What Would Convince Victor Reppert to Give Up Christianity?

Vic responded to this question recently and I think it's a fair answer:
Loftus asked me for something that would make me give up Christianity. Because the case for and against Christianity is incurably cumulative, I couldn't say "THIS would be a decisive deal-breaker." But I did want to point out something the skeptic, in my opinion, has not provided, nor has come close to providing, namely, a plausible naturalistic story about the founding of Christianity. If one were to emerge, that could lower the probability of Christianity for me, and, to a far lesser extent, the probability of theism.

I think this is the challenge for the skeptical community, a challenge that deserves a book length response. Something on the lines of what I wrote here, expanded.

So let me offer several key books that help to do this, okay?

On the Bible as a whole:

The Secret Origins of the Bible

On the Old Testament in general:

Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Who Wrote the Bible?

Ancient Mesopotamian Cosmologies:

Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Mesopotamian Civilizations, 8)

On Hell:

The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds

On Satan:

The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil's Biblical Roots

On the New Testament:

Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth

On the Gospels:

Who Wrote the Gospels?

The Christian Faith:

Not the Impossible Faith

Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium

The Resurrection of Jesus:

The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave

Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?

On Early Christianities:

Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew

Early History of Church Doctrine:

When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years

There are other books, many others. Just look at the many SBL publications, or Fortress Press, SCM Press, Cambridge Press, Anchor Press.

Readers of DC will probably make some other key suggestions.

What bothers me is that Vic is a specialist. He's a Christian philosopher, and as such he probably rarely steps out of his specialty. He's not a Biblical scholar so the likelihood he's read any of these books is very very slim. And I doubt he'll read them even though I just I pointed them out.


Unknown said...

There are many plausible naturalistic explanations for the origin of Christianity. It confuses me why he doesn't seem to think there are any.

Chuck said...

I'd recommend the work of Rob Bell or Brian McClaren and the current phenomenon of the Christian Emergent Church to simply see how cultural pressure can influence human psychology to invent superstitions consonant with popular morality and a need for credulous belief to ameliorate the cognitive dissonance death brings.

1st Century Christianity was to Eschatological Judaism as the Emergent Church is to Fundamentalism.

One answer for Vic. Syncretism.

jwhendy said...

It seems that this response makes the unstated assumption that atheism has the burden of proof to explain what happened 2,000 years ago...

A better reformulation would be to ask whether there are good reasons to believe:
- that a man actually was born to a virgin by deistic insemination
- that a man did many miracles unreported by modern historians other than pro-conversion gospel writers
- that the gospels are historically valid even though they cite no sources, no historical method, borrow from one another without stating so, and contain unresolvable conflicts
- that a man actually rose from the dead

This is just to name a few. It would seem that Victor answers this question as an already believing Christian and needs to be convinced otherwise. Really, this is simply a question of whether he supports the OTF.

There are Muslims and Mormons and Scientologists would consider their faith 'incurably cumulative' and have yet to see a 'plausible naturalistic story' that convinces them of its untruth.

Are they as justified in belief as you are, Victor?

Lastly, I actually do think there are easy statements to make that could convince you that Christianity wasn't true... don't you? Christianity is dependent on so many crucial claims that if any one of them were successfully shown to be false, Christianity would crumble. Though improbably and unlikely, wouldn't these crush the case, even though it's cumulative?

- if Jesus body with matching dental records turned up
- if a 'gospel of Joseph' turned up and could somehow be verified somehow to be of his own hand and he stated that he had sex with Mary before she was pregnant?
- if lost writings of Church fathers were found relating a planned conspiracy?
- if prayers of another tradition were repeatably and predictably answered and led to healings or other miraculous occurrences time after time?

It's not that hard to think of ways to make Christianity fall ridiculously easily, even if they are far fetched.

But hey, at least you're willing to suggest something. William Lane Criag won't even deconvert if he goes back in a time machine to 33AD on Easter eve and watches the tomb through the night, never observing Jesus leave!

Rebel1 said...

Mr Reppert should read Carrier's "Not The Impossible Faith". It's a pretty thorough debunking of the idea that Christianity succeeded against odds so impossible that explaining it requires its truthfulness. That's the argument hidden in Reppert's response, and that argument simply cannot withstand scrutiny.

Victor Reppert said...

I never said anything about deconverting. That is something that you can't talk about before it actually happens. What I said was that this would disconfirm Christianity.

There is a personal dimension to faith decisions that makes it impossible to say in advance what kind of change you would make in the face of a negative shift in the evidence.

Victor Reppert said...

There is no such thing as the burden of proof. It all depends on your prior probabilities. I susbscribe to an epistemology called Bayesian subjectivism. I said that my probability for Christianity would be decreased if a plausible story were to be told about the founding of Christianity. The burden of proof, for me, lies on the skeptic, because I am currently a believer. The burden of proof lies with the believer for skeptics, because they are currently skeptics. You are within your epistemic rights ot believe what you already believe, unless someone provides evidence to the contrary.

Clare said...

The burden of proof always lies with the positive position as you cannot prove a negative.

Of course you are within your epistemic rights to believe anything you want to believe, but believing in something does not make it real or prove its existance. You can believe in Santa Claus but that does not make him real.

Anonymous said...

"The burden of proof always lies with the positive position as you cannot prove a negative."

This is a common claim on the internet, especially on blogs that deal with questions of God's existence, but it's false.

From the article: "Among professional logicians, guess how many think that you can’t prove a negative? That’s right: zero."

Steven Carr said...

As nobody has managed to persuade Victor that you need a brain, or something else material, to think with, getting him to not believe Christianity would be impossible.

The evidence that only material things can think is overwhelming, but Victor won't believe that....

The burden of proof lies on believers. They are the ones asking for money to fund their churches.

Vera Keil said...

Having been a believer myself, I know that it is like the optical illustion trick: you can only see the old lady's face in profile until suddenly you can see the young woman's head and shoulders. Once you have seen both, your thinking about the picture is never the same and never unified.

