Why I am a Christian

The Intellectual Grounds for Belief

For me, the most fundamental component of my belief framework is the strong, intuitive conviction that everything must be here for a reason. This is a form of applying the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Many atheists, while holding to some form of PSR in their daily lives, are happy to simply accept as a brute fact that the Universe just exists and focus on other questions. It would be very unsatisfying to me if the Universe, which is clearly a contingent thing, does not have an explanation for its existence.

(And please don’t ask me why the PSR doesn’t apply to God. If you feel that is a pertinent question, then you haven’t understood my argument.)

Secondly, there are some observable phenomena which currently do not have a satisfactory answer assuming an atheistic worldview. Examples are consciousness, moral convictions, and the structure and order of the nature. Atheists like to propose evolutionary explanations for some of these, but I think they mostly miss the point. (Example: even if consciousness is an advantageous feature to have for an animal, that explains nothing about how consciousness came about in the first place.) Consciousness is especially a big one, since it’s so tied into my daily experience of personal identity, personal will, and what constitutes reality. These features of the universe fit well with my personal intuition of the PSR that I just explained above.

These reasons (and some other arguments for the existence of God that I have chose not to include here) make me favorably disposed towards theism. It is not enough for Christianity. This is where special revelation comes in. I think Christianity is the most well-balanced, convincing, and personally satisfying theistic worldview there is. It powerfully balances the explanatory power of theism with a compelling notion of a God who loves us and desires a relationship with us. Jesus, the God-man, embodies this balance. Christianity doesn’t only demand obedience and submission to God; it gives a good reason for it, namely that God himself has loved us so much that he personally went down, sacrificed himself for us, and challenged us to follow him and spread the word. I think even if Christianity turned to be false, one would still have to admit that it was a really potent idea. Much more potent than the religion of Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

(Of course, there is also a strong evidential case for Christianity, namely the resurrection of Jesus. But I have already wrote on this topic before.)

The Personal Aspect How Shall I Decide?

But being intellectually convinced of Christianity is not enough. My decision to live as a follower of Christ is not based on a cold, calculating evaluation of the evidence, like one would when evaluating a scientific theory or deciding which stock to buy. It’s at this point that talking about the “evidence” is a misnomer. The evidence has been presented and considered. But you can’t be a Christian to hedge your bets or impress others; at some point you have to be willing to switch to an existential mindset and decide what you want to do with your life. @Patrick talks about “creating” meaning and purpose in our lives. But who or what should I turn to to shape this purpose? And why should I look to them instead of others? Should I just go with the flow of the people around me, with what my friends are doing? Well, how should I choose my friends then?’

These questions are endless, and generate existential crises. They are impossible to resolve in a linear, foundationalist way, because there isn’t any such solution which is clearly the right one. These are very meta-level questions. We are not simply evaluating evidence - we have to decide by what criteria should we evaluate evidence itself. And that’s much harder. As @colewd comments, everyone believes in a sort of coherentism in the end. We decide upon a set of beliefs, live by them and see if that satisfies us personally (not just intellectually). If they don’t, we tweak them until they do. For example, there are many accounts of people leaving a religion because they found it oppressive.

We also find means to validate our prior choices, because nobody wants to be wrong on such foundational and personal matters. One sees this in accounts of people who were former Christians: they join communities of people with similar backgrounds, serving as a support group that validates the choices they just made and supports them going forward. They spend more time hanging out with similar-minded atheists and agnostics instead of religious people, and no longer spend time doing religious activities like prayer, worship, or reading Scripture. They tune into Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll, or some other enlightened secular humanist who has something to say about how to live as a personally fulfilled atheist. Of course, people who convert into Christianity do the reverse: they join a church as their support group, start doing Christian things and read Christian books. My point is, deciding on the Big Questions of life is not a purely intellectual decision, because we are not just brains on a stick. Each of us is a holistic, embodied creature with many personal needs and wants.

