Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Response to David on I Corinthians 15:3-8

I’ve read through David’s response to my recent post on I Cor. 15:3-8, but am not quite sure what exactly he was trying to argue against my overall point. For instance, while my post interacted with statements made by Geisler and Turek in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, David, admitting that he has not read the book in question, immediately brought up Gary Habermas’ views:

David:

This is Habermas’ timeline for the events leading up to the Gospels:

David points out that Habermas dates Jesus' crucifixion to "30 AD." But on what basis, if not the stories found in the NT gospels, can Habermas do this? If he bases this dating on what we read in the gospels, then claiming that I Cor. 15:3-8 is too early to be legend simply begs the question against the legend theory (which is what Geisler and Turek were seeking to dismiss in the section of their book that I quoted in my blog). As I pointed out, there's nothing in I Cor. or any of Paul's other letters (that is, in letters that are authentically Pauline) which puts a time or place to Jesus' resurrection. If the stories about Jesus' resurrection that we find in the gospels are legends built on sources like Paul's "testimony," that testimony cannot be validated ("too early to be legend") by appealing to a dating scheme suggested only by the gospels and later documents influenced by them (like Acts). That would be like using a later Harry Potter book to "validate" one earlier in the series.

In my blog I wrote:

Let’s consider some of the statements made here in regard to this highly contested passage.

David responds:

Right off the bat he’s out of sync with scholarship. With regards to authorship, 1 Corinthians is almost universally acknowledged to be authentic Pauline material. Even Bart Ehrman affirms it as one of the “undisputed Pauline epistles” (in addition to Romans, Galatians, Philemon, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians).

It's not clear why David thinks he needed to correct me on this point, as I did not even raise the question of the authorship of I Corinthians. My points in response to Geisler and Turek are compatible with the supposition that I Corinthians was penned by Paul himself.

David continued:

Michael Martin in his Case Against Christianity concludes that Paul is the only eyewitness testimony we have to Christ’s post-resurrection appearances.

David does not quote Martin, but I suppose that he may be referring to the following passage from Martin’s The Case Against Christianity:

According to the Gospel story, there were no eyewitnesses to Jesus’ actual resurrection. Belief in it must be inferred. What are these inferences based on? First, there are the appearances of the resurrected Jesus. Second, there is the empty tomb. Given these two alleged facts one infers that the miraculous occurred sometime before the discovery of the empty tomb and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus. According to the Gospels, there were indeed eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus. However, we have only one contemporary eyewitness account of a postresurrection appearance of Jesus, namely Paul’s. In all the other cases we have at best second- or thirdhand reports of what eyewitnesses claimed to see that were recorded several decades after the Crucifixion. (P. 81, emphasis added)

Here Martin does refer to Paul as a “contemporary eyewitness” to a post-resurrection Jesus. But this is unhelpful in challenging my point. In fact, I already spoke to the matter of Paul claiming to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus when I wrote:

Nothing in the letter itself suggests that the resurrection that Paul speaks of happened any time recently (for all that Paul gives us, his Jesus could have been crucified a century or more earlier, and not necessarily in Palestine for that matter), and only by interpreting Paul’s account by reading elements from the gospel stories into it can it be made into a reference to a recent event.

That Paul claims to have seen or experienced the resurrected Jesus is not very impressive. Christians whom I have personally known in my own lifetime have claimed this. As Wells points out, “People who claim to see a ghost do not necessarily suppose it to be the wraith of someone recently deceased.” (The Jesus Myth, p. 125.)

David continued:

Of course [Martin] doesn’t believe it but he and a majority of historians/philosophers can agree that Paul was sincere in his belief about the Damascus experience. Doesn’t make it true just because Paul believed he saw Jesus.

That’s fine, so far as it goes (though we do not learn of a conversion for Paul on the Damascus road, as we read in the book of Acts, from Paul’s own hand).

I wrote:

The authors tell us that the First Epistle to the Corinthian church “contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself...I can only ask at this point, “authenticated” by what? And what specifically do the authors think is “authenticated” in this passage?

David responded:

Likely if Habermas is the one who said “authenticated” then he’s implying that this material is written by Paul, can be dated pretty accurately and a vast majority of NT scholars agree on the data.

Well, for one thing, it wasn't Habermas I was interacting with, it was Geisler and Turek, which my post makes clear. And the understanding I would get from Geisler and Turek – if I didn’t know any better – is that what Paul states in I Cor. 15:3-8 (the very passage they quoted) is sufficiently corroborated to secure its claims, which is simply not the case (where else, for instance, do we read of the resurrected Jesus appearing to 500 or so people at once?). Paul doesn’t even name 5% of the mass of persons he claims to have experienced an appearance of Jesus. Indeed, so far as authentication or corroboration, I Cor. 15:3-8 couldn’t be weaker.

Also, as I explain in a follow-up comment to an article by Robert Price regarding the question of whether or not I Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation, I specifically stated that I am allowing that the passage in question was written by Paul.

Moreover, the unexplained claim here that I Corinthians "can be dated pretty accurately" is something I'd like to see elaborated on. As for the claim that "a vast majority of NT scholars agree on the data," this is vague and implies probably much greater uniformity on the matter than really exists. Regardless, I have to stand with my own judgment on the matter, not with what an anonymous crowd is said to affirm. If taken broadly enough, even I could sign onto “agreement on the data.” For instance, I agree that I Corinthians is part of the orthodox NT. But I suspect David has something more specific in mind, which he will need to clarify and also back up.

I wrote:

In fact, if the gist of I Cor. 15:3-8 is a creedal formula passed down to him from other believers, it is at best hearsay that he inserts into his letter.

David:

The deal with these early creeds is pretty interesting. There are certain places where Paul’s syntax and word choice go completely out of character (scribe wrote his dictations down in some letters) and become pithy, rhythmic cadences. Scholars claim these to be echoes of what the earliest Christian preaching sounded like.

Do all scholars say this? Or, just some? The word “scholars” is sometimes thrown around with such abandon that it can be used to suggest every authority in the universe agrees with one’s particular position. I would recommend more care in its use.

Also, the existence of uncharacteristically Pauline expressions can also lend itself to the view, very ably argued by Price, that the passage is a later interpolation. But as I point out in my post, if Paul is reciting a creed, then he’s essentially giving us hearsay. Apologists seem to want to have it both ways, but that only saddles them with unintended and problematic consequences. The “earliest testimony” suddenly becomes something that Paul is passing on uncritically, failing to offer any substantiation for what it states.

David:

The gospels weren’t written down right away.

No, they weren’t. In fact, it was decades after the alleged event they seek to portray. Where Paul’s talk of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection supply no time or place to it, decades later we have some authors who do, plenty of time for the Jesus legend to develop and enjoy all kinds of embellishments.

David:

There was a period of oral proclamation during which these creedal statements developed to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. (Philippians 2 contains another one of these pertaining to the early belief in Christ’s deity by the way).

Yes, “developed” is a key point here.

David:

So what we have in 1 Cor 15:3 ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received :’ After the colon we get the creedal statement…. , 4 ;that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…’ The language here is the exact same as the Pharisees used when passing on their traditions to one another…so we have even more reason to think Paul’s about to tell us something from oral tradition.

As I have indicated, my point is compatible with the supposition that portions of I Cor. 15:3-8 are either a creedal formulation that Paul is reciting (which in my view essentially relegates it to hearsay) or a post-Pauline interpolation, as Price holds. However, I could see someone taking the point that David gives here as evidence that Paul, a former Pharisee himself, fashioned his own creedal formulation after a style with which he would have been intimately familiar.

David:

So when did Paul hear this material? The consensus among critics is that Paul received this material around 35 AD. His conversion is dated at roughly 32 AD, with 3 years passing before he visits the apostles (Galatians 1:18), from Peter and James. Scholars on both sides have no quarrels with that.

This is really neither here nor there as it pertains to the point I raise in my blog article. It's granted that Paul had to convert to Christianity at some point in time; whether it was AD 32 or earlier or later, is really not relevant. The question is: Is there anything in Paul's letters which suggest that the Jesus he speaks of was recently resurrected? Recent *appearances* of a post-resurrection Jesus do not signify a recent resurrection event. Again, Christians whom I have personally known have claimed to have seen the post-resurrected Jesus.

David:

Before giving it to Paul, where did Peter and James get it from?

Again, as I point out in my blog, Paul himself tells us that he did not get his gospel from human sources:

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)

So to suppose that Paul got what he’s passing on in I Cor. 15:3-8 from Peter and James tends to go contrary to what Paul himself tells us.

David then pointed to Ludemann, the Jesus Seminar, and other sources for dating the creed which Paul is supposedly reciting in the passage before us. Again, this is irrelevant to my point.

David:

There was never a time when Jesus was preached as anything less than raised from the dead.

Maybe, but maybe not. The Q layer (the “sayings” source) found in both Matthew and Luke, would seem to be evidence against this claim. “Q certainly does not regard [Jesus’] death as redemptive and does not explicitly mention his resurrection” (Wells, op cit., p. 103). Regardless, even if we accept the claim that “there was never a time when Jesus was preached as anything less than raised from the dead,” this would not compel an argument for the veracity of Christian claims. There was never a time when The Wizard of Oz did not include a wicked witch of the East. Does this at all mean that The Wizard of Oz is anything more than fantasy?