Most believers can't see that Christianity (and any theism) can be easily explained naturalistically. When they finally do see it, they'll never be the believers they once were.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm guessing he means a plausible naturalistic origin of the resurrection proclaimation, not the whole Nicene Creed. My brilliant refutation would probably be something like "First century apocalyptic Jews were not rational, so who knows what really happened." I guess that would hardly satisfy Reppert. I suppose if I weighed each part of the cumulative case the same way he does, it wouldn't satisfy me either. Meh.

Oh this epistemic uncertainty! It almost makes you want to go postmodern, eh?

CJO said...

You can't prove a universal empirical negative ("There are no black swans"), because there's no way to be sure you've exhausted all the possible instances, but that's far from the only kind of negative statement.

Chuck said...

Are we talking about proving a negative or where the burden of proof lies?

Despite that, the Carrier book does seem to make a case in proving a negative.

But of course Eric once again distracts from the conversation at hand to show off his pedantic narcissism. "Look at me, I've got a paper to show how stupid you all are."

If this was a post about proving negatives Eric then your arrogant posturing would be germane to the conversation but it isn't and in relation to Reppert's positive assertion of truth the only epistemic requirement I, and all other skeptics, need as response is "no".

In fact Reppert' cumulative case can paint him as a rigidly biased and superstitious fellow who affords special pleading for his cultural myths.

Rebel1 said...

Mr Ruppert: Based on your views, then it is you who has the burden of proof to disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, since that's what I (or claim to) believe in.

Just as I have no way of knowing whether you actually believe in Christ or simply claim to, you have no way of knowing whether or not I believe in the FSM.

You are simply ASKING for a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to the comfort & community a Christian receives by belonging to the religion. No rational or factual arguments will change their minds if they are clinging to their beliefs out of psychological & social needs.

1) Point out that many people have come to terms with the finality of death and share how you have done so and why it's not so frightening.

2) Offer alternatives or suggest that they create activities for themselves & their family that are religion-neutral. In small towns there's not much to do but pray & drink. Secularists need to help loners set up secular community activities.

3) Offer rational paths to moral behavior. It's too bad that they hear "communism" when we say "community" but there may be other ways to point out that not raping, killing, stealing etc. are part of the mutual bond amongst the "family of man."

Ignerant Phool said...

I strongly agree with John that this a fair answer. I would probably also agree with Mr. Reppert if I was a Christian, and I felt the same way about the founding of Judaism. If there is no plausible naturalistic explanation for the origins of Judaism, I see no reason why it wouldn't be possible for Christianity too. The question is, since the two religions are like mother and child, wouldn't you expect a natural birth if the mother was naturally birthed also?


Victor Reppert said...

Yes, I would have the burden of proof if you were a Pastafarian.

Why is that a reductio ad absurdum. I'll grasp it with both hands!

Belief in the flying spaghetti monster can be properly basic!

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike said...

DM, are you for real?

Breckmin said...

"Loftus asked me for something that would make me give up Christianity."

Erase my mind of all of the miracles I have seen that corroborate born-again Christianity. Erase my mind of all of the beauty that I have seen from our Heavenly Father and His Incredible Love for me/you.
Erase my mind from all of the ongoing chastising I have received immediately following my disobedience. Erase my mind of the glory of God becoming a Man and demonstrating Self-Scrificing Love through the Person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth almost 2000 years ago. Erase my mind of all of the spiritual warfare I have witnessed and demon possession/demonization/demonic footholds-strongholds/unclean deceiving spirits/and the spirit of anti-christ that is in the world today. Erase my mind of all of the beautiful worship experiences and of the knowledge of how born-again Christians throughout the world are the ONLY ones who worship God with full joy/peace/praise/love as they sing and glorify the God of Abraham and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Erase my mind of my objective guilt of God's Law and all my sin and disobedience which needs to be forgive.
Erase my mind of my need for a Savior.
Erase my mind of how only born-again Christians pray intercessory prayers for people's salvation.
Erase my mind of how only born-again Christians believe that there is nothing they can do to save themselves because they have violated the Perfection of God and that God Himself had to become a Man and provide salvation for me because I was LOGICALLY helpless.
Erase my mind of how all other religious beliefs are performance based.
Erase my mind of how the Creator is a God of Grace Who will forgive those who cry out to Him and trust Him alone for their salvation (and not themselves).

etc etc etc. If my mind was erased of so much that would cause me to "see" because of the Grace of God and His precious Holy Spirit, then perhaps....

but I would still have a proper presentation of Pascal's Wager to deal with...and I am not a gambler.

Especially NOT with my eternal soul..let alone a game of poker.

Question everything.

Gandolf said...

Eric said... "The burden of proof always lies with the positive position as you cannot prove a negative."

This is a common claim on the internet, especially on blogs that deal with questions of God's existence, but it's false."


Which is why Humans still bother spending so much time and money always running around trying to prove monsters honestly dont actually reside under childrens beds.And pink Unicorns dont exist.And that there is no magical tea pot circleing mars.

Its "always" of "highest importence" that those claiming a negative ,should always have good reason to need to still keep proving its a negative, until the matter is absolutely totally disproven.Right?

Im just so very glad and honestly thankful,that this world is not actually "completely" controlled only by the philosophers.

Just imagine the endless chaos that would soon engulf and entrap us all, in a complete utter method of madness.If we humans actually did start to live like you seem to suggest we do Eric.

Maybe the burden of proof didnt "always" lay with the thiest,specially once when ideas of Gods used to maybe be seen as being a little more likely.When less people were questioning the idea of Gods.

But come on Eric.Do you honestly really suggest its also people who happen to "disbelieve" in the monsters and ghosts ,that also then hold the "burden" of proof to be sure to "disprove the existence" of these invisible entities also?.Get off the ground Eric.

How silly would that be.Why should all the people need to always carry the burden of disproving everyone unproven claims?.That would be ludicrous.

As with the matter of the boy that always cried wolf!....So everyone must ALWAYS be prepared to disprove wolf?.

No ...That would soon become obvious to be really quite pointless

We have no burden to disprove Gods, any more than we also have any burden to try to disprove the existence of Ghosts and Ghoblins,Tooth Fairys,Trolls and Pink Elephants and Unicorns.Or even that there is actually no magical tea pot circleing around Mars.