From a Christ-admirer to Christ-follower

In my own case, at some point in my life, I decided that Christianity was intellectually and personally compelling, and due to a combination of various circumstances, I chose to live as a Christian. I wanted to follow Jesus and become more like Jesus. This decision rippled back out to all aspects of my existence. I committed to being in a church, filled with like-minded people who had the same goal. I prayed and read Scripture. I slowly but surely shaped my thought and filters to fit to this new epistemology. If I seriously believed that a personal God exists and He cares about us humans, then it is not ridiculous at all that sometimes I could see (or at least seem to see) how He works in this world. It goes without saying that I don’t expect non-believers to agree with me.

Thus, for me, my decision to be a Christian is not reducible to a series of special religious experiences (such as a witnessed miracle) that definitively showed the existence of God and compelled them to believe. I am aware that some people do think of their personal Christianity in those terms, and that is completely fine. My own experience is way more complex, as I have tried to summarize here. In the end, both types of people want to follow Christ, and that’s the most important thing. Even though special miracles don’t play a big role in my day-to-day experience of Christianity, in the long term, I’ve seen how I’ve grown and matured in faith, and I think that is way more central to what Christianity is about than constantly having “mountaintop experiences”.

Some Final Remarks: Evidence or Rationalization?

Now, it is true that my family is Christian, and as a teenager, there would have been a social and personal cost to me if I had become an atheist or Muslim or other religion instead. Thus, some people might respond to my testimony with something like the following:

“Daniel was simply brought up in a Christian environment, indoctrinated by his parents and rationalized everything else from there. That’s the only reason he feels any of the ‘evidence’ is compelling.”

Towards this accusation, I would offer two responses. First, despite my personal history, I am currently an adult who is financially independent of my family, and live among people who are mostly secular. I could choose to become an atheist if I wanted to without severe repercussions. Or at least I could just stop being such a fervent Christian and just stay a nominal one, instead of declaring my faith to the world. I know of several people who grew up in a religious family and chose to formally leave the faith the moment they separated from their parents. Yet I chose not to do that.

Secondly, I am unsurprised and unfazed by a such a dismissive response. Your response to this testimony will also be shaped by your prior belief commitments and how you chose to view the world. For some people, dismissing all religious thought as rationalization is their tool to make sense of what is happening. For others, my testimony is an example of the Holy Spirit guiding me to persevere and grow in the faith. Which viewpoint shall you choose? At this point, I have already made my choice, and it has served me well personally. It’s transformed and shaped me into an indelible part of who and what I am. This is why I continue on this path.

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Thanks very much for this, Daniel. It is a meaty statement, and beautifully written.

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I don’t understand your argument. Could you try to help me understand? Start by explaining why that isn’t a pertinent question.

Do they have a satisfactory answers assuming a theist worldview? What makes answers satisfactory?

Why do a majority of theists disagree with you on that?

How does he work in this world, as far as you can see? How do you see it and distinguish it from him not working in this world, in particular instances?

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To summarize, @John_Harshman asks four questions:

  1. What is the argument for the existence of God based on the PSR?
  2. Is there a satisfactory answer for the problem of consciousness, morality, and order of nature within a theistic worldview?
  3. Why are many theists not Christians?
  4. How does God work in the world, and how do we distinguish instances where He does to those where He does not?

These four questions are very different from each other. To prevent this thread ballooning into an array of different topics, I will refrain from answer 1) and 2) directly, partially because a) I have already debated on these topics before here, and b) They are deeper and more technical questions which deserve threads of their own. Later, I will make sure to revisit them. But I will answer questions 3 and 4 here.

Why isn’t everyone Christian?

