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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why Christianity passes the OTF, and Humanism fails

Why Christianity passes the "Outsider Test for Faith," and Secular Humanism may fail.
In an earlier blog, I responded to an argument made by atheist writer John Loftus against Christianity, which he calls the "Outsider Test for Faith (OFT)." John answered me in a series of five blogs on his Debunking Christianity web site. I responded with a later, somewhat rushed post.

Here's the nub of the argument, in John's own words (from the book The Christian Delusion):

"1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis."

2) "Consequently, it seems very unlikely that adopting one's religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis."

3) "Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false."

"4) So the best way to test one's adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF."

I don't actually much mind John's conclusion, though I think both his first two premises are badly flawed, and conclusion (3) does not at all follow from them. But in this post, I don't want to rehash earlier points or respond to John's criticism and drag readers into a conventional Internet tit-for-tat.

Let me try something bolder. Let us consider the possibility that the OTF is actually a disguised argument FOR the Christian faith, and AGAINST secular humanism.

First, I amend the test to better reflect the true nature and difficulty of conversion. Then I show how three specific Christian teachings pass "OTF-2.0." After that, I argue that Christianity as a "package deal" has passed OTF around the world in a remarkable way, even all the bells and whistles of Jewish and European culture attached. (And that when it is rejected by entire peoples, it is usually for these irrelevant acrudements, not for the Gospel is itself.) Finally, I briefly consider the shorter and spottier record of Secular Humanism in meeting the challenge of OTF-2.0.

I. Amending the Test. This gemstone will, of course, need a little rubbing, to make it gleam in that light. Six facts must be polished to reveal the true import of OTF.

First, we must remember that most people have never had or taken time to carefully investigate any belief system. The 17th Century Jesuit missionary to India, Roberto de Nobili, noted,

"To preach the faith to simple and uneducated people and, with divine grace, to persuade them is not such a difficult affair. They are, so to speak, blank sheets on which we can write without hindrance. But it is a very difficult proposition when you have to teach men of learning, such as the Brahmins are, who not onnly are proficient in several sciences, but consider themselves the wise men of this world and the teachers of other men."

At the same time, Nobili pointed out that these same Brahmins would not even talk with Europeans dressed as Europeans usually were -- they were considered unclean. Still less would they listen to religious ideas from those they considered out of caste and impure.

Second, human beings are social animals. Since early man hunted mammoths in family packs, we have made important decisions in groups. This is true of evaluating religious claims as well: while no one person may do all the research required to decide about Christianity or secular humanism, they often assume, truly or falsely, that the group as a whole has done the research, and rely on the family or clan or tribal or national will. This also applies to those Nobili called the "simple and uneducated:" in Athens, philosophers scoffed at Paul, but in the countryside in Lystra, they stoned him half to death.

People feel, as Aristotle put it, that one "should attend to the undemonstrated dicta and opinions of the skilful, the old, and the wise." Their judgement or subjective opinion (γνωμη) may be in error, but should not be too quickly slighted.

Third, it is extremely hard for most individuals in most societies to go against their family, clan, tribe and nation.

Fourth, missions must open locked and guarded doors. Often people are impeded in choosing a faith for reasons that have nothing to do with the intrinsic value of that faith.

These reasons can be as elemental as life and death. A December 2010 poll showed that in Egypt and Pakistan, at least three quarters of Muslim respondents favored the death penalty for those who leave Islam. Death, torture, imprisonment, loss of job, and in some ways worst of all (for social creatures) ostrication, losing the love of one's family, have in many societies been normal consequences of converting.

In many cases, conversion to Christianity seemed to involve two terrible acts: (1) A repudiation of one's own traditions, and (2) Embracing the traditions of a dangerous foe.

At first, Christianity arrives from people who speak a different language, act strangely, eat weird foods, and (often) are perceived as a real or potential threat.

Even in the late 20th Century, in a free and innovative country like Taiwan, I found that about three quarters of the people I asked saw Christianity as "alien religion" ("洋教." Many agreed it was a good thing, and many agreed with specific Christian teachings, but its apparently foreign character made it hard for people to consider it fairly.
So we must not be naive. The dice, in most cultures, have always been loaded. It is simply not the case that most people over most of human history have had easy access to the facts as we do, or if they did, been socially in a position to choose a new faith if they wanted to.

For these reasons, the test Christianity and Secular Humanism must pass is not mainly of individuals. It must be of entire cultures, over periods of time, with allowance made for the innate conservativism of most human cultures.

Furthermore, some conversions are more impressive than others. Conversion to Christianity has almost always been socially and often physically dangerous. In some countries, especially Islamic countries, and some periods of European history, it can also be risky to come out as an atheist. But while atheism may be seen as repudiation of tradition, it is usually not seen as involving allying oneself with "the Franj," or "the Crusaders."

