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Does Higher Criticism Attempt to “Destroy the Bible”? V

July 16, 2011

We are getting far enough into this that it is getting prohibitive to recap all that has been said so far. Basically, the first three posts considered some of the assumptions of scholars; and there are, of course, more assumptions than what I have highlighted, and other scholars may have emphasized different ones than I have, but for a blog conversation: good enough for the girls I go with! Then in post IV, I moved more into the procedures of scholars, and in that post I suggested that one of the things scholars do very well is read texts very closely. Which brings us to today’s conversation.

Reason, thinking, and inductive conclusions.

Now, we are not going to get to the bottom of epistemology, the scientific approach, tradition, interpretation, and authority in a single blog post, nor would I have any intention of doing so unless I was going to treat these matters in a book. However, allow me to make a couple points on the validity of using our brains.

First, everyone you know including yourself values Enlightenment categories and ways of thinking. Every single person in the western world has been inculcated, socialized, and deeply, deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking. You simply cannot avoid how much every person values this way of thinking. We live in the scientific age and there is simply no way to avoid it; it is like being a fish in water. It surrounds you and is your environment. A good example of how hard it is for anyone to get away from these categories of understanding is apologetics.

Apologetics claims to “defend the faith” but really what it attempts is to offer evidence and argumentation so that you can have a certain and rational basis for your thought world. There is very little, if any space for “belief” or “faith”. More often at the end of the argumentation process the claim is offered that you can be “certain” or “sure” of what you already think. This is not faith. Really, what these apologists and their audiences value is rational ways of thinking, Enlightenment categories, and the scientific method which is why they go through such lengths and mental gymnastics to make their faith fit into that matrix. How can we know the Bible is true? The facts prove it.

From this observation comes our second point: if we are all trained, raised in, and value rational ways of thinking: Why? Here, I am indebted to a friend and colleague who stated this answer to me in one of our lengthy conversations. Simply put: it works!

It’s that easy: it works.

Take a look at the computer you are reading this on. Take a look around the world: flying hunks of metal in the sky that now have people communicating with each other around the globe through the internet. Recently while driving I called my uncle from my bluetooth to his iPhone, who unbeknown to me was in China, and we had a short conversation on little pieces of plastic held to our ears while on different sides of the planet. Looking around the world it would be hard to deny the amazing advances in medicine, science, and technology over the last few hundred years. Which is why we value those Enlightenment materialistic and scientific categories of thinking.

Now this is not to say these processes are perfect. The recent Oilpocalypse is a good example of this: just because we can drill 12 kilometers into the earth’s crust there are still serious ethical and philosophical questions to be answered on whether we should do so, and if we do, what is the cost of doing it right or wrong for the human race.

However, this post is not about the specific positives or ills of the scientific method, but whether biblical criticism attempts to destroy the Bible. Again, my answer would be ‘No’. Higher criticism favors certain categories of understanding–as we all do–for seeking truth and knowledge. Trying to analyze an ancient piece of literature using methods that have proven themselves reliable and profitable does not mean having an anti-bible or anti-Christian agenda. In fact, as I have stated elsewhere, I have met and worked with people who, while doing good scholarly work on the one hand, could care less about any “anti” anything agenda on the other. They are simply pursuing ways of understanding and knowing through methods that have great explanatory power and make much sense in the categories we all value.

We are all trained in it, experience has shown us it works, therefore, we value it.

101 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2011 10:52 am

    First, everyone you know including yourself values Enlightenment categories and ways of thinking.

    The emphasis and repetition you make on this point demonstrates that you realise its weakness. You make too many assumptions about your readers. First off, many of them may know people from tribal societies who have not been “deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking”. But more to the point there is a significant minority within western societies who have more or less explicitly rejected these ways of thinking. Some do so more theoretically, embracing decidedly anti-Enlightenment thinking patterns such as New Age (not to mention some Christian deviations) while continuing to benefit from modern technology. Others have been more consistent in rejecting technology and have left modern society, as far as they can, to live off the land. Even more relevant is the way that perhaps a majority of the American people rejects apparently assured results of Enlightenment thinking such as evolutionary biology and accepts instead as their authority one interpretation of a decidedly pre-Enlightenment book, Genesis.

    Yes, Enlightenment thinking works. So did classical Newtonian physics, bringing us all the advances of the Industrial Revolution and even radio and television. Nevertheless scientists now know that the thinking behind classical physics was inadequate, and it had to be supplemented e.g. by quantum mechanics and relativity, which have brought their own technological advances. Similarly the fact that Enlightenment thinking works by no means proves that it is a full and adequate way of approaching reality – especially when applied to areas like theology where these methods have not truly “proven themselves reliable and profitable”.

  2. July 16, 2011 11:39 am


    First off you may want to work on your reading a tad ( a theme from our last conversation I believe). First, I blatantly pointed out the ‘western world’ and second I doubt that “many” (if any?) of my readers know people from tribal societies. That is ridiculous.

    But, you actually do have a point. On the one hand, the majority of western culture has been inculcated into Enlightenment forms of rationality and logic. It’s just the way public education works. But as you point out there are delusional people in western society that reject this system for adult fairy tales such as Deepak Chopra, Joel Osteen, or Todd Bentley.

    I will edit the above paragraph when I have time to better express my position, but let this conversation stand to show I needed to edit it.

    But even among these delusional and willfully ignorant people who do live in our culture many of them still try and use the system they were socialized into to give their fantasies and delusions legitimacy, see for example Deepak Chopra’s silliness in trying to use Quantum Physics. It is the unrecognized valuing of those categories while trying to reject those categories that I find particularly ironic!

    I am a realist–as you have probably guessed– to suggest that yours, or any metaphysical speculation, has any explanatory power in the actual world is extremely unattractive to me.

  3. July 16, 2011 1:41 pm

    Scott, I could name for you at least two active bloggers who have spent extensive time working with people from tribal societies of Africa. I’m sure you know their names. They may read this blog. Their African friends are not entirely cut off from Enlightenment thinking as they have probably had some European style schooling. And they benefit from some modern technology. But they are not “deeply, deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking”. Your point about the western world sounded to me like an inaccurate assumption that none of your readers had broader experience.

    Anyway as you understand my point is more about westerners who are not entirely materialistic than about tribal peoples. You clearly reject as “delusional and willfully ignorant” anyone who believes in any kind of spiritual world interacting with our world today. In fact you sound about as open to Christian understanding of anything as Richard Dawkins is. I wonder that you don’t reject the Bible as meaningless in the way that he does. Are you in fact an atheist? If you admitted that straight out at least I would know better how to respond to you.

  4. July 16, 2011 2:43 pm


    Just because there happen to be active bloggers who have spent extensive time working with people from tribal societies it does not logically follow that A) I read them or B) they read me. There are a lot of blogs.

    There used to be a blogger by the name of David Ker that frequented this site but after falsely accusing me of being vulgar (for which he humbly apologized upon actually reading my posts) I never heard from again. As far as I can tell from the comments here, I’m guessing (though I could be wrong) that not many have African tribal friends.

    As to your question of whether I am Richard Dawkins or not: no I am not. Though if I was, my point would be no more or less valid. That is ad hominem thinking and useless in this sort of discussion. I’m not sure what circles you currently operate within, but in mine fideism is always rejected. My points either have explanatory power and validity or they do not regardless of my ‘faith’ position.