It is not our burden to always keep trying to prove all these things actually dont exist Eric.

There comes a time when the burden of proof honestly is far more "fairly placed", when being placed right back on the shoulders of those making the positive claim in the first place.

And burden of dealing with questions of God's existence , is little different to us dealing with questions of existence of Ghosts,Ghoblins and Monsters under childrens beds,or even any invisible Wolves that some people happen to keep claiming to maybe actually exist.

Its completely fair that soon enough much of the burden of proof, finally lays with those claiming the existence.More than anything its just a common sense approach Eric.

If we didnt use some common sense somewhere along the line, you university philosophers would soon have us all paying for folks to still try further to totally disprove Ghosts,Ghoblins,and the presence of monsters living under childrens beds as well, and many more weird and whacky unproven ideas.

There would be no limits to what was thought possibly probable ,until its finally proved as absolutely impossible.

Whats to be gained by us Humans wasting so much time and energy on so many pointless matters Eric?

Now you can scholarly argue all you like from the point of view of the mind bending philosophies.

But the fact still remains.... If faithful folks do believe Gods honestly exist.

Then the burden lays in their court.The proof? ...Put up, or it becomes obvious its most likely bullshite you been telling us for so long now.

Thats simply how we have found its always mostly worked out best Eric .Its a LONG tried and trusted scientific type method we have used.Maybe sometimes found to be wrong..yes.. but however never the less still! most often its usually right!.

Gandolf said...

Breckmin said..."etc etc etc. If my mind was erased of so much "

Erase what mind ?.

It seems very mindless to me.. you suggesting maybe all those things you suggested, have absolutely no other possible logical reasoning.

Breckmin maybe? you suffer badly!!,from the effects of quote:

"WHEN we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That's the finding of a study which looked at people's response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers."


Thanks to science, its becoming more and more obvious! this was often always a very big problem..Its very likely a good answer how come, many years ago "entranced faithful" folks, even also allowed themselves! to go and throw their own live babies into fires,faithfully believing the sacrifice would somehow hopefully help in also bringing more fertility.

And just like you !Breckmin, they too would have also claimed that they saw things, that they then translated as supposedly being some magical "signs" their faith was somehow actually working.They were sure of it.

Erase your mind ?.What mind is a mindless mind to erase?, thats obviously already closed down!and "erased itself", due to an over indulgence attitude of total faithful trust.

How do you suggest we try erasing a type of mind, thats obviously already in the practice of continually erasing itself?.

How the hell do you suppose it might have happened, that people so freely followed people Jim Jones so blindly,even to their own death.

Through some good use of their faithfully "erased" closed off mind, Breckmin ?.

In my opinion,your mind is pretty much erased already Breckmin .Just like the minds of all those who freely followed Jim Jones to death, and those ancient faithful folk who also faithfully threw their own children! into flames of fires.Or folks who faithfully sacrifice animal blood, All being "under the spell of a charismatic figure" who will tell them they will supposedly benefit from it.

Where is the mind involved much in any of this Breckmin?.

Gandolf said...

Victor Reppert said... "Belief in the flying spaghetti monster can be properly basic!"

So can monsters that supposedly live under children beds,and even the honest existence of wolves, that certain people might keep crying wolf about.These type beliefs are properly basic too.

Belief in very many wonderful weird and whacky things, could maybe also be considdered as being properly basic too.

But does that mean we Human then have burden to disprove them?.


Surely it would be stupid to even suggest humans maybe might have need, to try to disprove all ideas that ever cross their path.

Most often the burden of proof, still lays with the one making the claim.Which is why our children should also learn!, not to ever RISK crying wolf,for absolutely no! good reason.

You are correct maybe no real burden of proof exists on either side.As of being any "lawful burden".As in a law existing, says they "must" prove it.

But however, without freely offering to be taking up this challenge! of burden of proof,faithful folk will simply continue! to RISK being pushed further and further back into the realm of mere myth.Being thought of as the Boys and Girls who cried Wolf.

Just like the old school faiths, of Trolls,Fairys Ghosts and Ghoblins and sea Monsters.

Hense the burden still does somewhat remain, right where it so rightfully belongs.

With the one making the extraordinary claim.

There is some good reason for this unwritten law for burden of proof to be existing also, as its often even aided us in our survival.

For how does it really benefit Human? to forever be stagnated by fearing the sea, for lack of proof about silly old stories of mythical sea monsters, that supposedly some folk once even said did honestly happen to be even devouring whole shipload of people?.

Should there be good enough reason humans should forever dwell on these ancient cries of "beware"! the sea monster,too also? .These ancient monster Gods of the seas,the invisible sea wolve that the youthful mind forever plays around with.

No.It would very soon start to hinder us.

Papalinton said...

Hi Eric
Hi Victor
Hi Breckmin
It seems you are quite anxious by the numbing awareness of your own capacity for consciousness and conscious thought and the responsibility that its management requires. Indeed, the telling point is, with an all consuming reliance on belief, without invoking the logic and reasoning components of one's brain, people generally are not sufficiently prepared to accept responsibility for the awesome power of their own consciousness, and thereby, the responsibility for it, for peace-of-mind, must be transferred to a supernatural being [a father figure] to look after. This is a signifier of immaturity [and I do not mean that in a derogatory sense] in which a person invests the safekeeping of that tremendous responsibility for 'free thought' or 'free will' [if you please], to someone else; in your case to your gods. It is a signifier of an incapacity to undertake a value-laden search for the meaning of one's existence and how to assemble or aggregate one's most precious and inner thoughts, without some form of internal support or propping. Yes, human behaviour is complex, an amalgam of genetic predisposition, family upbringing, socialisation etc etc, all that nature/nurture stuff. And out of that amalgam, we try to make sense of our life. And of course, as a pattern-seeking species we strive to order our thoughts, feelings, senses, background, personal and social behaviour and a plethora of other influences, into some manageable form to guide our thoughts and actions and on which to establish principles of good behaviour. A part of that pattern-seeking process, unfortunately, is we try to simplify everything into bite-sized chunks, and end up with 'simple' [simplistic perhaps] but quite erroneous and misdirected solutions. We look for the 'easy answer'. Others seek to find the pat answers externally, as in the case of reliance on the bible. However, when we apply simple solutions to complex situations many are found wanting and unsatisfactory. And at this point I fall into clich├ęs about the importance of a sound education in critical thinking and logic and reasoning skills, to better prepare us to meet the challenges of complexity in the world.

