Sermon Recommendation- “What to Do with Your Politics”

5 Nov

In this sermon, Los Angeles pastor Rankin Wilbourne talks about the role our faith should play in our political actions.

DOWNLOADABLE MP3

16 Responses to “Sermon Recommendation- “What to Do with Your Politics””

  1. Nathan Johnson November 6, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    I liked much of what this pastor had to say, especially regarding the dangers of theocracy and the importance of being positive and proactive when it comes to politics. However, as a secular humanist, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on his assertions regarding what Wilbourne refers to as secular fundamentalism.

    Pastor Wilbourne says, “One extreme we could call the secular fundamentalist. He wants to banish moral and religious values from the public square, he decries any mention of religion except as an expression of private belief. The secular fundamentalist believes the separation of church and state means the separation of faith from public life in the name of the Constitution.”

    If Wilbourne were to read what Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams had to say about religion, they would undoubtedly be called “secular fundamentalists,” too. The secular beliefs of the founding fathers cannot be summed up easily, but this video is the best summation I’ve found to date:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQrD1ty-yzs

    The phrase “secular fundamentalist” is a misnomer, too. It’s hard to be “fundamentalist” about something for which there are no precepts or holy books. I like the humorous way Bill Maher addresses this: “There is a growing trend in this country that needs to be called out, and that is to label any evidence-based belief a religion. Many conservatives now say that belief in man-made climate change is a religion, and Darwinism is a religion, and, of course, atheism, the complete lack of religion, is somehow a religion too, according to the always reliable Encyclopedia Moronica. Now, it’s a dodge of course, straight out of the grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are, but what am I?'”

    No secular person is promoting the “banishing” anything from the public square. Many do, however, promote the idea that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By law, our tax dollars pay for public schools, so no religion should officially be promoted in these buildings. By law, churches are tax exempt, so no pastor, priest, or rabbi should advocate any politician if they want to retain that tax exempt status. These are very specific church/state dynamics. The public square is an entirely different thing, and no secular person is suggesting that freedom of speech there ought to be stifled.

    Wilbourne continues, “Everyone brings faith into politics. You can’t help it. For example, When a prominent New York Times columnist says, ‘Don’t impose your religious beliefs on me.’ But that’s what you’re doing by writing your editorial. You’re trying to impose your beliefs… and all I’m saying is don’t try to muzzle your opponent by denying him the very privilege you’re exercising. Be fair. That’s why I call it a secular fundamentalism, because ironically it’s blind faith in secularism as an absolute value that cuts off conversation.”

    It’s very conspicuous that the name of the New York Tie columnist goes unmentioned and that the title of the editorial goes unnamed. I searched for the above quote on both Google and the New York Times website, but I found nothing. This is quite peculiar, especially considering the fact that the New York Times posts all of its articles online.

    Again, no secular person is trying to “muzzle” anybody. Secular people deeply value freedom of expression. That’s why so many secular people congregate on the Internet, where ideas can be exchanged freely without censorship.

    No secular person is operating on “blind faith,” either. Again, this assertion comes straight out of the grand intellectual tradition of “I know you are, but what am I?” This notion that secular people operate on blind faith is completely dismissive of people like me. I grew up in a very religious household, but I took it upon myself to think critically, weigh the evidence, and eventually reach the inescapable conclusion that everything I had been taught my entire life could not be justified with reason or evidence. Faith, by contrast, and by definition, is belief without reason or evidence. My own deconversion was a matter of applying reason and accepting evidence, not of choosing a different faith.

    Finally, Wilbourne says, “The greatest victories of civil rights–anti-slavery, child labor laws, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement–those all had overt religious roots–all of them. Not to mention the rights we cherish as Americans–our belief in the dignity and importance of every person–due process, liberty and justice for all–why are those rights self evident? Where did those values come from? They are only self-evident because they are grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and to banish that voice from the public square would be to cut off the limb that we are all proudly standing on.”

    All of this is simply false. Thomas Jefferson wrote that human rights are “self evident” rather than something like “dependent upon the Judeo-Christian tradition” for a reason. He was a deist and humanist. Regarding Christianity, Jefferson wrote, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”

    Source: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/jefferson_cooper.html

    Morality does not begin with Judeo-Christian tradition, either. Christopher Hitchens phrases this quite succinctly in his book, God Is Not Great: “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” There’s a good (and relatively short) article on this subject here:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/morality_evolved_first_long_before_religion/

    It’s interesting that Wilbourne brings up slavery, because the Judeo-Christian Bible specifically and repeatedly endorses it (including child slavery and the beating of slaves):

    http://www.evilbible.com/Slavery.htm

    None of this changed with Jesus. In fact, Jesus specifically endorses slavery in Colossians 3:22, and Jesus affirms his commitment to Old Testament law in Matthew 5:17. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Jesus had said, “Ownership of other human beings is inherently wrong”? And wouldn’t it have been nice if God had specified such a law somewhere in the Old Testament, rather than repeatedly endorsing slavery? Or could it be that the Bible is a product of human beings that happens to perfectly fit what we might expect of the people and the culture of the era in which it was written?

    The acceptance of slavery continued for centuries after the Bible was written, of course, until figures like Abraham Lincoln fought against it. Whether Lincoln was a Christian or not, which is a subject of debate, we do know that he was a skeptic and admirer of Thomas Paine, a prominent secular humanist. It is humanism that led to much social and intellectual progress of recent centuries, beginning with Petrarch, who is credited as both the “father of Humanism” and the “father of the Renaissance.” Even a person like Martin Luther King, Jr., who it is often assumed strictly received his morality from the Christian Bible, was actually deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, a humanitarian who was anything but a traditional fundamentalist.

    The fact is that whether we know it or acknowledge it, we do not receive or morality from any god. Many of us tend to ignore the terrible commandments in our holy books because we actually use our brains to form our moral beliefs. Certainly, religion continues to cloud moral judgment, as evidenced by modern day faith healers and gay rights opponents. Using human reasoning and empathy, on the other hand, will continue to be the best way of determining how we should be best behave towards other people. It is the goal of secular humanists to advocate reason and to minimize the intellectual and moral harm that religion perpetuates.

    I could say much more, but I’ve written for more than I intended to already. Instead, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite videos on Youtube, which features a former Catholic priest citing a former Christian minister. It is worth five minutes of your time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H6SehQCaI8&feature=relmfu

    • Tyler Smith November 7, 2012 at 5:05 am #

      I will reply to a couple of points real quick.

      1. I have e-mailed Rankin for a citation in regards to the New York Times columnist. Once I get a response, I’ll let you know.

      2. “Self evident” was actually a change put in by Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson had originally written “We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable.” The definition of “sacred” has definite divine connotations. The fact that Jefferson goes on to talk about being endowed by our “Creator” speaks volumes, as well. Please note that it is “Creator,” not “creator.” The capital “C” denotes divinity. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming Jefferson to be a Christian by any stretch. He was a deist, but clearly his version of deism involved a deity that endowed us with certain inalienable rights. That is to say, a deity that is concerned with humanity and views things to be inherently good. That is a Judeo-Christian god, not the man that winds up the clock and simply walks away. So while I would never say that this is a Christian nation, I would say that, whether you like it or not, the nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Those principles can certainly exist beyond the confines of those religious beliefs; that’s not the point being made. The point was that the country was founded on them and that perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to disregard that fact.