    I don’t necessarily “reject as “delusional and willfully ignorant” anyone who believes in any kind of spiritual world interacting with our world today.” Merely show me how it works, that it works, and do it under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions and I’m all for it. My mind is completely open and I am anxiously waiting (and hoping) for someone to show me something, anything, supernatural.

    The ’cause’ may be outside of the material realm, but if it has any material effect then that should be demonstrable and testable.

  5. July 16, 2011 3:43 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if no one with deep experience of non-western cultures reads your blog, because they will quickly realise that you have no understanding of anything spiritual or indeed of anything much outside your western ivory tower, as I too am realising. Yes, David Ker was one I was thinking of, also Eddie Arthur who could run rings round your logic if he bothered.

    As I’m sure you realise, your insistence that only what can be proved “under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions” is valid implies not only that, as Henry Ford said, “history is bunk”, but also that large parts of modern science, including almost all geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy, are invalid because they are based on observation rather than repeatable experiment.

    Your faith position seems to be that all faith positions are invalid. Perhaps you will realise sometime that that implies that your own faith position is invalid.

    • July 16, 2011 3:55 pm

      Peter, if I just say that you have the ability to do magic things by chanting “in the name of Jesus” can we end this particular conversation so that Eddie can come and run circles around my logic?

      “or indeed of anything much outside your western ivory tower” Really Peter. Why must you resort to such silliness whenever you come here? Just *some* examples: As it so happens I am a former professional hockey player. I have great understanding of the technical aspect of the sport. Also: I play the drums. Understand a good deal of things about that as well.

      Also while you continue under your many delusions, one being that Todd Bentley is a wizard who raised people from the dead, you should not critique anybody’s logic, anywhere, anytime, ever. Even my “western ivory tower” logic–(sarcasm on: which btw has really proven insufficient in the real actual world!)

      “but also that large parts of modern science, including almost all geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy, are invalid because they are based on observation rather than repeatable experiment.” Are you really that stupid and unaware of the different scientific methods and disciplines? Every time you comment here I can’t help but wonder if you are trolling and might not really be a Poe. because it’s hard for me to fathom someone could seriously write that. Perhaps the most idiotic thing you have commented here.

      Have you ever heard of the cargo cults Peter? Tribal persons who saw planes and built representations of them from sticks and twigs? They have these things that look like wicker planes but they can’t fly! I’d rather be part of the culture that has figured out how lift, propulsion, gravity, etc. actually work to partake in the miracle of human flight than be some ignorant savage with a wicker-plane that does nothing. You, and other people like yourself, that basically point at people like those tribes and say: we should all try to make ourselves as ignorant as them so we can have some sort of ‘spiritual’ bliss present no attraction to me. You can try to change the conversation or frame it in some other way: at the end of it all, all you want is ignorance.

      Some delusional people don’t believe in the “ivory tower of modern medicine” and won’t take their kids to the hospital when they get sick. At least they can claim to be really ‘spiritual’ when their kids die from something that could easily been prevented by the ‘arrogant’ materialistic doctors.

      No thank you. I prefer knowledge and reality.

      • July 16, 2011 6:41 pm

        Are you really that stupid and unaware of the different scientific methods and disciplines? Every time you comment here I can’t help but wonder if you are trolling and might not really be a Poe. because it’s hard for me to fathom someone could seriously write that. Perhaps the most idiotic thing you have commented here.

        Uhm, Peter studied physics at Cambridge, Scott.

        • July 16, 2011 7:18 pm

          I know. That’s what makes his comments so bad. It would be like me not knowing JEDP

          Sent from my iPhone

          • July 17, 2011 2:48 am

            And where did you study science, Scott? This information seems to be missing from your About page and your Wikipedia page.

            • July 17, 2011 11:51 am

              My undergrad is a liberal arts degree. In Canada this requires science, philosophy, sociology, and psychology as core course requirements. With the broad range of these courses I am well aware of the scientific method. Specifically I studied micro biology, earth sciences (mostly geology), and astronomy. I am also widely read as to scientific authors such as Dawkins (No I am not him) and Hawkins.

              I suppose, though correct me if I am wrong, if I was to correct your ‘theological’ arguments with an appeal as to whether you studied at a legitimate university (one that focuses on biblical studies instead of theological speculation) you would reply that was a false appeal… however, it seems you extend no such courtesy the other way…

              Also: it seems ironic to me that you could study physics and still have so little comprehension of reality and how things actually work. It must be weird.

              • July 17, 2011 2:46 pm

                Thank you for answering my question. Perhaps the lack in your education is not so much in science as in theology. Then you might not despise it so much.

                • July 18, 2011 11:38 am

                  Peter, your arguments are ridiculous. You believe people can do magic things and you are going to question someone’s credentials? My undergrad is in Religion and Theology, so I understand it quite well thank you. How about yourself and Todd Bentely as the mediator to God through whom you can’t get stuff and Todd has to release it? Where did you get that impressive theology from?

                  I’ve said this before: someone that ‘believes’ the things you do shouldn’t critique anybody about there theology and it appears about science either.

    • liza permalink
      July 16, 2011 4:50 pm

      Are these the same African/tribal people who think in non-enlightment categories and prove it by harming and persecuting children as witches??!!

      Seriously, the mindset you refer to has wreaked havoc in parts of Africa. Not to mention the superstition that AIDS might be cured by having sex with virgins, many of which are children.

      Yeah. That non-enlightment mindset is super helpful.

      • liza permalink
        July 16, 2011 4:51 pm

        My comment was directed at Peter. I thought I hit the right “reply” button, but perhaps I didn’t. Or maybe, thinking non-enlightment-ly, there are gremlins purposely thwarting me.

      • Jon Hendry permalink
        July 17, 2011 1:34 am

        Plus the “albino people parts are magic” thing. And the “raping a child cures HIV” in South Africa.

    • Jon Hendry permalink
      July 16, 2011 11:04 pm

      ” but also that large parts of modern science, including almost all geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy, are invalid because they are based on observation rather than repeatable experiment.”

      Not so. You can make predictions based on one observation and the theory, and test those predictions using other observations. A geologist can look for strata in another place being arranged in the same way as the strata in the original location, minerals found in similar locations, but not in dissimilar locations. In evolutionary biology, again, you can make predictions based on the theory, and test to see if those predictions are accurate. The ability to make accurate predictions based on a theory is where the repeatability comes in.

      Based on geology, you can predict where you can dig to find fossils of a particular age, verifiably, repeatably. Etc. Geology (and evolution) predict that fossils won’t just be scattered randomly through rock strata of all ages. And that’s what you find.

      • July 17, 2011 2:46 am

        Jon, thank you for offering a rational response rather than call me “delusional”.

        Yes, I am aware that geologists, astronomers etc make theories and then offer predictions based on those theories which work. That is what makes them proper science. But suppose that I can do the same concerning healing through prayer. I can observe where healings have taken place in the past, of what type and under what conditions. I can then point others who want to observe them to look in similar places and conditions and observe what they find. Suppose (perhaps hypothetically) that these observations were successful. Would Scott accept that as proper science, or would he reject that endeavour as “delusional” because it was not carried out under laboratory conditions?