David:

All arguments that a resurrection legend popped up later are squashed if scholarship is correct here.

That's quite a sweeping claim. But getting down to the specifics, “later” than what?

David:
What this argument doesn’t do (when presented in isolation) is show the resurrection to be historically true.
Agreed. Whether or not Paul was quoting a creed, whether that creed dates to the early 30s AD, whether there was never a time when Christians preached anything less than a Jesus who was resurrected, none of this compels the conclusion that Jesus really rose from the dead, or that other religious claims of Christianity have any truth to them.

David:

Normally I chide my non-Christian friends for not reading Christian scholarship and vice versa, but in Dawson’s case I wish he would check out ANY scholars on the matter. He apparently thinks he is capable of overturning the work of men who have been developing their approaches for decades...and how many sources did he cite? I counted 1 but maybe I missed a few.

I've read my share of "Christian scholars" on a whole variety of topics, but I must admit that I do not find many to be particularly impressive. Geisler and Turek's book is admittedly aimed more at a popular audience, but it's fair game so far as I see it, and it's typical in regard to how blatantly many Christians beg the question when it comes to how they argue against the legend theory. Indeed, the citations which David has posted in his response do little if anything to speak to the issue that I have raised. Most of it consists of namedropping with no actual quotations anyway. Regardless, how many sources do I need to cite in order to qualify for whatever merit badge David thinks I should have in order to speak on these things?
* * *
In response to eheffa, David wrote:

1 Cor 9:1 has to be explained on other grounds than the story in Acts if one contends that the Damascus experience was not part of Paul's belief. Haven't seen any good theories as to what else he could have meant there.

Here Paul identifies his credentials as an apostle - his claim to have "seen Jesus". There really isn't anything here that's troublesome for my position. Many Christians even today claim to have "seen Jesus," but they make this claim even though they did not see a physical person. I'm reminded of Canon Michael Cole's statement about experiencing Jesus. He recounts, "There was one particular experience when I was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me in the church I was serving, asking whether we would make him Lord of that church... I wouldn’t say anything about that for 24 hours, it was too personal, too close." (See my Carr vs. Cole.) Paul does not distinguish his experience of Jesus from this kind of experience that Cole describes and claims to have had.


David:

We also see Paul’s letters were written for specific purposes and often were more theological than narratival. Its an interesting point, but I’m not sure why I should expect Paul to narrate the gospel.

Why do preachers today constantly cite details from the gospel narratives to make theological points in their sermons? Because they consider the narratives authoritative as vehicles of Jesus' character and teaching. Why, for instance, do preachers constantly incorporate in their sermons and preachings the parables that we find inserted into Jesus' mouth in the gospels? Because they consider them authoritative. As for Paul, I would expect in his letters at least some details about Jesus' life on earth if Paul knew anything about it, because he was determined to "preach Christ crucified" (I Cor. 1:23) and "not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). When was "Christ crucified"? Where was "Christ crucified"? Under what circumstances was "Christ crucified"? Paul's treatment of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection is so open-ended and unspecific that for all we know he could be referring to an event that took place five centuries earlier or in some astral plane.

In fact, Paul does give moral teaching that is later found in the gospels attributed to Jesus, but when Paul gives that teaching, he does not cite the gospel Jesus. Observe Wells on this point:

Paul gives it as his own view (Rom. 13:8-10) that the law can be summed up in the one Old Testament injunction "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." According to Lk. 10:25-8, Jesus himself taught that love of neighbor (together with love of God) ensures salvation; but one could never gather from Paul that Jesus had expressed himself on the matter. In 1 Thess. 4:9 it is not Jesus but God who is said to have taught Christians to love one another. And in the injunction not to repay evil for evil but always to do good to all is given in the same epistle (5:15) without any suggestion that Jesus had taught it (as according to the gospels he did in the Sermon on the Mount). In his letter to Christians at Rome Paul says "bless those that persecute you" (12:14 and 17) and "judge not" (14:13). Surely in such instances he might reasonably be expected to have invoked the authority of Jesus, had he known that Jesus had taught the very same doctrines. (The former doctrine is ascribed to him at Mt. 5:44 and Lk. 6:28, and the latter at Mt. 7:1 and Lk. 6:37.) In the same epistle he urges Christians to "pay taxes" (13:6), but does not suggest that Jesus had given such a ruling (Mk. 12:17). It is much more likely that certain precepts concerning forgiveness and civil obedience were originally were originally urged independently of Jesus, and only later put into his mouth and thereby stamped with supreme authority, than that he gave such rulings and was not credited with having done so by Paul and… by other early Christian writers. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 33.)

There are many things for apologists to wrestle with here, but using the gospels to back-date the earlier epistolary layers is simply too problematic to take seriously.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is I Corinthians 15:3-8 ‘Too Early’ to Be Legend?

Christians hoping to validate their belief in a resurrected Jesus often seem to think that non-believers are somehow going to be impressed by the New Testament passage found in I Corinthians 15:3-8.

In their corny book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Norman Geisler and Frank Turek provide an example of how this passage is used in the defense of Christianity.

But the most significant aspect of this letter is that it contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes down the testimony he received from others and the testimony that was authenticated when Christ appeared to
him:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Cor. 15:3-8, NASB).

Where did Paul get what he “received”? He probably received it from Peter and James when he visited them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18). Why is this important? Because, as Gary Habermas points out, most scholars (even liberals) believe that this testimony was part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself – eighteen months to eight years after, but some say even earlier. There’s no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself. If there was ever a place that a legendary resurrection could not occur it was Jerusalem, because the Jews and the Romans were all too eager to squash Christianity and could have easily done so by parading Jesus’ body around the city.

Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul [sic] himself (“Cephas” is the Aramaic for Peter), and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. Included in those groups was one skeptic, James, and one outright enemy, Paul himself. By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out. (pp. 242-243)

The statements made here are so misleading that it’s amazing that any publishing house would have accepted this book’s manuscript. But lies do sell in this day and age, just as they did 2,000 years ago and before.

Let’s consider some of the statements made here in regard to this highly contested passage.

The authors tell us that the First Epistle to the Corinthian church “contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself.” I’m not so concerned about the “earliest” part here, since it is ultimately irrelevant; even a legend has to have its inception sometime. Rather, it’s this claim, presumably regarding the specific passage cited (I Cor. 15:3-8), that it “contains the... most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself.” I can only ask at this point, “authenticated” by what? And what specifically do the authors think is “authenticated” in this passage? The phrase “testimony of the Resurrection itself” seems to be used quite loosely here, for even the gospel depictions of Jesus’ passion put no witnesses with Jesus when and where he was supposed to be resurrected – that is, in his very tomb!

The authors ask:

Where did Paul get what he “received”?

In answer to this, they say that Paul “probably received it from Peter and James when he visited them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18).”

But Paul himself does not tell us this. For Jesus’ death itself, Paul appeals to “the Scriptures.” Throughout his several letters, Paul relies heavily on Old Testament citations to buttress his points. Also, I find it puzzling that Geisler and Turek would reference the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and not notice what he says just a few verses prior to the one they do cite. Paul makes it explicitly clear that the answer which our authors give us is not the right answer to the question the pose. Observe:

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)

So according to what Paul tells us, he “received” the gospel that he preaches to everyone else directly from Jesus as a revelation. (One wonders why that same Jesus doesn’t reveal himself directly to everyone else as well rather than revealing himself to one person who then goes around telling everyone he meets about it.) Paul himself is telling us that what Geilser and Turek propose is precisely what did not take place.

Apparently having failed to understood this portion of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, or at any rate to factor into their thinking about the question they pose before themselves in regard to I Cor. 15:3-8, our authors find their proposal that Paul “received” what he states in that passage important because they want to see it as “part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself – eighteen months to eight years after, but some say even earlier.”

What I find curious at this point is how oblivious the authors seem to be of the quagmire they’ve gotten themselves into at this point. For one, they are clearly relying on the content of later writings – the gospels – to supply them with the dating they assume for the events that Paul mentions in this passage. Nothing in the letter itself suggests that the resurrection that Paul speaks of happened any time recently (for all that Paul gives us, his Jesus could have been crucified a century or more earlier, and not necessarily in Palestine for that matter), and only by interpreting Paul’s account by reading elements from the gospel stories into it can it be made into a reference to a recent event. The erroneous nature of this assumption and its significance to my broader point will be brought out more clearly below. For the present, I’d like to focus on another problem that Geisler and Turek bring upon themselves. For if I Cor. 15:3-8 is part of an early creed which Paul has simply imported and woven into his letter, then obviously he is not recounting firsthand knowledge. In fact, if the gist of I Cor. 15:3-8 is a creedal formula passed down to him from other believers, it is at best hearsay that he inserts into his letter.

As if that weren’t bad enough, notice the overtly question-begging nature of the following statement:

There’s no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.

