Posts Tagged ‘Seidensticker’s silver bullets’

Lessons from the 28th Silver Bullet

March 5, 2021

So, after talking about his 28th Silver Bullet (that I covered last week), Bob Seidensticker decided to put up some philosophical lessons that followed from it.  So let me look at them here.

The first is that a God that would do this or set this situation up clashes with our ideas of a perfectly moral or loving God (Seidensticker insists on saying that God is immoral and God doesn’t exist and there’s a contradiction in the Bible, which can’t all be meaningfully true).

Let’s start by agreeing that morality is a good thing. (It may seem odd that we must back up this far, but you’ll soon see that we must in this “up is down and eternal torment is good” environment.) Our best examples within society of honesty, compassion, selflessness, or any other moral trait are examples that are often highlighted for us to emulate. It’s not that we don’t know what is morally good. We do know; our problem is our inability to consistently strive for moral goodness.

Remember, Seidensticker is a moral relativist, so it seems odd for him to argue that we can know what is morally good when that would imply knowing that objectively, which we deny that we can know.  This is also problematic because it would suggest that the moral crimes of the past — slavery being the big one — are things that we do indeed just knew was morally wrong and we failed to strive for moral goodness, despite all the arguments made at the time that it was indeed really at least not morally wrong and even that it was morally obligated.  That’s a pretty brave statement to make and runs right into the same issues as “Atheists really know that God exists and are just rejecting it!”.  It’s never a good move to declare for no reason that you know people’s internal mental states better than they do, and especially bad to do so just to score an argumentative point against them.  His claim here is unevidenced and a pretty bad one given his own moral positions.  That shouldn’t engender confidence in his moral analysis.

Take a step back to the foundational idea of Christian salvation. Count the ways it offends our moral instincts.

  1. It’s a human sacrifice
  2. needed to satisfy God’s justifiable rage
  3. at humans being imperfectly moral despite the fact that he made them that way
  4. when he could just forgive any sin, like we do (and like he has done himself).

Now add:

  1. hell as eternal torment for our finite crimes.

For 1), it’s Jesus willingly sacrificing Himself for us, which is something that we tend to consider morally admirable.  For 2), it’s actually to pay off our sins from the claimed just consequences God has given us.  For 3), that we are morally imperfect doesn’t mean that we have to act immorally.  For 4), Seidensticker and many atheists constantly insist that God couldn’t simply forgive some people their sins — like Hitler — without there being some penance, so on the one hand they criticize God simply forgiving sins while here the argument is that He just should do so.  And 5) is the argument from last time:  the claim that no one deserves to go to Hell, which Seidensticker and others had considered long before this specific argument, so we aren’t really learning anything new here, are we?

Now, for most of this I don’t hold to the standard view that my previous paragraph uses as a defense.  I see Jesus as moral exemplar, making the ultimate sacrifice simply because it is right tying into our moral evolution from people who blindly follow moral laws to avoid punishment into people who do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  I also do lean more towards Hell as containing people for eternity because those who end up there will never repent no matter what, not as a sentence even for those who would or do repent.  So there are other ways to get around Seidensticker’s big issue here that don’t work out the way Seidensticker insists it would have to.  For a lesson from a Silver Bullet, things still seem remarkably open.

This justification for hell doesn’t just seem crazy, it is crazy. A savage because-I-said-so god might have worked for an Iron Age tribe, but today the flaws are too glaring. When Christians also insist that their brutal god is love, the delusion breaks. God can’t be both loving and the author of hell; therefore, he doesn’t exist.

(The Christian response will be, “But you haven’t proven that these are incompatible.” That’s true, but the burden of proof is not mine. An open-minded person, like I try to be, can evaluate Christianity’s claims, but when they don’t satisfy the burden of proof, we’re obliged to reject them.)

If you’re going to claim that there is a contradiction and that because of that contradiction you can say that God doesn’t exist, then the burden of proof is indeed yours.  You really do need to be able to demonstrate that incompatibility.  Especially if you want to insist that these are Silver Bullet arguments that everyone should accept proves God doesn’t exist on the pain of a charge of irrationality.  Seidensticker is making a common atheist “weasel” move of insisting that God doesn’t exist but when challenged on that claim retreating to “I don’t have to prove that!” and then immediately returning to insisting that they know that God doesn’t exist because of their great and wonderful arguments that, nevertheless, don’t actually meet the burden of proof to show that God doesn’t exist.

When I say that human morality is the standard, that’s simply because “moral” and “immoral” are words with definitions. If God’s actions match up with what passes for human morality, then he’s moral. If instead God’s actions would be called immoral if a human did them, then God is immoral.

Well, first, what human morality?  Seidensticker is a relativist, and even taking God out of the picture it is clear that Seidensticker and myself would have radically different secular moralities.  How can he use a relativistic morality to insist that God is immoral?  Especially since some theists would insist that what God does is moral just because it’s what God says is moral.  But if we accept that we humans are bound by some kind of human morality, why would God, not being human, be bound by that morality?  So Seidensticker either needs to talk about an objective morality or say that with Christianity our human morality is the same morality as God uses by definition (again accepting that there is only one morality).  But then it is clear that if God exists He knows what that morality is better than we do, and so using our intuitions to judge His actions seems a bit presumptuous.  So if God as we conceive Him exists, then this is morally right and we are just wrong about that, and if He doesn’t exist as we conceive Him then this is the least of the problems Christians would face.

So many of Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets hit this problem.  A Silver Bullet should be an argument that makes us give up looking for God at all and attempting to prove that He exists, because the argument so strongly establishes that God doesn’t exist.  But like this one, many of them would fall apart if someone could prove that God exists.  So all they should do is encourage people to prove that God exists, as that’s a way to kill the argument completely.  Seidensticker might say he welcomes such attempts, but there is no mistaking the fact that someone doing so would overturn a lot of Seidensticker’s notions and kill almost all of his arguments.  If I can still prove that God exists notwithstanding his Silver Bullets, the Silver Bullets aren’t as Silver Bullety as he thinks.

The second is about us having to not feel compassion for those in Hell while in Heaven, but of course my response showed that all you have to do is understand what is actually deserved and tailor your emotions to that.  If your emotions get in the way of that understanding, then as a Stoic I’m not all that concerned about losing them.

The third is that God suppresses free will:

God is hidden, which is odd because we’re told that he longs for a deep relationship with each of us. Christians rationalize this by saying that God making his existence plain would step on our free will. (No one else’s existence seems to offend our free will, but let’s ignore that.) We must freely give our love to God. But what kind of champion of free will is God if he must override your honest response to hell?

The answer is, of course, in line with my own response that He just needs to perfect you as a moral person, like He is, so you can understand morality properly.  So that’s not overriding a reasonable response to Hell at all.

And the last is a comment that Christians need to reconsider Christianity in light of arguments like his.  However, most of those arguments aren’t that strong and a lot of Christians have and come up with responses to them.  Seidensticker only rejects the idea that Christians already do that because he thinks that the only rational answer is to reject Christianity, but as someone who rejects having to prove his claims he really can’t insist on that.  I am only compelled to come to the same conclusion as he does if his arguments are indeed compelling, meaning that they demonstrate that God doesn’t exist.  That he refuses to accept that burden speaks volumes about his arguments and whether we really need to reconsider our position and align it with his.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 28

February 26, 2021

So, after my painstaking work in going through his previous 27 entries, Bob Seidensticker has decided to add a 28th silver bullet argument.  This one focuses on the idea that people who end up in heaven will be aware, one presumes, of people who didn’t make it into Heaven, and thus are in Hell, and thus are suffering infinitely for their sins.  Some of these people will be loved ones.  The basic idea, then, is that it seems like no person that we would in no way imagine ourselves to be or that we would in any way want to be could enjoy Heaven knowing that others are damned to Hell, especially if those people were their loved ones.  The emotional reactions we should have, the argument claims, range from at least missing our friends and loved ones to being tormented at the thought of them being tormented.