The manner of all those influences I outline above, that wash over each and every one of us in our life's journey, are so flexible and varying that they are able to emerge or develop in quite different ways [I suspect pretty much in an evolutionary, natural selection way], even though they may derive from very similar life experiences and influences, resulting in those people who see a 'glass half empty' and those of the 'glass half full' variety, and those in between.

For the 'glass half empty' people, their view of life cannot proceed without some form of internal underpinning, brought in from an external non-human source. Equally, for the 'glass half full' mob, they are generally able to resort to and rely on their own inner strength and assuredness in meeting the bewildering challenges of the future.

I wish I could reassure you there is no need to experience that anxiety. I wish I could convince you that you are capable of contributing to this world on your own merits and strengths, in your own right, without the need to posit yourself as one born of sin and in need of salvation. To me such a view is truly self-defeating and worrying. I wish that I could allay your fears about hell and damnation and purgatory. I wish I could show you the silliness in using Pascal's Wager as a way to lead your life. I have many wishes, but I am also a realist.


Anonymous said...

Victor said "Belief in the flying spaghetti monster can be properly basic!"

Which should demostrate that the idea that a belief can be "roperly basic" is less then worthless.

Steven Bently said...

Breckmin there are billions of people who believe the same things about Allah and Mohammad, also using your standard for your beliefs (Pascals Wager), so therefore Islam and the Quran are %100 true. Praise be to Allah!!!

Never question anything!!!!

As you suggest everyone do, like you do not.

Rebel1 said...

@Reppert: Wow, there is simply no bounds to your willingness to hold on to an untenable position. What you are stating is that any idea, however fanciful or contrary to evidence, is valid until disproven. Since disproof is simply impossible, you open for yourself a door to hold on to your idea whatever the evidence, since you can always claim that there is still some probability that it is right. It's a common Christian strategy, and it does not surprise me to see you use it.

You claim to be a Bayesian Subjectivist. But Bayesian analysis is predicated on being able to properly assess the relative probability of various explanations for an event. How do you go about calculating the probability of a miracle? A miracle is not simply a very improbable event, it is an event so improbable that it *must* have a supernatural cause. I'd argue that this means that it is, in fact, an impossible event, since any event with a prior probability > 0 has by definition a possible natural explanation. In order for an event to be considered a miracle, a supernatural cause must be more probable than a natural one. Where do you draw that line, without defining it as 0 prior probability? And if a miracle is, as I claim, an event with 0 prior probability, then the probability of a miracle according to Bayesian inference is zero.

Gandolf said...

"What Would Convince Victor Reppert to Give Up Christianity?"

1,What would ever convince the Teliban to maybe give up making themselves into human bombs?.

2,What would have ever convinced a Japanese kamikaze pilot to change his mind, and simply decide not! to go dieing as some martyr type human bomb like they did?.

3,What would really convince the westbro baptist,that they really had no actual need! to go telling people, that Gods hate peoples guts?.

4,What is there that would have likely convinced folks not to ever dare go following a dangerous person like Jim Jones?.

5,Or even convince a Pope it wasnt really such a good thing,to simply be just moving the child molestors around,while trying to save face!! for the sake of the Catholic ministry?.

The truth is.Probably not much really.Noing much about any "reasoning" or "logic" is ever really going to be changing these type peoples minds much anymore.No siree.

It aint much about any reasoning anymore, its become for more about a mindcontroling mindnumbing type indoctrination.

These people already all feel they know exactly what they are doing, and already fully believe it all! to be absolutely totally 100% correct.They all have complete utter total unquestionable faith in it.Its no longer really anything much about any matter of any questioning! or even reasoning! and use of logic! anymore.... Or even a simple matter any real use of any common sense.

Its become about teachings of a type of dictatorship.And practiced belief.

With all these folks i listed above its become much more about total blind faith in a "idea", and mind over matter attitude and approach and then them simply following up! on some rehearsed and well practiced doctrines, they all had crammed and drummed into their "very own existence" and "total thought" pattern.

These people feel totally convinced already....They are passed! even ever entertaining the idea of ever being convinced by anything else!.

For any of these people to even have any hope!! of any change,they first would need to honestly even (be prepared) to fully "entertain" even the mere idea! that just maybe they could even be wrong.

Because as the nuroscience study already suggests : "WHEN we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active."

Christianity is every much as much of a charismatic figurehead, as any charismatic figure there has ever been.

Crikey... if we actually understood what we might do to help convince Victor Reppert,We might also know exactly what we might do ourselves to help convince ole Kim Jong-il in North Korea as well.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hos said...

Oh, this DM troll is so boring.
To Mr Reppert:
Sir, you are wrong. The burden of proof is on the person making a positive claim. That would be like someone believing in alien abductions or Martian UFOs to say the burden of proof is on others to show alien abductions haven't happened, or the prosecutor telling the suspect he considers him guilty and it is up to the suspect to prove his innocence.
Or should it be your responsiblity and mine, to debunk Islam, or the muslims' responsibility to prove it is true?

jwhendy said...


I do not think you can state that since you are not deconverted or going through deconversion that you can have no idea what might cause it.

I presented several possibilities to you on what could make you disbelieve.

It would seem to me that you could easily look through your current beliefs, identify something without which Christianity could not stand, and then identify the disproving of that tenant of belief as a possible deconversion catalyst.

It's easy: if they found Jesus' body with matching dental records, proving that he did not rise bodily from the grave, would you still be a Christian?

It doesn't have to be something we can expect to happen, but if you can't even come up with hypothetical belief-enders, how can you claim rationality?


Your paper was pointless. All it did was illustrate what we know to be true: deductive proofs will be valid if the premises are valid and inductive proofs will be true as long as no contrary evidence is found.