It always strikes me as rather perverse when apologists tell us that it's impossible for a story to have legendary content while expecting us to believe in supernatural beings, resurrection of the dead, miracles, etc. But here Geisler and Turek insist that the testimony we find in I Cor. 15 could not contain any legend. To make this kind of claim, the authors must assume the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus, which are the only documents in the New Testament which place Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in a historical context. The authors are, in effect, using later documents to inform and corroborate earlier documents. Nothing in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, let alone the passage in question, place Jesus’ death and resurrection in any historical setting or even remotely suggest a date to the event in question. So given what Paul states in I Cor. 15:3-8, there’s nothing there which tells us that his account of the resurrection is “early” or that “it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.” If the aim is to validate the resurrection story of the New Testament as authentically historical, Geisler and Turek simply beg the question by claiming that Paul’s own statements about it could not contain elements of legend because it is too close in time to the event in question. If the event in question is in fact legendary, and Paul’s own account of that event provide no indication of time or place or setting, then the accounts we find in the gospels, the earliest of which being written a decade or more after Paul’s letter campaign, would simply be embellishments of the legend itself. If Paul were passing on a legend that he had learned (and maybe even helped embellish himself), what would keep later writers from adding to and elaborating that legend? And if the later writings – namely the gospels – are themselves legends, then using them to date an event which is itself legendary, simply immerses apologists deeper and deeper into the fake environment of their imagination. Having to rely on one legendary work to validate another legendary work can only mean that the alleged historicity of Christ will evaporate under examination.

But the question-begging doesn’t stop there. Geisler and Turek continue:

If there was ever a place that a legendary resurrection could not occur it was Jerusalem, because the Jews and the Romans were all too eager to squash Christianity and could have easily done so by parading Jesus’ body around the city.

But if the Jesus story were a legend in the first place – the very premise which our authors are trying to defeat, then appealing to what might have happened or could have happened to Jesus’ body simply begs the question, for it assumes precisely what they are called to prove: namely that the story we have of Jesus in the New Testament is not legend. If the story about Jesus is merely a legend, then there was no body to crucify and seal in a tomb or parade through the streets of Jerusalem.

As if this could be helpful to us today, Geisler and Turek fall back on the typical defense that anyone questioning Paul could have followed up on the claims he makes in I Cor. 15:3-8:

Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul [sic] himself (“Cephas” is the Aramaic for Peter), and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. Included in those groups was one skeptic, James, and one outright enemy, Paul himself. By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out.

First of all, Paul does not name fourteen eyewitnesses. In fact, the details he provides are far less substantial. In I Cor. 15:3-8, Paul only names two other people: Cephas and James. He refers to “the twelve,” which is nowhere explained in any of Paul’s letters, and to “all the apostles.” It is not even clear from what Paul gives us here that either Cephas or James were members of either group. Christians typically suppose that the Cephas Paul mentions in this passage corresponds to the Peter of the gospels (perhaps we’re expected to accept that only one person in the entire first century bore the name Cephas). Of course, I would suspect that at least some of Paul’s readers would have wondered whom he meant by “the twelve” and who were “the apostles” he mentions. Apologists typically respond to these kinds of questions by alleging that Paul’s audiences would have known whom he had in mind with such expressions, because this would have been included in his on-site missionary work when he visited the churches he later addressed in letters. There’s a persistent and annoying perhapsical nature to all this, and puts a great burden on the memories of those whom Paul personally missionized, persons who may or may not have been the recipients of Paul’s letters, which – like I Corinthians – was addressed to the church as a whole, not to a specific individual. The question naturally arises: what exactly did Paul teach the congregations he visited on his missionizing journeys, and how can we know what he taught? If his letters are an indication of what he taught, what do they tell us about “the twelve” and “the apostles”? I Cor. 15:3-8 is the only passage in all of Paul’s letters where he makes reference to this mysterious “twelve,” and even here it is not even clear that “the twelve” and “the apostles” he references in the same passage are the same group. He certainly does not name them in his letter, and one can only speculate that he named them when he visited the church addressed by the letter. Moreover, if Paul is just repeating a creed here, as Geisler and Turek seem to think, then it’s quite possible that even Paul himself did not know the names of those who constituted “the twelve.”

Even when I was a believer, Paul’s reference to “the twelve” here bothered me. Doherty sums up the problem succinctly when he writes:

One could ask why Paul does not use the term “the Twelve” anywhere else in his letters, despite often talking about the Jerusalem apostles. In fact, one would be hard pressed to understand what it refers to simply by this sole reference in I Corinthians 15:5. One might also be forgiven for thinking that, as Paul expresses it, “the Twelve” doesn’t even include Peter. And more than one commentator has fussed over the fact that this really ought to be an appearance to “the Eleven,” since the gap left by Judas’ departure had not yet been filled, according to Acts. (Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”, p. 193.)

So indeed a list of the names who made up the membership of “the twelve” would be quite informative here, but Paul does not provide this. Simply assuming that his 1st century readers would have known what Paul meant strikes me as hasty, and even if it is not unjustifiable, it is certainly of no help to us today, and only raises further questions about what Paul might have taught on his missionary journeys. For instance, did Paul teach that Jesus was born of a virgin? His letters nowhere make reference to this feature which is not introduced until we get to the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which are the only two New Testament documents which mention it. Did Paul teach that Jesus assembled the disciples, or “apostles” which he mentions in I Cor. 15, during missionary work of his own? Paul’s letters nowhere indicate this. Did Paul teach his congregations that Jesus performed miracles during an incarnate visit to earth? Nowhere do any of Paul’s letters suggest this. Did Paul teach that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot? Again, one would never learn about this gospel feature from anything Paul wrote.

Regardless, how would any of Paul’s readers be able to investigate any of the things he mentions in I Cor. 15:3-8? He does not identify a place, so any reader would not be able to gather from what Paul writes in his letter where he should begin such an investigation. Where would a Corinthian go to seek confirmation on Paul’s claims with “the twelve”? And would he be encouraged to do so? And what of the anonymous 500 brethren? We’re not given one name here, let alone a time, place or setting. So the defense that Paul’s congregants could have at any time gone out and checked out his claims is dubious. And our authors’ suggestion that “Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out,” borderlines the ludicrous. If Paul really wanted his readers to check up on his claims, he should have done much more than make the passing references that he gives us in I Cor. 15:3-8.

To make matters even more problematic, Paul gives no details on what any of the people he mentions may have actually seen or witnessed. Did they see a resurrected man? How would they know that the man they saw was once dead? Did they have a waking fantasy, as believers today have when they’re in worship? Believers today often refer to themselves as “witnesses” of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and yet they can do this even though they weren’t even alive back in the 1st century. If the word “witness” enjoys a very loose meaning for many of today’s Christians (and it very often does), why suppose it didn’t enjoy similar flexibility among the early Christians? Christians today are constantly exclaiming how Jesus is present with them, standing right beside them and encouraging them, giving them “strength” so that they can overcome the adversity of hardship, trials and tribulations, afflictions and persecutions. They obviously do not have a physical person in mind when they make these kinds of declarations, so why suppose the early Christians were speaking about a physical Jesus when they claimed to have “witnessed” him?

If 500 or so believers saw Jesus in the flesh (an interpretation which Paul’s words do not require), who were they, and where is their testimony? It seems that, if so many people had more than merely a subjective experience of an imaginary Jesus – as today’s believers frequently have in the ecstasy of church worship, we’d have more contributors to the documentary evidence than what we find in the New Testament. If I had seen a man who was actually resurrected from the grave, whom I thought was “the Son of God,” I would waste no time in writing down exactly what I had seen, where I had seen it and when I had seen it. If I knew of others who had the same experience, I would not hesitate to get their testimony down in writing, or at least to have them endorse such statements of witness. But that’s me.

Apologists can be expected to make the most of Paul’s mention that most of the 500 brethren who saw something are still alive. But it is important not to read more into Paul’s words than what they actually say. Apologists typically assume that Paul’s words confirm that Jesus’ death and resurrection were recent. Instead, however, Paul’s own treatment here has the effect of “stamping [Jesus’] appearances as recent, but not the death, burial, and prompt resurrection..., which he merely says occurred ‘in accordance with the scriptures’.” (Wells, Can We Trust the New Testament? Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony, p. 7, emphasis added.) As I pointed out above, there is nothing in Paul’s letter which lends itself to dating Jesus’ death and resurrection in the recent past. Consequently, to claim that I Cor. 15:3-8 is “too early” to be legend, requires one to assume the truth of the basic portrait of Jesus found in the gospels, which simply begs the question at issue.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

[SIC]

I recently found the following unsolicited e-mail from a Christian in my inbox:

Your talk is nonsense

Instead of using your time for this nonsense. Why don't you just repent of your ignorance And start asking God to forgive you. Oh but I remember you said you don't believe in God. So, then tell me who do you believe in? In your self, stone, wood, air, moon, sun or what. You think you're good enough to be god. Give a Good reason that I would believe. Yea. Cause you Don't have one.