Seidensticker lists a lot of theological reactions to this, which immediately strikes against this being a Silver Bullet argument for the same reason as many of the other purported bullets:  if there are a lot of theological responses, then it’s not an argument that you can essentially drop the mic on and walk away, as you have to deal with all of the theological responses first.  However, I think this one suffers from another common flaw in his Silver Bullets, which is that this argument cannot be the Silver Bullet argument because it relies on another argument being true first:  that the people who end up in Hell are not, in fact, people who deserve to be there.  If they deserve to be there, then any emotional reaction on our parts that suggests that they don’t deserve it would be a flaw in us, not in God or the idea of Heaven and Hell.  If as expected those who end up in Heaven are perfected, then we wouldn’t have those flaws and so wouldn’t have those feelings.  We would be able to properly assess the situation and, presumably, have the proper emotional reactions to them.

Now, I disagree with those theologians who say that we should look at the people in Hell with happiness for various reasons.  I don’t think that makes sense.  Their arguments tend to be emotional reactions the other way, where those in Heaven delight in being spared Hell.  If those who are in Heaven deserve to be there and those who are in Hell deserve to be there then all we could have is the more intellectual perception of that as fact:  we deserve to be in Heaven, and they deserve to be in Hell.  So we’d have a “calm passion” of understanding, not a hot passion of sadness or glee.

And this argument applies to loved ones as well.  While we might miss loved ones, in general we can and should understand if they cannot be with us for some reason.  And while we obviously would not want to see our loved ones suffer, being upset about them getting the punishment they deserve is indeed a huge flaw in us.  The parent lamenting the tough time their child is having in prison when they were legitimately convicted of murder is understandable, but clearly wrong.  So, again, once we have proper understanding and are perfected, then these things will not ruin our experience of Heaven, because we will be in a state where our flawed emotional states are, at least, taken away.

Now, some might argue that this makes us us not entirely human.  How can we live as beings that do not have emotion?  My answer is, of course, in my name.  I am Stoic-leaning, and so think that it is indeed true that more perfect beings do not have and are not susceptible to the whims of strong passions.  The main reason that Seidensticker and the people in his comment section find being that emotionless so disturbing is because they enjoy feeling those strong emotions.  Strong emotions feel good.  But that doesn’t mean that they’re right.  We can remain compassionate and merciful and caring without having to feel the extremely strong emotions that tend to accompany them.  And with that we would always in fact actually be merciful, compassionate and caring, without any risk of our emotions leading us astray.  While we might lose the pleasure of strong emotions, pleasure is not, ultimately, what makes life worthwhile.  And that would apply even more so in Heaven.  So we would never have pleasures that trump our virtues, and our path to the life and experience worth having.

Which leads to another argument:  what about Hitler?  If he repents, they argue, he could be in Heaven, while someone who, say, merely didn’t believe in God might be in Hell.  How can that be justified and how can can we be happy in a Heaven where that can happen?

To suss this out, we need to look at Virtue Ethics, because this argument depends on a clash between justice and mercy.  The argument is that justice clearly states that Hitler deserves to go to Hell if anyone does, but mercy is about pardoning people and rescuing them from the punishments that they clearly deserve.  So if God forgives Hitler, then who, in fact, could deserve to go to Hell?  And if God doesn’t or can’t, then He can’t be infinitely merciful either.  Yes, the actual arguments are presuming that Hitler will end up in Heaven for being at least nominally Catholic, but that’s not a safe presumption and if God can forgive what Hitler did, one would think that He would forgive someone who just happened to never be told about Christianity but was clearly willing to accept it once they found out about it.  So ultimately the argument, to be in any way sensible, has to boil down to a clash between justice and mercy.

Obviously, this again would be relying on another argument than the one Seidensticker claims is the silver bullet again.  But it’s worth looking at this from the angle of Virtue Ethics since the clearest way to do so is through that angle, since these sorts of clashes are part and parcel of Virtue Ethics.  After all, Virtue Ethics defines virtues like justice and mercy and compassion and so on and then asks us to go out in the world and act on them.  We thus immediately hit the issue of what we should do if one of those virtues demands on action and another demands a different action.

Obviously, we need a method to resolve such conflicts.  Perhaps that’s going to be a compromise position, where we’re a little less just and a little less merciful and some up with an ideal notion.  I don’t think that’s the right approach, though.  What I believe is that once we define what the virtues are, the proper understanding of them will show how they are always consistent with each other.  Thus, there can’t be any meaningful clash between them, properly understood.  So in this case, it’s entirely possible that what Hitler did was so bad that no repentance or act of contrition could spare him from his rightful punishment in Hell.  Thus, mercy could never demand it.  On the other hand, it is also possible that if he was properly repentant that he could indeed deserve mercy, and so justice could be suspended in that case.

But wait, you might ask, how can someone deserve mercy?  Isn’t mercy just ensuring that someone doesn’t get what they deserve?  Well, we can easily say that if Hitler arrived at the Pearly Gates and was still convinced that what he did was right and was completely unrepentant that he wouldn’t deserve mercy.  It seems clear, then, that at least a precondition for mercy is an acceptance that what you did was wrong and a willingness to make up for that.  Without that, then, you would not deserve mercy.  So mercy is not and cannot be unconditional.  So the question is if accepting that what you did was wrong and wanting to make up for it is enough to get mercy, or if there are cases where justice and other virtues can demand more from you, or make it so that the conditions required for mercy can never be met.  I lean towards the idea that mercy would trump the other virtues because it seems to me to be rather inconsistent to refuse to grant mercy to someone who is legitimately repentant and understands that what they did was wrong.  But I admit that the argument that there are some things that mercy cannot forgive and so that justice would demand that we still punish it is a pretty good one.

But does this apply to God?  After all, God is supposed to be infinite in all His properties, including His virtues.  So wouldn’t infinite justice imply that God always punishes actions to the level demanded by justice, and infinite mercy imply that God always relieves people of such punishments?  This returns to the comments above, as infinitely virtuous does not mean infinite in quantity, but instead infinite in perfection.  God would be perfect in His assessments of what is virtuous, including how to resolve potential clashes between virtues.  In line with my above analysis, that would mean knowing when mercy is the applicable virtue or when it’s justice.  And since I argue that we would be perfected in Heaven, we would know that as well, and so know who deserves Heaven and God’s mercy and who doesn’t.

You could reply that this depends on Virtue Ethics, but Virtue Ethics might not be correct.  However, the alternatives actually have an easier time with this because they don’t have explicit and individualize virtues to conflict with each other.  For them, for the most part, virtues are merely names for conditions defined by their overall moral project.  For example, in Utilitarianism mercy would be a name for a set of conditions where sparing someone from punishment provides a greater overall utility, and justice would be a name for a set of conditions where punishing them provides a greater overall utility.  Since these are all justified by utility, you are merciful when utility demands it and just when utility demands it, and utility cannot demand both mercy and justice by definition.  So, in general, properly understood, whatever we use to define things like justice and mercy, they cannot clash.  And so they cannot clash in a way that matters for the argument.

As noted, the main issue here is that this argument depends on other arguments being true.  Most atheists do think that no one deserves Hell — or, at least, that the people who Christianity says will end up in Hell deserve to be there — but that is indeed a separate and hotly contested argument.  This argument depends on that one, and so itself cannot be a silver bullet argument.

Seidensticker has made another post talking about takeaways from this argument.  I’ll make a separate post on that next time.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 27 and a Summary

January 1, 2021

So, continuing on from last time with the ones Seidensticker came up with after he decided that these were all clearly silver bullet arguments, we end up at … the last one.  Or, at least, the last one that he linked, which since I’m not going to search for all of them means that it’s the last one that I’m going to look at.  So what I’ll do is address this one, and then summarize the entire list and the entire project.

So let’s start with argument 27, which is actually a really, really bad one.  It argues that we have a drop-the-mic argument against God because … the Bible uses symbolism:

Christianity and the Bible are full of symbolism. For example, during the Flood it rained for forty days, not just a good long time. Baptism rinses away sins like water rinses away dirt. In Communion, the faithful consume the flesh and blood of God—at least in a symbolic fashion.