The problem is that these proofs do exist because people long before us thought them up:

- the problem of evil
- the problem of unanswered prayers and lack of miracles
- the problem of 'the fall' in light of evolution
- how god is good given OT commands of violence

Atheists have, by the standards of that article, proven a negative.

Theists have devoted their lives to showing possible exceptions to those proofs.

The classic example is that god has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. But what in the world is it?!?. No theist has conclusively shown what it is. Free will and soul building do nothing for infant and animal suffering and therefore fail.

How is this any different than me explaining possible reasons why unicorns aren't in the fossil record as motivation to continue belief and worship of them and their mighty power?

I started doubt/searching because I wanted the firmest ground to stand on. It would seem that this lies in what is most apparent, verifiable, and plausible... not in grasping at the teeny, crumbling ledge of truth that might be possible.

This is especially true when we're talking about a being who knows everything and can do anything.

jwhendy said...

Also, it would seem that this burden of proof discussion could benefit from more energy and thought.

Victor, your principle sounds like it supports, essentially, the idea that thought insemination is valid in all cases. In other words, whatever gets planted first is valid until proven otherwise.

In life, when we find conflicting beliefs, we solve them with facts. We also tend toward the more credible, believable, natural hypothesis as the more likely before facts are even brought out.

You only believe you are justified because you are inside the bubble. I do not doubt that you have 'facts' which you believe justify your position.

The real question, and the point of the OTF, is: "Do your facts convince others who don't already believe?"

This is, to me, the beauty of the OTF. We can't know outrightly whether we're justified in belief in something that we believe by virtue of childhood thought insemination, especially something which would contradict many natural day-to-day operating principles.

For that reason, the most helpful test is to see if someone else is convinced by our facts. If repeatedly they are not, we need to start asking whether our facts are really that great.

I will say for myself that since I have begun questioning and researching, I can defend naturalistic explanations 100 fold better than I ever could have defended theistic explanations for life.

While I will admit still trying to grasp some things like why there is something rather than nothing, the evolution of love and other emotions, and the evolution of morality/which system is the best... natural explanations do so much better at typical problems like evil, biblical issues, unanswered prayer, etc. that there is no longer any intellectual contest for me.

Though I have yet to 'convince' anyone else, when I sit down with a believer and state my facts and his response is, 'John, I can't believe you because it would be like me saying that you aren't real. I know what Jesus is real as much as I know that you are sitting across from me right now', I consider this just as good as my facts winning. His resorting to subjective assertion vs. presenting counter information to contradict my statements tells me that he has no facts to present.

This has confirmed that I am on the right track. I have not hidden my doubt but have talked to extremely learned men in my circles hoping that any of them blast me in the face with something I have yet to read or hear of as the end-all proof of god's existence. Instead, I find that they do not present this and that I am quite comfortable presenting my case and discussing my current objections with them.

NightComesOn said...

Coming back to the original post's aim of book selections...

Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ was useful for me when I undertook that question. Although Hurtado is (or was, at least at the time he wrote this) a Christian, this actually provided a naturalistic explanation as to how Jesus began to be seen as God and not simply God's anointed.

zenmite said...

For all the charges of 'naturalism bias', I've known many christians that have no problem with naturalistic explanations when it comes to other religions. Several have told me that they believed Muhammed probably suffered from epilepsy or even insanity and this explains his visions. Others suggest similar explanations for Buddha's enlightenment.

They're all for naturalist bias when they need their computer or tv repaired. Why do they just dismiss the possibility that their computer crashed due to demonic possession? Instead they take it to the repair shop like the rest of us.

Breckmin's answer reminds me of my own. I've often said something similar when asked what it would take for me to be a christian. I usually answer' "A lobotomy".

Vera Keil said...

Zenmite, I agree! But the same is true of all religions--Jews find a naturalistic explanation for Jesus quite plausible, but not for Moses, et. al.

All religion begets chauvinism and bigotry. Period. That's why I don't understand why anyone would choose it over secularism and ethics. Atheists I know are perfectly moral people.

Victor, miracles are in the eye and the mind of the beholder. We should, if we feel we've experienced them, keep them to ourselves. It's like telling our dreams--they may be of great significance to ourselves but of no efficacy whatsoever to others. If miracles exist, they can happen to everyone without any "sharing" whatsoever. Christians don't really trust miracles or they'd shut up about them. Sorry if that's harsh, but it is logically sound.

Read my blog at google if interested in more debunking of religion and new age cults.

Victor Reppert said...

I have covered the issue of the prior probability of a miracle in my paper for Infidels.


Miracles don't have probability zero. You can't calculate antecedent probabilities from frequencies; because there's no good algorithm for figuring out which frequencies to count.

In other words, we need a system for revising the belief system we have, not taking everything apart and starting from scratch.

Burdens of proof are therefore relative, relative to the belief systems that people bring to the table.

What happens to belief in the flying spaghetti monster? Well, we find events that are not what we should expect if a flying spaghetti monster existed. We can question the internal consistency of Pastafarianism. We can argue that the FSM has to be spatio-temporal, and yet it is supposed to be the cause of the physical universe, which is the space-time continuum.

All things being equal in my belief systems, so far as I can tell a really convincing argument that the Bible can't be authoritative at all unless it is thought to be inerrant, and that if inerrancy were assumed then Calvinism would be the only option, yeah, that would cause a faith crisis. All things being equal, if we had a dental record for Jesus on file when he was alive, and we matched it with the dental records of a dead person, that would, all things being equal, result in skepticism about Christianity.

If the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Attention Victor Reppert: Allah is the True God, and Christianity is a Lie," that would be trouble.

The closest I ever came to nonbelief was when I started to think that the Bible taught Calvinism.

Victor Reppert said...

Simple propositions like "The burden of proof lies with the affirmative" run into trouble when you get to statements like "The external world exists." That's an affirmative statement, and therefore it's got the burden of proof. I have to refute solipsism? I have to refute the brain-in-the-vat hypothesis? The specter of Cartesian skepticism emerges.

Victor Reppert said...