        • terri permalink
          July 17, 2011 6:45 am


          Studies and predictions and theories about healings and prayer have not worked out so well for those conducting them. I have in mind the study about prayer and hospital patients that evangelicals hyped for quite some time that was later replicated with the discouraging result that those who were prayed for did worse and had poorer outcomes than those who weren’t prayed for.

          The problem with hypothesizing that one can figure God out, and the supernatural, if we just looked hard enough and tried to establish a pattern and circumstances, etc. is that is doomed to failure.

          Because, no matter how diligent one might be any “evidence” is filtered through humans and their belief systems and how they interpret their reality. I can’t name the number of times I have heard people declare that they were cured or that God was doing something in their lives while the reality didn’t line up with what they were saying.

          I can remember one individual in particular who declared he was healed and then went on to say that even though his bloodwork was bad and the doctors wanted him to pursue medical treatment, he knew he was healed.

          People lie about healings and prayer all the time–sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly as a result of trying to protect their personal religious hopes and dreams.

          Good luck trying to find “evidence” in the middle of the human tendency to believe and protect what is dear to us emotionally.

          P.S…I’m “liza”. I was being snarky before and didn’t want to sign my real name. That was dumb of me because it prevented me from answering seriously and it’s not good form.

          • July 17, 2011 7:07 am

            Terri, thank you for your helpful reply. I do accept that there are considerable difficulties involved with carrying out anything like a scientific investigation of healing through prayer. Yes, people claim to be healed even when doctors disagree. That is not entirely a bad thing considering how far many symptoms are psychosomatic. And for good reasons of confidentiality, as well as for bad ones of protecting their profession, doctors are often reluctant to give evidence of healing. Also I am by no means sure that it would be right to carry out this kind of investigation. I just want Scott and his allies to accept that in principle these matters are testable by observation, by the same methods used in many branches of acknowledged science, and so I should not be called “delusional” for suggesting that they should be taken and investigated seriously.

            • terri permalink
              July 17, 2011 7:53 am


              You just wrote an entire paragraph declaring that such things aren’t testable in principle, and then implied that even trying to test it might be wrong. So why should Scott or anybody else concede that these things are, in principle, testable by observation?

              This is the problem with what you’re saying….”observable” evidence is evidence that any one should be able to find and test and prove. It is something that is readily available for anyone to see regardless of what they believe about it.

              That is not the case for healings and prayer and the supernatural.

              Most of the evidence proffered in those cases is not plainly observable. In order to accept the “evidence” in these case people usually have to “open their minds” or discard “their preconceived notions” or “trust in something they cannot see”.

              That’s gerat for an individual believer’s faith, but it is not evidence, is not observable, and is not testable.

              • July 17, 2011 8:14 am

                No, Terri, I said that these things ARE testable in principle, although there are some practical difficulties such as the reluctance of doctors to give evidence. Science is not about doing easy things which “any one should be able to find and test and prove”. It is about finding out hard things which require a lot of expertise, and often special equipment. Just because an ordinary person cannot “find and test and prove” distant new galaxies with the naked eye, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. There are reports of clearly observable and medically attested healing miracles. Yes, there is some dross to be cleared away before the useful evidence can be found, but that is what science is about. But there is also evidence which is observable and testable, which demands proper investigation.

                • terri permalink
                  July 17, 2011 11:00 am

                  What I meant by my comment is that even as you are claiming that these things are testable in principle…you have given yourself several outs, the last one being that to even trying to test it is wrong.

                  The capriciousness of people, the problems with doctor confidentiality, the possibility of psycho-somatic illness,…these are all things we can fall back on when someone’s “healing” doesn’t prove verifiable. And ultimately, if we can’t seem to pin down any testable, provable, observable evidence then we can always say that even trying to test such things is an exercise in futility because God doesn’t work that way, finds such attempts sinful, and purposely thwarts attempts to pin Him down.

                  I know lots of people who think that way. It seems that is what you are implying. If that is the case then why do you even propose that “in principle” these things are verifiable?

                  What good is “in principle” if it never translates into “in reality”.

                  Assuming that you didn’t believe it was wrong to test such things and that one could find hard data and experimentation and reliable results….and they all showed a lack of supernatural intervention….then what would you do? Would you follow the “evidence” where it led, or would you just look for another explanation to fit what you “know to be true”?

                • terri permalink
                  July 17, 2011 11:08 am

                  Also… an ordinary person may not be able to test and prove anything about “distant new galaxies” but they can always find the data, speak to an expert, look through a telescope, be presented with the data, etc.

                  AS a matter of fact these cosmic experts come from ordinary people and the repeated and tested observations that ordinary people have made throughout the ages.

                  The starts are always there, have always been there and will continue to be there. Healings…..well they seem to come and go with the wind, always hiding, never repeatable, and hardly ever clear-cut.

                  If they were testable, predictable, observable, and repeatable then there no one would ever question them, would they?

                  We would all just put them into practice the same way we do when we have a headache and take an ibuprofen. There wouldn’t be any hand-wringing about whether they were real or not.

                  • terri permalink
                    July 17, 2011 11:10 am

                    “stars” not starts! 😉

                    My usual typographical errors are obvious to all.

                  • July 17, 2011 2:39 pm

                    Terri, see my response below to 4xi0m. I need to write more about this, but not here and now.

  6. July 16, 2011 5:39 pm

    See my further comments at Scott Bailey in bed with creationists! Yes, Scott, your arguments are almost the same as I have seen recently from a creationist friend.

    • 4xi0m permalink
      July 17, 2011 11:35 am

      I have to say something here; I’ve been reading this discussion, and I found some of your arguments unsatisfactory, Peter. Case in point, I pulled the following quote from your blog:

      “Yes, Scott has some uncomfortable bedfellows here, creationists who argue against evolution and an ancient universe because these scientific results are based only on observation of fossils, distant galaxies etc and not on experiments done ‘under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions’.”

      This is unacceptable. It’s either very dishonest or creationist-level naive. Scott clearly does not mean that nothing is true unless it is definitively proven by a controlled experiment. Much of science does not lend itself to controlled experimentation in a laboratory setting, but this does not prevent us from amassing evidence for a particular model or theory from what we observe. It’s not possible, for example, to re-create the conditions under which the earth was formed, thereby creating a planet that we can watch for 4 billion years to see if Homo sapiens evolves. However, we can not only use geology and astronomy to try to piece together what happened pre-history, we can now use genomics comparatively to track how our genome evolved (needless to say, the evidence accumulated so far supports the theory of evolution). If enough evidence fails to support the prevailing theory, scientists are happy to scrap it or modify it in favor of a theory that better explains the evidence. Forensic evidence is compiled in much the same way, and used to convict criminals or clear the names of the innocent. To assert that a suspect is proven guilty of a crime by controlled experiment is absurd, as Scott well knows. If enough evidence to support his guilt before a jury beyond reasonable doubt is accumulated, he is convicted.