Contrast storytelling in literature or on the screen with science and history, which have no use for literary symbolism. There is no point in the reader having to figure out what the author means. Here, good writing is clear and straightforward.

Let me mention one apparent counterexample. Take one aspect of quantum physics—for example, that the nucleus of an atom has protons and neutrons. This is just a model. We don’t know for certain that this model is exactly how it is in reality, but if we assume that model, we can make very accurate predictions. The theoretical model correctly predicting or explaining experimental results is as good as it gets.

Notice the difference. A scientific model is as clear as possible, like a window. A symbol is something to figure out and think about.

Well, there’s a pretty simple reason why the Bible doesn’t read like a science or history textbook:  it’s not primarily trying to be one.  Its primary purpose is to inspire us to worship God and act on His wishes.  So it is definitely going to use a lot of devices that we associate with works that are indeed attempting to do just that.  Ironically, Seidensticker himself mentions this while ignoring what it means:

One purpose of symbolism is to engage the reader. Instead of writing, “Bill’s wicked side slowly overcame his good side in his mind,” you might show a black crow picking at a dead white dove. Readers enjoy figuring things out for themselves. In addition, a symbol can be taken as a more universal statement than, say, the moral contest in a single person’s mind.

There is, of course, no possible reason why God might want the Bible to engage the reader …

And we can see the difference when we look at history and science as they are read and studied.  Many people find reading science and history books boring.  They especially find them boring when all they are are dry recitations of facts.  In fact, it’s a pretty reasonable hypothesis to say that the science and history texts that rely more on literary techniques like symbolism are the ones that are the more interesting to the average person as opposed to the ones that might be more accurate and contain more facts and so are more useful to the in-depth student of the genres.  I don’t think it a coincidence that most people only learn the science and history that they were forced to study in school or else the “popular” science and history that is compellingly interesting to them in some way.  Seidensticker wants the Bible to look like the former, but you aren’t going to rally people to a new religion or a religion at all with works that are that dry.

What this argument, then, boils down to is this:  if God really existed, then the Bible would be crafted in such a way so that most of the people that He wants to believe in it would find it boring and so ignore it.  Thus, what God really should have done was craft works and a religion that no one would have adopted and that would have faded into obscurity.  That’s the hallmark of a true religion:  that no one actually believes it!

Okay, that was a bit snarky, since the real issue is a common one for Seidensticker, as reading between the lines should have already revealed:  he thinks that the Bible’s use of symbolism makes it look like fiction:

Christianity claims to tell us true things that happened in the past (history) and true things about reality (science). Nevertheless, we find lots of symbolism, which puts it in the fiction camp with literature and movies.

Of course, since anything trying to be convincing will use those sorts of literary techniques, that doesn’t work as an argument, so Seidensticker has to retreat to one of his more common arguments, that God should have made his existence more plainly known:

If there really were a God with a message we needed to understand, he’d just present himself and give us the message. He’s not even constrained by a limited timeframe so that he would need to document his message for posterity in a book. He could effortlessly be on call to every person on earth throughout history.

Which, then, is far afield from the original argument, as the argument starts by arguing that the Bible should look more like science and history books but then pivots to arguing that we shouldn’t need a book at all and God should just be constantly proving his existence to everyone all the time, eliminating any need for faith or any effort on our parts.  And then Seidensticker would still likely protest that that doesn’t mean that we should worship God.  This argument, then, goes so against the basic precepts of Christianity that for Seidensticker to say that it should refute it is, well, ridiculous.  No Christian need accept an argument that strikes at pillars that Christianity doesn’t rely on, doesn’t accept, and potentially even repudiates.

In order to make a religion that will inspire people to join and follow it, it is entirely expected that the works intended to do that would contain all sorts of literary techniques, including symbolism.  This leaves Seidensticker’s only argument the already existing one that God shouldn’t rely on anything at all and should just prove His existence to everyone all the time, which reduces to the standard Seidensticker argument that he doesn’t think God gives us enough evidence to justify Seidensticker believing in him, but since that’s just a personal assessment it can’t apply to anyone except himself … and his constant sniping at that sounds more bitter than an actual proper argument.

Let me summarize the entire list here.  Not one of them counts as a silver bullet argument.  There are ones that are more or less problematic for Christianity, but for all of them there are responses that at best leave them as arguments that can raise doubts.  But simply raising doubts is insufficient to count as a silver bullet, drop-the-mic argument.  The fact that he repeats a lot of his arguments — especially the one that prayer doesn’t work — and often his arguments rely on accepting other arguments first doesn’t help.  If we consider the list as a list of silver bullet arguments, it fails miserably.

And this is totally bizarre, because in doing this Seidensticker seems to be doing things the very, very hard way given the nature of Christianity.  The Christian God is both powerful enough and different enough from us that it’s very difficult to box God into a corner with any specific argument.  While Seidensticker and other atheists mock the “God works in mysterious ways” argument and there are some theological issues with it, the fact is that God’s power and God’s purposes are sufficiently divorced from our everyday experience that anything that we don’t understand can usually be explained a way with the idea that God has a purpose for it but that purpose is beyond our understanding.  If God exists, then all of those things would indeed have a purpose, so Christians wouldn’t use his argument as a reason to stop trying to prove that God existed, which a silver bullet argument would indeed clearly imply.

This is only made worse by the fact that Christianity has been around for a long, long time.  All of the obvious arguments — and Seidensticker’s list is full of obvious arguments — have been raised and Christians have found responses to those arguments.  And as I’ve noted on a number of occasions, if there’s a response, then it doesn’t count as a silver bullet argument.  Those responses may be — and on occasions were — not entirely satisfying, but as long as they are not unreasonable then you don’t have a drop-the-mic argument.  Those come across as someone dropping the mic and the person picking it up and saying “But what about this?”, which has the original person have to yell from offstage the responses to that counter.  So what Seidensticker would have to do is come up with a new argument so that there won’t already be responses to it that also there isn’t any reasonable response to.  That would be tough to do for one argument, let alone 27.

What makes this all the more bizarre is that doing this ignores atheism’s strongest approach, and the one that is most in line with science.  Instead of finding one argument that blows it all away, what atheists have typically done is stack arguments.  While Christianity may have more or less satisfying responses to each individual argument, that they have to keep coming up with responses and changing things in reaction to those arguments leads to the argument of “If we have to keep patching things up and coming up with even just possible ways that the system could still be true, why maintain it?  Why not simply adopt a system or worldview that doesn’t need so many workarounds to work?”.  While I find Seidensticker’s list not particularly convincing — as he seems to present arguments that concern him more as an atheist/naturalist than they would a Christian/theist — a list of 27 issues that Christianity has to address and has to work around would make for a pretty good cumulative case that Christianity more often than not clashes with reality rather than follows from it, and if that’s the case why follow it?  But by deliberately separating them and by insisting that atheism can and should rely more on silver bullet arguments than a cumulative case, Seidensticker abandons the approach that is arguably the more successful for an approach that he doesn’t need to use and that his own arguments work worse for.

Again, while I believe that the cumulative case argument has been made far better by others, as a cumulative case argument this would work a lot better, if for no other reason than for simple length.  27 individual arguments is fairly impressive.  Instead, Seidensticker not only allows but insists that the Christian consider them all separately and gives them the way out that if it isn’t completely convincing and immune to any reasonable response then they can dismiss it by insisting that these are silver bullet arguments.  And, as noted, not one of them actually is one of those.  And then, as noted, Seidensticker bails on the project by insisting that if Christians don’t see it as convincing then that’s not an issue as long as he does, at which point pretty much any reasonable observer should just bail on the entire thing since there’s no point in assessing something when the person making the arguments will simply dismiss any responses on the basis that it doesn’t convince them.  Yeah, well, your arguments don’t convince me, so there’s really no where to go from that point.

