A discussion about God, etc from Facebook

A while back a facebook discussion broke out on my wall in reply to a link I posted on my wall about new atheism and a church an atheist writer quite liked. The discussion got a bit out of hand which each reply getting larger and larger and then splitting up into multiple threads of conversation with replies spamming multiple comments. Facebook is just not a good platform for any kind of meaningful discussion as you really need the full width of your screen and some basic ability to format replies (headings, bullets, etc). So its continued here.

This is a reply I was going to send to Micheal Rush (who was our lecturer for metaphysics) but I spoke to Toby Searle about it and he pointed some issues with the way I worded things. Its such a long post I haven’t had the time to properly go through it and reword it correctly. The issue is something along the lines of originally I seemed to suggest I was saying it is impossible to have a coherent concept of “supernatural events” vs “natural events”. What I’m saying is really, If I were to assert that I am an orthodox christian and believe everything in the bible, but do not believe there are any special supernatural events. Is that coherent? It means when dealing with questions like “How did the ressurection happen?” I wouldn’t be able to give an answer but I could just state I don’t know I think it did happen and it happened naturally.

I’m not saying that this is a desirable state for a christian to be in. Just interested in what is wrong with that when people like the brights put a huge emphasis on the distinction between their naturalism and what they call “supers”. Anyway here is the e-mail exchange between me and toby and we can see if this goes anywhere!