Fifth, other barriers have impeded the spread of faith.

Christianity was born into a world of tribes. Perhaps some twenty thousand different ethnic groups, each speaking its own language, were scattered across the globe. Most were at war with their neighbors. Fundamental beliefs could not pass freely from one mountain valley in Guang Xi province, or one village in the Amazon rainforest, or one tribal band on the Great Plains, to the next. Each was an animal with a tough hide and claws that scratched and teeth that bit. (Indeed, many had such totems.)

In such a world, evangelism could only proceed slowly. Paul was hounded and whipped and imprisoned from village to village, but he was in some ways lucky: most the towns he visited spoke Greek or Latin, had met Jews and understood some of his references, and were subject to Roman law. Outside that circle, man could be even more wolf to man: violent northern European tribes, Arabs, Africans speakings thousands of mutually-incomprensible languages across an unbridgeable desert, the vast, peopled, defensive plains, deserts, and jungles of Asia, and then endless oceans to other quarellsome continents.

Evangelism could not, under any circumstances, be the work of a day, a century, or probably even a millennia.

Sixth, if people need to be treated as groups as well as individuals, belief systems should also be broken down into specific tenets. Christianity invokes a series of claims about the world: a good God, Who created the world, speaks to humanity, sends prophets, sent his Son Jesus, who did miracles, taught truth, died and rose again.

The package theology called "Christianity" may be impeded by cultural or geographical barriers, even while the people who reject that package accept, or already believe, some of its constituent tenets.

With that introduction, let us consider the record of these two faiths in passing, in this ammended sense, the "Outsider Test for Faith."

(II.) God or non-God?

The idea of God clearly has passed the "outsider test for faith."

300 years ago, David Hume claimed that at the time of Christ, the whole world was polytheistic: "It is a matter of fact incontestable, that about 1,700 years ago all mankind were polytheists." This was a bit of an exagerration -- Hume did not know that many tribes were aware of a "High God" similiar to the God of the Bible. (Though they also usually believed in other spirits.)

But certainly, the theism that arose in Judaism, and then was adopted by Christians and Muslims, has crossed barriers with remarkable success. Today, about half the people in the world today believe in God in the Judeo-Christian sense. My survey in Taiwan found many non-Christians there who believed in a supreme God. Even in Japan, where Christians are less than 1%, and the government tried to snuff out theism by 200 years of murder and mayhem, when I surveyed my students, I found that about one fifth believed in a personal God who created the world.

III. Redemptive Sacrifice

The idea that "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins," is almost universal. This seems almost to be a fundamental intuition. Red ochre is often found in prehistoric graves, which seems to be a substitute for blood. Sacrifice is central to the earliest Indian texts, the Rig Veda, (which even speaks of Prajapati or God sacrificing himself for human salvation), the Chinese Classics, in Indonesia, Africa, and in much of the world.

The Gospel does not simply affirm this intuition -- it fulfills it, and by fulfilling it, ends actual blood sacrifice. Rene Girard has written profoundly on the social implications of that.

IV. Need for a Savior

All the world, it seems, is looking for a Savior: Messiah, Christ, Sanatan Sadguru, Sheng Ren. I argued, in True Son of Heaven and Jesus and the Religions of Man, that Jesus fulfills many of these prophecies in remarkable ways.

So in this case, too, Christianity passes passes the "outsider test" from the inside.

It is remarkable how universally the figure of Jesus seems to have been accepted as ideal, in cultures around the world, even as fulfilling vastly different ideals, as I attempt to show.

V. Christianity as a Package Deal

Why does John Loftus create a web site in Fort Wayne, Indiana, half way between glacier-scoured Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, in the northern American plains, trying to debunk beliefs about a politically-powerless peasant who lived 2,000 years ago on a piece of semi-desert where Asia, Africa and Europe come together?

Consider what barriers the Gospel overcame to get to Indiana. At every step -- from Jesus to the disciples, the crisis after Jesus died, persecution from defenders of Jewish orthodoxy, transmission to Greek and Latin cultures, then to Egypt, Libya, Gaul, Spain, England, Saxony, 300 years of persecution from defenders of Greco-Roman culture, Islamic invasions, Norse invasions -- each step represented choices, usually by thousands of individuals.

Often those choices were a matter of life or death. Often they involved ostricism. Often they involved identifying with hated foreigners.

True, Christianity was never entirely an "outsider" faith. Always it seemed to fulfill deep and ancient sacred hopes in each civilization. But the barriers were high.

We should not ignore the elephant in the room -- the fact that to become the world's largest religion, Christianity faced, and passed, the OTF millions of times.

Where, today, are there no Christians?