I prefer to concentrate, however, not on science-fiction cases of what might cause me to change my mind. These are all to easy to generate no matter who you are, but so long as you throw something out there that you don't think is going to happen, it really doesn't say much about the openness to evidence of your belief system. I actually offered something that would change my probability curve without saying that I would in fact give up if such a thing were to emerge.

Victor Reppert said...

Let me try to clarify. I can imagine it being the case that a belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster was properly basic for some person. That doesn't mean that I have to disprove the FSM in order to not believe in the FSM, that means that that person's ceasing to believe in the FSM would rationally have to involve seeing evidence that the FSM does not exist. Once we form a hypothesis as to what we should expect to take place if the world were created by the FSM (and we can raise questions about the coherence of Pastafarianism as well), then we can see that the world does not contain what we should expect if a FSM existed.

Hos said...

Victor, what is it about pastafarianism that looks inconsistent to you? So, the FSM is spatial. Maybe the FSM lives in another dimension, where the physical laws as we know them do not apply? May be the FSM cannot be subjected to laws of physics, after all, he created them himself? Maybe the FSM constantly changes the results of scientists tests so they think his existence contradicts the laws of physics whereas it doesn't? May be it is all too big a mystery for us mere mortals? Or maybe the gospel of FSM shouldn't be read literally- if you take it as just being "inspired by a higher being, in whose image noodles were created" it all makes sense? (It doesn't matter that pasta is a human invention-all human inventions are ultimately creations of the FSM, because that is what my faith says). Haven't you heard any of this before?
Besides "the external world exists" does need evidence. And the evidence exists-in what I feel with my own senses, as do other people. Abstraction like Cartesian skepticism not withstanding, we are talking about evidence that is ADMISSIBLE IN A COURT OF LAW. And that is the kind of evidence that is missing when you are talking about miracles, alien abductions, or benefits of homeopathy.

Hos said...

Specifically, what is it the world does not include, which it would have to? FSM can violate laws of physics, they are simply irrelevant. (See "bodily assent", "walking on water", or my favorite, "existence for centuries before being born").
Let me slightly rephrase John's question. What would it take you to covert to Islam? You haven't disproven that prophet mohammad rode a winged horse to his heavenly rendezvous with god himself. Shouldn't, then, you be praying toward Mecca?

GearHedEd said...

Victor said,

"...What happens to belief in the flying spaghetti monster? Well, we find events that are not what we should expect if a flying spaghetti monster existed."

You, sir, are a heretic!

Everyone knows that if you try to test the reality of the FSM, he reaches out with his noodly appendage and alters the results!


Chuck said...

How do you have a probability curve based on a data point that is unique to itself and non-verifiable (Jesus' resurrection). The only thing your answers show is that you don't work with probability curves as a decision-engine.

Clare said...

@Victor: "Simple propositions like "The burden of proof lies with the affirmative" run into trouble when you get to statements like "The external world exists." That's an affirmative statement, and therefore it's got the burden of proof"

What exactly is wrong with that statement-the external world exists? External to what? If you do not think the world really exists you are in big trouble! Didn't a guy called Galilleo have something to say about this already?

Victor, which Bible is the inerrant word of God? The Sinai Bible, The Vatican bible with all their obvious alterations in the 4th C? There is no mention of the virgin birth or the resurrection in these early versions of the Bible. The Catholic Bible or the King James-? they are all different.
If your faith hinges on the veracity of the King James or later versions of the Bible, you need to rethink.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not a great fan of inerrancy; it can possibly be given a plausible understanding, and supposedly what is inerrant are the original autographs of the Protestant canon.

Victor Reppert said...

If Pastafarianism can give us some expectation as to what will happen if there is a FSM that is different from what we should expect if there is no FSM, then we can look at experience and see what happens. If there's no difference between experience with an FSM than there is with no FSM, then there is no content to their statements.

Victor Reppert said...

Chuck: How do you have a probability curve based on a data point that is unique to itself and non-verifiable (Jesus' resurrection). The only thing your answers show is that you don't work with probability curves as a decision-engine.

VR: There's all sort of things that, as we examine history, we would expect to find if Jesus had been resurrected, as opposed to things we should not expect if Jesus had been resurrected. We can see if those things are true, or not.

jwhendy said...


What are your thoughts on what people are bringing up about your views on other religions when it comes to the fact that you feel 'properly justified' in belief by virtue of [probably] being raised a Christian?

I'm not suggesting that you don't have reasons you think support your current faith, but what about the origins of it in the first place?

Do you think it is better to have facts as a starting point to one's beliefs, or to take beliefs and look for supporting facts afterwards?

Also, do you believe that with highly emotional, lifestyle-enmeshing beliefs like religion one is more or less prone to have an open mind to threatening facts?

I think this is why the OTF is so helpful. I have shared my questioning of faith with many people and have yet to encounter any in my circles who think I just might be on to something. Everyone suspects I'm wrong. Yet I'm quite respected for intelligence and cleverness and research in many other areas by the same friends! People admire my researching when it comes to how I picked my car, the minivan I just selected for my family, a digital camera, why I use Linux, which Linux is better, machining/building advice (I'm an engineer), budgeting, planning events, managing details...

Don't take this as a horn-tooting exercise, I just find it so funny that my findings and abilities are respected and credible and have been to my whole circle of acquaintances for quite some time... yet when it comes to what I now believe to be the case no one thinks I might have found some credible information or have valid arguments?

It doesn't even seem like they want to know! Indeed, many extremely intelligent friends of mine, to my surprise, shared in confidentiality that they had undergone a similar struggle of faith and emerged finding nothing conclusive but made their decision to be Christians purely based upon pragmatism -- seemed like a more hope filled path and affected their family/friends the least negatively.

I want to follow where the facts lead; I don't want to support a more emotionally appealing stance with possibilities and flimsy explanations for a myriad of arguments against that belief!

Victor Reppert said...

When we talk about the external world, we are talking about a world external to our own minds. Maybe I should have called it the physical world, but that is what I had in mind.

Bertrand Russell once pointed out that solipsism was irrefutable. A woman wrote him and told him that he was glad to hear him say that, because she had been a solipsist for years and always wondered why more people weren't solipsists also.

jwhendy said...