It took me ages to write this. And then when you mentioned that there are perfectly coherent ways of dividing natural vs supernatural it means I’m going to have to change the wording of the whole thing in a complicated way.
Its something to do with a definition of “Natural Law” that forces a christian into a distinction (I’m ok with all events are natural, OR all events are supernatural,but not both happening) that I think is wrong. But we could just assume God is a first cause in random other events other then creation to have the distinction if we want….
So this changes what I was going to say to rush 😦
here it is:
Again this has taken a while! Unfortunately it is not a sign of a well thought through response so much as a sign of these answers gradually taking longer whilst doing this dissertation! This is getting pretty ridiculous for the comments section of a facebook link!
My comment is roughly divided into 3 sections:
– Stuff to do with Natural vs Supernatural
– Stuff to do with my sort of pseudo-falsification posed to attacks on christianity
– A final question about positive reasons for atheism.
So regarding the historicity of Jesus’ death and ressurection. I was asking if it would prove the existence of God if it were true. Do you think that it could Or do you think it wouldn’t even do that?
Regarding natural laws. This may due to my lack of understanding of what counts as a “natural law” and you’re welcomed to refer me to somewhere to read up on it. But I can’t understand a definition of natural law that would allow God to break them and this is why I would say he doesn’t break natural laws. I mean the “Natural Laws” can’t possibly simple mean “Our understanding of natural laws”. If it turns out we find something that breaks “The natural laws” we don’t say its supernatural, we instead change our understanding of what the natural laws are.
I suppose the divide could be “Natural laws dictate what humans can do” and “Supernatural events are only possibly achieved by God”. But then there are biblical accounts of miracles where God enables a human to do the miracle, eg healing through their own touch. I suppose you could then have a divide that miracles are events that can only be achieved through God’s power (I can’t heal anyone through touch whenever I want, but can if God allows me to). But then I have the view that God sustains everything all the time anyway so I wouldn’t be able to accept a divide like this because I’d say even Newton’s Laws happen because of God.
I can’t understand what could possibly be a good definition of “natural order” that would allow a God to break it in the ways outlined in the bible.
Regarding “Would God be worthy of worship if he existed?”. I dunno why that makes his existence a more important claim? Why can’t it just be an “if” that is left there? I don’t know if this is a silly point but isn’t the existence of other minds still debated? Do humans really answer the question “Does my wife really exist” before they ask “Does she love me?”. Ought they?
I mean if there was a good reason to believe my wife or God did not exist, I think that is different. But if there is still an argument raging on both arguments to that question, why not just leave it to one side and deal with more important questions that can be more easily answered for a human?
Regarding falisificationism, I’m definitely not trying to apply pure falsificationism to the existence of God and try and suggest that any of this is science. But I feel that there is an underlying principle that may be applied both ways.
Basically if you say “Extraordinary exidence” is required for “extraordinary claims” without giving an example of what would be a satisfactory set of extraordinary evidence, I feel like this raises similar alarm bells to what Popper felt about psycoanalysis. For example, I have found the historical evidence suggesting Jesus’ death and ressurection to be satisfactory to me. However, most of the good criticisms I have seen levied at the historical evidence seem to attack historical evidence as a whole as not being sufficient for the extraordinary claims of death and ressurection of Jesus. Now this is something I actually accept, I do not feel that historical evidence as a whole is good enough for other people to accept these claims. But I think that as far as any historical evidence could support a claim like this, the evidence for the ressurection is good. I have yet to have seen good attacks on the historical claims that fit within the framework that is consistent.
An example of this is that some people claim that the fact that there are 4 gospels gives us good reason to believe that the ressurection was true as the claims are corroborated. However, some people attack the four gospels citing that there are inconsistencies with the facts between the accounts and therefore we can’t trust any of them. Whereas some people attack the gospels for being TOO similar and therefore they must be copying each other or there must be a 5th Gospel “Q” that is actually the source of all the gospels and so there are not 4 independent accounts but more like 1 or 2. Here the inconsistencies can be used to either support the claims of the gospels or be used to attack them.
So I’d ask, a kind of null hypothesis attitude, what kind of historical evidence ought we see if the claims were true? And do they match up to what we do see?
Does this make sense? (I’ve never managed to communicate the point I’m trying to make with full success)
I’m going to leave the point about the rabbit. I’ve read lots of threads of people discussing whether a precambrian rabbit counts as a true falsifier and all I can do is summarise those discussions, but I don’t actually know what I think. I think your stuff about not being able to go back in time and see the ressurection happen is a good criticism of historical evidence as a whole being problematic, but I have the same issue with that as above.
“Don’t all Christians have to accept that there is an  unquestionable authority?”
The point I’m making is that the answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question “Don’t all scientists have to accept that there is an unquestionable authority?” And the answer is the same for the same reasons. The scientist’s final authority is the external world itself. A Scientist can believe in something with as much consesus as they like, but if the statement is not true of the external world then it is not true. Similarly a theologian can have as many thoughts as they like but ultimately statements about God, if he exists, are either true or false.
However there is a sense where you could simply just say no to both those questions. I also kind of think you don’t need to argue “no” any further for both those questions then simply stating this answer. (Now I do accept that some Catholics think differently, some catholics would see the Pope’s authority as unquestionable. But they are wrong).
I could go into Paul’s arguments that I like, although I do not think that these are neccesarily argument that would convince other people. Certainly they are not about the existence of God and most of them assume some tenets of Jewish law as being true. I think many of Paul’s arguments regarding the inability of the “Law” to fully justify anyone apply to other moral systems though, so I could go into that. However, for fun, I could write up some of the arguments I’ve read recently that I liked?
I’m guessing that your paragraph about God asking you to commit genocide is a kind of attack on “divine command theory” which I’ve only just heard about. This is a whole new area of discussion but I do not think the bible provides a moral code. (I mean, it definitely does, but thats not what is important about it). I think the message of christianity is the “Good news” which is God’s solution to morality as a whole. I think that morality, (be it God’s laws, or utilitarianism, or kantian ethics) do nothing more then reveal guilt. The purpose of the Cross is to free us from moral constraints and allow us to do what it is that we really want. For that reason anyone who accepts any moral code would have, I think, a good reason to hate all christians in theory, even if in practise they wouldn’t need to…
Again… this is a massive tangent, whilst there is plenty of theological support for my position, I’m still having discussions with my atheists philosophy friends about whether its at all consistent.
The final point, that is kind of a deviation. Say I’m someone who already accepts the position that God exists (and that roughly all the tenets of christianity are true). What are the positive reasons that are should move away from this position? I say “positive reasons” so as to exclude answers like “There is not enough evidence”. Instead I’m looking for answers in the form of “Because there is not enough evidence, someone who accepts the position that God exists should reject that position for reasons, X, Y Z). Where X, Y and Z are the positive reasons?

From what I can tell, Occam’s Razor is sort of the main reason?

From Toby:

Hi jamie,

Sitting in my lunch break and had a chance to have a brief look though. Looks pretty good.

As you say, I definitely think you ought to say more about natural laws! I think they can be defined through physical cause and effect relations.

Also, not sure if I can explain this right, but I am a little uncomfortable with the bit drawing similarities between the resurrection and pschoanalysis. It seems to me that if they are similar in the sense that niether counts as popperian science, but I think you are trying to say something different and I don’t quite get it!

Thanks for a cool lunchbreak though.


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