The first response is biblical: I affirm that humans are fallen and sinful, so the default expectation is that most people should not be Christian, as humanity is still living in rebellion to God. There is no significance difference between atheist or a non-Christian theist in this respect. Even many professed “Christians” are not truly Christian, but only culturally or nominally so. It is the job of true followers of Christ to keep preaching the gospel into the world and live their lives out in an exemplary way such that more people will see that they are in need of salvation, which can be found by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

The second response I offer to this question is more practical. Having decided that theism is true, how do I know that my positive evaluation of Christianity is correct? I don’t think that my positive evaluation of Christianity is any different from my cognitive decisions in other spheres of life. For example, I believe that the anti-vaccination movement is severely mistaken, based on my simple knowledge of the history and efficacy of vaccines from various sources. I did not feel the need to personally study and comprehensively refute the arguments of anti-vaccination proponents before coming to that conclusion. I did some basic research on the topic and decided that was enough rational evidence for me. The same goes for my beliefs in a spherical Earth, the non-existence of aether, and the evil of racism. We simply have limited time and resources and cannot exhaustively explore every cognitive option out there.

With regards to Christianity vs. Islam vs. Judaism vs. other religions, I believe that I have done enough due diligence as well. I know the basic beliefs of each of these different religions, and found them not as compelling as Christianity. Now, if I had committed to spend 5 years as a Muslim, 5 years as a Jew, 5 years as a Buddhist, and so on, perhaps my evaluation would be fairer and more comprehensive. But besides the limitation of time and resources, I don’t think there is a compelling reason for me to switch religions when sticking to one has been so fruitful. It is like picking someone to marry: at some point, you just have to make a decision. You cannot keep putting it off until you’ve “sampled” every type of man/woman there is. By doing so you also risk diminishing the overall amount of joy and satisfaction you can derive from marriage.

How does God work in the world?

God is the omnipotent, omniscient Ruler and Creator of all. Everything operates according to His will and providence. Therefore, nothing of importance occurs without His approval. Thus, God works in everything, even in seemingly mundane situations. He does allow us free will to sin and make mistakes, but often He can even use those mistakes for something greater and better.

God can work through myself, other Christians, non-believers, or natural events. What I’ve come to realize is that God often works in ways that we don’t expect. The greatest periods of my personal growth have often come from instances where things did not work out in ways that I planned them to. Even becoming a member of this forum was only possible because I happened to meet and talk with Josh in person during the ASA 2018 meeting. (During that day I tried to talk to him but without success. I was about to leave for home but something inside of me decided to stay and seek him out one last time.) If not for that meeting, I might not have become involved in PS at all. Examples like these reflect the basic truth that while we have some limited control over our lives, only God has control over everything. For a Christian, the best solution is to surrender all to God and trust in what Scripture says:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28, ESV

Therefore, the correct question to ask isn’t whether God is working in a particular event, but rather what is God’s purpose for a particular event.

Strategies to Understand God’s Purpose for an Event

One strategy I use to try to do this is to analyze the outcome and effects of the event. Our calling as Christians is to become follow and imitate Christ and to work in advancing God’s kingdom. Did this event lead me (or others) towards that purpose, either immediately or eventually? If not, is there something wrong that I did preventing me from furthering that calling? Notice how as Christians we don’t just try to understand God’s purpose as a mere intellectual curiosity. Rather, the effort to God’s purpose is always made within the context of wanting to grow in faith and fulfill our basic calling better. We don’t constantly put God to the test, but constantly test ourselves instead.

Besides this strategy, another important one is of course to simply pray and ask God for wisdom and understanding on what His purpose for an event is. Understanding God’s purpose and work is part of a lifelong personal relationship with God, not a cold, calculating scientific theory. This is why I don’t expect non-Christians to understand it.

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Thank you for answering two of my four questions, but I find both answers highly unsatisfying, as neither answers the question asked. You explain (to some degree) why you’re a Christian, but I asked why the majority are not, and your only stab at that appears to be “because they’re bad people”. You explain that everything that happens (with limited exceptions for free will) is god working in the world, but I asked how god works and how you can tell, and you don’t make any attempt at either of those. Instead you discuss how to discern god’s purpose in a given event, or not.

Apparently I won’t be able to understand unless first I drink the koolade. Disappointing.