      3. The Bible’s discussion of slavery, yes, even in the Old Testament, actually is pretty revolutionary for the time. In an era when a slave master was able to do anything he wanted with his slaves, from murder to rape, here was a set of rules that often required the slave master to treat his slaves like people, even giving them their freedom. And you mention Colossians 3, in which specific instruction is given to slaves. You do not mention Colossians 4, which gives specific instructions to masters, saying to provide their slaves “with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” In a culture that only ever stressed the master’s rights, it was shocking that Paul (the actual writer of Colossians, not Jesus) would actually use God’s treatment of us as a model for how a master should treat his slave. And, in Matthew 5, there has been a lot of discussion and debate on what Jesus meant by this passage, made all the more complex by stating that he came to fulfill the law. What does that mean? If something is fulfilled, then it is complete. If it is complete, then surely we need not bother with it anymore. And yet there is Jesus, stating that we shouldn’t take anything away from the Old Testament. It’s a very interesting parallel, and one that is, I think, much more complex than your reading of it.

      4. Actually, long before Lincoln was William Wilberforce, a British Christian who devoted his life to the abolition of slavery. He saw this very much as a function of his faith and worked with several other Christians to abolish the slave trade in England.

      5. “Using human reasoning and empathy, on the other hand, will continue to be the best way of determining how we should be best behave towards other people.” It’s the damnedest thing, though. You and I may, using our reason and empathy, come up with entirely different conclusions. For example, let’s go with abortion. You may conclude that it is best for a woman to have the right to make her own reproductive choices. I may conclude that it is inhumane to terminate the life of an unborn child. Both of our conclusions could be called empathetic and reasonable, and yet we are totally at odds with each other. So then what? And what about somebody that does not at all agree with our assessment of what is right and good and reasonable? To what do we appeal in order to sway him? His reasoning could be just as airtight as ours and he concludes that murder is perfectly justifiable. When we try to convince him otherwise, all he has to do is ask why and we are flummoxed. We can give reason after reason, but he can either reject them completely or simply give his own reasons once again. Ultimately, we’re just saying, “It just IS!” And that is the blind faith that Rankin refers to: a faith that we have the ability to see all, to understand all, to promote all, and that we are undeniably correct.

  2. Nathan Johnson November 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I know it can be time consuming. I do want to reply to what you had to say here, and I’ll give you the last word after that, if you want it.

    I don’t think there’s a single episode of More Than One Lesson I haven’t wanted to respond to in some way, but I usually remain silent. This particular sermon—in which Pastor Wilbourne had a lot to say about secular people like me—seemed like a good opportunity to publicly share my perspective. My intention is only to do just that—to share my perspective, and not necessarily to change your mind—so I hope my doing so does not offend you. (And if it does, feel free to delete my comments and/or ban me.)

    1. Thanks for that. 🙂

    2. Historical scholar Julian P. Boyd in The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of a Text, “The phrase ‘sacred & undeniable’ was changed to ‘self-evident’ before Adams made his copy. This change has been attributed to Franklin, but the opinion rests on no conclusive evidence, and there seems to be even stronger evidence that the change was made by Thomas Jefferson or at least that it is in his handwriting.”

    Source: http://www.princeton.edu/~tjpapers/declaration/declaration.html#_edn2

    Whether or not Jefferson coined the phrase “self-evident” himself, we do know that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all played a role in drafting the Declaration of Independence. We also know that Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”* We know that Adams wrote that “the United States of America is not on any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”** We know that Franklin wrote that he “found Christian dogma unintelligible” and that early in life he “absented [himself] from Christian assemblies.”*** If the founding fathers were alive today, they could never be elected into public office because of they would be perceived as heretics. (The modern-day equivalent to deists, atheists, are the least likely group to be elected into public office. According to a Gallup poll, with 43% of respondents saying that would not be willing to vote for an atheist—more than any other group.****)

    * http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl227.php
    ** http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/treaty_tripoli.html
    *** http://articles.exchristian.net/2002/03/ben-franklin-quotes.php
    **** http://www.gallup.com/poll/155285/atheists-muslims-bias-presidential-candidates.aspx

    Thomas Jefferson’s position as a deist was understandable for his time, when the theory of evolution had not yet been discovered and science had not yet given us a more complete understanding of the universe (or the multiverse, for that matter). As a deist, Jefferson’s Creator was a universal Creator—one that afforded human rights to all, regardless of religious orientation or otherwise, simply for being human. That’s what it means to be a humanist, and it is a position that requires no supernatural beliefs.

    3. That was the justification I used to buy into, too; but now I recognize that ownership of other human beings is inherently wrong, regardless of time or culture. It’s odd that God’s supposedly immutable moral instructions would change on this issue.

    I’ve also heard it argued that Jesus’ pronouncements about slavery were all metaphorical—an allegory for how believers should behave within the Church. Whatever your interpretation, it remains true that Jesus never said that ownership of other human beings is inherently wrong—something we acknowledge today because we’re rational enough to set aside dogma and use our reason to reach this conclusion. What a difference it would have made if Jesus had admonished the institution of slavery itself, or at least implored us to use our reason to evaluate this issue.

    4. I agree, and that was why I was careful to specify “figures like Abraham Lincoln” rather than just “Abraham Lincoln.” Even before William Wilberforce, there was Bartolomé de las Casas, who himself was devoutly religious and was inspired by Ecclesiasticus to oppose the inhumane treatment of slaves. But it was a liberal interpretation of the Bible (as opposed to a literal interpretation of its endorsement of slavery) combined with his human empathy that inspired him to fight against religious tradition that said that slavery could be Biblically justified.

    5. With regard to moral outlook, the religious must decide which religion to follow, which denomination or sect to join, which holy books to read, which particular translation to select, which parts of those holy books should be upheld and which should be ignored, as well as how to interpret those particular commandments from those particular holy books. For true believers, “absolute” truth is peculiarly subjective.

    Some atheists and humanists do take the relativist position; but in my experience, most do acknowledge that there are rights and there are wrongs—that is, an optimal way in which human beings should behave towards one another. I personally agree with Sam Harris in that I believe that science can be used to help us understand moral behavior and inform our actions. And like any other science, this secular understanding of morality comes from a position of doubt. There are no automatic assertions of being undeniably correct. Our understanding of morality is subject to change as new evidence becomes available. I’ve never heard a single atheist or humanist who simply asserts, “It just is!” Instead, they use reason, logic, and evidence to justify their moral claims.

    For example, just recently I was made aware of a debate between secular pro-lifers and secular pro-choicers. Each side gave their reasons—not dogmatic assertions. Religious dogma and reason are not two sides of the same coin. As Bill Maher humorously puts it, “I’m not saying atheists are perfect thinkers; everyone has blind spots. I’m sure there are atheists who think a ponytail looks good on a man, and pineapple belongs on a pizza, and Ayn Rand was an important thinker; but when it comes to religion, we’re not two side of the same coin, and you don’t get to put your un-Reason up on the same shelf as my Reason. Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kraken.”

    • Tyler Smith November 10, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      When you say that you want to respond to every single episode, but usually don’t, but that you saw this opportunity to talk about your own beliefs, do you mean to say that, every time you listen to an episode, you immediately think all these things in response to what we’re saying? Because, if that’s the case, that sounds utterly miserable. I mean, if you like my movie talk, that’s great, but there is a whole other show that I do that doesn’t really feature my faith very much at all.

