Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review of "The End of Christianity"

I've written a review of The End of Christianity on amazon, which I am reposting here:

Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have managed to produce yet another excellent and invaluable addition to the debate over the truth of Christianity.

In the introduction John reviews his "outsider test for faith" and considers some objections. Nothing new here. People are still trying to avoid testing their worldview without there biases towards that worldview, and John rightly shows that this is nothing more than special pleading.

In chapter 1, "Christianity Evolving", Dr. David Eller treats us to a fascinating anthropological look at how Christianity, like a species that evolves and adapts to its in enviroment, has managed to blossom into a large family of peculiar sects.

In chapter 2, "Christianity's Success was not Incredible", Dr. Richard Carrier gives a capsule summary of his book Not the Impossible Faith and then discusses some reasons that the facts about the origin of Christianity demonstrate that Christianity is not true. That may sound like "the genetic fallacy" but it isn't: he's saying that the claims Christianity makes about the nature of the universe (that there is an all powerful God who sent his son to die and that everyone must believe this in order to recieve eternal life, and that God wants all men to be saved) entails with some probability that God would make that message known to everyone all over the world, and thus Native Americans and the Chinese and everyone else ought to have been visited by God and told the truth. In past debates Carrier has had, Christians have responded that we don't know that God would actually do something like this, and maybe there are good reasons he wouldn't. But in this new chapter, Carrier sets up his argument in such a way that this objection is irrelevant. It involves Bayes' Theorem, and while I can't explain that here (Carrier himself explains it in a later chapter) more or less Bayes' theorem entails that when theory A predicts a piece of evidence with greater probability than theory B, that piece of evidence increases the probability of theory A. So, theory A (that Christianity is false) predicts with basically 100 percent certainty that Jesus would NOT have travelled all over the world after his death and explained the gospel to the Native Americans, chinese, and so forth. Theory B (Christianity is true) does not predict this information with 100 percent (or nearly 100 percent) certainty because if Christianity is true then there is a valid and non-neglible chance that God something like that would happen. Since the falsity of Christianity better predicts that piece of evidence than the truth of Christianity, then this raises the overall probability that Christianity is false to some degree.

In chapter 3, "Christianity is Wildly Improbable" John Loftus reviews a laundry list of weird and unlikely (and perhaps impossible) beliefs that Christians must defend, and concludes that the combination of all this things together results in Christianity having a negligible chance of being true.

Chapter 4, "Why Biblical Studies Must End" presents a capsule summary of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies which shows how the bible is irrelevant to modern life and is not really special in anyway except as a testament to what some people thought and believed in the ancient past.

In chapter 5, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" Dr. Jaco Gericke takes a bottom-up approach to disproving the existence of God. I call it "bottom-up" because I would describe the arguments of most other atheists as being "top-down": that is, they argue that the God of the bible can't exist because the God of the philosophers does not. Gericke, on the other hand, argues that the concept of God that Christian philosophers hold to cannot exist because not only are these two not the same thing, but more importantly because the biblical God is an absurdity. The Old Testament God is just an ancient Hebrew Superman. While any of the passages that indicate this (that God was thought of as having a body, for example) might be disputed or interpreted differently, the cumulative case brought forth by so many passages argues that the god being described by the Old Testament very probably was an ancient Hebrew superman. In chapter 6 Valerie Tarico adds further weight to this case by arguing that an all-powerful and immaterial being like God would not, and could not, have emotions like anger, which the Biblical God is said to have had. This is because emotions serve a function that is only necessary in limited creatures like humans. For example, anger is there to allow you to prepare for situations of conflict, because in a situation of conflict you need to be more aggressive and alert, lest you lose the fight. All of that is obviously advantageous in evolutionary terms. But a God wouldn't really need any emotions. After all, how could an all-powerful being need to become more alert or more aggressive to ensure that it didn't "lose the fight" against some other entity? Though many might describe those passages on God's anger as metaphorical, that is not the most obvious or plain meaning of the text. I recall reading a story in the OT (Exodus 33:3) in which God had to keep a distance between himself and his people because God thought that if he dwelt among the people he might lose control of himself and lash out and kill them. This offers dramatic support to the views of Tarico and Gericke and shows that the biblical God is an absurdity.

