid of justice.

Kevin includes a link in this section to the The Moral Argument for the existence of God, as presented by Dr William Lane Craig. Here is an assessment of the Moral Argument.

2.4 The Doctrine of Heaven and Hell

It is my opinion that the doctrine of heaven and hell is immoral. For one thing, hell is always a disproportionate punishment. There is no crime that justifies suffering, let alone eternal suffering. In my post, I made the claim that teaching children that they will go to hell, and suffer eternally, for disbelief, doubt, or lack of knowledge of Christ, is mental abuse. Kevin set me straight by reminding me that one is not sent to hell for any of those things, but for sin. I’ll rephrase it then. It is immoral to teach children that they are evil, and that they must repent lest they be punished forever.

I have personally heard the testimony of several people that harbour a fear of hell, which cause them significant distress, despite their rational belief that it doesn’t exist. I used to be one of them. The fear is so ingrained because heaven and hell were taught to them from a young age. Probability and logic says that there must be millions of people who live with this fear. I could be proven wrong, but I posit that it is a significant number. These are not concepts that children should be exposed to, even if it’s presented as fiction, let alone teaching them that it’s certain fact. It can so easily lead to psychological harm. It’s irresponsible. It’s mental abuse.

Kevin used an analogy, which he claims is weak, but I rather like it:

“A guilty law-breaker is standing in court at his sentencing before a loving, but just, Judge. The judge sets the sentence in accordance with the law. The man owes $1 million dollars. The guilty man can pay the fine or go to jail for life. He doesn’t have the money.

After the guilty man is brought to his cell the judge visits him with compassion in his heart. He tells the man he will pay the $1 Million if the man admits his guilt. The judge promises to take the man into his family and to teach him how to live a good and productive life.

The guilty man looks at the judge who just offered an unimaginable gift, a gift that any guilty law-breaker facing life in prison ought to jump at, and spits in the judge’s face. He screams at the judge! You are a hateful man! You send people to prison! You tell people what they can and cannot do! You hate those who have different ideas than you do! I hate you! I am better than you! I want nothing to do with you!

The judge had offered all he had in order to save the man, but the man would not admit his guilt and take the free gift. The judge, being a just man, had to abide by the sentence cast down on the guilty law-breaker. He could not justly break the man out of jail. So he could do nothing but leave the man to his horrible fate, even though it broke the judge’s heart.”

Perhaps the analogy is weak due to the missing context. For it to be a better reflection of what is actually going on, we must consider the following: 1) the judge wrote the law himself, 2) the judge made the law impossible for anyone to follow, 3) the judge created the criminal organisation in which the law-breaker was born and raised, and 4) the judge is the father of the law-breaker.

In other words, the judge is responsible for the unfortunate situation that the law-breaker finds himself in. I would further argue that the judge didn’t need to do what he did, and it is in his power to rectify any of the points, but I expect Kevin will kick up a stink if I do that, so let’s disregard that. Now, considering the clarified context, the law-breaker’s response might be ill-advised, as he is, in fact, in a shitty situation. But if he knew the truth of the situation, his response makes sense, and it is morally justified. The judge deserves to be spat at. Furthermore, the law-breaker, now knowing the judge’s hand, cannot honestly admit to being guilty, and if the judge knew that he knew, the judge cannot accept a forced confession.

2.5 Clarification

The conclusion of my reflection is that I ultimately became a Christian out of guilt, shame, and fear. I listed the three doctrines—of ancestral sin, atonement, and heaven and hell—because my guilt, shame, and fear were largely fuelled by these Christian teachings that are unjust. Much of these negative feelings and emotions that I endured were unnecessary. I resent that. That makes me angry.

Kevin, I know you believe that God is God, and whatever he says and does is moral and just, but I wonder, if you had to remove yourself from the situation and consider it objectively—using your own moral conscience—if you won’t agree with me that He is, in fact, unjust. If you can’t agree with me—and I realise that that is likely—I might question if you are really being honest with yourself, because I just can’t fathom the alternative any more. I suppose it’s like you questioning if I am really being honest with myself, because you can’t fathom that I no longer believe that God exists.

3. Despair and Hate

Kevin started his critique by saying, “Today I’m going to go over the “conversion story” of a false convert and we’ll get to see the fruit of a false gospel; the horrendous pain, suffering, and anti-God witness it brings.” Well, horrendous pain is an overstatement, and suffering is perhaps too strong a word to use. And anti-God witness? I’ll get to that later.