I'll give a good reason to believe in God. Remember this for the rest of your life and you can share it As well. Jesus is the Only Lord and Savior. If you believe You will be saved from going into the lake of fire.

Remember this very specific thing that I'm going to say. God is God and not your puppet. He will do as He will. If you can make God do what you want then He is not God anymore.

Mr. Dawson you can keep on waiting for that demonstration of power But you are never going to get it. For the intention of your heart is not good. Your discussion is evil nonsense talk which have no meaning.

I just want to ask you something. Do you know who Lucifer is? Mr. Dawson have you had a bad life? What pushes you to believe what you believe? What proofs do you have for what you believe? We live in a world that has laws. We are obligated to follows these laws. If we break any one of these laws we have face a judge and he will judge us According to the offense committed. That's a proof that bad and good exists. Just like there is rules and regulations to follow here on the world there is devine rules and regulations. You will have to face the heavenly Judge for not believing in His Son Jesus Christ. What excuse are going to tell him? That you didn't know that he exist because He didn't demonstrated his power of moving a mountain. That you spent your

Time arguing against him and wasn't evidence to believe in him. I'm sorry If I didn't use the correct words but I feel disappointed and sad at same time when I See what they write about God. All God wants to do is love us.

ALL,

If you can’t see it, this has [SIC] written all over it. That is, its author suffers from acute Self-Inflicted Christianity. I found it so entertaining, that I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to examine it. So let’s do some lighthearted atheology, shall we?

Clearly this guy (I’ll assume it is a man, but this may be wrong for all I know) is really out there. As a pastor I once knew would say, he’s “sold out for Jesus.” I suppose so. It’s interesting to note that he asks why I don’t “just repent of [my] ignorance,” while Christians are always telling us that Romans 1 indicates that we do not have this “excuse” (see vs. 20). He asks why I don’t “start asking God to forgive [me],” only then to acknowledge the fact that I have no god-belief to begin with. I don’t ask things that do not exist to “forgive” me of things I haven’t done wrong to them. Indeed, how do you wrong something that doesn’t exist?

He then asks “who do you believe in?” What part of the concepts “atheist” and “non-believer” does this person not understand? If he is interested in knowing what I affirm to be true, he is welcome to start reading my blog. He could start with A Succinct Summary of My Worldview. He can also familiarize with what I hold to be true by examining some of the many articles I have published on my website Katholon.

As possible answers to his own question, he suggests my “self, stone, wood, air, moon, sun or what.” Notice that, with the possible exception of the unspecified and open-ended “what” at the tail end of his list, each of the things he mentions actually exists. I exist (which means: my self exists), stones exist (there are some in my backyard right now), wood exists (there’s wood all over in my house, both in the frame and in most of the furniture), air exists (I breathe it all day long), the moon exists (I’ve always loved looking up at it), and the sun exists (it helps my basil plants grow). So why wouldn’t I recognize that these things exist? Is this Christian upset because I acknowledge things that do exist, and don’t put faith in things that do not exist? Is his complaint really an expression of some kind of worldview jealousy?

He says that he will “give a good reason to believe in God,” and proceeds to tell me that “If [I] believe, [I] will be saved from going into the lake of fire.” I guess this fellow doesn’t see that he simply multiplies his own burdens here, for at this point, not only does he need to demonstrate that his god exists, he also needs to demonstrate that a “lake of fire” also exists. His “just believe” rendition of Christian apologetics is remarkably indistinguishable from the “just pretend” indulgences of a child. That itself is not remarkable, though; it is all too commonplace among adherents of Christianity, from the occasional pew-warmer to the most dedicated church pastor, to the studious apologete who’s gung ho for his god. Believers are so absorbed in the fake environment of their shared fiction, that they suppose everyone else is just as prone as they are to believing in analogous fantasies. Their approach is to substantiate one bit of fiction by appealing to another bit of fiction. The more sophisticated apologists at least make some attempt to conceal this, but it’s there all the same.

He goes on to admonish me with severe words:

Remember this very specific thing that I'm going to say.
God is God and not your puppet. He will do as He will.
If you can make God do what you want then He is not God anymore.

I see. Well, I guess I won’t try to make the Christian god do what I want it to do anymore. The Christian god is not my puppet (glad that’s settled!). But according to Christianity, I’m its puppet, since “the potter is sovereign over the clay in both control and authority” (John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 178; cf. Romans 9:20-21). After all, on the Christian view, I’m nothing more than a lump of clay in its god’s hands (even though it doesn’t have any hands – it has no body!), and what I am and what I do have already been pre-determined since before the foundations of the world (cf. Rev. 17:8).

But don’t be surprised to find below that there’s apparently something I can do to keep the Christian god from doing something it might otherwise want to do.

He then writes, referring to the “power” of his god:

Mr. Dawson you can keep on waiting for that demonstration of power But you are never going to get it.

And this is supposed to be news? Of course there won’t be a demonstration of his god’s power. If his god is merely imaginary, it doesn’t have any power to demonstrate in the first place. I already know this won’t happen, that’s why I’m not “waiting” for it to happen.

What’s interesting is his reasoning for why his god won’t demonstrate its power. He writes:

For the intention of your heart is not good.

So where above he exclaimed that his god is not my puppet, that “He will do as He will,” now he’s saying that there’s something that I’m doing that prevents his god from demonstrating the power it allegedly possesses. My intentions are sufficient to determine what his god will or will not do. The Christian god spooks easily, you see, and runs off to hide in the shadows at the first hint of non-belief. Non-belief is like a light switch: just turn it on, and watch the cockroaches scurry away.

Clearly theists need to make up their mind. If their god exists and does what it chooses to do, then don’t blame non-believers when its chronic absenteeism becomes more and more conspicuous with each passing moment. So often with religious apologetics, we find that action figures are always sold separately. A demonstration of the supernatural is always confined to the pages of some storybook, and take place only in the imagination of the reader.

Then my Christian correspondent blurts out:

Your discussion is evil nonsense talk which have no meaning. [SIC]

My “discussion is evil nonsense talk”? How is it “evil”? What harm have I caused? How has anything I’ve written caused the destruction of values? Or, is it simply because I challenge the alleged truth of religious claims, and for this reason he condemns it as “evil”? Notice that he nowhere interacts with any of my arguments. He just dismisses them flippantly, as I would expect.

Then I was subjected to a most grueling interrogation:

I just want to ask you something. Do you know who Lucifer is?

Yes. Lucifer is the name of a character in the cartoon universe of Christianity. Lucifer is supposed to be the embodiment of evil itself, according to the Christian worldview, though I don’t think it is as evil as the god that Christians worship. After all, that god is said to have created Lucifer in the first place, and could have acted against Lucifer long ago if it wanted to. In fact, were I a believer (and I can attest to this, because I’ve been there before), how would I be able to determine whether things like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean of 2004 were caused by the god of the bible, or by Lucifer? Not that it would make much difference to the victims of such tragedies, but as a believer it would be difficult to know which invisible magic being is responsible for which calamity. This is the domain of faith: imagine one way or another, and hope for the best.

Mr. Dawson have you had a bad life?

Actually no, I can't say I have. I’ve had a very good life, save for a brief portion when I wandered far too deeply into mysticism than I should have. And even then, I still made the best of it. (Look what I’ve learned!) But I finally made the decision to be honest, and I cured myself of Self-Inflicted Christianity. Any believer can do this. But other than that, my life has been wonderful, and it gets better everyday. Would believers prefer that I be miserable? Probably. It’s stubbornly difficult to convert an atheist who’s happy. And encountering such a person, stable as he is in his ways, causes ample resentment in believers.

What pushes you to believe what you believe?

“Pushes”? I don’t think anything “pushes” me to do anything. I choose to think and to be honest, and my devotion to rational philosophy naturally follows. Nothing forces me to be who I have chosen to become. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else than who I am, quite frankly.

What proofs do you have for what you believe?

Proofs which solidly support what I believe, of course.

We live in a world that has laws. We are obligated to follows these laws. If we break any one of these laws we have face a judge and he will judge us According to the offense committed.

I’m ready to face any judge. So long as he is a rational judge, I have nothing to worry about. Where Christianity teaches "judge not, lest ye be judged" (Mt. 7:1), I go by a radically different dictum: Judge, and be prepared to be judged. That’s one reason why I realized that I never needed Christianity. Christianity is for those who are afraid of judges and justice. I don’t fit that category. Not by a long shot.

That's a proof that bad and good exists.

Oh, there are better proofs than this. Have you ever stubbed your toe, cut your finger, or broken a bone? A rational understanding of good and bad has its ultimate basis in our nature as biological organisms. Christianity attempts to use this truth in its tactics to get people to fear hellfire, but philosophically it misses the point completely. It is because we face the fundamental alternative of life versus death that we need values, and a means of identifying them and the courses of action proper to achieving them. Good and bad have nothing to do with the whims of an invisible magic being that does not face such an alternative. An immortal, indestructible and eternal being would at best be indifferent to whatever may be happening around it. It surely would have no vested interest in exercising control over things.