      Science seeks only to explain the facts about our world that are conditional on predictable laws, be they the laws of quantum physics, thermodynamics, or population genetics. There is no way to prove or disprove the hypothesis that an event was caused by the caprice of an invisible, unpredictable force. However, faith healers and ‘prosperity gospel’ proponents (unless I’m mistaken) both preach that their respective phenomena follow a predictable law: “If you have enough faith, you will get healed/rich.” If lifespans and disease prevalence differed between the faith healing community and the general population, it would have been noticed by now. If people in the ‘prosperity gospel’ community were wealthier than the general population, the same would be true. We can therefore conclude that either no one has enough faith to reap the benefits of this law, or that the law itself is untrue. The fact that people’s health/disease state can be explained by genetic causes or by various environmental causes (e.g. nutrition, lifestyle, pathogens, etc.), and the fact that people’s income/life success can be largely explained by their IQ, educational status, skills, athletic prowess, career choice, behavior, favorable circumstances, etc., argue in favor of the latter. In the face of this statistical evidence, I don’t think it’s unfair to call belief in this law ‘delusional’ in the same way that belief in creationism in the face of all the evidence to the contrary is delusional.

      I don’t know whether you’re being intellectually dishonest on purpose to protect your beliefs, or whether you actually don’t understand this. If it’s the former, shame on you. If it’s the latter, I hope I helped explain it. In any case, it’s clear that Scott is not the one in bed with the creationists.

      • July 17, 2011 2:38 pm

        Scott clearly does not mean that nothing is true unless it is definitively proven by a controlled experiment.

        If he didn’t mean that, then why did he say it? I quote:

        Merely show me how it works, that it works, and do it under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions and I’m all for it. My mind is completely open and I am anxiously waiting (and hoping) for someone to show me something, anything, supernatural.

        Maybe he can accept astronomical results not “proven by a controlled experiment”, but it seems he won’t accept spiritual ones. His presuppositions are showing. But perhaps after he has read your lecture he will understand a bit better that science cannot depend on “repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions”.

        But I accept that there is an issue to be considered whether spiritual healing depends on “the caprice of an invisible, unpredictable force” or “follow[s] a predictable law”. That will also serve as a provisional response to Terri. But I need to put a lot more thought into this.

        • July 17, 2011 2:50 pm

          Seriously Peter, this stuff is easy for everyone to grasp except you: of course I believe in the validity of *merely* “observable” scientific theories that explain a great amount of data in a satisfactory and peer-reviewable manor. To assert anything else about some branches of science would be sheer ludicrousness.

          Please stop your childish rhetorical games of slippery slope argumentation, Scott is like Dawkins (is Hitler next?), and Scott’s “presuppositions” are showing like you have none that effect your poor argument… except my ‘presuppositions are based in reality. Make any mountains move lately wizard?

          If you do not “believe” in gravity because ‘arrogant’ science thinks they have demonstrated it with their stupid and useless repeatable, observable tests then just shut up (please) and jump off a building to prove gravity doesn’t exist. Or, the next time you are actually sick, don’t go see an actual medical doctor and just pray to doctor Jesus.

          Either way: I don’t care. Your ineffectual metaphysical speculation does not actually work. Please, for the love of God, stop trying to convince people that you can do magic.

          Dear. God. PLEASE!

          • July 17, 2011 3:05 pm

            Thanks for the clarification. So if I were to put forward “*merely* “observable” scientific theories that explain a great amount of data in a satisfactory and peer-reviewable manor [sic]” concerning healing through prayer (“peer-reviewable” meaning by my theological peers), you would accept these theories, with no presuppositions stopping you from doing so? Or do you simply presuppose that I could offer no such theories? I don’t have any to offer today, but I am working on them…

            • July 17, 2011 7:32 pm

              Peter, find a person who is missing a limb. Find multiple persons who are missing limbs. Pray for them.

              And then pray for them some more.

              Heck, I’ll be on the isle in the next year. We can go to hospitals and pray for 1, 100, 1000, or 10,000 people without limbs and, we will see ‘scientifically’ how many of those persons God grants new limbs to and ’heals’ them.

              I would very sincerely hope that God would perform miracles and restore ALL of the limbs, but if we do go around GB praying for such miracles, do you have a prediction of how many limbs would be re-spawned?

              I do. And it is testable. Observable. And verifiable.

              So, what do you think Pete: do you actually want to put your money where your mouth is and go around GB hospitals praying for persons who have lost a limb to be healed? What about burn patients? What about babies born with a cleft palette? Could we pray for them and have them healed?

              I will actually spend thousands of dollars of my own money to do this. Will you come to hospitals under the surveillance of video cameras and test the use of your magic spells?

              • July 18, 2011 3:37 am

                Scott, I don’t claim to have a healing ministry. I suggest you follow around someone who does. Dare I suggest Todd Bentley? You just might see some things that surprise you, and I don’t only mean Todd’s boot in your stomach!

                • July 18, 2011 11:34 am

                  Really Peter? Todd’s boot in my stomach? Really? Todd is what? 5’7 and 270 of flab and probably hasn’t seen his own twig and berries without the assistance of a mirror in a very long time. On the other hand, I am six foot ex-professional ice hockey player who stays in relatively good shape. While strenuously try to teach and model non-violent conflict resolution skills for my children I think I might be able to handle myself if some guy who wheezes when he goes to the buffet for his third helping tries to kick me.

                  That said you don’t even ‘believe’ what you supposedly ‘believe’. You’re in love with an idea that you will quite obviously defend tooth and nail but has no explanatory power and is easily falsifiable.

                  I know I continue using real world examples and polysyllabic words and that makes it difficult but here’s my argument in a nutshell: my hypothesis is that if Todd Bentley prayed for one hundred persons who missing limbs those people would find themselves without limbs regardless of how long he prayed or screamed “Fire!” or any such silliness he does. This is testable stuff.

                  You also know this wouldn’t work but it is an interesting view into your “theology”. So God won’t heal the person if they pray? They won’t heal the person if you pray, BUT if the grand wizard shows up and prays then the magic will happen?

                  Yes Peter you are delusional. You know that prayer doesn’t work but you are so desperate for your comforting fairly tale you will pretend that Bentley can do magic–someone who has been shown to be a fraud and a liar–that’s the very definition of delusional.

                • Chris E permalink
                  July 18, 2011 3:02 pm

                  The whole thing could be settled very quickly if Todd Bentley was able to produce medical proof that one of the numerous resurrections he claimed actually happened. Or the chap with the glass eye could have his sight tested.

                  Yes, we are dealing with real intelligences who may choose not to co-operate with our experiments, but that doesn’t apply to past goings on.