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There’s a difference between not giving an answer to a question and not giving an answer that you agree with.

Let me simplify:

  • The first reason why I think most people are not Christian is because the Gospel hasn’t been adequately preached to them.
  • The second reason is that I think they haven’t properly considered the intellectual strengths of Christianity.

Both of these answers are just guesses, because is it even normal to speculate on why people don’t agree with you? For example, I have no clear answers on why @Agauger supports Intelligent Design arguments while @swamidass does not. Both are educated scientists yet they come to very different conclusions.

I believe that I have answered your question. God works through everything. I have given you clear examples of how I think he has worked in my personal life (the meeting with Josh and getting into PS example).

I have nothing more than fanciful speculation on the technical details of how God does this work. Perhaps He has front-loaded everything at the moment of creation, or perhaps He controls things through some superluminal loopholes in quantum mechanics. This question is interesting but not important to my basic faith in God.

Yep. Given how all-encompassing God’s power is, there is no background-free scientific proof of God working vs. not working. It’s not meant to be viewed in that way. For example, you could respond that my serendipitous meeting with Josh was merely a coincidence from the particular arrangement of neurons in our brains. But that would again be missing the point, because I don’t view scientific explanations as being in conflict with God working through them.

Incidentally, this is also why I think scientific arguments for Intelligent Design fail. I don’t think it’s possible to scientifically prove teleology. There are other philosophical arguments for teleology which are different from ID, but at this point I don’t know if I fully endorse them.

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Quite true. But you did the former. You answered a pair of questions I didn’t ask in preference to the ones I did.

That’s simple enough. Gauger thinks her religion requires her to reject evolution, while Joshua does not. Nothing to do with science. One could of course further ask why she thinks that.

No problem. I wasn’t asking about that. I’m disturbed that a physicist is able to toss around the term “scientific proof” as if it were a real thing. Now, if everything that happens is part of God’s plan, that’s problematic for several reasons. There’s the problem of evil. Beyond that, the problem of senselessness. He carefully designed river blindness and decides who will and will not get it, for example. He decides who wins the Superbowl. A gazillion trivial events, all carefully determined. You look at chaos and see order. But of course that only works if you believe beforehand that you must see order. Disappointing.

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But as far as I remember, Gauger does not claim that she bases her ID on her religion. She is a Catholic, and Catholicism does not require belief in ID. There is no clear explanation for why Gauger, given her education and Catholicism, has any ulterior motive to support ID. Only speculations, and I’m baffled why you think my speculations regarding your question constitute “not answering the question at all.” I also think that speculating too deeply on the ulterior motives of people’s beliefs is impolite and ethically inappropriate. What kind of answer were you hoping for?

You should refrain from cheap shots like this. If you genuinely think I have a defective understanding of “scientific proof”, then say so, and we can talk. Do you seriously think this?

For the record, to those people reading this who are not familiar with my background: I understand the difference between “evidence” and “proof”, and my use of the word “scientific proof” is imprecise (“scientific evidence” would be more appropriate), but I expect my discussion partners to read my words charitably. @John_Harshman is not doing this.

So, first let’s get something clear: I am answering the question, am I not? It is only that you disagree with it, and think that the problem of evil poses a problem to it.

I don’t know what God is accomplishing through many horrible events. I can only say that first, we don’t have anywhere close to a bird’s-eye view of what is going on, and secondly, maybe even God is logically constrained in how much evil he can prevent given the starting assumptions of this world that he has created: some regularities in nature, and some amount of free will for humans to sin.

Thirdly, I think the problem of evil is fundamentally a personal and existential problem, not something that can easily be resolved by intellectual tricks. The more important thing to understand from a Christian viewpoint is that God is not indifferent to our suffering; he actually went to Earth and suffered for us, as seen in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. (This is one of the unique points of Christianity.) One day, all evil and suffering will be righted in the final judgment. There is actually going to be a Day of Reckoning.