It may be hardest to find Christians in some Muslim countries. Maybe also in North Korea.

Why are Christians hard to find in Saudi Arabia or Omar? Do you need to ask! According to Mohammed, the penalty for leaving Islam and embracing another religion should be death. This rule was accepted throughout the Muslim world, and remains the assumption (as Pew Poll showed) for the vast majority of Muslims at least in two large Muslim countries. (I recently asked a friend who had been an imam and Muslim legal scholar in Africa: "When you were still Muslim, did you think it was right to put converts to Christianity to death?" "Absolutely!" He replied.)

Aside even from that, there is tremendous social pressure against conversion to Christianity, for obvious historical and religious reasons.

Nonetheless, a Coptic friend from Egypt tells me that hundreds of thousands of Muslims have converted to Christianity there. He may be exagerrating, but many certainly have. Thousand of Iranians and Algerian Berbers have also converted in recent years, and probably two million Indonesians a few decades ago.

My friend converted, he says, when he heard the audible voice of God.

In China, Christianity was associated with barbarians, imperialism, and the Opium Wars for hundreds of years. Many early converts were also killed. Communist education teaches atheism, which is why (according to a recent study) 66% of Chinese say they have no religion. Most Chinese still only have a hazy idea of what Christianity is about, and most young people scoff at religion, as they have been taught to do.

Still, over the past few decades, some 60 million mainland Chinese have converted to Christianity.

Christianity is also beginning to spread in Nepal. In India, members of a movement called Christ bakhti attempt to retain Hindu culture while trusting in Jesus. What this shows is that while few Indians are "Christians" yet, what India largely rejected was not the Gospel, but Western imperialism and cultural forms that came with it.

Triumphalism would be misplaced: Christian faith is not an easy thing, and each of us faces choices every day. But it seems clear that, given a fair chance, and taking the real world into consideration, Christianity does not fail the Outsider Test for Faith, but passes it in a remarkable, unprecedented way.

VI. Does Secular Humanism pass OTF?

The core tenets of Secular Humanism, as explained by Paul Kurtz, involves four simple assumptions: (1) There is no God; (2) or afterlife; (3) One should be concerned for oneself; (4) and for other people. One might distinguish western secular humanism, which usually accepts democracy, from Marxism, a non-democratic form of secular humanism. I see Secular Humanism, defined in this way, as probably the leading atheist faith in the Western world.

The last two tenets are, of course, accepted by almost everyone. So in order to make a convert, Secular Humanism needs only to convince you of two simple facts. You don't need to go to church, tithe, get baptized refrain from sleeping around (always a selling point), or (usually) die a martyr's death.

Still, most Secular Humanism seem to be either (a) an elite faith, bred in western universities, and fairly rare in the real world, or (b) a top-down faith, believed on government authority. (Maybe the two are related: education, many secular humanists have affirmed, is the key to a God-free future.)

This is just a thought, and maybe I'm wrong. But it seems that Christianity, both in parts and whole, has passed OTF-2.0 with flying colors. Secular Humanism certainly has easy appeal, and a fairly large congregation, but has yet to prove it can succeed without wholesale government sponsorship.

Update: In this post, I mostly assumed for the sake of the argument that there is, or can be, some validity to OTF 2.0. In a follow-up post, re-christening it the Argument from Transcultural Plausibility (ATP), I argue that in two ways, it may indeed carry some weight.

40 comments:

Jason Pratt said...

Nice Judo-throw David! {g}

JRP

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Jason. Maybe I learned something while I was in Japan, after all!

John W. Loftus said...

it's surprising to me what some people think is an important critique of the OTF. Hint: this post isn't it.

David B Marshall said...

It's surprising to me, John, that you think your "test" is any kind of challenge to Christianity. Obviously, it's not. On the contrary, it focuses attention on what may prove (I am still mulling this over) remarkable, but overlooked, evidence for the truth of Christianity.

For that, we may owe you thanks. Maybe the OTF will secure your place in history some day, as the challenge that focuses attention on the Argument from Transcultural Plausibility (ATP).

I often find interesting arguments for Christianity in the attacks skeptics launch against it. So often it turns out that their premises are untrue. Substitute accurate data and more careful premises, and the argument actually affirms Christianity. A parallel recent case was Dawkins' claim that God is probably unreal, since gods evolve. He neglected evidence of a common High God in cultures around the world, which given his argument, does seem to suggest that God is more than a culural construct.

By the way, yesterday I took a look at your original formulation of OTF. Here's the example you gave:

"If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism. Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating."

Of course the really "cold, hard fact" is that if you were born in Saudi Arabia and converted to Christianity, you'd likely be dead or in prison.