            • 4xi0m permalink
              July 18, 2011 8:21 am

              If they’re scientific theories, I’d like to see them peer-reviewable by the scientific community. In this sort of study, anecdotal evidence is not acceptable to test the validity of a proposed law (i.e. ‘You will be spiritually healed if the following conditions are met.’), as this sort of evidence is prone to sampling error, ascertainment bias, inaccurate reporting, and a host of other issues that can plague an epidemiological study. You’d have to have some statistical evidence. For example, if Todd Bentley’s spiritual healing does indeed work, you’d expect a statistically significant difference in state of health/overall disease prevalence in his followers (in a specific direction) as opposed to the general population. Benny Hinn’s followers would be even better, as it’s a larger group. Thus far, I’ve seen no evidence that such a difference exists, so keep in mind that you’ll have to explain that in compiling your theories. Also keep in mind that even if there were a significant difference, cause cannot be immediately inferred without controlling for other possible causes for the difference (e.g. a difference in overall demographic that has been shown to be associated with state of health/disease prevalence). In an anecdotal case, for example, a sick person might take a sudden turn for the better after a faith healing. However, you can’t assume that the ‘healing’ caused the change without ruling out other factors: perhaps it was due to a recent change in drug regimen, or a delayed immune response, or it is simply part of the natural course of the disease. A faith healing that completely cured an incurable condition–a genetic disease like Hutchinson-Gilford progeria or an inherited primary immunodeficiency syndrome, perhaps, or a birth defect like anencephaly (which is very severe and invariably terminal), or a severed limb, as Scott suggested–would not have to deal with these issues. Cancer is not a good example, as seemingly ‘miraculous’ turnarounds are not infrequent, and are often due to the immune system finally being able to mount an effectual response to the tumor. This is the sort of rigor peer-reviewable scientific theories are subject to, so I expect a similar amount of rigor in yours.

              If, on the other hand, there is no predictable law governing ‘spiritual healing,’ if these ‘spiritual healings’ do occur, but they occur randomly or in accordance with some inaccessible divine plan, then all attempts to benefit from said law are moot. In other words, there is as much value in praying for healing, or ‘laying hands’ on someone so she’ll be healed, or spending money and resources to pay for such services, as there is in blowing on fair dice to make them land on 7 when you’re playing craps. Two cubic dice will land on a random number 2-12 unless they are made to follow a predictable law (i.e. loaded).

              • July 18, 2011 8:36 am

                4xi0m, I am working on a post for my blog explaining a bit more about what I am proposing. The suggestion of a scientific theory was partly to see if Scott was even in principle open to accepting one and putting it to the test, rather than rejecting it a priori as “delusional”. I am looking at the anthropological technique of participant observation to consider how relevant this might be.

                • 4xi0m permalink
                  July 18, 2011 8:48 am

                  He didn’t reject it a priori. There is statistical evidence that suggests that it should be rejected; both he and I reject it a posteriori, and I will continue to do so until there is enough evidence in its favor to convince me otherwise. Also, participant observation would only be expected to generate anecdotal evidence. This is epidemiology, not anthropology or sociology. Statistical evidence is necessary to support the hypothesis that ‘spiritual healing’ the desired effect, or indeed, any effect at all.

                  • July 18, 2011 10:49 am

                    This is epidemiology, not anthropology or sociology.

                    Who said? If a anthropological or sociological methods demonstrated the reality of healing, why would that be invalid?

                    • 4xi0m permalink
                      July 18, 2011 11:24 am

                      It’s an epidemiological question: ‘Do people who have experienced faith healing alone or faith healing in addition to medical treatment have, on average, better health outcomes than people who only had medical treatment?’ This would be ideally addressed by controlled experiment (in the same way the FDA does clinical trials), and it would require large samples and quantitative medical data. As I’ve said before, approaching this question via participant observation would only generate anecdotal evidence, which is statistically meaningless because of the subjective nature of the data and small sample size. This method is descriptive, and is rightly used for studies of an entirely different sort. Because of the nature of the question, anthropological/sociological methods are an unsuitable way to approach it. In other words, the nature of the question demands more statistical rigor than the methods you suggest can provide. These methods cannot demonstrate the reality of healing to peer-reviewable satisfaction. A large part of science is experimental design, and it is only permissible to use the best possible methodology to approach your question. You can’t use just any old method and expect a satisfactorily rigorous study.

                    • 4xi0m permalink
                      July 18, 2011 11:25 am

                      LOL…let’s see how skinny we can make this column. 😛

                    • July 18, 2011 12:46 pm

                      I don’t think the column will get any skinnier, 4xi0m, so I will reply here.

                      You are asking a very good epidemiological question. But it is not the question we started this thread with. I started by suggesting that there are real things which are not explained by Enlightenment thinking. Scott won’t accept that anything is real unless it can be demonstrated by experimental science. I am pointing out that things demonstrated by participant observation are also considered real by scholars, and suggesting rather tentatively that such methods might be applicable to some “spiritual” phenomena.

                  • 4xi0m permalink
                    July 18, 2011 2:37 pm

                    If these ‘real things’ exert real effects on the physical world (as faith healers claim they do), we should be able to measure those effects, which is what my epidemiological question tries to do. If they do not exert real effects on the physical world, it should not be claimed that they do, as doing so would cause unnecessary pain and suffering. This statement is not so much ‘Enlightenment thinking’ as it is self-evident.

                    And of course participant observation is a valid method for descriptive studies, but not for studies trying to determine whether a particular effect has a particular cause.

                    What is promised by faith healers and what their followers seek follows Enlightenment categories too. The promised/desired outcome is not some invisible spiritual phenomenon, it’s a measurable, material effect, conditional on a defined cause. Whether the cause is measurable is irrelevant. We should be able to see the effect, because that is what is promised. The ‘prosperity gospel’ is the same way. And if the effect doesn’t happen, what can we assume except that either the conditions of the cause are not met, or the cause does not actually exist, or there is no actual cause-effect relationship?

                    • July 18, 2011 2:52 pm

                      4xi0m, the axiom which you are introducing here is that the “real effects on the physical world” are predictable according to some kind of physical law. That is not how I would see them. I understand these effects as depending on the behaviour of an intelligent being, or perhaps multiple beings, whose actions are free and at least to a large extent unpredictable – and have not necessarily given their consent and cooperation to any experiments.

                    • 4xi0m permalink
                      July 18, 2011 3:08 pm

                      If that were the case, any miraculous healings that did occur would occur solely at the discretion of your free being(s), and ‘faith healers’ could not claim to produce the desired effect by manipulating said free being(s) any more than you can.

                    • July 18, 2011 3:25 pm

                      Precisely, 4xi0m. Those who claim to be able to manipulate spiritual beings soon find that they cannot do so, and often end up manipulating people instead. Those who have some kind of success are those whose healing comes out of an ongoing relationship with said beings, one which would be jeopardised by any attempt to test it.

                    • Len permalink
                      July 19, 2011 12:40 am

                      I’ve been following this from a distance, with a smile, but now even I see this as a special level of stoopid. What you’re saying Peter, is that healers can heal because they have built up a relationship with these spiritual beings (angels?, deputy-gods?, vice-gods?), but if they have the impertinence to test that relationship, then the spirits in the sky get all pissed off and won’t play any more. Wow, that’s really benevolent of them. Not to mention childish.

                    • July 19, 2011 3:31 am

                      Len, to be more specific than we mostly have been, I am suggesting that the healers need to build relationships with their Creator God, who does not appreciate attempts to manipulate him. But if there is the right relationship he will act, perhaps through the mediation of angelic beings. You don’t have to agree but if God exists this isn’t stupid.

                    • Len permalink
                      July 19, 2011 3:41 am

                      You don’t have to agree but if God exists this isn’t stupid.

                      I’ve seen no evidence (other than woo) that God does exist, so I’ll label this as stupid.

                    • July 19, 2011 3:57 am

                      Len, I love it. The new atheists’ argument that God doesn’t exist: you’re stupid, so we won’t look at the evidence you put forward.