      1. The columnist’s name is Gail Collins. The link is:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/27/opinion/talk-about-a-way-with-words.html?_r=0

      2. Oh, I would never say that this is a Christian nation, nor would I particularly want it to be. The argument that is being made is that the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, whether the founding fathers knew it or not. And even though many of those men were deists, many of them attended church, engaged in prayer, and had a deep respect for Christian teachings and beliefs. I know a bit more about John Adams than the others, but he was known to defend Christianity against deist critics. But, of course, even he understood that there could be no particular deference to Christianity as an established, organized religious entity. I think it’s entirely possible for a person or country to have internalized the principles of a specific belief system, while also attempting to give that belief system no specific favor in the public square.

      3. It is odd what Jesus did and did not speak out about. For example, he was given a few opportunities to undermine the authority of Rome directly. He didn’t. Instead, he spoke of spiritual issues; things that will continue after our physical situation- whatever it may be- is over. Jesus could have protested a kingdom that dominates all others and forces them to do its will. And yet he didn’t. At least not in a way that would have encouraged violent uprising. Why not? Other people certainly were. But he didn’t. And perhaps He didn’t address slavery for much the same reason (as Roman rule over the Jews was considered a form of slavery). Perhaps if he had denounced it outright, there would have been a massive uprising that would result in bloodshed. Given the volatile climate of the time, such a thing would be completely possible, even probable. And lest we hear something like that and think to ourselves, “Good! People that own slaves should be killed,” we need to remove our own cultural superiority and realize that, since it was the cultural norm, it was entirely possible for good people to own slaves. For a more modern example, we can look at Thomas Jefferson. He owned slaves, but is considered to be a great man. If his own slaves had risen up and killed him, one could make a pretty good argument that he deserved it. And yet the truth is more complex that that, isn’t it?

      That is one of the compelling things about Jesus. There is what people- then and now- expect him to say, and what he actually says. They don’t often line up; at least, not as obviously as one would assume.

      An interesting article can be found on the Huffington Post. The author discusses the various forms of slavery that are discussed in the Bible.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/slavery-and-the-bible_b_880756.html

      4. Not really sure what to address here, so I’ll skip it.

      5. And here we come to the crux of the matter. As it happens, I have heard atheists come around to saying, “It just is.” It usually comes after about an hour of discussion, in which I just keep asking why. Why is it wrong to murder somebody? Why is life precious? Why is it good for people to remain alive? Why is that good for society? Why do we define good to mean beneficial? Why do we value good over bad? Why do people have different definitions of good? Why is happiness better than sadness? Should the concepts of right and wrong even be considered when making a decision? Why or why not? No matter the answer, the question can always be asked, and not in a childish sense; in a purely inquisitive sense. And sooner or later, there is a leap of faith. There really is no way to prove that life is good and better than death.

      It reminds me of a quote from FULL METAL JACKET. “The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive.” While I can appreciate the poetry of the sentiment, I found myself thinking, “First off, assuming that the dead can ‘know’ anything, why would they know that? And why would that be the only thing they knew? And how does a living person know that a dead person would think that?” Of course, those were the questions that first entered my mind when I watched the movie at age 15. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate that the character was speaking figuratively.

      And yet I feel like it is very similar to the general argument of the secular humanist. They say they are in favor of morality apart from religion, which is fine. But how do they decide what is right? Through reason, right? But even reason needs an anchor, a central assumption of truth from which to branch out from. Reason is a discussion of what does and doesn’t make sense, but what does sense even mean unless somebody, sooner or later, simply declares, “This is sense.” And, yes, there are things that can be proven and unproven, but “right” and “wrong” don’t fall into this category.

      And an examination of how the brain works and how our evolutionary instincts define what we do can only go so far. Because, eventually, we arrive at what we instinctively want to do and what we feel we should do. And there are people that do right and those that do wrong. Which is better? One could say that the one that does wrong is simply more evolved and has no use for morality. If this is the case, then what right do we have to punish such a superior being? Then, there is the idea that those that do wrong are less evolved, since the evolution of human morality can be mapped out by what we don’t do anymore (human sacrifice, slavery, etc.), and those that may continue to do that are simply lagging behind the rest of us. If that’s the case, how can we punish him, since he is simply acting as a function of his nature? Then, there is the idea that we are all equally evolved, but some people do right and some do wrong. But if we’re all equally evolved, where do some of us get off telling others what they should and shouldn’t do. Eventually, it has to come down to, “It’s wrong to do that.” And even that idea is predicated on the deeper idea that “wrong” is bad and we don’t want it (except, of course, those that do wrong), which is also unprovable. It is an idea that is outside of us, yet inside us at the same time, that can never be empirically proven, that we can appeal to in order to help us be better people and for society to flourish.

      And, incidentally, in the debate between secular pro-lifers and secular pro-choicers, whom is winning and why? Aren’t both sides operating on an unprovable assumption (one that liberty and individual choice is the ultimate good and the other that life is the ultimate good)? How can either side ever win? I guess it can come down to whichever side can argue the best, but then we get down to a completely different question, because it’s entirely possible that a person can have better points, but not communicate them well and could lose the debate, thus rendering the essential goal of the debate moot.

      Then, of course, there’s Bill Maher, a man that should be to atheists what Jerry Falwell is to Christians. His smug, condescending, superior attitude only serves to alienate. He does not seem that interested in convincing people; only shaming them. And his specific brand of non-belief is not helped by RELIGULOUS, a documentary in which he regularly makes rebuttal points to the camera in the van AFTER interviewing his subject. In which “he mostly bypasses serious religious thinkers in favor of fundamentalist goofballs he can ridicule with ease”*. It’s easy to make your worldview look good when you’ve chosen a handful of oddballs to represent the other. And I find myself wondering if he chose not to interview genuine theologians because he simply didn’t know of any. Possibly because, though he is undoubtedly smart, he is largely ignorant of religious culture except for what he sees on TV. I think his movie, and worldview, reflects that. It’s not that he’s avoiding them; he just doesn’t seem to know, or believe, that they exist.

      And so we come to where we began. While I like that my show is listened to by non-believers, I do often wonder why they listen. Especially in your case, in which you make it very clear that you value reason and that, in your view, a belief in God is the essence of un-Reason (to use Maher’s term). So, why on earth would you choose to listen to this every two weeks? Surely, my movie opinions can’t be so insightful (and articulate and charismatic and intelligent and dynamic and Podcast Award-nominated) as all that. I know you said you’d give me the last word, but perhaps you could throw some positivity my way and tell me what it is about an overtly “unreasonable” show that makes you return to it.

      *J.R. Jones, The Chicago Reader (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/religulous/Film?oid=1067742)

      • Nathan Johnson November 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

        This turned out to be longer than I intended, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the read—if your supertasting sensibilities will tolerate coffee, that is. 🙂

        I suppose I should have clarified that feeling compelled to respond to your podcast is very much a good thing. I personally make a point to seek out things that I disagree with, or at least to seek out things that inspire critical thought. I happen to have a strong interest in both film and religion, and you analyze films from a religious perspective in More Than One Lesson; so I appreciate that your podcast compels me in turn to think critically about these subjects, even if I sometimes disagree with your conclusions. And I do often agree; for example, I liked your insightful interpretation of the Tree of Life.