Despite the dangers, Saudi pride and how closely Saudi self-identity is tied to Islam, I've had Saudi students ask me for New Testaments. (One was the son of a general in the Ministry of the Interior.) Give them religious and social freedom, overcome the immense cultural barriers to the Gospel, give them a chance to learn about it in a conducive atmosphere, and spiritual hunger for Truth and Goodness, I don't think Saudis would find the Christian Gospel unbelievable at all.

John W. Loftus said...

You're welcome David.

Are you suggesting that the Saudi's do not really believe in Islam just because of a mere threat that they could be killed? I find that implausible. Plenty of people have risked death because of what they believed. If the Wahhabi's are willing to fly planes into buildings they wouldn't be afraid of any state if they believed differently. And what say you about the threat of hell for Christians? Would you be willing to say that if that threat were removed Christians wouldn't believe either? If God wants our true heart-felt obedience at all, why then does he threaten us with eternal punishment if we disobey—is this any reasonable way to gain such a thing?

David B Marshall said...

John: Certainly the threat of being drowned by your uncle in your own swimming pool, or tortured by the police in prison, must concentrate the mind.

But please reread Part I of the blog above. There are all kinds of reasons why Christianity cannot get a fair chance with most Saudis, even if they have a chance to learn about it. Cultures, like cells, form barriers to protect themselves from potentially threatening outside influences. Muslim cultures form some of the hardest barriers, and Saudi culture is one of the most impervious of all. Look at these maps of freedom around the world, Saudi Arabia in particular:

http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=289

David B Marshall said...

Your point about hell may carry some weight; I'm not fond of the idea (as usually understood) myself. But both Jason (I know) and myself are skeptical about that formulation, and yet are Christians. So maybe you're asking the wrong people that question.

Brenda said...

"If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact."

If you were born in China, you would be an atheist right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact.

It simply does not follow from the fact that some or even most people believe in X due to social conformity that therefore belief X must be false.

Nor does it follow from the fact that belief X enjoys a majority status or has overcome adversity that therefore it must be true.

These are freshmen class errors.

John W. Loftus said...

Hey David, what say you about Brenda's claim that "these are freshman class errors"?

Care to explain to her that any exceptions do not undermine or disprove the rule?

John W. Loftus said...

Hey Brenda, your comment reminded me of what I wrote here. Perhaps David, someone you trust, will tell you the same thing.

Cheers.

David B Marshall said...

John: I'm not granting that your argument carries weight, I'm "considering the possibility," and seeing where it would lead us. Or as put it on Victor's blog, I've "learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, and am now riding it into downtown Moscow, waving John' cowboy hat and shouting 'Yahoo'!" (or maybe "Google!")

One does not want to fall prey to some form of ad populum. On the other hand, if God intended to bless the world through Abraham's seed, as prophesied in the OT, one would expect the life of Christ to make a noticable impact on the world. And if one wants to get "outside one's own culturally-influenced head" and see if Christianity remains plausible, the thought experiment explored above is a great way to do so.

Brenda said...

"Care to explain to her that any exceptions do not undermine or disprove the rule?"

I would not make such a mistake. Exceptions do not prove rules. Neither does conforming to one's culture's beliefs make them true or false. Statements can only be true or false if they correspond to a particular state of affairs. Religious statements have no objective referent and so are epistemically meaningless. But that won't get you to atheism.

Alexander said...

Sorry David, but your own religion is also subject to a lack of religious freedom as the concept of hell itself limits the freedom to believe in religious beliefs contrary to Christianity and suppresses critical thinking.

David B Marshall said...

Brenda: What does that mean? How do you know religious statements have "no objective referents?" Or is that statement, being about religions, also meaningless?

David B Marshall said...

Alexander: It crosses my mind that never once, when Christians are preaching the Gospel in Acts, do they mention hell. Offhand, I can't think of an instance in which they do, anyway. Of course Greco-Romans did believe in Hades, generally speaking. I don't recall that being a big emphasis of preaching in China, either. I'd have to see positive, systematic evidence before I was convinced that the Christian teaching on hell was responsible for the worldwide spread of Christianity. Anyway, you have to BELIEVE in hell before it constrains your choices -- that's different from Saudi Arabia or North Korea, where they can kill you just when you don't believe their religions.

Alexander said...

The concept of Hell is inherent in, at the least, most of modern Christianity. Why else does one need to be saved? They need to be saved from something; and that something is Hell. One cannot be mentally free and believe in Hell.

You can't run from that truth and it is one I understood when I was a Christian. I was raised in a fairly conservative, Christian family and I know the doctrines of the Christianity that millions believe in the US. I know how it constrains critical thinking and keeps people from converting away from Christianity.

