John Loftus gives a preview of Carrier's new book on his Debunking Christianity website. Let's listen in, then respond, in a provisional way, to some of the arguments Richard seems to be making:
Carrier gives four reasons as summarized by Confessions of a Doubting Thomas:
Richard Carrier is not a "doubting Thomas," of course: he is a highly committed atheist, who does not at all want to believe in God. Plenty of people in the 1st Century scoffed at Christian claims: Carrier might more accurately identify himself with one of the scoffers, not with Thomas.
God is Silent: that is, if God is as most Christians describe him, he should be able to make his message clear to everybody. And what's more he should be willing to make his message clear to everybody. The reality is, however, that most people are not aware of a clear message from God, and the message that seems to be heard by believers is not a consistent or even a non-contradictory one. Different believers get different messages and these conflict, and these lead (quite literally) to conflict. God appears to be unable to deliver a simple message to his people, let alone to everyone else. Thus, the Christian God is refuted by his silence."
If God is silent, why do billions of human beings today, believe they have heard from him? (Including me?)
I remember inviting an Egyptian Muslim over to our home for Christmas one year in Japan. She shared her reasons for believing in God. They had to do with perceptions of a designer that had come to her through nature, creatures in the Red Sea, pictures of which she showed me, for instance.
The Bible says Nature reveals God. It is legitimate to argue about cosmological arguments, or about design arguments. But even if these arguments fail, Nature itself is read as a language that seems to tell many or most people, "I am here, and I am not silent!"
This is why early scientists spoke of the "Book of Nature."
Suppose you are a prison guard in Hanoi. Suppose you hear some sound, and suspect that the prisoners are communicating with one another. But how? You listen late at night, and hear some scraping. Maybe it's just the rats! Maybe people are striking their cups against the wall at random, as they move in closed quarters. It doesn't sound like a language to you.
Suppose you then find that spontaneously, all around the prison, your American wards are putting up little decorations, and singing songs. You bring some of the prisoners into your office, and interrogate them. "It's Christmas today!" They tell you. But they refuse to say how they found out.
Maybe they have all calculated the days, and independently concluded that it is Christmas. Or maybe they have communicated -- maybe those scrapings, which sound random to you, are in fact a secret language.
If you know the language, you can be sure that you have received a real message. But if you do not know the language, you may suppose it is either a series of random noises, or perhaps a language, but like Jabberwocky, contains no coherent message.
Is that because the language is, in fact, garbled? Or because we are still learning to listen? Maybe it is in part garbled so that those who overhear it with hostility, will dismiss it.
Maybe you don't want it to be a language, because you're like Seargent Shultz, and really just want to get along, without any such complications in your life.
Even new prisoners, who are still learning the code, may be unsure if a given series of scrapings is, indeed, a message, or what it means.
|"I hear NUUTHEENG!"|
There are other languages, too, like the words of Jesus and the prophets, miracles, the conscience, our perceptions of beauty and justice, and our intuitive love of truth. One might be able to explain these things in terms of evolution -- I know many have tried -- but can one justify them, or give them the normative stature we know they deserve?
It is also a fact that peoples in hundreds or thousands of cultures around the world, contrary to skeptical assumptions, have come to a coherent concept of the Supreme God who transcends any one culture. This is a subject I have written a lot on, including in this previous blog.
So Carrier's first premise seems contradicted by a multiplicity of facts.
The fact that people hold some different beliefs about ultimate truth, follows from the fact that God is also hidden, as he must be, if we are to be free. If it were impossible to believe anything but the truth about God, could we be free? Thus even in Star Trek, the "Prime Directive" is to allow otherworldly cultures to develop on their own, without outside interference.
God is Inert: that is, there is no evidence that there is a loving and supremely powerful God at work in the world. Innocent children suffer and die. Good people suffer and die. Innocent children of good Christian people suffer and die. God apparently does nothing to stop this. This is inconsistent with the claimed character of the Christian God, thus, God is refuted by his inactivity.
The Problem of Pain has been discussed by believers and unbelievers since ancient Greece, if not earlier. Ancient Jews and Christians were of course more familiar with pain than we are, in our anti-septic world. Most babies died. Epidemics swept whole populations out of existence. Warfare was more common. Yet people came to the conclusion that God does care, and does act in the world. This is the strongest argument in the atheist arsenal, but it is curious that its force seems to be strongest just when we have found so many devices to get rid of pain.
Wrong Evidence: basically, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, and the biblical evidence is barely even mundane. The best evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus is four non-eyewitness accounts, which contradict each other on important issues, and a bunch of letters, ostensibly from someone who never met Jesus in the flesh and only had a vision of him. And all these were written a couple of decades after the alleged events, at the earliest. How is all that sufficient evidence for the greatest claim ever made?
Here we come into all sorts of disagreements, which one can only list, and not respond to at length on the spot:
* Is Carrier begging the question with his term "extraordinary claim?" Maybe for him, the idea that God would act in the world is "extraordinary." Maybe for me, the idea that God would NOT act is "extraordinary." Choosing between these options would take quite a bit of discussion; maybe we should return to this question at some point.
* I think the NT evidence IS extraordinary, for reasons I gave in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.
* There are, in fact, between three and five eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus, in the New Testament, along with numerous close second-hand accounts.
* Carrier's description of what the Bible claims about Paul's meeting with Jesus is incorrect, as NT Wright demonstrates. That meeting cannot validly be described as "only had a vision of him." For one thing, visions do not ordinarily render a person blind, then accurately tell him about a stranger who will come and cure him some days hence. We might call this a "smart vision."
* What's wrong with writing about events a couple decades later? I do that all the time, as (I have found) do my seniors. If Dr. Carrier is fortunate enough to reach a similiar or later stage of maturity (may he enjoy good health), he may find himself referring to events he has himself witnessed a couple decades later, and still remembers quite clearly.
Wrong Universe: the Christian claim is that God made the universe and put us, the pinnacle of creation, into it. So why is 99.99999% of all creation hostile to us?
Is it? I can't live in space, but does that make space "hostile" to me? Be careful what writers smuggle in with their anthropomorphisms.
As far as we can tell, if you scaled the entire universe down to the equivalent size of a house, then the tiny zone which is capable of sustaining human life is as small as a single proton! Invisibly and insignificantly small. This is not what we would expect if the universe was intelligently designed for us, but is exactly what you would expect if we are merely an accidental by-product of a chaotic universe.
I know of no suggestion in the Bible that God created all the universe just for us. Maybe He likes lots of stars; if so, who can blame Him?
Aside from which, if we live in three-dimensional space, that space will either be bounded or not. If unbounded, it will either be full of things, or empty. If full of things, those things will either include sentient life, or not. Every possibility will be used by skeptics of this mind-set as an argument against God. Why did God create so much empty space? Why so many dead planets with atmospheres of sulfer-dioxide or carbon dioxide? Why, we know we're just one rational species out of ten trillion! Why should God care anything about us?
All such arguments are as vacuous as most of space itself. There simply seems to be no relationship between premises and conclusion. If nothing else, the astounding discoveries of modern astronomy underline the ancient phrase, "the Heavens declare the glory of God."