Ultimately, these aren’t silver bullet arguments, and I recommend that no one treat them as such.  If any atheist wants to cite them, citing them as a cumulative argument makes more sense and is the far stronger argument.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 26

December 25, 2020

So, after officially claiming that these are silver bullet arguments — as noted last time — Seidensticker moves on to creating new ones.  He actually only creates two new ones as far as I’ve seen, and this one is a two-parter, with the first one talking outlining the issue and the second one … uh, talking about how Christians respond to his drop-the-mic silver bullet that presumably there shouldn’t be any sort of reply to?

Yes, it’s not off to a good start as a silver bullet argument when you start off saying that Christians have a reply to your supposed silver bullet argument.  At best, you have to argue that those replies don’t work, and that will always open up a lot of debate over whether they do or don’t.  And silver bullet arguments really shouldn’t be open to debate.

Anyway, the big argument — and the one that the title refers to — is the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and the world, in fact, has not ended:

Jesus said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34).

What are “all these things”? A few verses earlier, he described some of them: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

So (1) we’re talking about something that is truly apocalyptic if the contents of the universe are being rearranged or destroyed, and (2) this will happen within the lives of those hearing him.

We’d know if that happened. It didn’t, and Jesus was wrong.

Most Christians reject this obvious conclusion, which frees them to invent countless end-times predictions of their own (illustrated here).

Here’s the thing:  if most Christians actually reject this purportedly obvious conclusion, then it will definitely be an uphill battle to convince them that this conclusion is both obvious and serious enough to work as a silver bullet argument.  So that admission itself really puts Seidensticker behind the 8-ball.

That being said, that second post is important, because it notes that Christians have noted it and find it a bit problematic:

About “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” popular Christian apologist C. S. Lewis said, “It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”

Seidensticker does go on to cite some other verses that suggest that the end was supposed to be quite soon:

Not only did Jesus think the end was nigh, Paul did, too. He wrote:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [that is, died]. . . . For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20–23).

The firstfruits were those few fruits that ripened first that were given as an offering to Yahweh. Jesus here is the firstfruits. The full harvest (in this analogy, those who follow Jesus) would follow soon afterwards. Here again we see the imminence of the prediction.

And another one from Paul:

We have another clue that Paul thought the end would come soon. Here, Paul was responding to a question within one of his congregations. The assumption had apparently been that Jesus would return and scoop up all worthy followers. But time was dragging on, and church members were dying. What about them? Will those who’ve died also get the reward that is due those who were still? Paul responds:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

In other words, Jesus will take his own, even if some have died. The possibility that Jesus won’t return for millennia, and no one of this early church will still be alive, is obviously not an option.

So the argument works out to be that Jesus and important early Church figures thought that the end times were imminent, and yet the world has still not ended.  The argument is that the statements are both obvious and obviously false, and so if Jesus really said that, then He was wrong about something that He really should have known the answer to.

I agree that this does seem to be at least a bit embarrassing, but there is one big issue with this from the very beginning:  while it might be a clear contradiction, it’s not about what people consider to be the crucial message of Christianity.  That is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”.  What this means is that we can reinterpret those statements or even consider them historical distortions without losing what the key point of Christianity is.  Seidensticker’s historical evidence even suggests a way to do this:

Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet. That’s not simply to say that he predicted the end. He did, but Apocalypticism was an entire worldview popular within Judaism at the time of Jesus. For example, Bart Ehrman argues that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are from a Jewish (not Christian) community, are full of Apocalyptic ideas. The book of Daniel (written in the 160s BCE) is another example of this genre.

Jesus wasn’t an outlier, the lone eccentric in Jerusalem holding a sign saying, “The end is nigh!” He shared a worldview that was widespread in his time. Another clue that Jesus had an Apocalyptic viewpoint is that predicting an imminent end was a common trait of this literature.

If Apocalyptic prophecies where common at the time, its entirely reasonable that word of mouth tales from the time might have added such things into the works we have.  It’s also reasonable to think that some of the translations might have highlighted that as an interpretation even though the original stories were not as clear about an imminent end.  Treating the works as historical readings, then, allows for reasons to reject the purportedly obvious conclusion.  It’s only if we treat the Bible and especially the New Testament as the dictated Word of God that we couldn’t make such moves, but that’s very shaky, if for no other reason than at least Luke is insisting that that isn’t what he’s doing, and it is at least a reasonably accepted Catholic doctrine that they are four different eyewitness accounts (or collections of them).  I know this because I was taught that in my Catholic grade school.

And things get worse for Seidensticker in his own arguments, because he notes that early Christians seem to have noticed this embarrassment:

This author is largely echoing the argument in 2 Peter 3:3–9, which admits that the second coming is late but that God is doing humanity a favor by delaying judgment so that more can be brought into the fold.

The actual text is this:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So if we accept this as a valid part of the NT, then Christians have the answer:  God is waiting for the right time, and it isn’t the right time yet.  And so imminent doesn’t mean to God what it means to humans, and so that we seem to be thousands of years “late” isn’t an issue.  It will happen when it happens, which is pretty much how Christians see it.

So the NT itself, in fact, solves the problem of the end of the world not happening yet.  So given this, Seidensticker needs to move to a different and weaker argument about why, then Jesus got it wrong:

Yet again, this doesn’t explain how an omniscient being like Jesus gets it wrong. If that’s what Jesus meant, he could’ve said that. Omniscient beings don’t change their minds based on new information, because there can be no new information for them.

This, then, actually explains why in the first post he made some much weaker arguments about the supposedly odd limitations of Jesus:

Jesus didn’t know a lot of things. But give the guy a break—it’s not like he was perfect.

    • In a crowd of people, a woman with a bleeding problem touched Jesus’s robe and was healed (Mark 5:25–34). After the incident, “Jesus realized that power had gone out from him” and demanded to know who had touched him. Oddly, Jesus’s power is treated as a limited quantity, like energy in a battery. Doesn’t the Trinity have an infinite supply? But for our purposes, the more interesting question is why he had to ask who touched him. How could he not have known?
    • Jesus said that the end would come soon, but he didn’t know the exact time: “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).*
    • Jesus promised that prayers are answered and that his followers would be able to do magic greater than he. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
  • Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith (Luke 7:9) and amazed at the lack of faith in his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:5–6). Omniscient being aren’t supposed to be amazed.

Stacking arguments like this always makes it seem like the person arguing thinks that the original argument — in this case, that Jesus was wrong about the end times — isn’t as strong as they’d like it to be, so they want to add more lines of argumentation in case that one falls.  It’d be like in a courtroom if the prosecution said that the defendant definitely was guilty of the murder because twenty people say them walk into the building and shoot that person in the head, and then went on to say that they also didn’t have an alibi and threatened that person’s life in public.  Yes, in a courtroom they might do that anyway, but anyone listening will wonder about the latter arguments because if the first one holds up they seem irrelevant (and there’s a danger in adding on weaker arguments because if they are shown to be wrong then it can cast doubt on the stronger ones as well).  But here we can clearly see why Seidensticker needs to include them, because the stronger argument is actually dealt with in the Bible itself, and so even people who believe the Bible is the unerring Word of God will not find the mere fact that the end times have not yet occurred a sufficient argument and so obviously not a silver bullet argument.

Of course, there is a reply to the idea that Jesus got things wrong and should never have gotten things wrong (ie that He wasn’t, in fact, perfect):

4. When the woman with the bleeding illness touched Jesus, he demanded, “Who touched me?” (discussed in part 1). How could the omniscient second person of the Trinity not know? One source explains this by arguing that Jesus “possesses the power of intentional self-limitation.”

Yeah, I’d stand in line for that superpower.

But let’s suppose Jesus knew that he was deliberately clouding his knowledge of humanity’s future. First, why would he do that? What would that accomplish? And second, why would he make a prediction about something that he knew he had limited his understanding of?