Every coin has two sides. You are allgedly saved by Jesus, but enslaved into believing in only one thing by Hell. Miracles happen to those favored by God, but what of those who die during a miracle (i.e. those who die during a car crash where someone else is saved as a result of a miracle)? Are they collateral damage in God's eyes? God is loving, but leads infanticide in the Hebrew Scriptures. God is omniscient, but creates a world he knew he would later have to destroy. God is allegedly non-human, but he has human attributes (emotions, body parts).

I know that there are some forms of Christianity which reject the concept of Hell, but those forms are not mainstream.

For many years, my critical thinking skills were repressed because I, by my religion's own oppression, was not allowed to think outside the box of orthodoxy.

Alexander said...

Also, I'm not saying it is responsible. There are other elements responsible for Christianity's wide spread. What I a stating is simple, that the concepts of heaven and hell almost guarantee that those born/converted into the faith will not leave.

Alexander said...

*What I am stating

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

What I a stating is simple, that the concepts of heaven and hell almost guarantee that those born/converted into the faith will not leave.

No. I this this has some validity for converts, but you are emphatically wrong when it comes to those born into the faith.

Do you know how many people I've met in my life who were raised in some kind of conservative Christianity with a hell-concept and have since left the fold? Even those who haven't often switch to liberal enough beliefs that they run the risk of being considered outside the fold by those who brought them up in the faith. Hell has one flaw as a deterrent: Once you stop believing you'll go there--whether because you've stopped believing the whole business or because you've stopped believing a particular theology--it can't, or shouldn't, care you. Sure, social pressure's still there, but that's not hell.

Joseph Siemion said...

This was an impressive response to Loftus' argument. I'm convinced that it does away with the OTF, which I had previously also held.

Humanism may be the result of the immense amount of knowledge that we moderns have about the world, which all of those billions of converts never had.

Alexander said...

"Hell has one flaw as a deterrent: Once you stop believing you'll go there--whether because you've stopped believing the whole business or because you've stopped believing a particular theology--it can't, or shouldn't, care you. Sure, social pressure's still there, but that's not hell."

Even if I don't believe in it now, however, it still is a concept which is emotionally taxing to rid oneself of. Even if when one doesn't believe the concept of Hell completely fades, it still creates mental slavery. All I am saying is that it is just another restraint on the believer which states that he must believe. Any system of belief that necessarily punishes the act of simply holding a different opinion is oppressive.

On an unrelated note, I would also like to point out that Jesus as the final sacrifice has no relation whatsoever to animal sacrifices and such throughout the history of human religion. The sacrifices of other people were to different god sand for varying purposes, mostly, though it was to please them. It is certainly odd, though, that a god should be pleased to see animals brutally killed. In any case, however, there is no evidence that the concepts of Jesus and the ancient sacrifice rites are related in any way. They may sound similar to some degree, but that means nothing.

The same is true with a savior figure. So what is some other belief system involve a savior? What does that have to do with Jesus? He doesn't fulfill anything, and the Gospel writers actively edit stories about him to get them to work with certain passages of the Hebrew scriptures.

Finally, God does not pass the test. If Christians would put the Judeo-Christian god who directs infanticide and has emotions into another religion they would likely not believe in him. It is also important to ask: which god? Not all are even remotely the same.

Alexander said...

*So what if some other belief system involves a savior?

Brenda said...

"Brenda: What does that mean? How do you know religious statements have "no objective referents?""

What I mean is that the claims of virtually all religions refer to things which cannot be said to exist and so are meaningless. Santa Clause does not exist so statements about him as a real living entity are senseless. Santa Clause does have a cultural meaning, he stands for a spirit of universal giving, compassion, joy etc. But that is not what people mean when they say that when you die you'll go to a real place, heaven or hell, and meet a real spiritual being, God or the Buddha or Allah.

These beings and the places they inhabit cannot be said to exist (they also cannot be said to not exist) and so statements about them are without meaning. Equally, the claims made by atheists, that god does not exist and so on, also have no objective referents and so also are meaningless.

David B Marshall said...

Brenda: I see several problems here:

(1) You say the claims of all religions "refer to things which cannot be said to exist and so are meaningless."

The first problem is, God CAN be said to exist. God exists. I just said it. Anything that is done, can be done. So God "can be said to exist."

(2) Perhaps you mean, "God cannot be said truthfully to exist." In which case my question is again: how do you know?

(3) Your example raises another problem:

"Santa Clause does not exist so statements about him as a real living entity are senseless."

But why should we take that as true? "Santa Claus is coming to town, making a list, gonna give you a red wagon or a lump of coal" are all sensible claims. I happen to think they are false claims, but that doesn't mean they lack meaning. "Earth has two suns" is a meaningful, but false, statement. "God created the universe" looks to me like a meaningful statement that could be either true or false.

