Rauser, This Is Not A Intellectual Game of Chess With Me

How can I convince a deluded person that he is playing intellectual chess games when he is really really good at them? I probably can't. Case in point, yet once again, is Dr. Randal Rauser. I had previously written an open letter to him but to no avail. Perhaps others can learn from it on how not to search for the truth. That's who I write for, others, people searching for the truth, not Rauser. I do so in hopes they can see this for what it is, because he can't. I'm sure that if I were discussing the ideas that separate us with an equivalent Rauser type of Scientologist or a Mormon, I couldn't convince them either. He doesn't get this point. He may never get it. He discounts the overwhelming probability that the whole gospel is based on a lie. Now let's consider his rejoinder to what I had previously written.

Speaking of my chapter in The End of Christianity titled "Christianity is Wildly Improbable," Rauser wrote:
Essentially John’s essay never moves beyond a presentation of his own personal incredulity at how implausible Christian beliefs appear to him to be. But of course this personal incredulity is absolutely and utterly irrelevant for a Christian who already accepts that the beliefs in question are true. For this reason John’s essay is an unmitigated disaster as an example of anti-Christian atheological apologetics.

To try and illustrate how serious a misfire John’s argument is, consider the case of Dave. Dave has lived all his life in Anchorage Alaska and he truly loves the city. He loves the cold, the snow, the rain and overcast skies, the snowcapped peaks and the wildness of the land. But now Dave’s friend Mark is trying to persuade him to move with him to Waco, Texas. “Come on Dave,” Mark says, “You’ll love it!” “Oh really?” Dave retorts, “Well then convince me.” “Okay,” says Mark. “It’s blisteringly hot in Waco for much of the year. And it’s flat and sunny all the time, and you’re far from the ocean. But Anchorage is cold and snowy, rainy and overcast with snowcapped peaks and a wild land. So come on Dave, let’s move to Waco!”

Poor Mark. His apologetic works great for himself because he already prefers the heat to the cold, the plains to the mountains, the sun to the clouds. But his apologetic is utterly ineffectual for Dave since Dave prefers the exact opposites.

That is precisely John’s problem. He writes an essay purporting to offer an apologetic reason for Christians to give up their Christian beliefs. And instead all he did was write an essay expressing his personal incredulity toward Christian beliefs. But this is utterly irrelevant to those who already believe those claims are true just like Mark’s plea for Waco is irrelevant to those who prefer the cold, the mountains and the clouds.

This point can be summarized with the principle I stated, viz. that actuality trumps probability. In other words, if you already believe something is true then the fact that somebody believes it is unlikely to occur is not a reason to reject it.

Poor Randal. He fails to understand that the more educated a person is in a delusion then the MORE deluded that person is. The less educated a person is then the less deluded that person is. I think my chapter has force against people who are less deluded, that's all. I couldn't hope to convince people like Rauser precisely because he's more deluded, and by the word "deluded" I mean that his faith goes against the overwhelming evidence. As I've interacted with him nothing seems to have any force against his faith. So my chapter stands in good company with all of the other atheist writings he would say have no force to them at all.

Rauser claims my chapter doesn't go beyond personal incredibility as to the nature of Christian faith.

There are three things I need to say about this charge.

In the first place, I had argued in the Introduction to the book for the Outsider Test for Faith. Rauser's criticisms of it were laughable to me, probably because he could not even tell his readers exactly what it is. One must understand an argument before it can be effectively criticized. Faith blinds people from being charitable to arguments that oppose it.

Granted, there are several statements I made, and one section in my chapter, where I express my own personal incredulity about Rauser's faith. So? I was trying to show Christian believers what their faith looks like to an outsider, a non-believer, given the outsider test. Since Rauser doesn't like that test then for him these other statements of mine have no force to them. Okay. I understand, even if I disagree. So his main criticism is of the outsider test, not this present chapter, and I already dealt with those criticisms in my previous post.

Secondly, Rauser points out the principle that actuality trumps probability, which appears to me to be misunderstood by him to mean: "if you already believe something is true then the fact that somebody believes it is unlikely to occur is not a reason to reject it." Let's see if I can understand this by putting it into other words: "The fact that people disagree whether something happened, or can happen, is not a good reason to reject what one thinks happened, or can happen" (or something like that).