I now think that Christianity failed me, and that Christianity fails full stop, but as a Christian I never once thought this. I believed that I failed God. Of course, I knew that I would fail God; I was a sinner, after all. But there was no change to my desires—other than the oscillating desire for my desires to change—and there should have been. I failed constantly, and every time I hated myself a little more. It made me unhappy; it made me weary.

After seven years, I decided not to go to church any more. I still believed in God, but I just needed a time-out, and I half expected to go crawling back in the future. But the longer I stayed away, the less I thought about God, the more my life improved, and the happier I became. At some point, some years after I had left the church, I realised that I no longer believed in God. I still didn’t want to reflect on my Christian days, because it made me feel sheepish, but after a year or two, I was finally brave enough to revisit what had happened. The more I contemplated the situation, the less sheepish I felt, and the more angry I became. I was angry at myself for wasting so many years of my life, and I was angry at religion, because I was starting to see how corrupt and damaging an enterprise it really is. I had been made to feel guilty for things that were not crimes, ashamed of things that were not shameful, and afraid of the dark despite there being no monsters. It is at this point, when I wanted to learn more about disbelief, that I discovered Christopher Hitchens, which I will talk about in a second.

Kevin makes the repeated assertion that I hate and rage against God, and I guess I understand why he thinks that. But he is under a misapprehension. I “hate” and “rage” against religion, because I believe it is man-made and demonstrably harmful to society. I didn’t believe this when I was a Christian, and I wished someone had taken me to task about it. I would not have listened at the time, but maybe it would have saved me a couple of years. And so to the anti-God witness. I try to point out to Christians that faith is not a virtue, that the bible is a terrible moral guidebook, that the Old Testament God is a monster, that the core biblical doctrines are unjust, and that the evidence for God is bad. Effectively, I’m saying to Christians, and other religions, that they believe bullshit, and it is hard to do that politely, and impossible to do without causing offence. But offence is a vastly overrated concept. It is also easy to be misunderstood.

My post, On Why I Became a Christian, is perhaps my harshest criticism of Christianity, and that is likely because the post is a personal reflection where my resentment is bound to bubble up. However, in my view, the criticism is warranted and even tempered.

4. The Joys of Atheism

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way” – Christopher Hitchens

Kevin draws a parallel between the joy I experienced when I accepted Jesus, and the joy I experienced when I discovered the likes of Mr Hitchens, and concludes that these are deeply emotional and powerful moments. He continues to say, “The relief from guilt is a powerful drug indeed. If you mix in appeasement it becomes almost irresistible. It is this emotional explosion that many people, including Amber, can interpret as God working in them. We are emotional beings who are subject to passions of the flesh. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why we are to critically examine all things and hold fast only that which is good (or true).” I cannot agree more with the latter sentiment; those are words to live by.

Was it joyful for me to discover Hitchens and his like? Absolutely. But not because it appeased my guilt, or shame. I had lost most of that by the time I discovered the “horseman”. Nor was it the little fear I had left. No, the joy came from hearing someone like-minded, but more knowledgeable and opinionated. In Hitchens’s case, it was poetically spoken knowledge and opinions. That allowed me to truly break free from my old beliefs, because it reinvigorated my desire to learn. I was challenged to contemplate the important questions of life once again. Hitchens sums it up brilliantly, as he so often did, “Religious conversation is the beginning—but not the end—of all arguments about philosophy, science, history, and human nature. It is also the beginning—but by no means the end—of all disputes about the good life and the just city.” I realised that I loved to learn and talk about a range of topics, of which religion is one. I love it, because there are meaningful conversations to be had, especially about religion, which hurts so many like myself—and I had it easy.

I stand accused of evangelising atheism. Atheism is a position on one question, and that is it. There is no atheist virtue, dogma, creed, teaching, worldview, or religion. At the most, there is an atheist movement. It is true that many atheists share common worldviews, and values, and many atheists—if not most—trust that science is the best process that we have to become less ignorant. But none of those should be confused with atheism. If I’m evangelising anything, it is scepticism and critical thinking.

5. Refusing answers

Kevin gives many answers. I refuse them. Here’s why.

5.1 Arguments for God

The trouble with most arguments for God, apart from trying to think something into existence, without providing demonstrable evidence to validate the logic, is that it only gets you so far as a deity. The arguments can be used for any God. Much work remains to get to the intervening Christian God.