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There are varieties of Catholic; it can be different for different people, and Gauger’s personal variety seems to require creationism. It’s clear enough from what she has said in the past.

I was hoping for one that is both compatible with and clarifies what you originally said, and also one compatible with your further statement that everything that happens is part of God’s plan. If you recall, your original claim was that

What you seem to be saying is that non-Christians are willfully rejecting God, but that’s what God wants them to do. True?

No, not really. You don’t say how you can tell that something is God working. I was responding to your answer to a different question.

Your response to the problem of evil goes through the familiar tropes, none of which work unless you have previously drunk the aforementioned Koolade. None of them make rational sense, and the only defense when confronted by rational argument is to claim that rationality is irrelevant to such questions. Would you agree?

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Again, that doesn’t answer the question. I believe Gauger said that she was not always a supporter of ID and was a theistic evolutionist of some sort, but only became so after “considering the evidence.” Did this coincide with a conversion to a form of creationist Catholicism? I doubt it.

You’re in the right ballpark, but not quite. God has given freedom for humans to reject him if they want to. I don’t think he wishes these people to reject him, but that is just a consequence of giving them freedom. For example, a father can choose to give freedom to his son, and that might result in the son making very bad choices, but the father could refrain from intervening because he wants to respect his son’s autonomy.

Yes, if that is what you meant then I cannot answer the question because I disagree with its assumptions. My answer to it is basically, “Because I am a Christian and I believe that God works in all things.”

I disagree with your assessment that they do not make rational sense. Your answer here borders on being non-rational and non-dialogic. You’re simply impugning my personal motives without actually responding to my arguments.

All that I meant to say is that the problem of evil is not one that I have specialized in, because I personally don’t find the topic to be one that I’m interested in at the moment. The solutions that have been offered to the PoEs are satisfying enough for me. Perhaps if I studied them more closely I would change my views, but I haven’t.

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I remember differently. I suppose we would have to read extensively in her past comments, but I further suspect neither of us is interested enough.

But why do so many want to, and why is wanting to so geographically structured? Is being muslim in a muslim country really an expression of free will? You have agreed that god apparently does some things to influence your views. Why isn’t he doing those things to influence all those other people’s views?

This assumes that a Christian must believe that. Do all Christians believe that? Perhaps those who don’t are No True Christians? At any rate, this is in line with my claim that only those who have previously drunk the Koolade will find your claims sensible.

I see. We could discuss the matter, but you clearly are not interested, so I assume we won’t.

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Remember, the point of this exercise is to show that people decide their beliefs for many different reasons (rational, personal, emotional, etc.), and it is usually uncommon to speculate why.

This is a very important question. Why did Jesus come to 1st century Palestine and then charged his disciples to spread the Gospel, instead of instantly broadcasting it to the world via supernatural means? (The current geographical distribution of Christians is a reflection of the historical currents of how the gospel spread.) I don’t have a sure answer. But my observation is that God wants to involve humans in the way He works in this world. This theme is resonant throughout the entire Old and New Testament. Abraham (and later the Israelites, his descendants) is chosen to become a blessing for all. Christians, as the “new Israel”, are called to be a salt and light for the world. If the GA model is right, then Adam & Eve were also originally created to bless the humans already existing outside the Garden.

So we’ve established that this roundabout way of working is consistent with God’s way of working throughout history. But why did God choose to work in that way? I can offer two suggestions of the benefits that come this method of working:

  • By using us fallible humans as his instruments, God sanctifies and builds us up into even better people. Spreading the Gospel is good for us as much as it is good for expanding God’s kingdom.
  • Working through people fulfills the destiny of humans to cultivate relationships both with God and each other. Being a Christian means having good relationships with both. This is why the church is so central to Christianity: nobody can be a Christian alone, not only because of necessity (as man is a social animal and looks to other fellow humans for support and validation, as I mentioned in my original post), but because God has decreed it as such.
  • Perhaps God doesn’t want to disturb the regular operation of the universe that he has established too much. He made creation in such a way that it is meant to work in a more-or-less clockwork manner. The fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption contains supernatural elements, but the bulk of it is through natural means (e.g. Christ was born of a woman, not instantly sent down from heaven, Christ died through natural means of crucifixion, Christians suffer hurt and pain just as all other humans.)