Seidensticker mocks the idea that Jesus was self-limited, but the thing is the NT is in fact quite clear that Jesus was limited and wasn’t perfect.  Given His nature, He could easily have prevented the authorities from taking Him to be crucified, for example, and yet all He did was pray for it to pass from him if that worked.  We seen Jesus being angry and even unreasonable at times (cursing the fig tree for having no fruit, driving the money lenders from the temple, etc, etc).  What is key to Jesus is that He, essentially, became human, and thus had many of our human frailties.  This, then, makes Him the exemplar that we are supposed to follow.  The biggest difference between Him and us is that He has utter faith in God — even if that is tested by His crucifixtion — and so arguably we could be like him if we had similar faith (which we often lack).  So that Jesus would limit his foreknowledge to what humans could or should now doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

So why would He seem so certain about this prophecy if He didn’t know for sure?  Well, putting aside that He might not have been so certain about it, if He didn’t know when it was then it indeed might not happen, and it would be better to get people preparing for it with stronger statements that turn out to be wrong than to hint that it might not happen anytime soon and have them ignore it, as humans tend to do.  In general, a lot of the more extreme comments — even the description of Hell — can be argued as being strong statements to inspire action among humans when explaining the entire thing would be too confusing and likely to be uninspiring.  So it could well be that the growth of Christianity and the faith of the original Apostle’s was sufficient to see that people could be redeemed and the faith could grow, and thus the Second Coming will only happen when there is no such hope.

Ultimately, is the passage predicting an imminent coming that really can’t be considered imminent after all these years a bit embarrassing?  Yeah.  It needs an answer.  However, it doesn’t work as a silver bullet argument because the same source has explained it, there are ways to reconcile the worst aspects of it, and ultimately that specific prediction is not fundamental to Christianity.  While this is a better attempt, Seidensticker himself has to stack arguments to even get it to be a real problem, and that means that it’s not a silver bullet argument.

Next time:  the last one (or, at least, the last one I could find).

Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: Recategorizing

December 18, 2020

So as mentioned last time, this is the point where Seidensticker reclassifies his list as being “Silver Bullets”, described thusly:

I want to relabel these arguments “silver-bullet arguments.”* Silver bullets were thought to have magical powers and be able to kill supernatural creatures like werewolves that were invulnerable to other weapons. The idea is that a single one of these arguments should be enough to defeat Christianity’s supernatural claims.

End of story, game over, mic drop.

This is entirely the issue that I had with the whole “mic drop” meme, especially as applied to Internet arguments.  The problem with this is that the whole mic drop is an interpretation of the person who is giving the argument or making a speech.  They go out, they make their “devastating” argument, and then they punctuate it with an action that makes it clear that there is no counter to it.  Or, rather, as noted, that they think there is no counter to it.  If they’re right, it looks incredibly arrogant and like playing to the crowd that hopefully agrees with them and wants to embarrass whomever is the target of their comments as much as they want to embarrass them.  But if they’re wrong — and so many people who do this on the Internet get it wrong — then they look incredibly stupid.  It’s essentially the most visible presentation of what I chide Richard Carrier for:  being careful not to be too aggressive because if you’re wrong you look really, really stupid.  Dropping the mic is so overly aggressive, so much an exceptionally visual statement of how great you think you are and how great you think your arguments are that if you’re wrong you look like the biggest possible idiot that you could possibly be.

Seidensticker probably doesn’t want to claim that for each of the 25 that we’ve walked through so far that he can drop the mic on any of them, because as we’ve seen none of that are that solid an argument.  And Seidensticker actually disproves that himself later with this:

Lots of topics that I like to talk about won’t be silver-bullet arguments: a rebuttal to a Christian apologetic argument, commentary on social or civil issues (same-sex marriage, abortion, church/state separation), stupid things Christian leaders say, how the brain works (or doesn’t), and so on.

Except … almost all of his arguments were topics that he loved to talk about and fit into one of those categories, especially the specific ones that were direct attempts to rebut specific Christian arguments.  While I’m trying very hard not to be mean, it probably would have been a good idea for Seidensticker to have read his first 25 arguments before declaring that they were all Silver Bullet arguments.

So now let’s look at how he describes the difference between Christian and theistic arguments:

The way debates often work is that the Christian apologist offers a Christian argument they find compelling. Then the atheist points out flaws in that argument, and the Christian responds as best they can (often confusing rebuttal with an effective rebuttal) and then offers another. The Christian is typically trying to make a cumulative case. They don’t claim that any of their arguments by itself will be enough. Rather, they hope that each provokes a “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that” reaction that will eventually create enough evidence to tip the scale in their favor.

The atheist’s position is different. We do have single arguments that should shut down the debate, lots of them. The Christian might want to return to their game plan of gradually adding weight to their side of the balance (in their mind, anyway), but by cooperating, the atheist lets them off the hook. The atheist is entitled to continue hammering on just the one argument, which can’t be left standing if the Christian is to claim any reasonable victory.

This is exceptionally puzzling, because outside of “The Problem of Evil” traditionally atheist arguments tended to be parts of cumulative cases, and the most famous theistic arguments tended to be ones that were single arguments that if true would shut down the debate (Ontonological Argument, Cosmological Arguments, Argument from Morality, etc, etc).  Atheists have been the ones trying to pile on empirical and inductive arguments in the hopes of tipping the scale with one of them while theists have been the ones arguing that they have a singular knockdown punch.  So Seidensticker seems to be badly misrepresenting the history of theist/atheist debates here.  But even if he was right about the history, this doesn’t reflect the first 25 arguments in this set.  They work best as a cumulative case raising a lot of issues for the theistic picture, resulting in an argument that even if they can work around each one individually the fact that they have to patch up their theory so much means that we should prefer the one with less kludges, which is the atheistic theory.  This also fits in with the stated preference of atheists for science, since the cumulative case approach is generally how science works.  Critical experiments that we can run to prove one theory correct over another are pretty rare in science, and in general we end up choosing one theory over another not because of a big discrepancy with reality but because of a whole bunch of little ones.  So that fits in with the general atheistic approach, as even Seidensticker has to admit that in general apologists have managed to work around pretty much all of his arguments, but this leaves the argument that there are so many of those workarounds that we have to wonder why we would bother maintaining that theory.

I mean, the entire argument of “Religion retreats in the face of science” is simply a summary of those sorts of arguments:  the evidence that theists claimed supported the existence of God is better explained by naturalistic arguments, and we’ve kept doing that and doing that, so why shouldn’t we believe that that’s just going to keep happening?

So Seidensticker’s entire premise is faulty here.  Not only do atheists not rely on silver-bullet arguments generally, the very best atheist arguments are those cumulative case arguments that Seidensticker claims Christians are limited to and, ironically, are the sorts of arguments that his list thus far actually lends itself to.  This is not a good way to justify the relabeling that he does here.

Seidensticker tries to predict the Christian response:

I’m certain that pretty much zero Christians will agree that any of these are indeed silver-bullet arguments, but I can’t be constrained by them. I think I’m much closer to being an objective observer than they are. 

If Christians — the people who actually believe in the belief being challenged — would not agree that these are silver-bullet arguments, then whom are they for?  The people who already don’t believe God exists?  They don’t need those sorts of arguments.  It is a very odd claim to say that he has come up with these wonderful silver-bullet arguments that Christians will have to address before being able to make a claim that God exists or add more evidence for it and yet absolutely none of the Christians he’s talking about will feel the need to do so.  And since these are his arguments, there’s no way he can claim to be objective.  Of course they will be convincing to him.  That’s why they convince him.  But he needs to be able to convince others.  Yes, at least some Christians would be so attached to their Christian view that they wouldn’t accept them even if they really were that damning, but to start from a premise that he knows that no Christians will accept it, even those who already have doubts and are willing to assess Christianity oddly strongly suggests that these are in no way silver-bullet arguments.  Add in that in his first 25 pretty much all of them have responses and that for those that have better responses Seidensticker was mostly reduced to saying that he didn’t find their responses convincing and it looks like Seidensticker is promising things we know — and he probably should know — that he can’t deliver.