                    • Len permalink
                      July 19, 2011 4:28 am

                      Peter, not quite. I didn’t say that you are stupid. I said that I’ll label your argument as stupid, because you said “if God exists this isn’t stupid”. But there has been no evidence of God shown (I mean real-world evidence, not woo, woo, and more woo). So your argument is stupid, by your own admittance.

                    • July 19, 2011 4:45 am

                      Len, there are all kinds of good arguments for the existence of God which do not depend on him causing limbs to regrow at the order of humans, or indeed on any demonstrable activity in the world today. I accept of course that atheists have counter-arguments, although I think those are flawed. But this narrow comment column is not the place to revisit that debate. I just don’t think you can call “stupid” the position of believing in a personal God held by many of the world’s greatest thinkers, such as the former atheist Antony Flew.

                    • Len permalink
                      July 19, 2011 5:49 am

                      Peter, there may be all kinds of arguments for God existing, but I’m not aware of any real-world evidence of God – he does not display “any demonstrable activity in the world today”. So as far as the real world is concerned, he is irrelevant. You may wish to follow his teachings on morality or whatever – that’s your choice. I’ll follow what I think is the correct way to act in this world – eg, the golden rule, which existed long before Jesus picked up on it.

                      You say “I just don’t think you can call “stupid” the position of believing in a personal God held by many of the world’s greatest thinkers…”. Why not? I’m not calling the people stupid, just what they appear to believe. They can have all the faith they want in whatever they want, as long as they don’t impinge on my right to not agree with them. (Note that I’m not implying that they do impinge.)

                      And you’re right, this column is a bit skinny 🙂

                    • July 19, 2011 6:58 am

                      Len, see my reply to Terri below, where I also reply to you because there is more space there.

  7. July 16, 2011 7:45 pm

    Why, oh why, do you even bother to respond, Scott…

  8. dan permalink
    July 17, 2011 8:43 pm

    Why, I wonder, is it that the faith healers and the prosperity doctrine types always seem to be praying for healing from the circumstances of life IE: disease and other temporal afflictions of the body and for wealth of course. It deems to me that throughout the bible the profits, Paul, Christ our king, seem more concerned with justice and the salvation of Gods people. It also seems the more prudent prayer for a true believer in the Judgement of god for sin is that we should pray for the repentance of the sinner and their salvation rather than a momentary affliction. Because we will all die of something and our comfort in this life will serve us no good when we stand in front of our judge. What do you really say to the diseased in there affliction when your faith healing fails which it does as can be attested by multitudes. “trust in God and he will heal you” and when he doesn’t? A little to late to then say “trust in God and he will save you.” After they have already found you to be a liar. I pray for the affliction of the prosperity oil salesmen and the faith non-healers to end so the logic of God can be seen clearly. You make it too easy to debunk the king of glory.Truth, Justice and peace with our creator is what we were made for not comfort and health of the body. Those will be had in glory not here.

  9. terri permalink
    July 19, 2011 6:15 am

    I’m not sure where this comment will be placed as the only “reply” it let me hit was a few comments back.


    I read Antony Flew’s book. He doesn’t go into great detail about what or who the God is like that he proposes exists. In any case his change of mind is still far from any sort of Christian conception of God and I don’t even think that the term “personal God” would represent anything close to what he articulated.

    You have backtracked so much on one of your original contentions; that answered prayer and healings are testable, verifiable and predictable….that I’m not sure what your point is any more.

    You’re better off just declaring the “two different magisteriums” argument than you are trying to insist that hard “evidence” can be presented in favor of physical healings.

  10. July 19, 2011 6:57 am

    I’ll reply here to Len as well as Terri as the thin column above was getting ridiculous.

    Len, the best real-world argument for the existence of God is the existence of the real world. If its existence was not caused by a self-existent being, then how was it caused? An old argument, I know, but one that even Flew could not fly round. But then you seem to think that Flew, although not stupid, believed something stupid and let his reputation depend on it? Sounds like either he was stupid or what he believed was not. And I could name plenty more geniuses who believed in God. You have the right not to agree, but not to impugn the rationality of their thinking.

    Terri, I am not retreating. First, I never exactly asserted that “answered prayer and healings are testable, verifiable and predictable”, only that they are real phenomena. Indeed from the start I made it clear that they canNOT be tested “under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions”. I brought Flew into the argument not because I agree with him but because I wanted others to concede that it is not “delusional and wilfully ignorant” to believe in his kind of personal God. Once that were accepted, I would lead the argument on to show how God intervenes in the world today. But if people like Len call even Flew’s argument “stupid” then it becomes clear that they are simply presupposing atheism. This means that it is a waste of time to argue with them, so I will leave this matter unless you want to accept Flew as a starting point.

    See also John Hobbins’ excellent post on this matter, Why Scott Bailey is wrong and Alvin Plantinga is right.

    • Chris E permalink
      July 19, 2011 7:01 am

      “First, I never exactly asserted that “answered prayer and healings are testable, verifiable and predictable”, only that they are real phenomena. Indeed from the start I made it clear that they canNOT be tested ”

      Well, the evidence could surely be examined after the fact.

      • July 19, 2011 7:18 am

        Indeed, Chris. And quite a lot of such evidence has been, in various places. But where healing is involved there are of course issues of medical confidentiality. And there is always the old argument “it might have been spontaneous remission”. Well, in individual cases it might have been. But if there is a pattern of apparently spontaneous remission following prayer, that could be evidence. But would Scott, Len and friends accept the results of such a study?

        • Chris E permalink
          July 19, 2011 7:20 am

          I don’t think many people experience spontaneous remission from death – and that was one the specific claims of Todd Bentley (who you brought into this conversation).

          Similarly, it’s rare to be able to see with only a glass eye – again something that’s eminently testable.

          • July 19, 2011 7:34 am

            Chris, I brought Todd Bentley into this only after Scott did, twice. I think most of the alleged raisings of the dead involve people reported dead for only a short time, and it is known for such people to come back to life spontaneously – at which point doctors conveniently say that their report of death must have been wrong! I cannot comment concerning any glass eye as I don’t know anything about any such case.

            • Chris E permalink
              July 19, 2011 7:37 am

              • terri permalink
                July 19, 2011 7:41 am

                That is so horrible. It would be hilarious if it weren’t for all of the people shouting out in belief and excitement.

              • July 19, 2011 8:05 am

                Thank you, Chris. It would be interesting to see those doctors’ reports. But the doctors would be obliged to withhold them as confidential.

                • Len permalink
                  July 19, 2011 9:18 am

                  I would hazard a guess that anyone who had experienced seeing with their glass eye and had their two legs growing out so much that their prosthetics fell off (as claimed in the vid about the same guy) would be happy to let an independent person check them out, to help verify the miracle. Is there a problem with doctor – patient confidentialilty if the patient himself goes public?

    • terri permalink
      July 19, 2011 7:18 am

      I brought Flew into the argument not because I agree with him but because I wanted others to concede that it is not “delusional and wilfully ignorant” to believe in his kind of personal God

      Once again..Flew did not believe in a personal God. Why do keep repeating that he did? You are misconstruing his position and using him to try and give your argument credibility because he has the cache of an “important person”…but he didn’t believe in most of the things that you do…no afterlife, let alone capricious spiritual beings that can be manipulated into healing people…so long as no one angers them by actually trying to prove it.