The final question is: how is it fair that because of God’s chosen method of working, many people are born without ever having a chance to respond to the Gospel? My answer is that it is not unfair, because God will judge everyone according to their conscience.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20, NIV

I believe that for those who have not had the chance to hear the Gospel or learned about Christianity, God will judge them according to the natural sense of God and morality that God has already put in their hearts.

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I find that it’s very common. Did you mean to say that it’s useless?

Then why did you instantly change it to quite a different question? (The one below.)

That really isn’t the question.

And, in many cases, of how it de-spread. Most of the Muslims around the Mediterranean are descended from former Christians.

How can one distinguish between God involving humans and humans just doing stuff?

Actually, the GA Model, so far as has been seen yet, is silent on the purpose of Adam & Eve’s creation, as it is silent on just what being their descendant means for a person.

No, we haven’t. God’s way of working (if we consider the bible to be history) involves plentiful and largely public miracles of great magnitude. As I’ve mentioned before, if he can free the Hebrews from Egypt with a dozen or more huge miracles, why can’t (or wouldn’t) he free the Jews from the Nazis with a comparable number? Further, you keep talking about many more direct interventions, such as bringing you and Joshua together and other serendipitous events. Why hasn’t God caused such events where it counts, to convince the infidels?

Ah, so you deny the historicity of the biblical miracles.

Beyond that, why do so many who do have such a chance fail to become Christians?

Isn’t that heresy? “No way to the father but through me”, etc.? And what about all those who do have the chance but still don’t take up the offer? If you can get to heaven without being a Christian, that removes a lot of the impetus.

Missed this first time around. I think anyone who talks about scientific proof has either a defective understanding of science or a problematic vocabulary. Apparently only the latter applies to you.

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You should read my posts more carefully before responding, I think that’s why you’re missing some things and outright misunderstanding me.

First of all, I said that God mostly works through natural means. I never denied that God can perform miracles if He wants to, as seen in the Bible. But given that God is Lord over nature, and nature operates regularly most of the time, even in the Bible, the conclusion must be that God somehow works through nature as well. Otherwise we would have to believe that God didn’t work at all during the intertestamental period, for example (between the OT and NT). You should read your Bible more carefully to see how many times there are huge, public miracles, even in the life of Jesus.

I didn’t say that I think bringing Joshua and me together was a direct intervention. That’s a misrepresentation. I don’t know how God brought together that event, I just know that He did, whether through regular or irregular means.

When humans do non-trivial stuff, they don’t do stuff in isolation. They do stuff within a certain spatio-temporal, socio-cultural and historical context. All of which inevitably have God’s footprints over it. Even seemingly mundane events might turn out to have larger consequences later that we are unaware of. So I’d say it’s impossible to disentangle the two.

Next, I don’t think I’m a heretic to say that people who have never heard of the gospel will be judged through the knowledge of God that they have. Given this knowledge, it is still true that all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). I am not a universalist. Salvation can only be through Jesus and not through one’s own works or other sources (John 14:6). I don’t think it impossible that perhaps God will give people who have not heard the Gospel a chance to respond to it right before they are judged. But that is only speculation, not something I strongly believe. I definitely think your chance of getting saved is much, much lower if you have never heard of the Gospel. And I think people who are truly saved would respond positively to the Gospel if it is offered to them.

I don’t know why there are so many who fail to respond positively to the Gospel. It could be a consequence of free will, but I tend towards the Reformed view so I don’t want to overemphasize that. In the end salvation is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit work in everyone’s hearts? Perhaps it is the case that not all can be saved in order for some to be saved.

I think God has acted like that many times. There are so many conversion stories to Christianity. In fact such stories sound almost banal.