(4) Lots of religious statements are about events much like other events in this world. The tortoise shell in Shang China that reads, "Go, and you will conquer the Di Yi," is obviously meaningful, and results of the battle test its veracity. "Jesus died under Pontius Pilate" is a plain historical statement as well as a religious statement. "Jesus rose from the dead" is a meaningful statement, and also an important religious statement.

(5) You say Buddha "cannot be said to not exist." Watch me do the impossible again: "Buddha does not exist." I may be wrong -- maybe somewhere in this or some other universe there is a being that resembles him -- but clearly I can say it, and clearly it means something when I do.

Or am I missing something?

cl said...

@ David,

Thoughtful post. I enjoyed it. I'd seen your name around, this is the first time I've stopped by.

@ Brenda,

It simply does not follow from the fact that some or even most people believe in X due to social conformity that therefore belief X must be false. Nor does it follow from the fact that belief X enjoys a majority status or has overcome adversity that therefore it must be true. These are freshmen class errors.

It seems to me that the real "freshman class error" here is your inability to correctly frame your interlocutor's argument. David--and may he correct me if I'm wrong--did not claim either of the things you seem to ascribe to him. You imply that he does through simple assertion, yet, you fail to substantiate that which you imply.

What I mean is that the claims of virtually all religions refer to things which cannot be said to exist and so are meaningless.

Bare assertion is also a "freshman class error," is it not?

David B Marshall said...

CL: Thanks; I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

I've just posted a more positive argument based on "OTF 2.0." It probably still needs a bit of editing, and I may add a third point if I can distill another still inchoate thought out . . .

Anonymous said...

"...One does not want to fall prey to some form of ad populum. On the other hand, if God intended to bless the world through Abraham's seed, as prophesied in the OT, one would expect the life of Christ to make a noticable impact on the world. And if one wants to get "outside one's own culturally-influenced head" and see if Christianity remains plausible, the thought experiment explored above is a great way to do so."

Native Americans, Africans and Pacific islanders might have a very different opinion about the 'blessings' and impact of Christianity. Consider the near obliteration of Hawaiian culture by missionaries as a case in point.

And getting 'outside one's culturally influenced head' is not what the OTF is about. One need not think like a Hindu to reject Hinduism or like a Mormon to reject Mormonism.
Nor is the OTF intended to be relevant when applied to the positive moral teachings of your religion or any other. It is about supernatural claims and claims of supernatural origin.

This is of course, ManhattanMC posting anonymously because I'm not about to give you my google account.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that Christianity definitely passes the OTF, else it would still be an obscure Israel-based religion instead of spread all around the world like we find it today. You can't simply cop out that all of those foreign cultures adopting it over the years (and now) were "highly superstitious". The fact remains that they adopted and believe Christianity over any of their previous beliefs (whatever they may have been), when they otherwise would not have had any reason to do so.

As to the second argument, "It is about supernatural claims and claims of supernatural origin.", I say:

Just like the claims that "something came from nothing".

B.R. said...

@Anonymous;

"The bottom line is that Christianity definitely passes the OTF, else it would still be an obscure Israel-based religion instead of spread all around the world like we find it today. You can't simply cop out that all of those foreign cultures adopting it over the years (and now) were "highly superstitious". The fact remains that they adopted and believe Christianity over any of their previous beliefs (whatever they may have been), when they otherwise would not have had any reason to do so."

This comment is extremely stupid and displays a devastating ignorance of recorded history. First off, you're blatantly ignoring the fact Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe mass murder and genocide, and only manged to hang on to it's position through Inquisitions and pogroms. And for all of these "foreign cultures adopting it when they had no reason to", having to choose between death or lip-service to a new cult can be very persuasive. Christianity does NOT pass the OTF, simply because it never convert anyone but the ignorant and superstitious, who, after believing in evil spirits and nature gods, probably don't find belief in a magical Sky Zombie any more odd. My advice is to do some actual research into a subject before spouting off.

David B Marshall said...

BR: Do you really think you know more about the spread of Christianity than I do?

I rebutted Carrier's scurilous claim that Christianity "spread by the sword," and he had nothing to say in response to my detailed decontruction of that claim. He didn't know what he's talking about, and obviously, neither do you. But if you want to get into the nitty-gritty, there's the place to start. I divided the spread of Christianity into 12 periods and geographical regions. In only two of them was violence a significant factor at all, and even there it would be grossly simplistic (which, I'm sure, will suit you fine) to say violence was key to the Church's success.

Don't blow smoke at me, junior.

B.R. said...

"Do you really think you know more about the spread of Christianity than I do?"

That depends; do you agree with Anonymous?

"I rebutted Carrier's scurilous claim that Christianity "spread by the sword,"..."