If Jesus had been resurrected, should we expect to find:

- consistent reports from the supposed oral tradition handed down by actual eye witnesses
- ancient peoples caring enough about the empty tomb to mark it for posterity so that all would know where Jesus emerged from (that is until Constantine's wife decided to care hundreds of years later)?
- consistently answered prayers?
- unambiguous miracles?
- individuals able to drink poison and not be hurt?
- lack of miracles in other traditions or at least a far more abundant occurrence of miracles in Christianity?
- Jesus' return as promised while some were still alive?
- modern prophets (why only speak to ancient people's about the future??)
- an answer to my continual asking/praying to Jesus about how to believe or how to know him?
- protection of Christians from diseases or natural disasters?- mention of Jesus miracles, working, or any details about his life confirmed by non-gospel authors?

These facts have convinced me that Jesus probably did not actually rise. He gave no qualifications about answered prayers, miracles are stated to be abundant in Acts and there is no explanation for their diminishing by Jesus/Paul/other NT writers (only modern theologians who posit hiddeness or unworthiness of those praying), etc.

What is your positive evidence about the resurrection? Simply that Christianity exists today? It seems that this is what most people lean on:
- Jesus is thought to have existed and died on a cross
- Jesus was reported to be seen after his resurrection
- Belief sprung up
- Therefore, Jesus rose bodily from the grave at the hands of god almighty.

Really? A supernatural resurrection is the only thing you find as a satisfying answer to these facts?

Hos said...

So now we have gone from "FSM, being spatio-temporal, is not consistent with the universe we know" to "if Pastafarianism can give us some expectation as to what will happen if there is a FSM that is different from what we should expect if there is no FSM, then we can look at experience and see what happens. If there's no difference between experience with an FSM than there is with no FSM, then there is no content to their statements." Guess what, that is precisely why I do not believe in a patriarchal god of christianity or islam.
I do not particularly care if you find evidence from physical senses enough for the existence of the physical world. But that is evidence accepted by legal system, and so listing philosophers that may question it, be it a De Cartes or a Bertrand Russell, sounds like grasping as straws.
And I am still waiting to see what it take to convert to islam, given that you haven't disproven the islamic miracles.

Breckmin said...

"there are billions of people who believe the same things about Allah and Mohammad, also using your standard for your beliefs (Pascals Wager), so therefore Islam and the Quran are %100 true. Praise be to Allah!!!"

Yes, Praise be to Allah for becoming Isa (His Son) and dying on the Cross for our sins.

What you don't understand is that Allah is the Abrahamic God and born-again Muslims who convert FROM Islam worship His Son Isa. Allah is dynamically equivalent to the English word "God" in the Arabic language.

The problem has been that you have been misled by evangelical Christians who wrongfully believe that the Qur'an has a monopoly on the Arabic word "Allah" and that because some place it the Q'ran Mohammad say "Allah has no son" that therefore YHWH and Allah are not the same God. This is nonsense
to the born-again Christian in the Middle East who understands that the Qur'an does not have a monopoly on defining Allah (The God of Abraham).

When you appeal to the concept of "hell" from Allah, you are still appealing to the same concept that comes from the Abrahamic God (Orthodox Monotheism).

IF anything, all Islam does with their belief in hell is corroborate the reality that the concept of hell existed in understanding with Abraham and was passed down through the descendents of Ishmael, Esau, etc.

Praise be to Allah Who sent Isa to be a Holy Sacrifice for sins so that any Muslim can become born-again and trust in Isa's Holy Sacrifice on the Cross for their sins and experience Allah's Holy Spirit (the Infinite Creator, the Same God as YHWH when you believe correctly through Isa/Jesus), and saves them from eternal separation from His Eternal Glory and His logical wrath on objective guilt (disobedience) of His Law.

The concept of hell comes from the same God and the same Monotheistic belief structure. Question everything.

Victor Reppert said...

It might surprise some people to know that I actually bring up the Outsider Test when I am teaching classes, especially when I run across people who are fideists. I also bring up the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the same context. If it is a way of helping us to reflect on our beliefs, to not believe them arbitrarily, to see if they really can stand up to a rational test or not, then the OTF is fine.

However, I think the way John uses the test is slanted against religious beliefs in an arbitrary way. First, I think there are limits on the extent to which we can expect intellectual neutrality or objectivity from people. I don't think we can just throw away our priors and be neutral, nor do I think we should.

For example, I really do think that Christianity has an evidence base that other religions don't have, such as Mormonism or Islam. There are things that make me skeptical of those religions which are not present in the case of Christianity. In other words, if Christianity was a delusion, I think the case against it is a lot trickier to make than the case against other revealed religions. (Eastern religions typically don't make the kinds of divine revelation claims that Christianity does). If I thought that Christianity was in the same shape as those other religions, it would cause some cognitive dissonance.

I also don't think that the step from noticing a sociological influence to doubting the belief in question is as easy as John makes it out to be. In a way, this kind of reminds me of adolescents who think they are being nonconformists and really independent thinkers when their ideas differ from those of their parents. Of course, what they don't notice is how much their beliefs and attitudes conform to the people they care about most, their peers. The academic community puts a huge amount of intellectual peer pressure on religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. You escape one set of sociological influences when you reject your religious beliefs, but you become subject to all sorts of other sociological influences.

C. S. Lewis once called materialism a "boy's philosophy," and in my book I said I cringed when he said it. But I think that nonbelief as a certain adolescent appeal to a lot of people.

Victor Reppert said...

I do not currently believe in Islam, and I don't think the evidence in support of their claims is particularly strong. I don't think there is this profound conundrum in how Islam got started that there is about how Christianity got started. So why should I become a Muslim. I would just be applying my epistemology by rejecting their claims.

Breckmin said...

"I wish that I could allay your fears about hell and damnation and purgatory."

I have no fear of hell. The Sacrifice of Jesus dying on the Cross for my sins is great enough and meaningful enough unto God the Father to completely pay for all of my sins (violations against His Holy Nature). Hell is an English word to discribe the concept of darkness and separation from God's fellowship and glory which will some day be cast into the Lake of Fire. We don't know how to define ontological Lake of Fire...but we DO KNOW that it is unfathomable horror, terror and suffering with no hope when you are completely helpless.