I think you haven’t read the book yet, which fleshes this out more fully. Probably better to wait on this discussion until the time comes.

I don’t understand the question then.

I think you read too much into my vocabulary. The posts I make here are not meant to be over-analyzed. I’m sorry if I used a word wrongly, John. Can you try to be more charitable instead of trying to nitpick even the smallest mistake as evidence of incompetence and irrationality?

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There’s no need to say that you haven’t said something nobody has claimed you have said. Who’s misunderstanding who? I still think the question of why God saved the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery but did nothing whatsoever to save them from the gas chambers is a valid one.

That syllogism just doesn’t work. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.

Not does that. How do you know there are no unrecorded miracles? Anyway, what do you mean by “God works through nature”? Is it the cosmic pool shot? How can you distinguish God working through nature from nature just operating as usual?

What’s the difference? And why does it matter? The point is that (according to you) he did. So why doesn’t he do that, by whatever means, for all those infidels?

In other words, we have no way to distinguish and no way to detect if God is acting or not.

I think you are, and I suspect most Christian denominations would say you are.

That would make God evil, wouldn’t it?

???

No “almost” about it. But “many” is a poor substitute for “a significant percentage” or “most” or “all”, which a God who truly loved everyone ought to be arranging. What’s your idea of hell?

Have you read the book? If so, how?

Apparently. There was nothing in the question about instant worldwide broadcast.

“Proof” happens to be a pet peeve of mine, probably because creationists and other ignorant folks use it so much. Sorry if I overreacted. But you really shouldn’t say things like that.

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You literally accused me of denying the historicity of miracles in the Bible:

Are you trying to deny that you said this to me? Misunderstanding me is something. Lying about what you said is much worse. You are sometimes an aggressive discussion partner, but I haven’t seen you outright lie.

At best, we can say that God is acting specially in a particular situation, for example one which brings about positive spiritual benefits. We cannot say that he is not working in a particular situation. In this case, we can “prove” a positive, but not a negative. And just to be clear, by “prove” I don’t mean indisputable, mathematical proof, but more like “probabilistically infer” or “guess”.

Because of this uncertainty, saying that God is acting in a particular situation isn’t really an empirical claim. It’s more of a reflection of a Christian’s conviction that God is Lord over all and that he has a plan for us. It’s a faith statement that is meaningless to a non-Christian, as a non-Christian doesn’t agree with the assumptions. Why is this so hard for you to understand?

What is the cosmic pool shot?

Yep, I have read one of the later drafts which talks about this topic. Got it from Josh.

At the moment, I’m uninterested in continuing discussion about your other questions. I don’t think I’ve studied enough theology to defend the relationship between God and the authorship of evil in an informed manner. What I have written is what I am willing to say at the moment. Sorry.

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Perhaps we disagree on what “too much” means. It appears that you place much more stress on it than I did when reading. But why should “too much” be “at all” these days, when there used to be much more of it?

That’s called “cherry-picking”. Accept the positives, ignore the negatives. Of course you get a great P value if you do that.

It’s hard for me to understand that a scientist would “reason” in this way. I understand compartmentalization, but not very well. If you want to say that you just believe it because of faith, OK, in which case we can’t argue the point. Basic contradictions in epistemology prevent communication.

God sets up the initial conditions of the universe so that all subsequent events follow naturally. You meet Joshua because of a causal chain baked into the universe from the start.

We seem to have reached a point in everything beyond which you are unwilling to continue.

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Don’t understand what you mean here. I said:

I think my meaning is pretty clear: maybe God wants to limit the amount of intervention he does in the universe. “too much” is an important qualifier, and it certainly does not equal “at all”, as seen in the difference between these two sentences:

I don’t eat too much.
I don’t eat at all.