Just like there is rules and regulations to follow here on the world there is devine [sic] rules and regulations.

I think he means biblical “rules and regulations,” such as “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Ex. 34:26), or “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.” (Eph. 6:9).

Don’t worry, I can assure you that I haven’t transgressed any of these. I’ve never seethed a kid in his mother’s milk, and I’ve never owned a slave to begin with, let alone mistreat him/her in some way.

You will have to face the heavenly Judge for not believing in His Son Jesus Christ.

It seems that believers are the ones who are judging – and condemning – others for not believing in the Jesus of the gospels. Regardless, that’s fine with me – they can condemn me all they want. In reality, they’re condemning me for being a spoilsport in regard to their fantasy. And if the Christian god is so warped as to consider it “evil” that one does not “believe in” one individual who may or may not have actually lived in first century Palestine, it is one small-minded god indeed! I could not, in good conscience, worship such a brutish thug anyway.

What excuse are going to tell him?

Excuse? No, I’m not the one who needs any excuse. The proper question is: what excuse is your god going to give me? His apologists are always trying to come up with an excuse for their god. That’s why they spend so much time developing their theodicies – a "justification" of their god. They wouldn’t devote so much energy to this task if they didn’t think their god needed an excuse for the choices and actions they attribute to it. What is its excuse for allowing the Hitlers, Stalins, Mao Tse Tungs, Pol Pots, Saddam Husseins, the Jim Joneses, the Marshall Applewhites, the terrorists of 9/11, the Harrises and Klebolds, the Cho Seung Huis, and the Jeffrey Dahmers of human history to execute their murderous rampages? This is an issue of moral character. If you had the choice to allow or prevent Adolf Hitler coming to power in Germany in 1933, or Jeffrey Dahmer killing his first victim, what would you do?

Now I don’t have the power to prevent the Adolf Hitlers, the Saddam Husseins, the Jim Joneses, etc. from acting on their destructive choices. But if I did have such power, do you think I’d just stand idly by and watch them wage their massacres? I’m not the one with the power to intervene on these things, so I’m not the one who needs to find some excuse for failing to do so. But if I did have that kind of power, do you think I’d allow these injustices to take place, at the expense of the lives of people just trying to live and enjoy their lives, raise their families, and chase their dreams, and then try to pass those injustices off as serving some “higher purpose”? If you do think this, you've got me confused with the god you worship.

The problem of evil is ultimately a character test for the individual attempting to engage it. Christians routinely fail this test, and they do so openly, so that we know what kind of people they are. Greg Bahnsen, for instance, shows us his true colors when he offers as a Christian solution to the problem of evil the premise that his god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Always Ready, p. 172). This tells us about Greg Bahnsen more than anything else. It tells us what he thinks about morality. On this view, evil is morally justifiable. His proposed solution to the problem of evil brings this out explicitly: Greg Bahnsen’s view of morality sanctions evil means in the pursuit of desired ends. So thought Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Saddam Hussein, Tim McVeigh, and a whole list of humanity’s villains. What else do we need to know about Greg Bahnsen at this point? Here we have the mystic of spirit enabling the mystic of muscle, just as Ayn Rand described in her novel Atlas Shrugged.

Now many human beings have taken and will continue to take action against the Adolf Hitlers and Jeffrey Dahmers, and in so doing they often put everything they have, including their very lives, at dire risk. They stand to lose it all. The Christian god, being immortal, indestructible and eternal, has nothing to risk, nothing to lose, and yet even its own self-appointed spokespersons acknowledge that it “allows” these tyrants to carry out their intentions, and they try to come up with ways of excusing this moral default. In fact, since they claim to worship this being, and call it perfectly righteous, they must be proud of its choice to sanction evil and allow it to reign over the world. That's what they think, isn't it, that evil reigns over the world their god created? Now of course, their god would stand to lose nothing if it had decided to put a capper on evil men long ago; then again, it stands to gain nothing by doing so, too. Values have nothing to do with its choices and actions. Indeed, its spokesmen would not even allow that its permissiveness of evil be characterized as moral default, even though they would hasten to condemn any human being, who hasn’t anything analogous to the power religionists claim on behalf of their god, for failing to act against evil when he has the opportunity to do so. And yet, on the Christian view, such passivity would simply be an expression of obedience to the will of the ruling consciousness, for we read in Mt. 5:39 that Jesus said “I say unto you, That ye resist not evil.” According to “the good book,” Jesus doesn’t want people resisting evil. Jesus must prefer that evil steamroll its way through our lives without impediment.

My Christian correspondent then tried to answer for me as he guessed what kind of “excuse” (for precisely what, is unclear) I might try to come up with:

That you didn't know that he exist [SIC] because He didn't demonstrated [SIC] his power of moving a mountain.

Well, if this were my reason (or “excuse” [sic]) for not buying Christian BS, what is so wrong about it? According to the New Testament, Jesus went around 1st century Palestine demonstrating his power to its inhabitants all over the place. Are stories of these performances, indistinguishable as they are from modern-day fictions in their essence and content, intended as substitutes for similar demonstrations before us today? If so, then I’ve got a bridge for sell.

He makes another guess:

That you spent your Time arguing against him and wasn't [SIC] evidence to believe in him.

I’m not arguing against “God.” Rather, I simply put the claims and defenses that theists give for their faith-based worldview under the magnifying glass, to see what I might find. If theists really believed that their apologetic cases were as airtight as they posture them to be, this shouldn’t bother them. But it really seems to get their gaggles up, doesn't it? What’s noteworthy is how deafening Christian silence in response to my arguments really is. As I pointed out above, this Christian nowhere attempts to challenge any of the arguments I’ve posted on my blog or my website.

I'm sorry If I didn't use the correct words but I feel disappointed and sad at same time when I See [SIC] what they write about God.

With this statement, he makes it sound like his objections essentially stem from the fact that his feelings have been hurt. Well, I have no intention of hurting people’s feelings. There there now.

All God wants to do is love us.

We’ve seen how much the Christian god loved its own son. Look what your god allowed to happen to its own son. I can’t put it better than one Christian did:

He allowed His own Son to be tortured, mocked, spit upon and beaten beyond recognition, then crucified on the cross to die for your sin, my sin and the sins of all mankind.

So the Christian god loved people like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jim Jones, and Jeffrey Dahmer, so much that it allowed its own beloved son to be slaughtered by a bunch of primitives who, like clay in a potter’s hands, were just doing what they were predestined to do all along. If that’s how it treats its beloved, I wouldn’t want to become one. On this note, if you read between the lines of the benign, attractive persona that the bible puts forward as its face to the world, John 3:16 really reads like this:

For God so loved Tim McVeigh, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.

After all, according to the gospels, Jesus allegedly said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mk. 2:17; cf. Mt. 9:13, Lk. 5:32). So the Christian god’s deliberate allowance of its son’s destruction at the hands of the Romans was for people like Tim McVeigh, so that they could have the opportunity to “repent” and be reconciled to that same god. You see, this god wants a relationship with people like Tim McVeigh; it wants Tim McVeigh’s adoration, devotion, worship. It wants to call Tim McVeigh “son.” It manifests its glory by suspending justice in order to justify the unjust.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Before the Beginning: The Problem of Divine Lonesomeness



In the Beginning: A Question

A visitor to my blog named Glenn left a comment on my blog Stolen Concepts and Intellectual Parasitism, asking:

You appear to assume that there would be something illegitimate in a believer thinking that God was both subject and object, and that his being an object is logically prior to his being a subject, but that both are eternal… You may have a reason for making this assumption, but that reason does not appear to have been spelt out. Would you care to elaborate? Thanks.

Glenn's question has to do with what I call the problem of divine lonesomeness, a problem which we encounter as we probe the deeper implications of the claim that a supernatural conscious being created everything distinct from itself, including but not limited to the universe in which we live. The problem is most closely associated with various strains of creation-theism, most notably Christianity, whose doctrinal assertions about a “beginning” (cf. Gen. 1) lead to dubious implications about the creator-deity before that alleged “beginning.” In its most basic form, the problem of divine lonesomeness highlights an irresolvable predicament crippling the creator-deity before it could have any opportunity to create anything distinct from itself.

Creation-theism typically entails the affirmation of the existence of a deity which is supposed to be conscious, which created everything distinct from itself by means of conscious activity. As one brief summary on what Christians believe, we find a fairly common expression of the nature of theistic creation:

God is Creator of everything, this vast universe. All was created by His Word. He spoke it into being. It is written: (Genesis 1:3) And God said... and it was so. His Word is powerful.