Five arguments for God are included in the critique, here are the anti-apologetic answers:

  1. The Cosmological Argument from Contingency, and for fun, here is an An Atheistic Argument From Contingency
  2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
  3. The Moral Argument Based upon Moral Values and Duties
  4. The Teleological Argument from Fine-tuning and Argument from Design
  5. The Ontological Argument from the Possibility of God’s Existence to His Actuality

5.2 Bible: Superbook

It is argued that the bible is, in a word, perfect. Several arguments are made.

5.2.1 Prophesy

“But you ask me what the scariest things are in Christianity: this infatuation with biblical prophecy and this notion that Jesus is going to come back as an avenging savior to kill all the bad people” – Sam Harris

I am immediately sceptical when believers include elaborate calculations for things like prophesy, or Noah’s ark etc. Kevin includes some calculations for Daniel’s famous prediction. Here’s a good article on the topic, The Failure of Daniel’s Prophecies.

Prophesy is a smoke and mirrors act, at first very compelling, but on closer inspection, it is not all that impressive. I found these useful, Why I Believe the Bible, Composition Argument, Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled, Failed Biblical Prophecies.

5.2.2 Historically Accurate

Weirdly, Kevin lists historians of the time—Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Julius Africanus, Origen, and Pliny the Younger—in this section on Daniel’s prophesy. All of these historians were born after Christ’s supposed crucifixion, so I’m not sure of the relevance. Unless Kevin is saying that they specifically reference Daniel’s prophesy, which I highly doubt.

Kevin also claims that all historians at the time wrote about Jesus. Let’s forget about the fact that none of them were even born before Jesus died. The more pertinent question is why were there not hundreds of historians, during Jesus’s lifetime, documenting His every word and action, to prove his historicity? Why have a handful of scholars write about him after he had died?

To state that the bible is historically accurate is to stand on a slippery slope. Many scholars do not accept the bible as a historical book. Here are some good articles, Why atheists don’t think the Bible is historically reliable, Archaeology and Biblical Accuracy, Historical Errors in the Bible, By This Time He Stinketh, Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story, and Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story

5.2.3 Bible Codes

Included are things like the heptadic structure, and names and “cosmic codes” encrypted in scripture. Kevin supports these claims by including links to videos by Chuck Missler—the peanut butter guy—who is not too well thought of, even by other Christians. This is good example, and this open letter to him, was entertaining.

Bible codes are nothing new of course, and has been refuted many times. This petition was interesting to note, and this scientific rebuttal paper.

I found the Myth & Life: Sceptical And Critical Thoughts blog comment quite good: “Heptadic structure refers to more numerology hocus pocus. In this instance in factors of seven. What makes numerology work is you only pay attention to what you find and not what you don’t. The “heptadic structure” was noted by a fellow named Ivan Panin. Ivan claimed to reconstruct the original lost Greek text using his own technique. By doing so, he created a translation that “confirmed” his own discovery. It’s the holy grail of circular reasoning. Ivan wasn’t below going to alternate texts when the primary text he used didn’t yield the results he wanted, either. There’s no science or mysticism here.”

Kevin writes the following in this section, “The bible is no ordinary literary work. In fact it could not have been written by man. Amber asks why God would not give scientific proof when we diligently seek it. One wonders if Amber is using the word ‘diligently‘ the same way others do. There is endless scientific proof of God and His works.” I enjoyed the fact that Kevin felt the need to include a dictionary reference for the word diligently.

I beg to differ, I’m afraid. I agree it’s a book of great literary importance, and some good poetry. But I could write a better moral guidebook; I think most people can. It is certainly not special in any mystical mathematical sense.

5.2.4 Scientific Accuracy

A link is provided to another one of Kevin’s posts, called Scientific Facts & Concepts In The Bible, which lists eighteen points. His first point is atom theory in Hebrews 11:3. Here’s a good response by Cliff to this point: “Democritus first postulated the idea of atoms 500 years prior to the writing of Hebrews so even if Hebrews did say such a thing, it certainly wasn’t scientific forethought, but rather an afterthought. But the fact is that Hebrews says no such thing. The verse reads, “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” This in no way indicates a knowledge of atoms but rather is a baseless assertion that the universe was created by something we can’t see. It could be referring to anything but clearly appears to be referring to God himself, not atoms.” Many of the points are such as these. Unconvincing.