        The fact that your podcast inspires critical thought (at least for me) is why I consistently vote for your podcast over some of the atheist podcasts in the Podcast Awards. For example, I see you were nominated alongside Cognitive Dissonance this year. I used to listen to that podcast, but I found myself just agreeing with the hosts without engaging in critical thought. When I saw I had more podcasts than I had time to listen to, I unsubscribed from Cognitive Dissonance and kept More Than One Lesson. Being articulate, charismatic, and dynamic doesn’t hurt either, no; and I genuinely feel you are all of those things, which is why I return to both More Than One Lesson and Battleship Pretension week after week. (How’s that for positivity?) 🙂

        1. Thanks for sending me that New York Times article. I read the article, and for a second time I listened to the portion of the sermon in which Pastor Wilbourne cites it, just to be sure. It’s interesting that he places an emphasis on the quote he cites in his sermon by saying, “Quote—Don’t impose your religious beliefs on me—end quote,” when no such quote exists in the article. Pastor Wilbourne clearly lied here. Moreover, the article is about legislation based on religious beliefs that would impose on women’s bodily rights. It has nothing to do with free speech, but Wilbourne made it about that to support his argument.

        You may want to ask Pastor Wilbourne why he is lying. I would be curious to hear his answer. Incidentally, I’ve listened to several previous sermons from this pastor (some of which you sent to me in an e-mail), and I’ve noticed that it is something of a habit of his to cite articles and studies without providing specifics.

        2. I agree with you on this: “I think it’s entirely possible for a person or country to have internalized the principles of a specific belief system, while also attempting to give that belief system no specific favor in the public square.” Some of the Founding Fathers were Christians and were influenced by Christianity to some degree. However, I don’t believe the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and I don’t think most people mean anything different when they say this is a “Christian Nation.” Here’s a good article on that subject:

        http://wlwesq.com/2011/08/21/was-the-u-s-founded-on-judeochristian-principles/

        3. It’s an interesting argument that a denouncement of slavery by Jesus would result in bloodshed—one that I haven’t heard before—but there a couple of problems with it. Most importantly, it misses the point of why God’s supposedly immutable moral instructions would change on this issue. The article you cited specifically mentions sex slavery: “Slaveowners possessed not only the slaves’ labor but also their sexual and reproductive capacities.” How was this ever okay to begin with? For that matter, how was slave-beating (Exodus 21:20-21) over okay to begin with?

        The other problem is that we did, in fact, have an uprising that resulted in bloodshed because of the issue of slavery. During the Civil War, 290,000 people died from combat deaths, plus 400,000 from diseases. It seems unlikely that fewer lives would be lost during Jesus’ time. Not only that, God clearly has no problem with commanding holy wars and wiping out entire populations. The entire Old Testament is proof of that.

        The more logical conclusion is that the Bible was written by human beings who wrote laws that reflect exactly what we would have expected them to write during their time and culture. Yes, it is quite possible that Paul’s goal was to resist or at least undermine slavery—but I also think that this is much more likely to be the result of political, not divine, inspiration.

        5. There are atheists out there who are not skeptics, and their reasons for not believing in a god are not logical. The same can be said about moral claims. If someone is actually saying “it just is” to you without proving any logical justification, then yes, I agree that they are no better than the theist in that situation. That’s why I personally embrace the philosophy of secular humanism, which specifically promotes reasoning and critical thinking, rather than just atheism (merely the lack of belief in any god).

        I actually do think “right” and “wrong” can fall into the “proven” and “disproven” category. I mentioned an abortion debate between two atheists; and yes, I do agree that formal debate is not the best way to determining what is true. You said, “It’s entirely possible that a person can have better points, but not communicate them well and could lose the debate, thus rendering the essential goal of the debate moot.” The same can be said about any scientific debate. A slick Flat-Earth proponent could potentially “win” a debate with a stumbling Spheroidal-Earth proponent, but that doesn’t mean scientific claims can’t be proven.

        So how do you go about proving a moral claim? I personally agree with Sam Harris in that morality can be approached like science—through rigorous investigation and research. To some degree, we already do this. For example, regarding gay marriage, I often hear about the psychological effects of having two same-sex parents. As Harris suggests, neuroscience can be used to gain an even deeper understanding of the psychological impact on people when it comes to issues like this. In this sense, we can in fact “prove” and “disprove” moral claims—in the same way we can “prove” and “disprove” scientific claims. We may never have complete answers to some of these questions, but until then, we should use the evidence available to us and apply human reasoning. Relying on God for the answers to our questions, whether they’re scientific or moral questions, doesn’t work.

        Here’s a recent example. According to The Raw Story, Glenn Beck “repeatedly said that God was orchestrating [Mitt Romney’s] path to the presidency.” He relied on God to predict the outcome of the election.

        http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/07/beck-on-romneys-loss-man-sometimes-god-really-sucks/

        By contrast, Nate Silver relied on mathematics and scientific rigor. He’s something of the Peter Brand of presidential elections, actually; and like Brand, he works with baseball, too. Silver’s prediction was startlingly close to the actual outcome.

        http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2012/11/07/why-math-is-like-the-honey-badger-nate-silver-ascendant/

        Beck’s approach utterly failed, and Silver’s approach was spot on. God has an incredibly consistent track record of seeming nonexistent. Why should we rely on that for our moral claims? Why should we not instead rely on any other number of deities that also seem nonexistent, such as Krishna or Isis? It doesn’t make sense to choose any one (or more) of many gods, to interpret that god’s holy text however you see fit, and to claim it as absolute truth. For example, on the abortion issue, the Bible is very much in favor of it:

        http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/abortion.html

        Yet most modern Christians ignore these passages and come up with their own interpretation without any rational justification. It makes a lot more sense to me to look at the facts and use our best judgment after examining those facts to determine what is morally right, and I believe that science can help aide that judgment.

        Regarding RELIGULOUS, I happened to hear Bill Maher mention the specific issue you brought up in a recent StarTalk Radio Show interview. He mentioned that RELIGULOUS was not intended to be convincing, nor some kind of spiritual journey for himself—because he had already figured that out when he was much younger—but that it was more of an exploration of the state of religion in America today. I agree that Maher is smug, I agree that RELIGULOUS is Moore-esque in its approach, and I too would have preferred to see a more sincere, thoughtful approach to the subject matter in that film. However, I do have to admit I sometimes find the way he phrases things both humorous and poignant, and I especially appreciated the way he did not hold back when addressing the thoughtless “atheists just have faith” claim I so often hear.

        More often, I tend to cite people like David Hume, who wrote in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” Skeptical atheists have simply examined the evidence and reached the conclusion based on that evidence that there is no good reason to believe any god exists. Here’s a good article on that subject:

        http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/FaithBelief.htm

        Perhaps I would have taken offense to have the word “un-Reason” applied to my faith, too. But looking back, I now see that what I once thought was reasonable was actually not reasonable at all. I now understand that saying “atheists just have faith” is an equivocation fallacy. I now understand that saying “you can’t disprove God” is a shifting the burden of proof fallacy. I now understand that saying “life is meaningless without God” is a false dichotomy fallacy. I now understand the many, many fallacies associated with Pascal’s Wager. I now understand that presuming the existence of a god in the absence of evidence (e.g., incomplete scientific explanations for abiogenesis and cosmogenesis) is an argument from ignorance fallacy. And I now understand that questions of morality have much more complicated answers than “my particular god says this,” which too is an argument from ignorance fallacy.