Similarly, James MacDonald, a popular Christian radio sermonizer, recently exclaimed:

Let me say: I do not believe in evolution. I do not believe in so-called theistic evolution. I believe that the second person of the trinity stood in a spaceless, ageless, timeless chasm of nothing in eternity past and he SPOKE. Hebrews 11:3 says "And the worlds were formed." That's Jesus Christ the Lord. In Colossians [applause] In Colossians chapter 1 says [sic], "He is unique, He is the creator" - and notice this - "He is the goal. For by him all things were created, invisible, in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities... ("Bending My Knee (Part 2)," Walk in the Word, Friday July 11, 2008)

How a person can stand “in a spaceless, ageless, timeless chasm of nothing” is not explained, but Christians assure us this really happened. Now while some Christians may suppose that the universe is not the only thing that their god created (MacDonald himself went on to speak of “levels of angels and demons,” and it’s never really clear whether these are supposed to be part of the universe, or something apart from it), that there are things that exist outside the universe – “supernatural” things that are not “bound” to the laws and constraints of the universe – and that these things were also created by their god, this minor detail would be essentially irrelevant to the issue at hand. For by affirming that all existents distinct from their god, whether it’s just the universe, or the universe and some other set of creations, were created by their god, believers necessarily imply that there was a time or state prior to or preceding any act of creation on their god’s part when their god existed all by its lonesome. Accordingly, before it created anything distinct from itself, the creator-deity was all that existed.


A Two-Fold Problem

So the problem of divine lonesomeness involves the question of how one can legitimately posit the existence of a conscious being when there's nothing else in existence for it to be conscious of. The problem is further exacerbated by the stipulation that said conscious being is incorporeal, or bodiless, as is supposed to be the case with the immaterial deity of Christianity. The problem as it arises for Christianity, then, is really two-fold: not only (a) do the implications of the description which Christians give of their god suggest that it could have no object to be conscious of prior to creating anything distinct from itself, but also (b) that description also indicates that it would have no means by which it could be conscious of anything. Thus both aspects of the subject-object relationship are fundamentally undermined, which means the believer commits the fallacy of the stolen concept when he points to a conscious being as the creator of the universe. As described, the Christian god in its pre-creative state at best resembles a non-conscious non-entity stranded in an utterly lonesome void. Unfortunately for Christians, even if one could propose a plausible solution to the first aspect of the problem of divine lonesomeness (which would have to consist of identifying what could legitimately serve as an object of divine consciousness prior to creating anything distinct from itself), the second aspect of the problem of divine lonesomeness would still remain.

With these prefatory remarks in view, I find it necessary to ask in response to Glenn's question, a question of my own:

If the believer claims that his god is the object of his own consciousness in the context discussed (i.e., prior to creating anything distinct from itself, where said god is supposed to have created everything that is distinct from itself), how is this any different than affirming the existence of a consciousness conscious only of itself?

Rand points out the relevant fact that

A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. (Atlas Shrugged)

So the question for the theist affirming the existence of a creator-deity and consequently implying the scenario described above, would at minimum have to identify what his god could have been conscious of prior to creating anything distinct from itself, as well as the means by which it is supposedly conscious of it. Traditionally theism, in the west at any rate, describes its god in terms of consciousness: it is “personal,” it is aware, it knows, it speaks, it remembers, it makes decisions, it judges, it has emotions (anger, for instance), it has desires (a will, for instance), it plans, it watches, etc. All these functions entail a consciousness very much like we know it as human beings (indeed, many thinkers, including Rand as well, have pointed out that God is essentially a selective projection of attributes of human consciousness; for instance, see here). As we probe deeper into this matter, it appears more and more that a starting point of utter subjectivism seems unavoidable here for our lonesome deity, and by extension for the believer’s worldview.

Now obviously a human being or other biological organism in the same kind of lonesome situation (if such could exist) would not necessarily have this problem. If for instance I were the only thing existing the universe, I could, at least theoretically, be conscious of myself, for consciousness is only one of my attributes. I’m not a disembodied or bodiless consciousness, like an immaterial deity is apparently supposed to be. I could be aware of my hand, for instance, or my foot, or my belly, each of which is a part of my self. (Of course, I wouldn’t be conscious of these things very long if I suddenly found myself existing all by my lonesome; without air, food, water, warmth, etc., I wouldn’t be alive for a brief moment and then I’d die, and then all that would exist would be my dead body.) Also, as a biological organism, I have the physical provisions necessary for being conscious of these various parts of myself, namely sensory organs and receptors, a nervous system and a cerebral cortex to which sensory signals are delivered, etc. For instance, I have functioning eyes, and therefore I can see. By seeing things, I have awareness of them. If I didn’t have eyes, or if I had eyes that didn’t work, I wouldn’t be able to see anything, and thus I’d not have awareness of objects in visual form. The same with my other senses. If we eliminate all our senses, by what means could we have awareness of anything? By no means? How is this a viable answer?

Now the theist might come back and say that his god has attributes other than only its consciousness, attributes that are distinct from its consciousness, and these other attributes would provide themselves as the objects of its consciousness in its lonesome state. This is a common rejoinder to the problem of lonesomeness. But what are these other alleged attributes that are distinct from its consciousness? Most typically, the theist will say that his god is aware of its own being. But what does that mean? This is certainly not sufficient to undo the implications already present in theistic descriptions suggesting that their god is a pure consciousness, without a body (“incorporeal”), without anything specific to point to as an attribute existing independently of its consciousness (such as body parts in the case of biological organisms). In fact, such a reply seems to be an attempt to cover the probable fact that the theist himself doesn’t really get the point of the problem of lonesomeness and offers a last-ditch effort to put up a smokescreen by retreating into the utterly vague.


The Case of Patrick Toner

Patrick Toner, of Wake Forest University, takes a similar, slightly more developed approach in his defense against the problem of theistic lonesomeness. He writes:

Think about the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is not an entity: it’s a faculty of an entity. It is not a substance like a human being: it is, instead, something that human beings (and perhaps other kinds of things) have. Like walking or digesting, consciousness “has no existence or possibility apart from the creature” that is conscious. (I take it that Rand would agree with the assertion, even though – again – this is not the reason she offers for asserting that it’s impossible for consciousness alone to exist [cf. Peikoff 1991, 13].) That is to say, of course, you can’t have a consciousness with nothing but itself to be conscious of: the existence of a consciousness – any consciousness – implies the existence of a thing that is conscious. Now, with that point made, one can easily see that any consciousness will necessarily have something other than itself to be conscious of: namely, at the very least, the thing that it is the consciousness of (the thing to which the consciousness belongs). The theist need have no problem with this, but can gladly grant that the existence of a Divine consciousness implies the existence of a Divine being, and that the Divine consciousness can therefore assuredly be conscious at least of God. Thus, theism does not conflict with Rand’s views on consciousness. (“Objectivist Atheology,” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2007, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 213)

I note that Toner’s statement here seems to agree, at least in part, with Robert Bumbalough’s objection to the use of the concept ‘substance’ to describe the god of Christianity (as many Christians have done), especially given the typical Christian apologetic stipulation that consciousness is non-physical. Here Toner states explicitly that “[c]onsciousness... is not a substance like a human being.” Human beings, of course, on the Objectivist model, are integrations of consciousness and matter. This is quite unlike what the god of Christianity is supposed to be, as it is supposed to be immaterial, incorporeal, bodiless, in fact non-biological. Now, according to Toner, consciousness is merely an attribute, not an entity as such. How convenient! And yet, as Objectivists, we already know this. (In fact, it is refreshing to see a theist come out of the closet and affirm explicitly that consciousness is not an entity. It is frequently unclear when dealing with theists whether or not they understand this. I think the source of the confusion for believers on this point is the Christian notion of a "soul" which is separate from the "flesh," where the soul (associated with the individual's consciousness) is treated as a distinctly existing entity in its own right. The Christian doctrine of the soul is in large part responsible for a most unscientific and irrational understanding of man's nature.)

Toner is also correct in comparing consciousness to other biological actions, e.g., "walking or digesting," for consciousness is essentially a species of biological action. When we perceive, infer, judge, remember, emote, we are engaged in a type of action that is conscious in nature. The question at this point is: what is performing the action that is conscious in nature? In the case of human beings and other biological organisms which possess consciousness, answering this question is not problematic. For we can point to the organism as a whole, along with its brain and nervous system in particular, as the performer of the action in question.

But in the case of a so-called "immaterial" being, which would have no brain or nervous system or anything apparently comparable to these, this question becomes problematic. I'd even say it is unanswerable at this point. In this way, we can already see that affirming consciousness in such a context amounts to a stolen concept, for the preconditions of consciousness (e.g., a brain, a nervous system, sensory organs, etc.) are being denied in the case of the Christian god. So while the Objectivist would agree that "the existence of a consciousness - any consciousness - implies the existence of a thing that is conscious," it's not at all clear that this could at all be compatible with the divine mind of theism. Indeed, since a supposedly incorporeal being would by virtue of such description lack a body, the truism that Toner states is not compatible with theism. Objectivism agrees with Toner’s statement because consciousness is an attribute of certain biological organisms. But theism's god is not supposed to be a biological organism, so the problem arises with no solution.