I doubt that. I don't know what Carrier was saying, but the fact that your religion spread by the sword in an undeniable one. Or maybe several million pagans just magically dropped dead.

http://notachristian.org/christianatrocities.html

"He didn't know what he's talking about, and obviously, neither do you."

My winning our previous debates puts lie to that, but I bet you already know that. Would you mind saving your childish insults for your fellow kindergarteners?

As for the rest, post a link so I can examine your so-called "rebuttal". Oh, and I don't smoke, imbecile.

B.R. said...

Well, I just did a search and found it on Amazon(the "rebuttal", that is). First, at no time do you actually mention the organized persecution and censorship of the pagans, and the occasional mass murders that took place against them. A prime example would be the Gaelic Irish, who suffered immensely, yet you remain silent. You also fail to mention the Thirty Years' War, and the numerous Papal Inquisitions that stamped out Christian heretics. In short, your rebuttal, while making some good points, is more propaganda than history. Refusing to go into detail except in cases of peaceful conversion, in contrast to the other sort, which either receives a perfunctory mention from you or doesn't appear at all, is highly dishonest. You only seem to care about the "nice" part of your religion's history, and offer little or no information about the negative aspects.

David B Marshall said...

BR: If you've "won" any debates here, it was in your own mind. You refer to my "childish insults," but I only repeat (and tone down) what you said to Anon, with more propriety since you started on that tone, and since your post really earns the rebuke. Why do you suppose it is OK for you to accuse him / her of a "devastating ignorance of recorded history" and demand that he or she do some "actual research" before "spouting off," but somehow wrong for me to tell you not to "blow smoke?"

Then you also add the truly childish insult, "imbecile," along with stupid bragadocio about allegedly winning debates (in your mind), plus the "kindergartener" remark.

If you're going to argue like a junior high school kid, do it somewhere else: this is a forum for adults. And if you start off with unfair insults, don't whine about getting insults that hit the mark, in return.

As for substance, you don't even attempt to rebut my argument, so there's no need for me to say anything. If you chose to attempt such a rebuttal, you'll be welcome to try: but only if you adopt a more mature tone along the way. I've had to explain this to you before.

David B Marshall said...

BR: Please read through the rest of this comment forum, for reference, and note the dignity with which both skeptics and Christians generally comport themselves. That's what we want, here.

B.R. said...

"BR: If you've "won" any debates here, it was in your own mind."

Which explains the outcome of our very first debate, your "Confucius" post. Anon was ignorant, David; you can defend him/her all you want, but it doesn't change anything. Furthermore, if my comment earns rebuke, it is in your own mind. And by the way, you asked if I thought I knew more than *you*, and told me not to blow smoke at *you*, when my comment was addressed solely to Anon. It's almost as though I called you ignorant instead of Anon. Over-defensive much?

"Then you also add the truly childish insult, "imbecile," along with stupid bragadocio about allegedly winning debates (in your mind), plus the "kindergartener" remark."

You said that I didn't know know what I was talking about(without evidence, I might add); an extremely rude and unfounded insult. You then said that would probably approve of something "grossly simplistic", another deeply petty remark. And then you called me "Junior", an obviously disdainful and condescending name. I don't have to take that kind of crap from anyone, David, least of all you. If you can be civil, then don't expect me to be so either. I respect more than Anon, but I won't be your garbage boy. And out of politeness, I'll ignore the next portion of your comment.

"As for substance, you don't even attempt to rebut my argument, so there's no need for me to say anything. If you chose to attempt such a rebuttal, you'll be welcome to try: but only if you adopt a more mature tone along the way. I've had to explain this to you before."

So, you choose to cop-out rather than debate? Sad. And as far as mature tones go, your first comment could've been much better. And out of respect, I'll also ignore the next hypocritical comment you left. Now, do you want to debate, or have I just been wasting my time? You can always look at the link I left.

B.R. said...

"Can't" be civil, that is, not "can".

Anonymous said...

Right BR, anyone who doesn't agree with you is obviously ignorant and hasn't done their research. Why bother even saying something like that? Perception of human intelligence comes largely from how much we agree with that person. So, I imagine the fact that YOU don't agree with ME...well we'll see if you can figure that one out.

1) Of course it spread with the inquisition, nobody is denying that. But to assume that's the only reason it spread is ridiculous.
2) The OTF (to me) comes down to why you'd choose Christianity over any other faith/religion if you were looking in from the outside at everything (a total unbeliever). I get that you don't think there's enough evidence to choose Christianity over the others, but there are a lot of people who do feel there is enough evidence to make this decision. Who are you to tell them they are wrong? In fact, lots of people don't think there's enough evidence to be an athiest. I realize people tend to make generalizations, but your overgeneralization and pigeonholing every believer is just pathetic and much more ignorant than anything I said.

B.R. said...