For an insight into to the scientific inaccuracies in the bible, see Science and History in the BibleScientific errors in the Bible, Examples of Scientific Accuracy in the Bible, and Science to the Rescue. Here’s a response, in part, to Ray Comfort’s book, Scientific Facts in the Bible.

Claiming that the bible contains scientific revelations ahead of it’s time is reaching.

5.2.5 No Contradictions

“There are no contradictions in the Scriptures. There are things which are difficult to understand.” Of course, Kevin will say that. There must be answers, and we will do anything to get to these answers, because we have presupposed that the bible is “God breathed.”

In response: Biblical ErrancyBiblical CriticismBible Contradictions 1, Bible Contradictions 2A Visual Representation of Biblical Contradictions. And yes, I know that some of the contradictions have been answered.

I made the claim that even if all contradictions could be solved satisfactorily, Christians must, at least, agree that the bible is ambiguous. As evidence, I suggested that the bible has been used to justify bigotry, torture, the abjection of woman, slavery and war. Kevin’s response was, “Please, I must ask Amber, what excuse does evil man NOT USE to justify these sorts of things? The fact is the Bible does not instruct people to do these kinds of things. It is those who practice the deceitful tactic of Proof-Texting (whether they are Atheists trying to twist the Bible or Religious people trying to do the same) in order to justify their own desires that are responsible for the evil they do.”

Kevin missed the point, and his response somehow reminds me of the No True Scotsman fallacy. I also reject his claim that these actions are only performed by people who practice proof-texting. He fails to accept that there are over thirty thousand Christian denominations, all with different interpretations of scripture, even when many of them would subscribe to Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic, like Kevin does. To argue that the Bible is not ambiguous is simply dishonest.

Lastly, I submit that Kevin himself is bigoted towards gay people, and uses the bible as justification. The evidence for this is the fact that he recommened that I read the divisive book, A Queer Thing Happened To America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been, by Michael Brown. Here is a good review of this vile piece of self-published “literature”, Book Review by Kathy Baldock—who is also a Christian.

Kevin writes, “One wonders if the other things Amber is still ashamed of were the subject of such a propaganda effort if he would still feel shame about them either.”

Yes, I would, because they were crimes of vandalism that caused harm. Whereas LGBT people are no different to straight people, other than how they love.

5.2.6 Text Is Reliable

Kevin says, “We have 5,000 manuscripts of the NT and 20 thousand fragments, which show that the NT has not changed one bit. We also have the Church Father’s writings that we can re-build the entire NT except a few verses and also see that it has not change one bit. The OT is likewise supported. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that it has not changed either.”

I am not so confident of his claim, in the sense that the text has not changed one bit. This is an interesting article on how the bible was formed, The Formation of the New Testament Canon, Biblical Alteration: Discussing the Canon. This video, 2nd Foundational Falsehood of Creationism, makes a few good points, and here are corrections for some of the claims. One of the interesting points is that many books were removed from the bible, but they are still referenced by some books that remain.

Another point to note is that we do not have any originals for any of the books in the bible; they all are copies. The dead sea scrolls are the oldest copies, and contain fragments of all, but one—Esther—of the books of the Tanakh of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament protocanon. They also include four of the deuterocanonical books included in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles: Tobit, Ben Sirach, Baruch 6, and Psalm 151—books not found in Kevin’s bible. These fragments are used to validate later copies to make sure that the copies have not changed, but of course, only a relatively small part can be verified in this way. There is also no guarantee that the dead sea scrolls are reliable copies themselves. I concede it’s more likely to be accurate than that of later copies, but not necessarily. Older does not more reliable make; it’s still not the original. Why are there no originals preserved by angels?

5.3 Problems for Atheists

Kevin includes links to Ian Juby’s YouTube channel, and he also links to a blog post of his visit to the Traveling Creation Museum, where he personally met Ian Juby. He makes it crystal clear that he does not agree with Juby’s gospel, but he does accept the evidence that Juby presents that dinosaurs and humans lived together. This evidence is the human footprints or “giant man tracks” that occur alongside fossilized dinosaur tracks in the limestone beds of the Paluxy River, near Glen Rose Texas. This has been refuted by many—also by a Christian, ironically—and few still cling to this fantasy. This is a good starting point, The Texas Dinosaur/”Man Track” Controversy, and this is better, The Alvis Delk Print. These are also fun, Bad Science Journalism 101, and Response to Ian Juby series.