This is where Toner's attempt to avoid the problem of divine lonesomeness runs into further problems of its own, and nothing he offers in his critique seems to anticipate the obvious question: of what was the divine conscious prior to creating anything distinct from itself? Saying that it was conscious of itself, or of its own “Being” as some Christians I’ve personally interacted with have said, is not sufficient for the above reasons. If the god is supposed to be a bodiless conscious being, how is this different from saying that it is a purely conscious being, and therefore that when it is said to be conscious of itself, it is really being said that it is consciousness being conscious only of itself? A bodiless consciousness has no body, so it could not be conscious of its own hands or feet or heartbeat or intestinal activity, etc., for it is stated explicitly that it lacks these things to begin with. Toner’s own treatment of this matter gives us little confidence to suppose that theists can give any plausible answer to it:

The trouble with this kind of objection is that it ignores the most important point: the fact that God has no body already sharply distinguishes his mode of knowing from ours. Since it is not, and cannot be, part of the notion of God that he knows through sensation, this implies that his lack of a body wouldn’t keep him from knowing himself: he would have to have other ways of knowing. But this doesn’t mean that God (i.e., God’s consciousness) cannot be aware of God (i.e., the bearer of God’s consciousness). It simply means the way of becoming aware is different: which is pretty much what you’d expect! (Ibid., pp. 214-215)

This is painfully unhelpful, and quite frankly I’m startled that Toner would even judge such statements sufficiently worthy to insert into his critique of Objectivism at this point. He’s essentially saying that we should not expect his god’s consciousness to be limited in the way that human and animal consciousness is limited, simply because it’s different. This is the “it’s just different!” defense that juvenile theists are so well known for. And Toner is right in indicating that this is something we’d expect, precisely because there really is no viable answer to the problem of divine lonesomeness. It is at this point that Toner begins shifting the issue, from the first aspect of the problem of divine lonesomeness (what could possibly serve as the object of the divine consciousness prior to creating anything distinct from itself?), to its second aspect (by what means could an incorporeal, bodiless being be conscious of anything?), without dealing with the first at all adequately. Before I examine Toner’s treatment of this second aspect, I note that Toner finds it necessary to reject the doctrine of divine simplicity in order to avoid the damage caused by the first aspect of the problem of divine lonesomeness (see his footnote 3, p. 231). I have seen other defenders of theism make the same move.

Toner says that his god “would have to have other ways of knowing,” that is, other than by sensory input. As is commonplace with theists, he gives no indication as to what these “other ways” might include. And even if one were to accept this contentless retort (perhaps by imagining that there is some alternative without having any genuine idea of what it might be), it would only pertain to part of the problem of divine lonesomeness, namely the means by which his god supposedly has consciousness, and not at all persuasively. It would not address the question of what it would be conscious of. At this point Toner is quickly but subtly shifting away from this latter issue, hoping that by focusing on the former issue – the epistemology of his god’s knowledge – will keep us off balance. Rightly suspecting that no Objectivist would find anything he’s given so far at all persuasive, Toner quotes Peikoff at this point, who writes:

“Spiritual” means pertaining to consciousness, and consciousness is a faculty of certain living organisms, their faculty of perceiving that which exists. A consciousness transcending nature would be a faculty transcending organism and object. So far from being all-knowing, such a thing would have neither means nor content of perception; it would be nonconscious. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 32)

In response to this, Toner writes:

Certainly, Peikoff is correct in saying that our only direct experience of consciousness is of our own. It is quite true that we are living organisms, and our consciousness is a faculty we possess. It’s also true that our consciousness is a faculty of perceiving that which exists. It is, however, indefensible to extrapolate from these facts to the impossibility of an analogous faculty of knowing existing in a non-bodily being. For while I grant (in fact, I insist) that for human beings, all knowledge originates in the senses, I do not grant that this licenses the inference that all knowledge originates in the senses. If there were a good reason to think there is a non-physical, yet intelligent, being, then there would be a good reason to think that not all consciousness is necessarily just like ours in its method of acquiring knowledge. Thinking of a consciousness that is not exactly like ours does not clash with the preconditions of thought: there is nothing self-defeating or contradictory about it. (Op cit., p. 215)

Much of what Toner writes here expresses agreement with Peikoff, but he hastens to put that all aside. Essentially, Toner is simply saying, "That's true in the case of human consciousness, but that doesn't matter in the case of God's consciousness," and then proceeds to affirm what is under dispute. We already know and expect that theists think their god is different from human beings and other biological organisms; in my analysis above I've been quite willing to take this into account. His defense at this point boils down to, ‘Yeah, God doesn’t have a body, He doesn’t have senses, He doesn’t have a nervous system or a brain or sensory organs, but He knows anyway!” I guess I’m just not seeing the persuasive force of this formidable apologetic.

What's curious here is that Toner considers the consciousness of his god to be "analogous" to human consciousness in some way, but he gives us no reason to suppose there's any truth to this. In what way is anything which theists call "supernatural" analogous to that which is natural, biological, and dependent upon physical processes, such as human consciousness is? Whatever it is that Toner calls 'consciousness' in the case of his god, it allegedly obtains without sensory organs, receptor cells, ganglionic connections, an entire nervous system, brain activity and the such, as we find in every case of consciousness in nature. And unlike human beings, saddled as they are with a consciousness which needs to develop as they develop, a supernatural consciousness can be one which possesses all knowledge for all eternity, never needing to learn, never making errors, it is able to wish things into existence, such as entire universes, or alter them at will, such as water into wine, etc. The theistic wonderbeing smacks all the elements of an imaginative concoction, a fantasy based on a world-renouncing projection. And yet it is “analogous” to human consciousness?

Perhaps it is only analogous in name only, since the same word is being used to denote the attribute we find in biological organisms, such as human beings and other animals, and whatever it is that the theist’s god is supposed to have (or be). It is as if one were to say, “Of course man is conscious,” and Toner should reply, “My God is too!” but beyond this no actual similarity is to be found. We may ask, “How is your bodiless, incorporeal god conscious?” and Toner gives us no reason to suppose his response could be any more substantive than, “No how!”

Toner calls it “indefensible to extrapolate” from facts which we know are true, to conclusions which those facts could only suggest: that consciousness requires (a) a means of perceiving and (b) something distinct from its own perceiving to serve as its initial object(s). Toner could not be more explicit in declaring his license to ignore facts that we discover and validate about consciousness when he writes:

what we can conclude from our knowledge of our own cognition is that human knowledge necessarily rests on sensory data. This provides no argument to the conclusion that no consciousness of any kind could possibly rest on a different kind of data. (Ibid., pp. 215-216)

At this point, had Toner any tangible evidence to support the position that consciousness is possible without not only sensory data, but also sensory organs, receptors, a nervous system, a brain, etc., we might expect him to produce some of it. But of course, he does not do this. Instead, his defense simply consists of bald denials which appear to have no better basis than what he may merely be imagining, for he gives us no indication how we could distinguish what he calls a consciousness without body, without sense organs, without a nervous system, etc., from what may simply be a fantasy. This is why most Objectivist philosophers pay so little attention to theistic apologists, as when the going gets rough, the defenders of the religious worldview bail out without any parachute on their own. For it is quite easy to lose patience with defenses as unserious as the kind we find with most apologetic arguments, which, if allowed to proceed to their final conclusion, ultimately reduce to a most desperate formula, such as “that may be the case with things we find in nature, but that does not constitute a refutation of the imaginary alternative I have in mind.” It is because the alternatives which theists have in mind have their basis in imagination, that their failure to produce legitimate evidence on behalf of their position is to be expected.

As with other theists, Toner’s god is the ultimate exception to everything we find true about reality through our examination of nature. This is the essential hallmark of supernaturalism: facts can be ignored because facts are of this world and thus have no bearing on what “the supernatural” is like. Everything we discover about consciousness from actually existing specimens open to rational investigation does not apply in the case of a supernatural consciousness. If the consciousness of biological organisms which we find here on earth require sensory organs, a nervous system, a brain, etc., that’s fine so far as biological organisms are concerned. But the theist’s god is exempt from these, per his stipulation, because it is not biological. At what point do we recognize that we’ve crossed over from the real into the imaginary? The theist’s own objections give us no confidence that he even knows there’s a difference.