The fact that you’re still talking about P-values suggests to me that you still view this as an evidential claim, when it was never meant to be anything like that. Think of “God working in the world” more as a basic assumption that forms part of the framework rather than a hypothesis. We assume this general statement to be true by revelation. (You might call this “faith”, but I dislike the connotation of that term when atheists use it. This basic assumption is similar in nature to the naturalistic assumption that “There must be a rational, materialistic explanation for this. Let’s try to find it.”) The question then simply becomes, “OK, I already believe that God works in everything. How can I investigate the specifics of how he does this?”

In that case, then my answer is that I don’t know. I’ve already said this in post #6: that my take on how God works specifically (whether through a set of initial conditions or something more in real-time) is just a series of fanciful speculations at the moment. Haven’t really thought about it deeply enough.

I just mean that serious miracles don’t seem to have happened in the last couple thousand years. Why is his decision to limit intervention so drastically so recent?

You made it sound like one. If it isn’t, then we once again run into a basic conflict in epistemology, and no discussion is possible.

I reject that equivalence.

It appears that you can’t, actually, unless you mean something by “investigate” that has nothing to do with the ordinary meaning, which involves evidence. Again, basic epistemological conflict.

Is there even a way to answer the question? I think not, unless you again rely on faith and/or revelation, and there we are back to that basic epistemological conflict. To me, faith and revelation are not “ways of knowing”; to you, they are. No discussion possible. Of course you adopt two mutually contradictory epistemologies in different compartments of your life.

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Hi, Daniel. I won’t jump in on the discussion with John Harshman, but I do have some observations on the sentence above.

I think that context makes a huge difference. Who presents the Gospel, and how it is presented, make a big difference. For a long time I resisted Christianity (though I had been raised in it, I had informally wandered away from it, as was typical of my generation) at least in part because its representatives were for various reasons odious to me. You know, some barely literate guy on a street corner, waving a pamphlet about The Four Spiritual Laws at you, when you are studying high-level philosophy at university, is not likely to make a good impression. Sensitive, cultured, intellectual people are likely to be turned off by boorish, hard-sell, aggressive people who market faith like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, while leaving doubt about whether they ever graduated from high school.

In my case, what brought me back to thinking that Christianity might be true was my encounter with certain writers and professors who seemed to me of undoubted intelligence, scholarship and integrity, whose thoughts on science, social issues and so on seemed insightful and wise – and who were Christians, to boot. I had for so long, due to the behavior of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, equated “Christian” with “brain-dead” and “uncultured” and “killjoy” – or (thinking now not of evangelicals and fundamentalists but of mainstream denominations) with “boring,” and “insipid” (which described most of the Protestant sermons – and Protestant clergymen – that I was accustomed to), that it came to me as a surprise that there existed people of the highest education and culture, with profound social criticism and keen wit, who were Christian. But I did not meet such people in person until I went away to university – no Christians in my home town were like that. (Or if there were a few, they kept themselves hidden.) Once I met Christian people who were rich, full, humorous, boisterous, world-affirming, multifaceted human beings (as opposed to stiff, moralistic, walking collections of Bible quotations who seemed eager for the world to end), once I met Christian people who loved the intellect and the arts and the great books and the cut and thrust of social and political debate as much as I did, I was able to overcome my distaste for Christians, and actually listen to what they were trying to say.

It’s easy enough to say that the Gospel message should be able to get through, no matter how defective the messager, but human psychology and sociology are such that it doesn’t work that way. The message is judged by the messenger; if the messenger seems odious, the message is likely to be thought of as odious as well.

Of course, I had read enough history to know that not all Christians of the past had been like the pathetic assortment of Christians that I was actually encountering; I knew that there had been in the past great Christian artists, novelists, philosophers, statesman and so on. So there was an opening in my mind for Christianity, if I ever met any Christians like that. But I had to leave home to find any of them, and it was at the university, not in my hometown churches, where I found them. So when Christians ask why so few are accepting the Gospel, they need perhaps to look in the mirror, and ask if they themselves are the best possible ambassadors for the Gospel.

I hasted to add that your own statements above make you an excellent ambassador for the Gospel!

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