Well, it depends on the kinds of disagreements we have and what can settle them.

From my forthcoming book on the Outsider Test for Faith:
Robert McKim tells us that it “is clear, therefore, that large numbers of people have held, and now hold, false beliefs in the area of religion...at most one of them can be true…And since so many people hold false beliefs in the area of religion, it would seem, therefore, that all groups need to consider the possibility that their beliefs in this area may be mistaken.”8 McKim concludes, “To fail to examine your beliefs when you ought to examine them is to fail to be rational in an important respect.”9 For “when there is disagreement, it is parochial and unsatisfactory to fail to take other perspectives seriously.”10 To believers who are sure they have the correct religious faith McKim cautions that this is “simply a poor guarantee that you are right, at least in the area in which there is disagreement, including the area of religious belief.”11

It’s objected that just because rational people disagree doesn’t mean one of them could be right. In other words, it has been argued that the mere existence of disagreement between rational people does not automatically lead us to be skeptical about that which we think is true. On the contrary, I think it can and it does. The amount of skepticism warranted depends not only on 1) the number of people who disagree, but also on 2) whether the people who disagree are separated into distinct geographical locations, 3) how their faith originated, 4) under what circumstances their faith was personally adopted in the first place, 5) the number and nature of extraordinary miracle claims being made that are essential to their faith, and 6) the kinds of evidence that can be used to decide between the differing faiths. My claim is that precisely because of these factors a high degree of skepticism is warranted about religious faiths when compared to the objective results of science.
I'm sure this will have no effect on Rauser, but maybe it might with more reasonable, less deluded believers.

In the third place, Rauser mischaracterizes my whole chapter. I offer plenty of arguments inside of it. So his characterization of it as arguing from personal incredulity is absolutely misleading. Here's a snippet from the chapter:
Christians who accept these ten creedal affirmations must show that the biblically described events actually happened. This task is fatally hamstrung by virtue of the fact that such efforts are based upon the poor quality of historical evidence that survives from the ancient superstitious past.5 Usually, the farther we go back in the past the harder it is to reconstruct exactly what happened. Sometimes the evidence leading to a different conclusion has been lost or destroyed. Other times it was hidden away only to be discovered much later. In most circumstances historians can at best say only what did not happen as they falsify one historical supposition after another. When we factor in claims of miracles, it gets even worse, for extraordinary claims of miracles demand a greater deal of solid evidence for them (e.g., if a person tells us he levitated, we would need more than just his testimony to believe him).6

So, expecting this kind of solid evidence for miracles in the past is asking more of history than it’s possible to show from historical study (e.g., unlike a person who personally tells us he levitated, we cannot interrogate an ancient text that says a certain person levitated). But we’re not done yet. Christians must also show that the doctrines they derive from the supposed biblical events are true. However, this task is fatally hamstrung by virtue of the fact that their interpretations of the biblical texts are historically situated and culturally conditioned, as is evident from the number of Christianities that have existed and exist today.7 If this isn’t enough of an impossible barrier to belief, Christians have the additional task of trying to show, if they can, how the doctrines they arrive at are supported by the evidence from the sciences (i.e., creationism, the Exodus, the virgin birth, the ascension of Jesus, the efficacy of petitionary prayer, etc.). Lastly, Christians have the task of showing how philosophy can make coherent sense of their doctrines (like Trinitarianism, the incarnation, atonement, personal identity after death, and the goodness of an omnipotent God in the presence of massive and ubiquitous human and animal suffering). Accomplishing all these Herculean tasks is needed to defend what they believe. It cannot be done. (p. 78)
Notice the footnotes? I refer readers to where these things are argued elsewhere. I do that throughout the chapter. Either he's interested in reading further or he's not, for my chapter is mostly a summary of the case against Christianity replete with references for further reading. So he cannot claim I offered no arguments since I did, and I even backed them up with further reading.

Let's say I claim Jesus did not rise from the dead and then I say the case for my claim can be found in Professor Matt McCormick's wonderful new book Atheism and the Case Against Christ. Have I made an argument? You betcha I have. A really good one.

[More coming later]