        The above reflects a small fraction of what I’ve learned over the years by discussing these things with atheists and theists of various faiths. My realization that there is no rational reason to believe in any god is inescapable; I can’t “choose to believe” in the god of Christianity any more than I can “choose to believe” in the Loch Ness Monster. This realization was purely a result of skepticism and critical thinking. Yet for this, I deserve to burn in hell forever, at least according to the most common interpretation of Christianity. God spells it out in Revelation 21:7-8, declaring that the “fearful” and “unbelieving” (essentially, thoughtcrimes) “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”

        I grew up in a religious home. I was baptized at the age of thirteen, and I had the entire Bible read by the age of fourteen. My prayer was constant, and my devotion was sincere. As many people I hear now say, I had a “personal relationship” with God.

        Later in life, I made a mistake. I started thinking. Supposedly, this is the crime that has me damned to an eternity of torment.

        But I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I now know how harmful it is to make people believe in things like hell. I now know how harmful it is to say “God’s morality is absolute” when that morality entails things like slave-beating; or even today in America, when that supposedly absolute morality is used to make gay people hate themselves for the way they were born. And as someone who has struggled with severe depression myself, I now know exactly how evil a religion is that tells you were born evil, that you are evil, and your only hope is a savior—a savior that doesn’t actually exist.

        When I was a teenager, I asked my parents if I could start attending a Christian school, and they agreed. In my sophomore English class, we read The Piligrim’s Progress. The chapter about the burden of sin made a strong impression on me. I tried to convince myself that I shared the Piligrim’s joy of having the burden of sin released, and I tried to follow what I believed were God’s commandments to the best of my ability to achieve to achieve that joy about God; but in the back of my mind, I always felt that something was missing. How could I be sure I was right—really, truly, be sure? This came back to haunt me in my adulthood, when my depression was at its most severe state, and God didn’t seem to be listening anymore.

        But I still adamantly defended my faith. When someone responded to one of my comments online saying that I wasn’t reasonable, I said, “I’m going to prove you wrong with reason.” This prompted my investigation. Eventually—and this took about two years of almost daily investigation in my case—I had to concede that I actually wasn’t right. To this day, I try to learn as much as I can from every perspective, which is part of the reason why I listen to More Than One Lesson. And when I hear that secular humanists have no morals or that they just have faith—two things that couldn’t be further from the truth—I do feel a need to speak my mind for all the reasons above, and then some.

    • Tyler Smith November 10, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      Incidentally, sorry I didn’t respond to your comment right away. For some reason, WordPress put it in my spam folder. I’m glad I happened to glance at it when I did; I almost never do that.

  3. Shawn Richardson November 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Nathan and Tyler,

    I’m not gonna try to address the points that the both of you have been posting. Mostly because I think I have started to lose the thread. I say that to make it clear that I’m almost sure I’m gonna miss things that may have been addressed. Sorry about that. I think more than anything I wanted to address a few things, some for each of you. Before I start however it might be noteworthy to state that I haven’t listened to Rankin’s sermon. Just wanted to throw that out there.

    Before I start however, Nathan I would like to applaud you for the way you have handled these emails. As a Christian, I can say for myself and I believe for Tyler as well that courtesy is not something often found in emails with as many concerns as yours. I have been on the show and see Tyler with some regularity and I cannot express how much being treated like a person means to him. He doesn’t get it a lot.

    1-Nathan – you mentioned taking in the idea and opinions of people with whom you disagree. In terms of Christianity I was curious as to who those voices were. You raised a lot of points that I have heard well expounded upon in the past. I’m currently hunting through a backlog of sermons for some specific topics.
    -D. A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, and Tim Keller both have a formidable knowledge of theology and history. I will say for my own part that I like Rankin but he is a Pastor that does well with application. I would say that is his wheelhouse. I only bring it up because if I was looking for collegiate level exegesis, his is not the sermon I would go to. That being said if he claimed a quote that didn’t exist it is o his discredit and he should probably rectify with an apology. I would say this though, pastors are not perfect and any one who would claim otherwise hasn’t studied enough. Your tone indicated a level of malicious intent on Rankin’s part that I don’t think was there. I would say it’s more likely that he misspoke. Clearly, I do not know but in light of the most recent election that this country just endured. I have found myself more sensitive to comments that are declarative when the evidence is at best circumstantial. That should in no way indicate, Nathan that I think you’re wrong, more that I see our culture devoid of grace for one another. If it is a habit to throw, “quote,” and, “end quote,” around, that should be rectified.
    -Matt Chandler recently addressed the Biblical support for life beginning at conception. (Looking for that one)
    I can say that I looked at the link to skepticsanotatedbible and several of those quotes are not given their full contextual support from either the specific Biblical moment or the Bible as a whole. If it is true that most modern Christians ignore the passages addressed, and I’d say that statement is relatively accurate, would you also concede that there are a portion of Christians who are well educated and well spoken who have ushered these passages into their proper context with justifications both rational and eloquent?

    2 -Tyler (and Nathan too) – In terms of Jesus not deploring slavery for fear of political uprising. I agree that line of thinking could have been a concern but I fear putting that argument to far forward. It is true that the slavery, which jumps to the modern mind, is not the slavery of which the Bible speaks. I’m pretty sure I’m repeating something already said but the …
    word “slave” is probably not the best translation of the Greek word doulos. The ESV has a footnote at this verse when it occurs in the New Testament, and the footnote says, “Greek bondservant.” That shows that it was an institution far different from the horrible abuses of slavery in the 18th and 19th century in North America, in the Caribbean, and in Latin America. A “bondservant” in the first century could normally earn his freedom by age 30, was protected by an extensive set of Roman laws, and owned private property. These “bondservants” often had significant responsibility as teachers, lawyers, physicians, managers, shopkeepers, and so forth. In the parable of the talents that Jesus tells, the master entrusts one “bondservant” with one talent, another with two, and another with five, which in modern equivalent terms would be equal to $400,000, $800,000, and $2,000,000 in U.S. currency today

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/12/interview-wayne-grudem-part-four-ethical-trajectories-feminism-and-homosexuality/

    Grudem is a great recourse here

    3 – Both – I’m curious about the argument in regards to whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation. More specifically, I wonder if we are actually addressing the pertinent question. The neither the Constitution nor the DoI puts a deity in place, as such I would say (my opinion) that the USA is not established as a Christian nation. If the documents which create a nation do not define a nation a certain way, that nation should not be retroactively re-defined (again, my opinion). That seems like the battleground for much geo-political debate.
    Nathan I agree with your sentiment that in the eyes of the majority of Americans, or at least the majority of Americans with megaphones and the inclination to get rowdy the “Christian nation” subtitle does have a more simplistic meaning. This raises a different question to me. Is it the responsibility of those who know better to teach or to indulge? If the topic is so simple doesn’t it become the responsibility of those who know better not to wade into the muck and start slinging? I don’t know if the current media climate is so inclined toward the higher road and that goes for both camps.