Left Behind: Man’s Ways of Knowing

It is important at this point to note that Toner fails to identify any epistemological process by which one could come to the conclusion that such a consciousness as he gives to his god could be real. In one of his quotes above, he states:

If there were a good reason to think there is a non-physical, yet intelligent, being, then there would be a good reason to think that not all consciousness is necessarily just like ours in its method of acquiring knowledge. (Ibid., p. 215)

So far as I can tell, Toner never identifies what he considers to be “a good reason to think that there is a non-physical, yet intelligent being,” a la a god like that found in Christianity, but I doubt he’s suppressing evidence here. Why believe that such a consciousness, which is, contrary to what Toner himself states, fundamentally dissimilar to any conscious we find in nature (including human consciousness), actually exists? What is the basis for believing the claim that such a thing exists, and how do we distinguish this basis from something that may in fact be merely imaginary in nature? We must keep in mind at this point that not only is the consciousness of Toner’s god supposed to exist without a body and any apparently legitimate object distinct from itself, it also is supposed to enjoy precisely the opposite orientation to its objects that any consciousness we find in nature (including human consciousness) has. For in the case of human beings, the objects of our awareness do not conform to the content of our awareness. That is, the object of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness. That’s the primacy of existence principle: things are what they are, regardless of what we believe about them, think about them, know about them, wish about them, pretend about them, ignore about them, etc. Wishing doesn’t make it so, because the objects of consciousness have metaphysical primacy in the subject-object relationship. But in the case of Toner’s god, its consciousness is not so restricted. On the contrary, its wishes hold metaphysical primacy over all objects in its awareness, for not only did it allegedly create those objects, it can revise their identity at will. (For a direct discussion of this metaphyiscal antithesis, see my blog Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist.)
Above we saw that Toner insists "that for human beings, all knowledge originates in the senses." But how do his claims about a consciousness with no body, no sense organs, no nervous system, no brain, qualify as legitimate knowledge? How do they reduce to the level of sensory input? Toner never walks us through this, and yet, it is crucial to the internal coherence of his overall position. Whatever our conclusions may be, our path towards validating them must comport with the basic nature of our consciousness and its concommitant constraints. As I asked in The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence,

...what inputs inform the theist's concept of consciousness beyond his own firsthand experience such that he thinks it is meaningful to suppose that there exists a consciousness possessing the exact opposite relationship that his consciousness has with its own objects? What gives his concept of consciousness such latitude? What units has he discovered and integrated into his concept of consciousness which allows him to affirm two contradictory metaphysics? We know already that the method by which he informs his concept of consciousness must be consistent with the nature of his consciousness, for he has no alternative to using his own consciousness in developing and securing the knowledge he seeks to hold. So this rules out his own use of the primacy of consciousness as a means of arriving at a point where he can reasonably affirm the primacy of consciousness. For instance, since the primacy of existence applies to his own conscious interaction with the world around him, he cannot reasonably adopt a method of affirming the primacy of consciousness which reduces to the assumption that reality conforms to his conscious operations. Not only would this be fallaciously circular, it would short-circuit the nature of his own consciousness and invalidate any conclusion he wants to draw. He cannot, for instance, rationally say that the primacy of consciousness is valid because he wants it to be valid, for his consciousness does not have the power to alter reality; his wants and wishes are ineffectual.

In the case of human identity and the knowledge we can reliably acquire, we have no alternative but to adhere to the primacy of existence principle. So if we affirm a claim as legitimate knowledge of reality, as a true understanding of actually existing things, then the method by which we came to that knowledge must itself adhere to the primacy of existence principle. We cannot, for instance, say “Mermaids exist because it would make me feel better if they did.” Who would be persuaded by such an argument? Only those who reject the primacy of existence principle. So the question for Toner is twofold:

(1) What method do we use to secure the claim that the consciousness-possessing deity he describes and hopes to defend is real as legitimate knowledge of reality? and

(2) Does that method adhere with the primacy of existence principle?

Toner does not identify the method by which he allegedly knows that a consciousness exempt from everything we know about consciousness is biological organisms really does exist. So unfortunately he leaves these two questions completely unattended. Taken in context, all this suggests that Toner’s god is really nothing more than imaginary, and that our leg is being pulled.

The God Who Could Not Hear

When Jesus is made to say “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt. 13:9), I can only suppose he is excluding the god of heaven, because as an immaterial, bodiless being, it would have no ears to hear anything. The theist will insist, however, that his god still hears, even though it does not have ears, or tympanic membrane, or cochlea, or auditory nerves, etc. How does it hear? No how. It “just” hears in spite of lacking these things. In fact, it hears in the absence of sound waves, just as surely as the voice of James MacDonald's god, as it "stood in a spaceless, ageless, timeless chasm of nothing in eternity past and... SPOKE," echoed throughout the void out of which it pulled the universe, like a rabbit out of a hat. The same god hears your thoughts, the preachers tell us, even though thoughts do not create sound waves – certainly not any that would reach beyond the limits of the universe. But their god listens and hears these things anyway. The explanation for this is really no further than the believer’s ability to imagine, for in fact that is exactly what he is demanding that we do: imagine that his god exists and can hear our thoughts. An imaginary being can do anything, even if it does not have the kinds of attributes and properties we have to do similar things. Why? Because an imaginary being does whatever its imaginer wants it to do. Besides, explanations for these things are moot. The important thing is that the believer believes that the all-hearing, all-seeing voyeuristic deity is reall, and that he fears him. All efforts to validate the questionable assumptions brought out here are to serve this end: that the believer be crippled with fear, for this is "the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7).

Christians typically respond to these kinds of criticisms in a rather thoughtless, dismissive and unpersuasive manner, even though they will insist until the cows come home that their god is not imaginary. They agree that their god is not biological, that it does not have a body, that it does not have a brain, a nervous system, sensory organs and such, but they insist that their god is still conscious. In fact, it’s an omni-consciousness, conscious of everything everywhere all of the time for all eternity. It has no eyes, but it “sees” all anyway. And even though apologists never explain how this could be (they only give weak, evasive responses, like Toner’s), they apparently have no qualms asserting it to be the case and typically try to shift the burden by insisting that the non-believer prove that their god could not see everything. As we read between the lines of the apologists’ attempts to address questions like this, what we really find is something along the lines of: “Prove my fantasy is not true outside the universe.” Needless to say, this is not a very productive approach to validating one’s worldview.


The Attack of the Burden-Shifters

The theist, then, can be predicted then to insist that the non-believer take on certain challenges in order even to pose the kinds of questions I've asked here, such as proving that consciousness as such requires or depends on sensory input, sense organs, a nervous system, a brain, etc. Never mind the fact that this is what we find in the case of all biological organisms which possess some level of consciousness. Specimens from nature do not count, because the believer's "truths" pertain to a realm beyond nature, a realm, incidentally, which the believer has a very hard time distinguishing from the fantasies of his imagination. In an attempt to feign gravitas on the part of his position, the theist may very well point to such phenomena as thinking, logical inference, predication, and other conceptual applications as examples of conscious activities, assuming that these operations do not require sensory input. And even though it has already been shown (with at least one theist explicitly agreeing) that the Christian god, given its description as omniscient and infallible, would not possess knowledge in the form of concepts (see my blog Would an Omniscient Mind have Knowledge in Conceptual Form? and my interactions with Peter Pike’s responses here, here and here), theists still assume that their god’s consciousness handles its alleged content in a manner similar to ours (i.e., conceptually). And yet, concepts are formed on the basis of sensory input. So why suppose so cavalierly that the conscious operations here do not require sensory input? The theist taking this approach seems to believe that, if a conscious operation is not itself identical to sensation in nature, then it does not involve the senses and/or does not require or depend on sensory input. But this would be a non sequitur implicating the theist’s ignorance of how the mind works. This is crass example of how casually theists retail in stolen concepts. Again, the conscious activities mentioned not only need to have an object (Thinking about what? Logical inference about what? Predication about what? Etc.), they also require that the conscious agent in question have awareness of that object, and this requires having a means of awareness. Of what does the consciousness in question think, and by what means does it have awareness of what it thinks? In these two aspects, we recognize that consciousness depends on something prior to itself, both in terms of the object of consciousness, and the means of consciousness. (I would also argue that there is a third aspect in which consciousness depends on something prior to itself, and that is its purpose. Animals possess consciousness for a purpose, namely for their ability to live. Development of this point can wait until a later occasion.)


In Conclusion: The Reprise of Divine Solipsism

Given the problem of divine lonesomeness and theism’s inability to provide any substantive answer to it, we are right to point out that Christian theism, which posits a supernatural creator which is needed to have created everything that is distinct from itself, begins with a starting point of divine solipsism, which is, according to a rational worldview, the ultimate expression of subjectivism. Few apologists explicitly admit theism’s unavoidable solipsistic implications, probably because few apologists really give any serious thought probing the issues involved, and also of course because they resist any move which might appear concessionary. Christian apologist Mike Warren came the closest that I can remember when he wrote to the Van Til List the following message:

The Christian view is solipsistic in the sense that there is no other autonomous mind except God's. All other minds exist because of God's ex nihilo creation of them, and thus are completely dependent on Him for their existence and functioning. The only universe that exists is the one that springs from the divine mind. (RE: An anti-theist's attempted refutation of presuppositional apologetics, Feb. 29, 2004)

It is hard to find any clearer endorsement of subjectivism than we find in a worldview which claims that the universe “springs from” some form of consciousness. And yet we so frequently find defenders of such positions referring to their opponents as necessarily espousing a subjective worldview.

So to answer Glenn’s question, there is in fact something illegitimate about positing a consciousness which allegedly existed prior to anything distinct from itself for the reasons described here. Theists give no good explanation of what their god could have been aware of prior to creating anything distinct from itself, nor can they identify any means by which it could possibly be conscious. Their descriptions cripple their own conceptions by cutting them off at the ankles, thus resulting in blatant stolen concepts and obliterating their own worldview’s own fundamentals as a meager bonus. As in the case with their responses to other successful criticisms of Christianity, its defenders can be expected to come back with an armful of sneering ridicule, acerbic condescension and overheated attitude without producing anything remotely approaching knowledge that you can bank on.

by Dawson Bethrick

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