Next time, we move on to one of the new silver-bullet arguments to see if when he’s clearly trying to come up with these he does any better.

Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: How Did We Get Here?

December 11, 2020

As talked about in the last post, at the end of the post that lists the final of Seidensticker’s original 25 “Silver Bullets”, he talks about how the list was inspired:

What got me started on this long blog post series was a Christian commenter at an apologetics blog last December. He asked what evidence I’d need to be convinced that God exists. He said he needed to know what a convincing argument would look like so he could work on providing one.

What’s interesting here is that Seidensticker made the move that so many atheists make when pressed on what could convince them that a God exists:  go on the attack.  Almost all of his examples are challenging Christians and theists and why they believe in God instead of setting out what sort of argument it would take to convince him that God exists.  Now, it’s not really a problem if someone can’t say precisely what sort of argument or evidence would convince them, because if they knew something that would do that and was testable presumably anyone honest would go and test it.  But Seidensticker here produces a list of challenges to the Christian and never really says what would convince him.  We can extract from them the basic issue that Seidensticker has with God:  he thinks that the world should look quite a bit differently if God actually existed.  Of course, this is a very personal sort of argument, because as we look through his examples others have disagreed over whether what he thinks shouldn’t be the case actually shouldn’t be the case if God existed.  But that might be something that we could hash out with discussion, but as noted Seidensticker didn’t go for simply saying that.  Instead, he made a list of a number of things that he thinks is an issue and essentially challenges the Christian to respond to all of them, without taking care to ensure that the same idea of God is being used in all of them.  And he repeated the same charges a number of times, and dismissed with little argument some of the defenses against his charges.  Ultimately, it’s this attitude that allows him to convert the list to “Silver Bullets”, as he feels they are insurmountable challenges to Christians in general, and not just him.  As noted, they aren’t really insurmountable challenges and often are just saying that traditional arguments for the existence of God don’t work.  But what he’s trying to do is essentially to say that if the Christian can’t convince him that his doubts are invalid, then he will continue to believe that God doesn’t exist.  That’s not necessarily an invalid move … if he was really just trying to say what it would take to convince him God doesn’t exist.

But it is very interesting that that isn’t where he started:

I said that our positions were similar with respect to non-Christian religions. I don’t think that Scientology or Islam or Hinduism are correct, and neither does he. I played up that symmetry of our positions by saying that I’d probably need the same kind of argument that he would need to convert to a foreign supernatural worldview. An argument for Hinduism (say) with a high enough standard of evidence to convince him would get my attention as well. Give me that same quality of evidence for Christianity—as a minimum, I’d need that.

So the answer to his question is: tell me what you’d need. I’d probably need something like that.

He wasn’t satisfied (no, I couldn’t figure out why) …

Probably because it doesn’t actually work, because the two of them aren’t similarly situated.  For example, it is unlikely that the person he is talking to will reject those religions because he feels that they’re supernatural and so only natural things can exist.  He wouldn’t have to overcome that hurdle to be convinced.  However, Seidensticker clearly does.  Thus, to say that he needs the same evidence as the Christian he’s talking to seems false.  And if we look through both the list and Seidensticker’s other posts, it seems that the commitment to naturalism is probably the biggest issue.  Seidensticker is clearly going to accept pretty much any natural explanation he can find to a supernatural explanation, including that of God.  So, in essence, even the above charge isn’t really valid.  The first thing that someone would need to do to convert Seidensticker is demonstrate to him that a supernatural explanation is required here, and at least at the same time that that supernatural explanation is God.  So, no, Seidensticker can’t simply say “I need what you would need for another religion”.  He definitely needs to outline what he would need to accept the premise that there is a God.

He then continues on after being rejected by his opponent:

… so I made more good-faith attempts to comply with his request before I realized that he wasn’t making his request with the goal of it being satisfied. He was asking questions to avoid having to answer questions, attacking so he wouldn’t have to defend. He was sealioning (h/t Ignorant Amos), interrogating with the goal of asking questions to drive the antagonist away. And it worked.

I don’t know what the original conversation was, and so can’t say for certain what was going on.  But it’s also possible that he was asking questions because Seidensticker was being far too vague and evasive about what might convince him that God existed, or even that Seidensticker was going on the offensive as he did in this list and the person was trying to drag him back on topic  Either is possible, but I will say that even with this list I don’t think that Seidensticker himself has given an adequate answer to the original question, and it’s only my distilling the list down to the main concern or concerns that allowed me to give the answer that I listed above.

But that got me thinking. The reason I’m an atheist is because of all the clues that we live in a non-God world. You want to know what I need to know that God exists? Show me that I live in a world where God doesn’t have the traits that he does.

Or, rather, that the world as Seidensticker experiences it is consistent with the idea of God as presented by Christians.

The apologist might respond that this approach makes atheists unconvinceable. That might be true, though not necessarily because of atheists’ closed-mindedness. It’s because there is so little intellectual reason to favor the Christian view of the world.

That it’s a common belief that has been intellectually studied for thousands of years suggests that a simple dismissal of it as there being little intellectual reason to favour it is far too quick a move.  As we go over the list, both in the post and in the rest of the actual list itself, many of the things that make God so seemingly inconceivable to Seidensticker are objectively a bit dubious and subjective.  As noted, apologists have found ways around many if not most or all of them.  At the end of the day, Seidensticker’s real argument is that he doesn’t find the moves convincing, and while that may work in some sense for him — he’d still need to find criteria for rejecting and accepting evidence that wasn’t just making it impossible for anyone to show him that God exists — this statement is implying that it should be that way for everyone.  And he needs to do more than he’s done so far to make that sort of statement work.

He ends with this:

And now, over 10,000 words later in this post series, I have 25 positive, pro-atheistic reasons that I can offer a Christian apologist to explain why I don’t think that God exists. Seen another way, these are the obstacles that prevent me from seeing this as God World. These are obstacles that the apologist must remove.

The Christian commenter who prompted me to collect these arguments won’t be satisfied with this list, because I’m sure he’s made his position unfalsifiable. However, my job is not to satisfy him, it’s to honestly follow reason and the evidence.

But if these really were just the obstacles that he would need to overcome to accept that God exists, whether or not that commenter had made their own position unfalsifiable wouldn’t matter one bit.  So it’s more likely that that commenter would be unsatisfied with it because he would feel that Seidensticker has made Seidensticker’s position unfalsifiable by definition, or else that Seidensticker has done nothing more than attack Christianity and raise doubts without actually outlining what sort of argument he’d need to convince him.  This, then, casts doubt on whether his “job” is really just following reason and the evidence.  In fact, talking about how his atheism is just following reason and the evidence is again simply an attack on Christianity, not any sort of explanation of what sort of argument or reasoning or evidence could overturn his lack of belief.  Essentially, all he’s saying here is that the evidence says God doesn’t exist, and that’s why he doesn’t think God exists.  But that’s not really any kind of explanation for what sort of argument he’d take seriously.  Yes, his list of his key doubts does do that to some degree, but at the end of the day his overall attitude is that the evidence says God doesn’t exist, so he might as well simply say that no evidence could convince him that God exists.

Which is why he thinks he can simply convert these into “Silver Bullet Arguments”, despite none of them being so.  Next time, we’ll get from the horse’s mouth himself why he’s making that move.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 25

December 4, 2020

I meant to write this one for last week, but I completely forgot.  Or, rather, what happened was that I thought that I had already written and scheduled it, and only noticed that I hadn’t when I was browsing around on the weekend and noticed that the latest post was my latest horror movie commentary, and since they come out on Thursdays that means that I missed a Friday post.  Which is the first weekday post I’ve missed in … quite some time.

So, I’m picking up from two weeks ago with the 25th and final argument in the first set of arguments.  This argument is basically the “God is hidden” argument that we’ve seen before:

God knows that if we don’t understand and get on board with his plan, we will go to hell. He doesn’t want that, but rules are rules, right? So what does God do to give us the basic information we need to know that he simply exists?