Kevin also claims that fossils are out of order. See, “Poly-strata fossils, missing layers, layers out of order, misplaced fossils, and layers in reverse order all invalidate the geologic column” section in How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?, Are There Human Fossils in the “Wrong Place” for Evolution?, and 9th Foundational Falsehood of Creationism.

Next is irreducible complexity. Irreducible Complexity (bacterial flagellum) debunked, The Collapse of “Irreducible Complexity”, The Eye and Irreducible Complexity, and Irreducible Complexity and Michael Behe.

And “Information” in DNA, 8th Foundational Falsehood of Creationism, The Genetic “Information” Argument Debunked, and The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss — Part IV: DNA.

Evidence for design? RationalWiki, and Infidels. And for a laugh, Jon Stewart Disproves Intelligent Design in 5 Minutes. Here are arguments from poor design Intelligent Design debunked by ‘flaws’ in design?, Bad design: a theological or a scientific argument?

These are good resources, No Answers in Genesis!, TalkOrigins, and Intelligent Design Creationism: Fraudulent Science, Bad Philosophy.

6. My Belief in God

Kevin concludes that I am a liar, and that I do, in fact, still believe that God exists because you can’t hate something that doesn’t exist. His evidence, for his claim that I hate the God who made me, is his “inductive reasoning”, and Romans 1:18—32:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

Maybe Kevin is not such a nice Canadian, after all. LOL!!!

I reject your assessment of me, and it is my experience that the latter mentioned qualities are more often present in religious people. I likewise reject your claim that I hate God; I’ve already addressed that point. That leaves us with my honest assertions, I do not believe your claim that the Christian God exists, and I believe that an intervening God does not exist. Do I claim to know that my beliefs are true. Absolutely not.

Conclusion

There are a bunch of little statements made in the critique that I initially felt I would respond to, but several of them didn’t really fit into the narrative of this response. I also don’t particularly feel like rereading a 10k word article so that I can obsess about some minor point.

It’s worth mentioning that Kevin included a section on subjective experiences that I did not disagree with. He got that spot on. It was only a couple of sentences, but hey, that’s something 🙂

Lastly, in Kevin’s conclusion he said something that saddened me, “I will not be debating, or allowing the debate of, the existence of God. There is no debate, and I won’t blaspheme God by pretending that there is.” Certainty, and the refusal to even evaluate answers, should sound alarm bells. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Do so always, and do not stop.

Kevin, thanks for reading. I hope that you get something useful out of my response, like I did from reading your critique. We disagree, but I think we stayed mostly civil. Take care.

Update

Kevin wrote a response to the this post, please check it out, Amber Strikes Back.

I’m very happy to let Kevin have the last word. I call time.

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19 responses »

  1. Holy crap, that is epic, and awesome.

    I do so love “Not a True Christian.” Always makes me giggle.

    My only message to Kevin would be: if your religion were true a 10,000 word essay would not be required.

  2. I am amazed you spent this much time on these ideas, most are false from the get go. For example, if one believes a creation requires a creator, then God is the cause of everything that happens (I remember Mt. St. Helens before it blew up.) because how can you separate “natural causes” from “supernatural causes” when the supernatural appears to be exactly the same as the natural, which is pretty amazing idea in scope if nothing else. And the claim that you misunderstand the Bible is appararently made by somebody that does? This claim I find preposterous at best.

    One of the “facts” I have discovered about humans is that idiots can cause more work for nonidiots than can be believed. Thus I believe.

    • Yes, perhaps not worth my time. Still, I felt there were useful thoughts to jot down, and this has given me some insight into how creationists reason and argue, and I picked up some useful bits of trivia. However, further interaction will cause my ears to bleed. Kevin’s follow-up response is even more remarkable than his first. But it’s perfect, I’m quite happy to terminate the “discussion”.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. That was an excellent read and most illuminating, I always enjoy debate but I’d argue the point about burden of proof, surely it behoves both parties to provide evidence to back up their claim otherwise couldn’t non believers could simply stick their fingers in their ears and say nanananana? Dialogue and discourse is the only way to come to at least tolerance of each others views, at least in my experience.
    Of course I believe that all views are worthy (and the people who hold them) of respect.

    • You are correct about the burden of proof, and that both parties need to back up their claims. This article doesn’t do the burden of proof argument justice. Please see my article https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/the-burden-is-heavy-revisited/ for my full view on the topic, if you’re interested.

      I disagree with the sentiment that all views are worthy of respect. I respect and strongly believe that every person has the *right* to hold any view or belief that they want. However, the view itself should not automatically be respected. The view must earn respect and withstand criticism. Some views are better than others.