      • July 19, 2011 7:29 am

        Terri, perhaps “personal God” is not the right way of putting Flew’s belief, especially as it can be misunderstood as “the God with whom individuals have personal relationships”, whereas I meant “a God who is a person”. But Flew did support the idea of an Aristotelian God with “the characteristics of power and also intelligence”. It is hard to me to understand how a being can have intelligence without also being a person. I mentioned him solely because no one can rationally call him stupid or delusional.

        • terri permalink
          July 19, 2011 7:49 am

          It is hard to me to understand how a being can have intelligence without also being a person. I mentioned him solely because no one can rationally call him stupid or delusional.

          Just because it is hard for you to understand doesn’t mean it confirms what you want it to. Your appeal to important people and great thinkers is irrelevant. Lots of important people and great thinkers have been brilliant in some areas while having glaring blind spots in others. Just because someone has achieved prominence in one field it doesn’t make them an expert in another.

          That is a sword that cuts both ways in any argument….which makes it essentially useless in determining who is “right” solely on the basis of a person’s perceived status.

          • July 19, 2011 8:02 am

            Just because someone has achieved prominence in one field it doesn’t make them an expert in another.

            Indeed. That is why I chose to refer to someone who achieved prominence in just the field we are discussing, as “a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces.” Later he stated that “in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believes in God.” But I accept that we should appeal to the evidence more than to even the most eminent authorities.

            • terri permalink
              July 19, 2011 8:15 am

              “believes in God” is a loaded phrase. When Flew says he “believes in God” he doesn’t mean the same thing that you do. He concedes that there might be something that qualifies as God in the universe…..and that’s where he leaves it.

              Most people believe in a God of some sort.

              At question is what type of God and how He/It operates.

              You are making very specific claims about a specific type of God and his intervention in the real, physical world to supernaturally alter reality and heal people instantaneously.

              Here’s the thing….you want to have God as a personal being intricately involved in the minutiae of individuals…..but you also want to have a predictable God who follows certain rules and will heal as long as established preconditions are met.

              You can’t have both. Either God operates more universally and predictably as a type of force or Natural Law of some sort, or He does what He wishes regardless of what we do and how diligently we try to figure Him out….even purposely refusing to heal because someone’s relationship isn’t “right”.

              The problem is that there are thousands upon thousands of good, Christian, faithful people who long for a supernatural healing and never get it. And…the people who claim to have these special relationships and supernatural powers always seem to be the slipperiest, most manipulative, bald-faced liars in existence.

              Yet we’re suppose to think that God somehow prefers their relationship to Him over the numerous others in life.

              • July 19, 2011 9:15 am

                Terri, I want people first to concede the possibility that some kind of God may exist, that it is not “delusional” to believe this. Then we can discuss what this God might be like. But I am by no means arguing for “a predictable God who follows certain rules and will heal as long as established preconditions are met”. Rather, “He does what He wishes regardless of what we do and how diligently we try to figure Him out”. And he doesn’t like being put to the test or being the subject of experiments.

                • terri permalink
                  July 19, 2011 9:28 am

                  The second option that you’ve chosen puts you in a large group of believers of all sorts. Ultimately, it makes many of the things you have said absurd. If God purposely thwarts attempts to prove that He exists and is not bound by evidence, however loosely you want to use that term, then you are going about things the wrong way by appealing to reason and trying to convince everyone else and demand that they accept tour viewpoints on healing as valid.

                  You have just admitted that there is no way to subject the enterprise to any sort of objective criteria.

                  By the way, how do you know that God doesn’t like to be tested? Has he told you so?

                  Or maybe all of the faith healers, who use guilt to try and make unhealed Christians blame themselves and their apparently insufficient faith for remaining sick…maybe their claims have rubbed off on you in the worst way and you have come to buy their line as true.

                  A tactic that allows them to continue their shenanigans without having to accept responsibility for any failure of their powers.

                  This is the worst things about it all.

                  These “healers” survive and prosper not because they actually have these powers, but because otherwise normal believers want to remain “open” to the possibility of supernatural healing. They live off of the good intentions of the masses who are unwilling to say “No.”…or “Liar.”

                  The mindset you are promoting enables them. It feeds them and makes those who see through the craziness of it all question their own faith and intentions instead of questioning the Todd Bentleys of the world.

                  • July 19, 2011 9:37 am

                    Terri, I have not “just admitted that there is no way to subject the enterprise to any sort of objective criteria”. On the contrary, I said that healings can in principle be verified from medical records. The problem is simply that this would be unethical.

                    • terri permalink
                      July 19, 2011 9:46 am

                      There is always a cover and excuse, isn’t there?

                      It’s not unethical if people sign releases and willingly grant access to their records. I would think that someone who was dramatically healed by God would want the world to know about it.

                      Seriously. You think the only thing holding back evidence is doctor-patient confidentiality?

                      It’s ridiculous.

                      The reason so many people would like to see evidence, real observable evidence, of healings is because we have learned that people lie and are not reliable witnesses.

                      That’s why healers survive on testimonies and stories…..because you can’t falsify them. If someone swears that something happened, and they are in your “in-group”, you either have to grudgingly give credence to what they say or call them liars.

                      Nobody wants to accuse people of lying or bending the truth or exaggerating…..but people do it frequently. And…when you get a large group of people who tolerate these exaggerations, want to believe in them in principle, and try to be “charitable” in their acceptance of the exaggerations you create a culture that promotes falsehood and presents it as pure truth and faith.

                      That’s why in that clip of Bentley instead of people laughing at him and walking out the door they shout in exultation. They are living in a conceptual world that they reinforce to each other. They are co-conspirators in perpetuating the environment in which the Bentleys survive.

                    • July 19, 2011 10:03 am

                      Terri, the best answer I can give here is that Todd Bentley and his team did try quite hard to get verified medical testimony of healings, but with limited success. Sadly the success that they did have was overshadowed by the subsequent scandal.

                • Len permalink
                  July 19, 2011 9:30 am

                  Peter, do you concede that some kind of Santa may exist? Kids all over the world (mainly Christians, I think) would tend to believe he does, because they get presents on Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve – whenever it happens where they live), he driks the milk, and his reindeer eat or nibble the carrots. They’ve got the evidence: the presents and the nibbled carrot. That’s enough – for a child’s mind, at least.

                  Also, millions of kids believe in the tooth-fairy, because they have evidence that he’s real – the tooth is gone and a coin is left behind. That evidence is enough for a child’s mind.

                  But that evidence doesn’t hold up when viewed as an adult – because adults know where the presents come from, who nibbled the carrot, and who swapped the tooth for a coin. Even if they don’t have kids themselves, they know that Santa and the tooth-fairy only exist in myths and stories (and Hollywood)

                  • July 19, 2011 9:40 am

                    Len, if you can tell me about a prominent academic philosopher who has come to believe that some kind of Santa exists, and has written about it in an extensively peer-reviewed book, then I would be happy to examine that evidence and seriously consider agreeing that this Santa exists. But don’t say he doesn’t exist just because you didn’t get a present from him last Christmas. Maybe he exists but doesn’t bring presents. Or maybe you just weren’t a good enough boy!

    • Len permalink
      July 19, 2011 8:10 am

      Peter, citing the existence of the real world as evidence of God is a non-argument. It only works if you believe in God in the first place.