In chapter 7, "The Absurdity of the atonement" Dr. Ken Pulliam fully demonstrates that the evangelical theory of Jesus' death (that Jesus' death occurred as a substitute for our suffering for our sins) is indefensible. The knockout comes on page 185: "If man knows right from wrong as a a result of being made in the image of God, and if one of the things man knows from his being so created is that it is wrong to punish the innocent, then how can the central doctrine of Evangelical Christianity, namely penal substitution, be maintained?"

Matt McCormick argues in chapter 8 that there is more and better quality evidence for witchcraft going on in 18th century Salem, Massachusetts than there is for the resurrection of Jesus. This means that accepting Christianity means accepting that witchcraft also occurred in Salem. But adopting that position is obviously absurd and problematic. One point that I wish Matt had brought out is that if one adopted an epistemic standard that was so low that it allowed the acceptance of the Salem witchcraft, as well as the many millions of other miracle claims, then such a position would mean that the resurrection offered only negligible support for Christianity. Think about it: if you are a Christian who accepts the claims of witchcraft and the miracle claims of other religions, you would have to adopt the position that some of these miracles were worked by demons or were worked by your God and the people witnessing the miracle did not realize. But then who's to say the miracle of the resurrection wasn't performed by a demon or by someone else's God?

In chapter 9 Bob Price offers a list of natural explanations for the gospel material on the resurrection, assuming that the gospel accounts themselves are basically correct, and he defends these as plausible. I agree, but incidentally I don't think anyone needs to concede that the material in the is that reliable.

Chapter 10 is a discussion of how the doctrine of Hell is a damnable and indefensible doctrine. Excellent material, and good food for thought: how can anyone be a Christian (or at least, an evangelical Christian) if it means defending a demonstrably immoral doctrine?

The remaining chapters I have no comment on, except for Richard Carrier's two excellent chapters. One is on whether the universe is intelligently-designed, and while I'm in agreement that it isn't, I am not completely sure if his refutations of the fine-tuning argument are totally sound (I will likely blog on this at a later time).

Overall, this is an excellent book, and every open minded Christian ought to have a copy on their bookshelf right next to The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. I doubt that any rational person could remain a Christian after being informed of the arguments in these two books. At least, I can't imagine and have never seen a reasonable response to the points in these books. Highly recommended.

4 comments:

Gozreht said...

As in the other post, keep in mind, this is just an opposing view, not an attack.


In chapter 1, "Christianity Evolving"...Christianity, like a species that evolves and adapts to its in enviroment, has managed to blossom into a large family of peculiar sects.

If he is talking about denominations, then yes, he is correct. Denominations are an abomination. However, what one should realize in this case is that all Christian "sects" believe that Christ came here to die for us and that He is the Son of God. And only those who accept this will be brought back to God. But, denominations were mostly started because of man's interpretations and perversions of truth. God is still God. Christ is still Christ. Man however, waivers in his existence and thereby messes things up. If that is what he said in his book, then he is right on target. Doesn't prove that God does not exist though. If he says other things and I am way off I would like to hear more. I will however not read his book due to time and willingness to give him money for what I would consider falsehood, like an atheist buying a Bible.

In chapter 2, "Christianity's Success was not Incredible"..., God would make that message known to everyone all over the world, and thus Native Americans and the Chinese and everyone else ought to have been visited by God and told the truth. In past debates Carrier has had, Christians have responded that we don't know that God would actually do something like this, and maybe there are good reasons he wouldn't. and explained the gospel to the Native Americans, chinese, and so forth.

This is true to an extent. The God of the Old Testament had been carried to the world and man denounced it in some places. They had the opportunity to accept it. Even the Jewish people who had this message had some in their midst who did not accept it. The Bible also says that where there is innocence there is no judgement (Romans 4:13). So, even if the messaqge never got to them, then maybe God did not count them as "guilty".