    4 – Nathan – I realize this post is entirely too long. I have cut a lot out but my hope is that our back and forth continue and some of the omissions might be brought back up. Just a few things to cap off.
    – It is not a mistake to think nor is it a mistake to question Scripture. Based on the outline of your upbringing, you know that. (1Thess5:23, 1 john 4:1) There is a greater discussion to be had here. But I would plant this seed before we have it. There is a lot of polygamy in the Bible and many people, even Christians just see this as cultural evolution. This is not true. There are several topics in scripture that have a similar
    – You wrote in your first post that …
    “the Bible is a product of human beings that happens to perfectly fit what we might expect of the people and the culture of the era in which it was written”
    If this were true I would submit the a couple questions.
    – Why would a misogynistic base of writers create a Deity whose pivotal act on Earth was discovered by a woman? ( Matt 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:10-12, John 20: 1-18)
    – Why would the men credited with the creation of the New Testament (being the disciples of Christ and those who followed them post resurrection as scribes and aids) not change their own representation in the gospel accounts so as not to seem like utter fools, especially if the goal was to create for themselves positions of socio-economic power as the religious leaders of the day?
    – If the events surrounding the life, crucifixion and resurrection if Christ were fabricated, why would the writers of the Gospel accounts encourage their readership to follow up and speak to named witnesses? (1Cor15:6, Gospel account of Luke. You mentioned your own speculation of someone unwilling to site a source. Luke names many of his witnesses by name so the skeptic might go and speak with them. I don’t bring this up because I think you can do the same. Consider though, that skeptics of Christ lived at his own time as well as ours. I find it implausible that, with such resources for follow up, first century skeptics would not seek to discredit the Gospel account. More implausible is the idea that if they did document their discrediting, such a document would not have survived to bear witness.

    Just a few to chew on.

    Finally, (I promise) I have a question for you Nathan. This is not a trap, I want to now your thoughts.

    Say a government decides by popular vote that the best way to remain competitive or dominant in a global economy is by raising the IQ of its populace and the best way to remain competitive or dominant in a world prone to war is through the increase of the strength and stamina of its people. If right and wrong are not finite, as your position seems to suggest, (and please correct me if I am wrong) what is to stop said government from achieving this goal through mandatory fetal genetic screening and forced termination of developmentally disabled fetuses?

    • Nathan Johnson November 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      I’ll try to be as brief as humanly possible.

      1. To answer your first question: When I was reevaluating the reasons for my faith, I looked at what everybody had to say—theists (of various faiths) and non-theists alike. On the Christian side you specifically asked about, I’m most familiar with the works of C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, D. James Kennedy, and J.P. Moreland. I agree that these apologists can be “well-educated,” “well spoken,” and “eloquent,” but their arguments are not rational. I’ve also read the Bible (multiple versions), Bible commentaries, some Extra-Biblical texts, the Qur’an (in English, admittedly), some Buddhist texts, and books on religion by various non-theists such as Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger.

      But I also now also recognize that this was ultimately unnecessary. The main thing is recognizing that, as Carl Sagan puts it, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”—a reflection of David Hume’s skepticism, which is itself a reflection of Occam’s Razor. No theistic claim has ever provided the evidence necessary to demonstrate its veracity. Simply recognizing that is all that is needed to understand that belief in gods is not rational, since there is no credible evidence for the existence of any god.

      2. I’m very familiar with the excuses made about slavery being like employment, because I used to make those excuses myself.

      My original questions have remained unaddressed. Isn’t the idea of owning other human beings itself inherently immoral? Isn’t slave-beating, child slavery, and having ownership of another person’s body and sexual practices (all of which are endorsed in the Bible—yes, even in “propert context”) inherently immoral?

      The article you pointed to is hilarious, by the way. The gays and feminists are coming. I’ve been warned.

      3. The questions you asked are rather vague… so I’ll just skip this one.

      4. Yes, there are some women who played a prominent role in the New Testament. Why assume this connotes divinity? Even if the Paul happened to write a feminist manifesto, why assume it’s the work of God? Let’s not forget that Mary of Magdalene had her own Gospel—and if you’re not familiar with this, look up The Gospel According to Mary—but you don’t hear about that much in church. If you think something in the Bible is especially insightful or progressive, don’t assume that it’s a result of a god that we haven’t even defined or explained to begin with. To do so is to make the argument from ignorance fallacy.

      On top of that, there’s the whole conspicuous matter of God supposedly deciding to spread his message conveyed by a largely illiterate group of people with a propensity for telling stories of miracles—another point people David Hume and Robert Ingersoll expound upon in their work. Wouldn’t it be nice if God had waited until, you know, the information age to spread the Gospel? Instead, the rapid spread of information is precisely what is destroying what is supposedly God’s message. Researching this information and thinking critically about it kills belief. In fact, this is consistent with research:

      http://www.examiner.com/article/study-shows-thinking-diminishes-religious-faith
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence#Studies_comparing_religious_belief_and_I.Q.

      This is quite contrary to Wilbourne’s hypothesis that atheism is growing because it’s “fashionable.” Believe me, saying you’re an atheist does not tend to make one popular with friends and family.

      I like this quote from Robert G. Ingersoll in “The Truth” (1897): “My dear preachers, I beg you to tell the truth. Tell your congregations that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch. Tell them that nobody knows who wrote the five books. Tell them that Deuteronomy was not written until about six hundred years before Christ. Tell them that nobody knows who wrote Joshua, or Judges, or Ruth, Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles, Job, or the Psalms, or the Song of Solomon. Be honest, tell the truth. Tell them that nobody knows who wrote Esther — that Ecclesiastes was written long after Christ — that many of the prophecies were written after the events pretended to be foretold had happened. Tell them that Ezekiel and Daniel were insane. Tell them that nobody knows who wrote the gospels, and tell them that no line about Christ written by a contemporary has been found. Tell them it is all guess — and may be, and perhaps. Be honest. Tell the truth, develop your brains, use all your senses and hold high the torch of Reason.”

      If only we had more preachers like that.

      I could go on about all the reasons the Bible is full of nonsense, but I’ll just say this: Step outside of your groupthink bubble. Read what people David Hume, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and Carl Sagan have to say. Try reading the Qur’an, for that matter.

      Oh, and no, my disbelief in supernatural claims does not mean that I believe that human rights ought to be violated. That’s just silly.

      • Shawn Richardson November 14, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

        Thanks for the response Nathan.

        Based on your post i feel like i owe you an apology. You responded to a couple of points in a way that suggest to me that my wording may have been adversarial at times. This was not my intent at all. If it came across that way i am sorry.

        There is a lot of content you wrote on that i would like to respond to but i am beginning to wonder if there is much point. You employ terminology which indicates to me that you think me a fool. Knowing nothing of my educational path, you call me to,”Step outside of [my] groupthink bubble.” You word things in a way which suggest you believe it an impossibility that i could take in the reasoned arguments from both sides and come to a conclusion that is different from your own. If this is the case i am curious to know why you would even engage in this conversation.

        In saying this, my hope is not that the conversation would stop, to the contrary. If you live in LA i would love to buy you a cup of coffee and chat.

        I suppose i wonder what drives this line of conversation. I knew we disagreed before i engaged you. You asked questions that i was hoping to shed some light on from a Christian perspective. If you disagree with my findings that’s fine but if you knew in advance that nothing i could have said would have appeased you then what was the point?

        If you find my answers lacking why not ask for me to expound? Is the purpose to embarrass a christian on a forum? If so, I’m sorry but you never had access to the ability to embarrass me.

        On further reflection it’s probably possible you just didnt want to have this conversation with anyone but Tyler. If so, lemme know that too.