Nothing.

This argument, of course, depends on many of the previous arguments, as Seidensticker has explicitly argued against many claims from Christians about how God’s existence is obvious and that we have lots of evidence for his existence and for Christianity.  Seidensticker’s arguments are aimed at showing that the arguments and evidence are insufficient.  So he can only say that we don’t have evidence by arguing that the evidence we have isn’t sufficient and then perhaps by arguing that because of that it doesn’t really count as evidence.  But this leads into unintentional dishonesty, because there is no honest way to argue strongly against the arguments and evidence that Christians present for the existence of God and then turn around and say that God gave us “Nothing”.  He can argue that the evidence is insufficient, but not honestly that it is non-existent.  And, in fact, Seidensticker can only even come close to that argument by starting from the premise that God doesn’t exist, and so all of the things that Christians point to cannot come from God Himself.  Only if that’s the case can Seidensticker say that God gave us nothing.  So if God really existed, He didn’t give us any evidence of that, but the reasoning for that is that the evidence that Christians say He gave us is insufficient to prove that God exists and so God doesn’t exist.  Seidensticker can make an argument that says that the evidence is insufficient for him to accept the existence of God, but he cannot honestly merely dismiss the claims as nothing.  In short, he can say that God should give us more, but not that God therefore didn’t give us anything.

Now, some Christians accept that the evidence is not overwhelming, but then argue that giving overwhelming evidence would be problematic.  Seidensticker, of course, is having none of that:

Nonsense. This is one of the weakest Christian apologetic responses in a vast arsenal of substandard responses. Our request is an unapologetically reasonable one, for God to make his existence (and properties) known to all. That he doesn’t is just one more reason to think we’re not living in God World.

But the question then becomes:  how much more evidence does Seidensticker want or expect?  What sorts of evidence should we have?  At what point when considering the arguments and evidence Christians put forward does Seidensticker have to admit that the problem is not with the evidence and is instead with him, that he is demanding more evidence than we should expect?  As an example, God could certainly provide personal miracles for every single person, but is it reasonable for every person to demand that they should have that or else it’s a failing on God, or have to admit that it’s really their choice of what they are willing to accept that is causing the issue?  Doubting Thomas got to put his hands in Jesus’ side and the holes from the nails in his hands, but is it reasonable to demand that we all get to do that or else God is not providing enough information for us to believe?

And as even atheists assert, what evidence we demand for claims and what claims we are willing to accept is a meaningful part of our characters.  Perhaps Christians are too naive and not skeptical enough, but perhaps atheists like Seidensticker are too skeptical, or perhaps really are unwilling, for whatever reason, to properly consider the evidence.  There is a benefit to one’s character from accepting things on some sort of faith and not demanding absolute proof before accepting any claim.  Perhaps Seidensticker is too closed off to new beliefs.  Or perhaps he’s only closed off to religious beliefs.

This argument, then, is merely expressing something about Seidensticker personally, not about the strength of the evidence itself.  What we’d need, then, is for Seidensticker to properly outline what sort of evidence he’d accept as evidence for God.  Ironically, that’s actually how this list started and so next time we’ll look at that specifically.  But I promised I’d roughly characterize the set of arguments into categories, so to end this post let me do that:

1)  God should make His existence obvious and certain to me.

2)  Christian arguments and evidence for God’s existence don’t satisfy me.

3)  I don’t think the world would be as it is if God existed.

4)  I don’t like God as described.

I’ve deliberately phrased them as being personal to Seidensticker because, ultimately, they are.  Not one of them made it to the level of a silver bullet argument pretty much for that reason:  Seidensticker believes that and may not be being unreasonable in doing so, but it applies only to him and not generally.  A silver bullet argument would have to apply to people who have different starting points that he does, and his arguments don’t work that way, for reasons that we will see next time.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 23 and 24

November 20, 2020

Continuing on, Seidensticker’s first argument is based on “Shermer’s Law”:

Michael Shermer observed, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

This … is in no way any kind of silver bullet refutation of Christianity.

First, this would imply that Christians have defenses for their “weird thing” that we would need to examine in detail before declaring Christianity false.

Second, obviously this argument thus requires that we disprove other arguments and defenses first, and so cannot stand alone as a separate argument.  It’s a psychological statement of what might be happening in the mind of Christians, not a refutation of their claims.

Third, it’s difficult to say that beliefs like gods or ghosts are, in fact, weird.  They have a long history and the belief in them is relatively wide-spread.  Those beliefs might be wrong, but something that people have believed in for thousands and thousands of years surely doesn’t count as weird.

Fourth, this argument also cuts against atheists.  While Seidensticker might retreat to the argument that atheists merely lack belief, the belief that theists lack evidence for their beliefs might well be something that Seidensticker is wrong about but that he only believes in because he can invent rationalizations for it.  Essentially, Shermer’s Law says that people can maintain beliefs that they should not believe in because they rationalize reasons why they aren’t incorrect, but that isn’t limited to theists.  So how does Seidensticker know that he’s not the one irrationally rationalizing his beliefs?

Ultimately, the problem with any attempt to disprove beliefs by appealing to psychological mechanisms is that no humans are immune to those mechanisms, and so you end up undercutting your own arguments.  It’s a bit like trying to defend a proposition by attacking reason:  even if you succeed, it will take any rational arguments you make with it.  For all of the above reasons, this does not work as a silver bullet argument.

The next argument is this:

24. Because Christianity evolves

This is a case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.  If Christianity doesn’t adapt to new information, then it’s seen as rigid and out of touch.  But if it does adapt to new information, then it’s seen as a sign that it can’t be true because it should have always been talking about all the things that we know now from the start, even if there was no way for anyone then to think that true and so no one then would think it was true at all.  The real key is to look at the fundamentals of the worldview and see if they have changed, and changed sufficiently to invalidate the overall worldview.  This applies to secular wordviews and philosophies and scientific theories as much as it does to religion.  So that it evolves isn’t the issue, but how it evolves, and atheists generally simply point to differences without analyzing how crucial those differences actually are.

Because all Seidensticker does here is talk about differences and resemblances, this doesn’t work as a silver bullet argument either.  Even if he has managed to outline a serious change, that would be the silver bullet argument, not this one.  As we will see after next week’s argument, all that Seidensticker is doing is listing the things that he doesn’t like and can’t get past.  Branding it as a silver bullet argument actually does these arguments a great disservice.  But, again, I’ll talk more about that after the last argument in his first block of 25 arguments.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 21 and 22

November 13, 2020

Continuing on, here are arguments 21 and 22.  Argument 21 takes on doctrinal statements:

The problem is that they’re not a commitment to follow the evidence but a commitment to a conclusion regardless of the evidence. Suppose a professor has signed a doctrinal statement that includes the virgin birth and then writes a paper arguing that the virgin birth was historical. What good is that paper when we knew beforehand that they were obliged to reach that conclusion? The professor has no reputation for honest scholarship, and readers must critique the argument themselves, which is beyond most readers’ ability.

A university that constrains its professors with a doctrinal statement has created a straightjacketed environment. Even if scholars honestly followed the evidence where it led, readers could only think that they were parroting their doctrinal statement.

This argument isn’t even an argument against the existence of God.  After all, what it flat-out states is that even if the professor had an ironclad argument for the existence of God, the fact that he happened to work at a university that happened to have a doctrinal statement would mean that, at least, readers couldn’t trust their proof just on their say-so, but would have to evaluate it themselves, or at least get someone that they trust to evaluate it for them.  The first issue with this is that if Seidensticker wants to side with the typical rational and skeptical atheists — and since he is on the side of demanding evidence from theists he does align with that — then he really should be insisting that people do that anyway.  So this essentially boils down to “Doctrinal statements give us a reason to do the thing that we’re really supposed to do anyway!”.  The second issue is that all a doctrinal statement would do is make evident a clear bias.  If we think that the person is biased towards a certain position, we really should scrutinize their work more intensely to ensure that their bias didn’t play a role in it.  But then this would apply to all atheist and skeptical arguments about God as well, which would include all of Seidensticker’s silver bullet arguments.  Given that, it seems like it cuts against both theists and atheists, and all it means is that those universities with doctrinal statements actually end up being more honest because their biases are stated up front in those statements.  So it really doesn’t work as an argument against Christianity at all.