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and your kind words. I appreciate it.

  4. I have just now discovered Jaco’s blog, because I got notification that he was following mine (blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com). I have read only this long, extraordinary “dialogue” with Kevin, and cannot but admire Jaco’s exemplary patience, respect and serious input. Already I can see how much we have in common as ex-Christians and confirmed atheists. Without going into detail about my own story and stance, maybe the title of my self-published book will fill out my profile : “From Illusions to Illumination. The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”. I have degrees in Theology from the Institut Catholique in Paris, after leaving the priesthood was a Diocesan Religious Education Director and Professor in a Catholic University in the States for ten years, and have retired from an international career, during which I helped found and direct a corporate University in France as a specialist in Management and Communication. I am now trying to enlighten and help people I call “Believers on the Brink”. I don’t waste my time any more with gung-ho believers like Kevin. More power to you, Jaco.

    Frank O’Phile

    • Bless you Father 😉

      High praise, indeed. Thank you for your kind words.

      Truthfully, I won’t engage gung-ho believers like Kevin too often.. I’m not sure the audience of my “dialogues” is big enough to get a reasonable percentage of “Believers on the Brink”, who might benefit from the discussion.

      Yours sounds like a fascinating story, and like you are doing good work. Is it possible to still purchase From Illusions to Illumination?

  5. Thanks for posting my comment and responding so quickly. Yes, it is still possible to purchase my book (20 euros). It contains three autobiographical chapters, confirming I hope your advance optimistic judgement that it is “a fascinating story”; you will at least enjoy the photos, including one of me at 16 leaving Sydney to join the Franciscan Order and others of me wearing the habit and later the vestments of the priest I became. I have none of me preaching in St Mary’s Cathedral (I really did !) but I do have a couple taken during my studies in Paris, fifty years ago (!) and a few recent ones. More important in my mind than my story, told essentially to establish my credibility, are the 227 sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, Reflections which spell out why I abandonned the faith and why I consider religious beliefs, rules and rituals ridiculous. But there are over a hundred new Reflections on the Blog, and they, my friend, are … priceless. The trick is to get my Believers on the Brink to read them – and to agree with me !

  6. A long but rewarding read – amongst other things providing confirmation of my belief that the tone of argumentation by some Christians is a reflection if their insecurity.
    I was also interested to see the comment by Frank O’Phile whom I met here in Sydney earlier this year. Frank’s self-published book “From Illusion to Illumination” and his blog http://www.blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com are also worth a read and visit.
    Keep up the good work.

    • The more I fish, the more I realise that the red herring of certainty should be returned to the water.

      I think many religious people fall into the trap of claiming certainty to drown out their fear and elevate their hope, which is a response to insecurity. Religions are designed to exploit this. And from there it’s a viscous circle. You claim certainty despite doubts, and after a while it’s difficult to see a way back, so you forge ahead. Certainty and insecurity go hand in hand, and it’s tough to break the cycle.

      I’ll definitely check out Frank O’Phile’s book and blog. I did a quick google search, but couldn’t find a place to buy the book, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

      Thanks for stopping by and investing the time to read and comment. I appreciate your kind words.

      • G’day Jaco : I loved your “viscous” circle and whole response to my mate Thom. We are both impressed by the pertinence and impertinence of your input and comments. Because as I mentioned my book is self-published, it is available only directly through me and cannot be found in stores. That’s why I gave you my personal address in an e-mail I sent you, which you may have missed. Meantime my blog would be enriched by any comments you care to post.

      • Having abandoned (or rather moved on from) my childhood and adolescent Catholicism to the relative happiness of atheism I fully appreciate your comment about the nexus between security and certainty. I guess what I miss most is “the bright shining certainty” that accompanied my childhood beliefs.
        You might wish to comment, Jaco, on what a world without “Religion” might be like. We both know that it is not going to happen any time soon – but would it be a better place?
        If, overnight, it was revealed that the Jesus story is complete myth what would happen? I suspect that some (many?) would likely embark on a quest for excess – mainly sexual.
        Can humanism motivate in the same way that Christianity has motivated so many to lives of selfless service to the poor and underpriveleged?
        In a further comment I might engege you on the onus of proof – taking Gravity as an example – interestingly enough Frank O’Meara in his lastest reflection in his blog http://www.blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com mentions “Gravity” with some gravitas.
        Best wishes

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