        You said in a your first post that, “No secular person is operating on “blind faith,” either.” You have certainly been operating on a blind faith your whole life in the same way that i have and all people do. I don’t think this term was intended to inflict the injury it has clearly registered with you.

        Faith (the complete trust or confidence in someone or something) must, by its very nature have a blind spot. Of course,by your tone, you do not believe you have faith in anything (please do correct me if i’m wrong).
        That’s fine but i would argue that you have missed your first leap of faith. You have faith in your own ability to discern truth without allowing your own emotion clouding your deductive ability. How can you be sure anything in this life is real? Isn’t your own decision to trust your very senses a leap of blind faith?

        Also, just to be clear, i do not advocate the violation of human rights. You and i disagree on what those rights are. But I would ask you this question. If there is no God of any kind how can truth be any more than popular vote? How can a human have rights if you dont know what a human is for? How can someone lay claim by right to something they have not either been given or earned in some way?

        Finally, if your own words can be trusted you have no belief in any supernatural event. That’s fine. I just wanted you i was miraculously healed from a broken spine when i was 17. it was actually 11 years ago this thanksgiving. Broke it Friday night and was prayed over on Wednesday. Never felt it again. If there is no God, im interested on your perspective of what happened. I can show you the x-rays if you like.

        Hope you are well, and im serious about that cup of coffee.

        • Nathan Johnson November 16, 2012 at 10:20 am #

          Don’t worry, no apology necessary. 🙂 It is interesting that most people I talk about this topic with (including my own family members) start with the “you support eugenics, don’t you” thing, which I think underscores the misunderstanding and mistrust we nonbelievers face. I try to reply the accusation of essentially being a Nazi as politely as I can. Yes, accusations like this can seem adversarial, but sometimes I have to remind myself that this is the way I used to think, too.

          It is true that there is no rational reason to believe in any god, but my intention in engaging a conversation with this is not to “embarrass” you. You asked me some questions directly, and I gave you my honest response. Personally, I find that conversations like this can be useful for exercising critical thinking.

          Regarding faith, it depends on the definition and the context. If my friend tells me, “I’m going to get a cup of coffee,” then I have faith (i.e., trust) he’s telling me the truth—but that’s because I know him and the claim isn’t very high. If my friend tell me, “I died and rose again while I was out getting coffee,” then I’m going to be skeptical. If my friends tells me, “Someone who lived two-thousand years ago died and rose again to redeem your sins, but you should trust me because my evidence for this is this set of semi-anonymous documents written down in a time and place where stories of miracles were ubiquitous; and, by the way, there’s no contemporary documentation for his existence outside of this single set of documents,” then I’m really going to be doubtful and demand sufficient evidence to support that claim. If zero credible evidence is supplied, I’m not going to believe.

          I trust my senses because it is the best way to know what is real. Sure, my senses may be lying to me, but that’s irrelevant unless you can define and demonstrate that claim. Carl Sagan wisely describes this fallacious line of thinking in his “Dragon in My Garage” essay:

          http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm

          I am not operating on blind faith because I have reasons and evidence for what I believe. For everything else, I suspend belief until those reasons and evidences are provided. By contrast, true believers do operate on faith because they have no good reasons or credible evidence for their belief. If you think you do, you should seriously reevaluate those reasons and examine that evidence for credibility.

          “If there is no God of any kind how can truth be any more than popular vote?” This is simply a false dichotomy. Once I stopped believing supernatural claims, I didn’t suddenly decide that everything that is true must be determined by popular vote. Without God, truth can be found using reason, logic, and evidence. With God, truth is determined by none of that—or at the very least, God and other supernatural beliefs act as deterrents to truth.

          “How can a human have rights if you dont know what a human is for? How can someone lay claim by right to something they have not either been given or earned in some way?” Again, these are false dichotomies. Human rights are not dependent upon some undefined cosmological purpose, nor are they dependent upon supernatural creation. Rational human compassion is all that is needed to recognize that the affordance of human rights is essential to a healthy society.

          Regarding your healing experience, I hear the “I was healed, so God exists” claim often. You said you had an X-ray taken, so presumably you saw a doctor. Did they give you any kind of treatment? It’s unbelievable how many people are healed by science yet credit God with their recovery.

          But even if you received no treatment and lack a rational explanation for your recovery (which I would guess would be a result of the human body’s natural healing process anyway), presuming the existence of God in the absence of a rational explanation is an argument from ignorance fallacy.

          These personal experience stories are exactly like the personal experiences stories told by supposed alien abductees. You may believe it, but your story of a personal experience isn’t enough to convince me or anybody else who thinks rationally.

          Then there’s the matter of answered prayers. People like to credit God with what they believe are answered prayers, but they ignore prayers that go unanswered. This is the fallacy of confirmation bias. Many people pray to recover from their injuries, but their injuries get worse, and they sometimes die. It’s worth noting, too, that this supposed God never heals (for example) amputees. It’s kind of a strange coincidence that God only heals injuries that would have otherwise healed on their own.

          Sure, I’d love to have that cup of coffee if we ever meet. It’s possible. I’m thinking about going to Comic-Con one of these days.

          • Shawn Richardson November 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

            – I in no way meant to bring Nazi-esque accusations. I was just wanted to know the rationalists argument against things like aborting babies with developmental difficulties.

            – Please explain how God (of the Bible) acts as a deterrent from truth

            – What aspects of a person, once recognized, cause the rational and compassionate human to draw the conclusion, ‘this person is deserving of unalienable rights’?

            – In regard to my personal story of healing. Your statements here more than anywhere else point to your own faith. You feel confident in your own ability to rationalize and understand the world. This much is clear. You have so much faith in you own ability in fact that you feel confident enough to tell(or at least insinuate) me(a stranger with whom you have corresponded on the internet) that your assessment of an experience which happened to me is more accurate than my own.

            You say my testimony of miraculous recovery is not enough to convince you or anyone who thinks rationally. Tell me, is ‘anyone else who thinks rationally’ just as likely to ask me for no facts before jumping to a conclusion as you did here? You seem so sure that you have my experience categorized and yet i can tell you with assurance that you have no idea what experience i had. I know this because every bit of information you have received on the subject was by my own hand.

            – The truth of the matter is everyone, regardless of religious affiliation worships something. Everyone has their faith set somewhere. Even someone like you who seems to run from the word ‘faith’ because it lacks the appearance of solidity. This is idolatry. I’m sure someone as smart as you appear to be would only need to observe people for a short time to see that everyone worships at some alter or another. For some it’s money, for others it’s sex. It can be power, a relationship, or as it is on your case, ones own mind and ones own ability to sift through the vast quantity of existing data and determine what is to be believed and what is false. You quote many great minds but you yourself are the one reading their works and deciding who is worthy of believing and who is not.

            Tell me, can that faith in yourself stand under the weight of finding out you’re wrong? What happens if you find yourself in a situation like Aristotle did? One of the foremost minds of his generation on natural sciences and yet Galileo proved them to be false. Is someone who has studied and read as vastly as you have really willing to look at the history of knowledge and believe that his generation is the one that discerned the actual finite point of truth? Despite the fact that no generation in the history of ever has achieved that goal yet there were those who always thought they had their thumb on the pulse of truth.

            You have that much faith in yourself?