He does try to bring in another argument:

More importantly for our purposes, that university has created scholarship with training wheels by prohibiting all that pesky contrary evidence. Their arguments can’t take the critique that historical arguments must face in the real world, so they have created their own parallel kindergarten with a low bar of evidence. (More here and here.)

If we lived in God World, no one would need to discard rigorous standards for scholarship because the evidence for God would meet those standards. Said another way, the low standards for Christian “scholarship” and its inability to compete with other disciplines makes clear that we don’t live in God World.

Actually, all it would mean is that they want to focus on certain things and don’t want to rehash old fights without reason.  We do know across all of the academic disciplines that some universities will specialize in certain arguments, and will expect that people coming in will work in and so accept certain positions, at least for the most part.  You would not hire someone who strongly opposed Stoicism in a department that focused on Stoic philosophy, if for no other reason than to avoid disagreements and fights between the various classes.  A behaviourism lab didn’t hire people who thought behaviourism was false.  And so on.  So it’s not that out of line given a focused environment, which religious universities are.  They don’t want to fight over doctrine when they should be doing more advanced research given those starting points.

But even if they did insist on them purely because they believed the evidence was lacking — as opposed to the above-mentioned academic focus or, in the case of religious universities, wanting to provide a common experience for the students — that wouldn’t mean that the evidence actually was lacking.  They could be wrong.  So again this can’t be a silver bullet argument against Christianity because it does nothing to show that there is no evidence that works and sufficient evidence to show that God doesn’t exist.  So the argument he’s relying on is the claim that the existence of God should be obvious … and that’s a separate argument that he’s tried, and failed, to make before.

The next argument is this one:

22. Because prayer doesn’t work

“He always said it again.  Just when he said it, that’s when he’d say it.  How’s that again?

This is the most repeated argument Seidensticker makes.  Pretty much every second argument returns to “Prayer doesn’t work”.  I’m not going to deal with this argument yet again.  I will reference one interesting asserting he makes here:

The Bible makes clear that, when it comes to prayer, God is pretty much a vending machine.

Of course, my main reply is that God is not a vending machine.  Since God is a sentient being, He’s not always going to give us what we want.  He’s actually sort of like a good monkey’s paw:  you can ask God for things, but He’s going to give you what you need and not necessarily what you want, hence God often working in mysterious ways.  And God can evade tests if He wants to, unlike a vending machine.  None of this invalidates the claims that if you have enough faith you will get what you ask for, because part of having enough faith is understanding God enough to know what to ask for.  We would actually expect — and in fact see in the Bible — that the ones whose prayers God most answers are those who ask not for themselves, but for others, and in the right conditions.  That’s not a vending machine as Seidensticker understands it.

Anyone who claims that the Bible says that prayer is like a vending machine needs to look at the Garden of Gethsemane story again.  Jesus is clearly worthy.  He clearly has faith, and the right faith.  He was clearly praying.  And God didn’t answer his prayer because as even Jesus admitted this was necessary.  So God will, again, give you what you need, not what you want.

Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 19 and 20

November 6, 2020

Continuing on, the next post contains arguments 19 and 20.  Argument 19 is basically an argument that says that Christian arguments are at best deist arguments:

These are all deist arguments, which means that the god behind them might have been nothing more than a clockmaker who created and wound up the universe and then walked away. And if the creator god actually does interact with our world, nothing in these arguments points to the Christian god any more than to Marduk, Allah, Brahma, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

First, I am always amazed at how many atheists think that this is a good argument.  The main problem here is that if this is correct, then that still pretty much proves at least the strongest atheists completely wrong, at least if they are naturalists.  Deist gods would be as supernatural as theist gods, after all.  Second, this isn’t all that much of a concern to Christians or other theists because it actually helps them overcome their biggest hurdle, which is the existence of god-like things.  Once we accept that god-like things can and by these arguments must exist, then any argument against their supernatural nature falls apart and so it’s simply a historical analysis to see which, if any, of the gods that we have historical claims for really existed.  And since nothing in the arguments he lists for deist gods preclude any of the theistic gods — the argument is merely that we don’t need a theistic god or one like the religion has posited given those arguments — all he’s done is undercut his own position and done the hard part for the theists he’s opposing.

So an argument that helps your opponent more than yourself and actually undercuts your own position is not one, I think it obvious, that we can’t call a silver bullet argument.  As noted, instead of handily refuting theism it in fact grants them something that they desperately want granted.

Seidensticker turns to his favourite summary argument:

If we lived in God World, the go-to arguments would unambiguously identify this god, not be one-size-fits-all arguments that point to no god in particular—not Yahweh any more than the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

The arguments he lists are all arguments for how obvious the hand of an all-powerful God is in the natural world.  As such, they will demonstrate that hand and that intelligence, not specific deeds in the world.  That’s what the historical documents and stories are for.  He may deny that those historical documents demonstrate the Christian God, but he has no cause to claim that the natural arguments alone should demonstrate that God.

The second argument in the post is about God changing his story:

Or not. The story next lurches forward with Abraham, and God makes a perpetual covenant with Abraham—five times, in fact. And once again we think we’re done.

Nope. Abraham begat Isaac, who begat Jacob, who begat the twelve patriarchs of the (soon to be) twelve tribes of Israel. Then slavery in Egypt, then Moses frees his people, then the Exodus through the desert, and then entry into the Promised land. God ties a bow on the story with the perpetual Mosaic Covenant that is still in force today. The End.

Wrong again. No, it turns out that it was Jesus who was the key to the whole thing. Who saw that coming? What a twist! The entire New Testament (plus a couple dozen church councils) are required to figure out what this new religion actually is and to rationalize some sort of harmony with the Old Testament, which is (oddly) still in force.

So, really, due to changing times and the changing status of society and the people in it, God has redone and made new agreements and sets of rules.  I fail to see why this is a problem for Christianity.  In fact, one of my own personal interpretations of the need for Jesus’ coming is that it moves us from the authoritarian, rule-based morality enforced by direct punishments of the Old Testament to a more conscience-based morality in the New Testament, that’s only possible when you have a stable enough set of societies for that to work.  So that God’s message changes with the times isn’t a big deal, as long as it isn’t directly contradictory (hence accepting the Old Testament as still applying in at least some way even with it being changed a bit by Jesus).

Thus, this argument is actually one that on its own is meaningless and has to rely on other arguments to have any force, so it’s more “presenting evidence” than it is an actual argument.  The first argument that it could support is the one just mentioned:  the messages are unacceptably contradictory.  Of course, since theologians don’t consider that such, he’d need to do more than list different messages and show them as being contradictory.  The second is this one that he handwaves at:

But don’t think that that’s the last reboot. Islam was a reboot. Mormonism was a reboot.

Since he’s primarily aiming his arguments at Christians and Christians don’t accept Islam and probably Mormonism as reboots, this argument ends up as us not being able to tell which are valid and which aren’t, and so Christians would tell Jews to abandon Judaism in favour if Christianity but refuse to give up their Christianity in favour of Islam.  Seidensticker can ask how we should know which “reboots” are valid and which aren’t, but, again, that’s what theology is for.

The final argument is his typical summary argument:

If a perfect god actually existed, he would get his story straight from the beginning, and it wouldn’t look like what it is—a collection of loosely connected ancient mythology and legend.

Well, as it stretches back into prehistory, what else would you expect, when examined shallowly?  But, again, what theology is for is determining what counts, what’s a reboot, and why the reboot was done.  Since Seidensticker’s argument doesn’t even address any of that, it again doesn’t count as a silver bullet argument.