"Right BR, anyone who doesn't agree with you is obviously ignorant and hasn't done their research."

Have I said that? No. You're making a straw-man.

"1) Of course it spread with the inquisition, nobody is denying that. But to assume that's the only reason it spread is ridiculous."

Did I say that? NO. You might want to take the time to read my comments.

"The OTF (to me) comes down to why you'd choose Christianity over any other faith/religion if you were looking in from the outside at everything (a total unbeliever). I get that you don't think there's enough evidence to choose Christianity over the others, but there are a lot of people who do feel there is enough evidence to make this decision. Who are you to tell them they are wrong?"

I was disagreeing with your comment. That certainly does not mean that I go around trying to convince everyone that I'm right. You lack perspective.

"In fact, lots of people don't think there's enough evidence to be an athiest. I realize people tend to make generalizations, but your overgeneralization and pigeonholing every believer is just pathetic and much more ignorant than anything I said."

Your extraordinarily dishonest straw-man is far more pathetic than anything I could do or say here. Your comment that I first posted on was far more ignorant than anything I've ever said on this blog or any other. Saying that a major religion must be true because it's a major religion is stupid. Islam is as big as Christianity, but I don't see you arguing for that one, or Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.

Anonymous said...

Oh I never said that you did say those things BR, but it's your attitude. You don't have to spell out an attitude.

So you're not trying to convince everyone you're right, but you happened to post your response publicly where anyone can see it huh?

No, I didn't say Christianity is true because it's a (popular) major religion, although it happens to be. That's an important distinction which you're not making. I agree just as much as you do that there would be no basis for choosing beliefs based solely on a numbers game. This has nothing to do with numbers. You misinterpreted what I said and resorted to calling my posts "ignorant" because you didn't understand them. The topic at hand is whether Christianity passes the OTF. And whether it is the biggest religion or the smallest, people outside of Israel throughout history have felt there was more evidence for Christianity than the others. What I said originally, is that Christianity wouldn't be around any longer at all if there wasn't sufficient evidence to people on the outside throughout history. Then you brought up the inquisition, as if to imply that were largely the reason everyone believes today.

B.R. said...

@Anon;

Well, I'm still not sure how I missed this comment the first time around, but, I'll go ahead and destroy it anyway.

"Oh I never said that you did say those things BR, but it's your attitude. You don't have to spell out an attitude."

Whatever.

"So you're not trying to convince everyone you're right, but you happened to post your response publicly where anyone can see it huh?"

Are you mentally impaired somehow? Disagreeing with ignorant internet comments doesn't mean that I go around trying to convince everyone I'm right. Some of my best friends are Christians, and I've never tried to deconvert them.

"No, I didn't say Christianity is true because it's a (popular) major religion, although it happens to be)."

Remember this?

"The bottom line is that Christianity definitely passes the OTF, else it would still be an obscure Israel-based religion instead of spread all around the world like we find it today."

"I agree just as much as you do that there would be no basis for choosing beliefs based solely on a numbers game. This has nothing to do with numbers. You misinterpreted what I said and resorted to calling my posts "ignorant" because you didn't understand them."

And yet, despite all this, you still said that Xianty passes the OTF, otherwise it wouldn't be as widespread as it is today. If that isn't arguing from numbers, what is? Popularity has little to do with the veracity of any given belief, so it really doesn't matter how many "cultural barriers" xianty crossed, it doesn't provide evidence for the core tenets of the faith.

"The topic at hand is whether Christianity passes the OTF. And whether it is the biggest religion or the smallest, people outside of Israel throughout history have felt there was more evidence for Christianity than the others."

Does that include the tens of millions of pagans massacred in the name of Christianity? Just curious. Or the ones who only converted because their kings did; i.e., the Saxons and the Scandinavians in general.

"What I said originally, is that Christianity wouldn't be around any longer at all if there wasn't sufficient evidence to people on the outside throughout history. Then you brought up the inquisition, as if to imply that were largely the reason everyone believes today."

Once again; you're completley missing the point by assuming that these converts were won through evidence. If you can find a passage belong to Aquinas or Augustine that actually provides non-biblical proof for your religion, let me know; because what they really used was intimidation, murder, and in peaceful cases, slick lines. How many people in the 19th century were taken in by snake-oil salesmen? Thousands? Tens of thousands? How much physical proof do you think they provided for their claims? Eh? The fact is, you're still making pre-suppositions, and still arguing from numbers. What if Christianity was less widespread? Would you still insist that all the converts of antiquity were won through evidence? Because faith doesn't need evidence, and if the church had evidence, it would have come forward with it long before now. It's like medieval tales of saints; they performed miracles day and night, it seems, and yet no pagans ever wrote about it, and nowadays, in the age of science, we never seem to see any miracles at all.