  4. Shawn Richardson November 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    PS

    Tyler’s supertastebuds do not allow coffee. I, however love it so bring on the long response

    Shawn

    • Tyler Smith November 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

      I do enjoy coffee, provided it is cut significantly with cream and sugar.

  5. Nathan Johnson November 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Shawn,

    The “reply” link was missing from your latest post—I suppose our thread went on too long—I’ll start my reply to you here in this new comment. 🙂

    “Please explain how God (of the Bible) acts as a deterrent from truth.”

    Where do I begin? From the Christian Inquisitions, to the Galileo affair, to the modern-day Creationist movement, Christian dogma has always been at odds with the truth. There is nothing more threatening to religion than the sincere pursuit of knowledge. I am an example of a person who became an atheist as a direct result of that pursuit, as are my fellow “apostates,” such as former evangelical minister Dan Barker (now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and former minister-in-training (now host of The Atheist Experience). We became atheists because we sincerely sought the Truth of God. Had I simply submitted to a supposedly divine authority without asking questions about my faith, I never would have found my way back to reality. As Albert Einstein put it in a 1901 letter to a friend, “A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”

    “What aspects of a person, once recognized, cause the rational and compassionate human to draw the conclusion, ‘this person is deserving of unalienable rights’?”

    There are many reasons. The man who coined the term “inalienable rights,” Thomas Jefferson, was a deist and was deeply critical of traditional Christianity. He argued human rights it came from “reason” and “nature”:

    http://www.famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/ThomasJefferson/jeff0100.htm

    Similarly, Thomas Paine, a humanist and also an ardent critic of Christianity, authored The Rights of Man. In that book, he wrote, “The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of man change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it.”

    By contrast, the Christian Bible, when read in complete and proper context, makes it abundantly clear that human rights are of no value. God’s primary demands are belief and mindless obedience—never mind who has to be killed*, raped**, or enslaved*** to demonstrate if you are called upon to demonstrate that obedience.

    * http://www.evilbible.com/Murder.htm
    ** http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm
    *** http://www.evilbible.com/Slavery.htm

    God himself kills and torments people for no reason. If you don’t believe it, a former Catholic priest and former Christian minister prove it here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H6SehQCaI8&feature=plcp

    Jesus demands just belief and repentance—and, arguably, works to demonstrate that your belief and repentance are genuine. All the non-Christians, such as 99% of Japan’s entire population, are doomed to Hell. It’s hard for me to imagine anything more inhumane than the allowance of eternal torment for thoughtcrimes people don’t even necessarily know they’re committing.

    The revolutionary notion of human rights wouldn’t come to fruition in America until humanistic deists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, both of whom openly criticized Christianity, came about to promote the concept.

    Even beyond the history, the evidence substantiates the necessity of human rights. Which social institutions are the people happier and healthier—the totalitarian regimes, or the free, democratic societies? The healthiest, happiest countries are not only free and democratic, but they are also among the most atheistic.

    Source 1: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/world-top-ten-healthy-countries-map.html
    Source 2: http://www.infobarrel.com/25_Most_Atheist_Countries_in_the_World

    “In regard to my personal story of healing. Your statements here more than anywhere else point to your own faith. You feel confident in your own ability to rationalize and understand the world. This much is clear. You have so much faith in you own ability in fact that you feel confident enough to tell(or at least insinuate) me(a stranger with whom you have corresponded on the internet) that your assessment of an experience which happened to me is more accurate than my own. You say my testimony of miraculous recovery is not enough to convince you or anyone who thinks rationally. Tell me, is ‘anyone else who thinks rationally’ just as likely to ask me for no facts before jumping to a conclusion as you did here? You seem so sure that you have my experience categorized and yet i can tell you with assurance that you have no idea what experience i had. I know this because every bit of information you have received on the subject was by my own hand.”

    If you can give me a working definition of God and demonstrate with solid evidence how God healed you, then I’ll have good reasons to consider believing this. However, considering no one else on Earth has ever been able to demonstrate such a claim, I have every reason to remain skeptical, in the same way I am skeptical about supposed alien abductions and Big Foot encounters.

    “The truth of the matter is everyone, regardless of religious affiliation worships something. Everyone has their faith set somewhere. Even someone like you who seems to run from the word ‘faith’ because it lacks the appearance of solidity. This is idolatry. I’m sure someone as smart as you appear to be would only need to observe people for a short time to see that everyone worships at some alter or another. For some it’s money, for others it’s sex. It can be power, a relationship, or as it is on your case, ones own mind and ones own ability to sift through the vast quantity of existing data and determine what is to be believed and what is false. You quote many great minds but you yourself are the one reading their works and deciding who is worthy of believing and who is not.”

    The Merriam Webster dictionary defines worship as “reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power.” I agree that spending too much time with something (especially that which has a negative impact on yourself or others) is generally a bad idea, but that doesn’t make it “worship.” By definition, worship is reverence to a supernatural deity. I spend much of my time and money contributing to various charities; is this “idolatry” or “worship”? By definition, it is not.

    “Tell me, can that faith in yourself stand under the weight of finding out you’re wrong? What happens if you find yourself in a situation like Aristotle did? One of the foremost minds of his generation on natural sciences and yet Galileo proved them to be false. Is someone who has studied and read as vastly as you have really willing to look at the history of knowledge and believe that his generation is the one that discerned the actual finite point of truth? Despite the fact that no generation in the history of ever has achieved that goal yet there were those who always thought they had their thumb on the pulse of truth. You have that much faith in yourself?”

    In addressing the “science changes its mind all the time” argument, which I receive surprisingly often, I like to refer to Isaac Asimov, a renowned biochemist and popular author of science fiction. He responds to this particular argument in The Relativity of Wrong, which you can read in its entirety here:

    http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

    I do not claim that “this generation is the one that discerned the actual finite point of truth”—not at all. We still have much to learn, and we will continue learning, perhaps until the human species expires. As Asimov points out in the essay above, scientific theories will evolve and as new evidences are found, but that fact does not mean that we ought to jump to supernatural beliefs.

    There is no “faith” at work here. There is only the tentative acceptance of well-supported theories, all of which are subject to change as new discoveries arise. Carl Sagan phrases it this way: “Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?”

  6. Tyler Smith November 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Okay. I think I’m calling it. Clearly, we could all keep swirling around forever and it seems pretty obvious- to me, anyway- that neither party is going to be convinced of the other’s opinions. This may frustrate those parties involved; I know it frustrates me. But I want to try to be careful that the comment section of these posts not turn into one long lecture after another, rather than an actual discussion.
    If you’re reading this and you’re not one of the people involved in the above conversation, I hope you found some of the comments edifying. If you have any questions or comments- about the sermon or the above conversation- you’re welcome to e-mail me at tyler@morethanonelesson.com.

  7. Nathan Johnson November 21, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Tyler,

    Thanks for allowing the discussion to happen, and thanks for being the impetus for that discussion. I learned a few new things in the process, which is one of the main reasons I value the honest exchange of ideas—especially when I disagree. I’ll continue listening to both of your shows, and I’ll always try to keep an open mind. Your voice is a regular part of my life, I appreciate what you do. You always get me to laugh and think, regardless of the subject matter.

    Shawn,

    Thanks to you too for participating in the discussion. If fate would ever have us meet, I’d love to chat—perhaps about a lighter topic the next time around, though. 🙂

    Thanks again, and have a good Thanksgiving weekend.

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