      I’m looking for some evidence of God at work in the real world. You have not shown there to be any such evidence. You yourself mention that there are arguments for him that do not rely on him causing “any demonstrable activity in the world today”, but if he doesn’t affect the real world, then what relevance does he have to the real world? What good are those arguments? Where are the arguments which show that he does affect (and is therefore relevant to) the real world? Those arguments would point to evidence of God, because he’s affecting the real world – the effect would be measurable or objectively observable in some way. And if you’re talking behaviour or morals, then I already said that I follow the golden rule, so I do not need God to show me how to behave (and judging by how he’s recorded in the bible as having behaved, that’s probably a good thing).

      If someone holds irrational views – no matter how brilliant a thinker they may otherwise be, then in that area they are not so hot. It would not be the first time that an otherwise rational person consciously or unconsciously stopped thinking rationally and stopped asking themselves critical questions when God was involved. But I really don’t care what someone else believes, unless their belief starts to get in the way of my life.

      As for presupposing atheism, that is the natural starting point, until the opposite is shown: there is nothing, then someone comes along and proposes that there’s a God. But you have not provided any real-world evidence to back up that position – the real world itself is not evidence of God, unless you already believe.

      • July 19, 2011 9:11 am

        Len, the existence and characteristics of the real world is one of the classic arguments for the existence of God, and it is the one which ultimately convinced Antony Flew. But I accept that that argument does not imply that God is at work in the world today. The evidence for that exists, but sadly much of it is hidden in confidential medical records.

        I don’t object to you starting from atheism. It is when you characterise even the most rational and philosophically profound arguments against it as “stupid” that you show that you are not open to revising your position whatever the evidence.

        • Len permalink
          July 19, 2011 9:51 am

          Peter, if anyone could provide evidence of God in the real world, then I’d be very happy to reconsider my views. But to keep on flogging the same dead horse is stupid.

          That the real world’s existence convinced someone many years ago that there must be a god (eg, before recent scientific advancements like the improved understanding of the big bang) does not mean that it holds up today.

          The god of the gaps is getting smaller and is a bad argument anyway: I don’t understand it, therefore Goddidit.

          Anyway, as others have said before me, I think I’ll bow out of this – we’re not getting anywhere

          • July 19, 2011 10:00 am

            “many years ago”? Antony Flew’s change of mind took place within the last decade. Your thoughts are not original, either: “Richard Dawkins and other atheists suggested Flew’s deism was a form of God of the gaps.” But Flew is a far better philosopher than Dawkins.

            • Len permalink
              July 19, 2011 10:29 am

              I just looked up Antony Flew on Wikipedia, which I hadn’t before. I see that he’s reported as saying (DEC 2004) that he was “thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian…”. And: “I’m quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god”. Sounds like a god who’s not relevant to the real world of today. Where have I heard that before?

              That others before me have come to the conclusion that Flew’s god is a god of the gaps does not make it wrong – neither does it make me as good a thinker as them – that’s for sure 🙂

  11. terri permalink
    July 19, 2011 7:20 am

    “cachet” not cache

  12. 4xi0m permalink
    July 19, 2011 7:56 am

    So let’s sum up:

    Some faith healers (those who approach God correctly) are successful in healing people of what ails them. These healings exert real, physical effects (cancer going into remission, severed limbs growing, an optic nerve and a retina spontaneously forming and somehow linking up with a glass eye, people in developing countries being raised from the dead). However, it is somehow not possible to test whether faith healing is effective by comparing a group of people who have had faith healings (via a faith healer who has the correct relationship with God) in addition to medical treatment to a group of people who have only had medical treatment, and seeing if the faith-healed people have significantly better health outcomes. Or is it possible? I’m really not sure of Peter’s position on this; it seems to change from post to post. In any case, it’s not advisable, because God would get mad at us for our post-Enlightenment insolence and send us to hell if we tried to empirically verify that faith healers can do what they say they can do.

    I’m bowing out of this discussion at this point. I’ve tried to be patient, but the stupidity has hit critical mass.

    Peace, and out.

    • July 19, 2011 8:10 am

      4xi0m, I have not asserted that any of the specific effects you mention actually happen, except for apparently spontaneous remission of cancer. I haven’t seen the medical records either. It is of course possible to compare the medical records of people who claim to have been healed with those of people who have not. Unfortunately it is unethical to do so because medical records are confidential.

      • Len permalink
        July 19, 2011 8:17 am

        I guess faith healers don’t take note of the people they heal, so they could call them and ask how things are a week or two later. That would be too (in)convenient. Pity.

  13. July 20, 2011 1:38 am

    See also what I have written on some of these issues in my post Anthropology and Theology, Angelology and Demonology, as this didn’t give a pingback here.

    • July 20, 2011 1:50 pm

      Peter, you are a special brand of lunatic.

      But rather than add to the arguments of rational people before me on this thread, I want to add that if what you say is true, then God is extraordinarily evil.

      Because here’s the thing — if God has the power to intervene for good when he feels like it, then he is directly responsible for all the bad things that happen in the world.

      My uncle Bob had his leg cut off in a tractor accident. Would God restore his limb if someone prayed with the right blend of words or the right relationship with a celestial being? But then if they did, and Bob’s limb was healed, why doesn’t God restore the limbs of all the other amputees and headless corpses? If you could help someone in need, but don’t do it, then you are a very bad person. Or in this case, an evil diety.

      If we succeed in something, we give god the credit for being good to us. But logically if that is what we believe, then god has to be responsible for the bad as well.

      • July 20, 2011 1:56 pm

        Of course, since Uncle Bob was working to send cousin Matilda to a good college, maybe God actually cut his leg off so she can’t go to a place that teaches historical criticism and then she would lose her faith and become an agnostic who uses birth control. That would explain why it didn’t work when the church elders laid their hands on Bob and prayed for him to be healed.

      • July 20, 2011 4:13 pm

        PF, there are many good answers to your question about why God allows evil in the world. There have been for millennia. But if you are not prepared to consider the wisdom of the ages on this matter, then what chance is that you will consider anything from someone you have already written off as a “lunatic”.

        I’m sorry for your Uncle Bob.

        • July 21, 2011 8:53 am

          If I apologize, will you let me in on the wisdom of the ages? Instead I will forever be haunted by the idea that if I hadn’t let my sarcasm get the better of me, I might have changed my life forever (and all the other people such as terri who might have had the chance to read it).

          If you don’t answer, I might be tempted to think you are talking about Zoraster or Buddha or Machiavelli or — God forbid — Piers Morgan. I heard he wrote a book and he is on the TV, so he must be wise.

          • July 21, 2011 9:41 am

            PF, start with the book of Job and C.S. Lewis.

            • July 21, 2011 4:22 pm

              That’s it? That’s the best you got? Are you kidding me?

              I’m sure CS Lewis was a nice guy and sincere, and certainly preferable to a modern fundie, but his writing is sloppy and pathetically lame.

              Job the answer is: “tough noogies, bud, I’m god and you’re not. You’ll take what I give you and like it.” And that after God effectuates the slaughter of his innocent family because of a bet with another divine being. Wait, isn’t he supposed to be the only divine being? Ah, details.

              You talk a lot but you got no game.


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