I will stop here for word count problems and start a new one.

Gozreht said...

continued...

Chapter 4, "Why Biblical Studies Must End" ...which shows how the bible is irrelevant to modern life and is not really special in anyway except as a testament to what some people thought and believed in the ancient past.

Well, the Bible is full of wisdom talking about marriage and divorce, all kinds of relationships, money management, crime like murder and stealing, love, emotions, treating each other with respect, comforting those who are hurting, taking care of the needy and the infirmed, listening to authority.

I feel these are very relevant to our lives today. Sure, the Bible goes on and adds things the average human can not comprehend without knowing anything about God, but many of these are warnings, either using historical event and/or the future. And there are many cultural ideas that are used in the Bible, but most of these one can tell if it is for the whole world or an opinion of the writer.

In chapter 5, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?"

I had a hard time following this. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. Yahweh is the God of both. I need help understanding this a little more, please.

In chapter 6 Valerie Tarico adds further weight to this case by arguing that an all-powerful and immaterial being like God would not, and could not, have emotions like anger, which the Biblical God is said to have had.

Philosophical difference here. Anger is a reaction to something not going the way you have planned. It is a reaction to being hurt, not a preparation to have conflict. Someone breaks your heart. You feel hurt, even angry, but it doesn't make you prepare to hurt back. That is a human reaction.

A God without emotions means He is without love and grace. A God without emotion is not a God. A real God gets involved with His worshipers. If God had no emotions then He wouldn't care if He was worshiped.

Does God need emotion? That can not be answered. The book presumes way too much on this topic.

Gozreht said...

continued...

chapter 8 if you are a Christian who accepts the claims of witchcraft and the miracle claims of other religions, you would have to adopt the position that some of these miracles were worked by demons or were worked by your God and the people witnessing the miracle did not realize. But then who's to say the miracle of the resurrection wasn't performed by a demon or by someone else's God?

There are "miracles" and witchcraft that is performed by demons. The Bible says there is. That is one reason why satan can fool people into cults. The reason why the Resurrection is not of a demon is because it would negate the demon itself. The demon is out to try and "prove" the non-existence of God's power and demean His glory. Having the one who claimed to be the Son of God, the sworn enemy of satan, would be shooting themselves not only in the foot, but in the head.

Chapter 10 is a discussion of how the doctrine of Hell is a damnable and indefensible doctrine...how can anyone be a Christian if it means defending a demonstrably immoral doctrine?

Well, the word is actually not found in the Bible. The concept of hell has been distorted for hundrfeds of years. "Hell" is a total separation of God and man. It is man without his soul, which he got from God. That in itself is a punishment. We can not comprehend that because believe it or not you are from God. You do have God in you. The fire and eternal torment is actually only said waiting for satan, death, "hades", and satan's angels. So we really do not understand what the final punishment is. All we know is that we were told how to live and how to stay with God. God can not be around sin. A man without a soul is a man without a conscience, or a man who is filled with sin and no way of reconnecting with God. Again, at this point the book presumes more than what is written in scripture.

The remaining chapters ...One is on whether the universe is intelligently-designed, and while I'm in agreement that it isn't, I am not completely sure if his refutations of the fine-tuning argument are totally sound (I will likely blog on this at a later time).

I would agree with you here. I wait to hear more on this subject. Thank you again for allowing me to comment.

One last thing, this is not a "I win" or "you win" discussion. I can give you thousands of responses as I am sure you can as well on the other side. But (and yes, it may be partially Pascal's Wager) just because you can see evidence against things does not make it unreal. You may not believe in God. Scienctists may feel they have proof against God, but it will not change the fact that God does exist. It is like Achmedinjad and his ideas on the holocaust. He claims it is a hoax. Even though there is proof. It is also like the landing on the moon. Some say it didn't happen. Just because there is proof does not change the fact od being real or not.

Be careful not to rationalize your whole life into one of doubt.

Thank you and take care.

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