Talbott on Progressive Revelation Versus My Claim That Theology Evolves

I have been faulted for starting my critique of Thomas Talbott's essay at the end. The claim is that I have not dealt with the substance of his critique of the OTF, and that it is found in the earlier portions of his essay. If so, then Talbott himself was wrong to title his last section as "A Fundamental Inconsistency in the Loftus Approach." (p. 20) For what does it mean to use the word "Fundamental" if it is not Fundamental? In any case, I'm going through his essay with a fine toothed comb and will get to it all, so hold your pants on.

In the very last two paragraphs Talbott writes:
George MacDonald concluded that no “revelation can be other than partial.… Because of a lower condition of the receiver, a more partial revelation might be truer than that would be which constituted a fuller revelation to one in a higher condition; for the former might reveal much to him, the latter might reveal nothing.”

All of which leads naturally to the idea of progressive revelation and to the idea that in different cultural contexts any revelation, assuming for a moment that such a thing is truly possible, would have to accommodate very different patterns of thought. And that casts a rather different light on the whole issue of religious diversity. For a religious person who believes in revelation or even in revelatory experiences should expect religious diversity every bit as much as an atheist or an agnostic might expect it.
There are two claims here. The first is that we should expect there to be progressive revelation, and the second is that we should expect religious diversity on a Christian theistic supposition.

This is not the case at all, not by a long shot, not even close, on both counts, since the amount of progressive revelation creates new Christianities in every generation, and since all non-Christian theologies change is similar ways over the years. Moreover, the amount of religious diversity is massive and growing every single day.

To see this let's place Talbott behind the Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance. As a Christian philosophy professor I expect him to know what that is, even though he has previously shown himself to be ignorant of what cultural relativism is. The Veil of Ignorance, for people who are unfamiliar with it can be adequately understood by reading through this link. The question John Rawls put to us is that if we were placed behind a Veil of Ignorance about our status in life, gender, race, and so forth (i.e., before experiencing the world), what moral rules would we adopt and what kind of societal structure would we think is fair--one we would want to live in? It's been criticized from the left and the right, but it's still a great thought experiment.

Talbott needs to say what he would really expect when it comes to how God would reveal himself to human beings before experiencing this world. My claim is that believers are deluded, that they have what is called the Stockholm Syndrome, hostages who like and even defend their captors. In the case of believers their captor is the Celestial Dictator, as Hitchens calls him. Psychology confirms that we are not all that rational and that we defend our beliefs because we prefer them. Hostages have to come to terms with why they are held captive and to resolve their captivity they convince themselves that their captors are good people, at least, enough of them do it that there is a named syndrome for this phenomena.

My claim is that if we place Talbott behind the Theological Veil of Ignorance he would utterly reject both claims of his given his Anselmian concept of God, which evolved out of the tribal deity Yahweh, from which this was derived. He would do so for several good, strong reasons. What would you expect from God prior to experiencing this world? Not what we see, that's for sure, for so many reasons I don't have the time or my reader's patience to read through it all should I do so.

To see this read chapter 7 of mine, "What We've Got Here is a Failure to Communicate" in The Christian Delusion. I'll have to assume that since Talbott quotes from that same book to criticize the OTF he can read it for himself. There was a great amount of killing and rape and slavery going on, even between Christians themselves to the tune of eight million of them during the eight French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War because God did not have even the minimal communication skills we would expect from a normal non-omniscient human being.

I see no reason at all why Talbott's God could not have informed the faithful that slavery was unequivocally wrong, or rape, or religious wars, or killing heretics, or even what Christians themselves should believe about hell, the church, salvation, baptism, the priesthood of all believers, the Eucharist, and so on, from the very beginning. That's what reasonable people would expect from such a God behind the Theological Veil of Ignorance.

What Talbott does, just like every believer, is he looks at what he sees and re-interprets his religion in light of that rather than asking himself if this is really what he would expect. He's clearly defending that which he wants to believe. He has the Stockholm Syndrome, defending his Celestial Dictator no matter what, because he has a need to believe.

No, we should not expect the kind (or magnitude) of progressive revelation that we have seen down through the centuries. This is not even close to being a close call. Such a claim as his is palpably false, undeniably false, obviously false. And likewise this is the case when it comes to religious diversity. If there is a God who wants us to believe in him, there would not be so much religious diversity spread around the globe. The probability that the Christian God exists is inversely proportional to the amount of religious diversity that exists (i.e., the more religious diversity there is, then the less probable it is that God exists), and there is way too much religious diversity to suppose that he does.

In my own short life, as I explained in the Introduction to The Christian Delusion, I have seen that theology evolves. Talbott is another example of this, for he does not believe anyone goes to hell. Bravo for him, for he made such a change in light of religious diversity, despite what the historic church has traditionally believed which would have caused him to be executed for heresy in previous centuries by that church.

Christians can either adjust their views like Talbott, when it comes to liberal views of hell when compared to the Middle Ages, or like they’ve done with their present liberal views on women when compared to Christians of earlier centuries, or like they've done by condemning racism and slavery, or like they've done with regard to their liberal and heretical ideas of a free democracy when compared to earlier times of the divine rights of kings, or like Christians have done who no longer think the Bible justifies killing people who disagree, or they can admit that they are gerrymandering in favor of a faith that was caught not taught to them inside their given Christian culture.

My naturalistic proposal is that theology evolves down through the centuries as societies learn from science and grow from their mistakes. This fits the data much better. This evolution does not just apply to the various Christianities, some of which have died out, but to all theologies. All theologies evolve, all of them, down through the decades and the centuries. It is a phenomena we see everywhere in all religions. Do I need to elucidate this point? So if Talbott's God existed then why does the progress of his God's revelation mirror that of other mutually exclusive theologies? Why is the progress of this so-called progressive revelation indistinguishable from no revelation at all?

This is all that an apologist offers, post hoc explanations, based in special pleading and begging the question. When will they actually make a reasonable case for their faith? So far I have not seen it. The case they make is palpably false.

Faith is no substitute to reason and evidence. Talbott is special pleading plain and simple. What he needs to do is take on the naturalistic explanation concerning progression revelation and religious diversity. He will not do that. He can't. He's blind as a bat. I cannot help him see because I cannot heal him.