All of the reasons why this place is eternal are multi-faceted and connected together and can NOT be isolated on as though one being is torturing another. To claim this reductio ad absurdum isolation of connected premises is unwise and will lead you to deception (that God is somehow unjust as though He is somehow given eternal punishment for finite sin. This is incorrect).

Question everything...because IF you question enough, you might begin to learn the real reason(s) why hell/Lake of Fire is eternal. It's not about torturing.

"I wish I could show you the silliness in using Pascal's Wager as a way to lead your life."

Pascal's Wager was his own strawman. He never argued it or presented it correctly. God's omniscience would clearly see that there was no faith anyway, just fear.

I wish I could show you the silliness of believing that born-again Christians lead/live their lives based on Pascal's Wager rather than by FAITH in God's Incredible Grace to them.

Anonymous said...

Vic said: I think there are limits on the extent to which we can expect intellectual neutrality or objectivity from people. I don't think we can just throw away our priors and be neutral...

So far so good. I'm in agreement. As human beings we are not like a proverbial Spock. We don't think logically. This is the human condition.

Vic continues: ...nor do I think we should.

Here the disagreement surfaces. Precisely because of the human condition we should try to be as objective as possible with what we think is true.

Just look at how confident some Muslims are that they are being objective. Some of them are so certain they're objective about their faith they are willing to fly planes into buildings. Ask them if they’re objective and it would be a no brainer for them. But ask them to subject their own faith to the same level of skepticism they use to reject other faiths and THAT will get their attention. Since we cannot pluck out their eyes we must offer them a shocking test, one that may help get them out of their dogmatic slumbers like nothing else can do. And they will object as strenuously as they can to the OTF because they know their faith does not pass that test.

You see, it's faith that trumps evidence for most people and it's faith I deny. Faith concludes more than what the evidence leads us to accept. An outsider must only go with what the probabilities are and never go beyond them, as much as humanly possible.

It's the standard for whether to accept what we do.

Hos said...

"I do not currently believe in Islam, and I don't think the evidence in support of their claims is particularly strong. I don't think there is this profound conundrum in how Islam got started that there is about how Christianity got started. So why should I become a Muslim. I would just be applying my epistemology by rejecting their claims."
"For example, I really do think that Christianity has an evidence base that other religions don't have, such as Mormonism or Islam. There are things that make me skeptical of those religions which are not present in the case of Christianity. In other words, if Christianity was a delusion, I think the case against it is a lot trickier to make than the case against other revealed religions. (Eastern religions typically don't make the kinds of divine revelation claims that Christianity does). If I thought that Christianity was in the same shape as those other religions, it would cause some cognitive dissonance. "
Funny. Just switch around "Islam" and "Christianity" and you will end up verbatim with what Muslims think about your faith.
It is amazing you don't even have a clue how circular it sounds. I believe it because it is my religion, it is my religion because I believe it.

Victor Reppert said...

No. I think there are far greater difficulties with Islam than there are with Christianity. I also think that Islam is far easier to explain away than is Christianity. I just covered that on my site.
<a href=""<http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-founding-of-christianity-is-far.html

Victor Reppert said...

I just covered this.


Unknown said...

>For example, I really do think that Christianity has an evidence base that other religions don't have, such as Mormonism or Islam.

Victor could you please list what this evidence is?

Breckmin said...

"You see, it's faith that trumps evidence for most people and it's faith I deny."

Yet you have "faith" that born-again Christianity is somehow not true and you compare it to other religious structures when all other religions are performance based rather than "faith in God's work for you" based. You have faith that there is no logical separation from YHWH or His glory (hell) for multi-faceted reasons which you do not present in your books. IOW,you have 'faith' that there is no hell.

You have "faith" that Jesus wasn't born of a virgin nor do you *believe* that He rose again proving He was uniquely God (Deity).

It is NOT that you have "no belief regarding Jesus or the God of Abraham." Instead, you currently DO have a belief that Jesus is somehow NOT the Savior, and not Lord, God and Rightful King. You have left your first love of Him for philosophy and universal common descent theory and alleged logic.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that you should attempt to be as objective as possible...for those of us who have seen miracles and spiritual warfare...we too are trying to be as objective as possible - as not to be deceived (but ultimately we pray to the God of the universe for wisdom/guidance). Question everything...but when you question - pray to the God of the universe for the right answer (and know that the right answer comes to you by His grace).

If we over-simplify everything...we will begin to wrongfully believe that is some petty guy in the sky that wants us to worship him. Anyone who believes this has a concept of God that is far too small and you expect way to little from the Infinite Omniscient/Omnipresent Righteous and Holy Creator of the universe.

Reducing God to what a finite being does (like a king or tyrant) is utterly ridiculous and that is why so many remain in deception.

Unknown said...

@Victor I just read that link on your blog. You said we have to take Muhammads word for what he says in the quran, etc. You then go on about Christianity as if the events described in the bible are established facts. To do this you just take whoever the author of the gospels word for it that the events are true. There are not any other reasons too do this.
Do you see its the same thing for Christianity, Islam, Mormonism or any religion.

jwhendy said...

This has been an interesting read since I last checked.

One comment re. evidence. While Islam may be weaker or Mormonism on sketchy ground, for one, Christianity has numerous issues that remain unexplained except for speculation and 'possible' reasons like a possible morally sufficient reason for evil which no one can specify or a possible explanation for the decrease in tangible, observable interactions with humanity despite this being alluded to by Jesus himself (miracles, immunity to poison, etc.).

Despite focusing on this... I find it interesting that some think that once you make the leap to a possible creator, you enter the buffet of world religions and have to actually choose one.

I find it far more possible that there is a creative force but that the world has no clue in the slightest what it is or what it's like. Why find the need to compare religions to figure out which one's true? Rather, look at all of them and see all of their inconsistencies (or as John likes to say, agree with every religion's criticism of every other religion) and see that they clearly all lack some key piece of evidence or explanation for the world.

I'm not so sure any of us has a damn clue what god is even if he does exist!