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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Was C. S. Lewis a chicken atheist?

Recently I came across this criticism of C. S. Lewis by secular humanist Patrick Inniss, first published by the Secular Humanist Press.  Boy, does he get a lot wrong: 

You can't delve too deeply into modern Christian apologetics without coming across the name C.S. Lewis.  A few years ago, an evangelical Christian friend presented me with one of Lewis's books, remarking in his inscription that Lewis was "himself once an atheist." Tales of atheists who suffer religious conversions are a staple of true believers. I always listen to such reports attentively because they reveal the level of understanding believers have of atheism.

So let's begin by poisoning the well in a mild way!  Atheists don't convert, they "suffer conversions."  (Lewis might have agreed with that.)  Christians who tell such stories aren't "believers," but "true believers," a nod to the conceit that Christian faith is irrational.   

To my disappointment, I discovered that Lewis doesn't really spend much time talking about atheism in this book.

What book?  This article is being published by the Secular Humanist Press.  Why would they publish an expose of the greatest Christian writer of modern times, and not name the book that is being exposed?  That seems coy. 

If the book is Mere Christianity, as appears likely, why should Lewis spend a lot of time talking about atheism there?  (Or, really, any of his other books.  He talks about his own views as an atheist in Surprised by Joy, and also about the deep respect and affection he had for his tutor, who was an atheist.  But I don't think that's the book Inniss is reading.) 

Despite his claim to have been one himself, his characterizations of atheism are to true atheism what a Tarzan movie is to Africa.  Unfortunately, to millions of Christians who read his works, Lewis's interpretation is the closest they will ever come to a discussion of this topic.

"True Atheism?"  As opposed to what, fake atheism?  My right ear is still tingling from all the sermons by atheists telling me that atheists are not a church, do not have doctrines, disagree about everything except their rejection of God, and cannot be judged by what some wing-nut calling himself an atheist says or does.  Now my left ear has to hear news of a Church of True Atheism, from which C. S. Lewis has, now, apparently been posthumously evicted. 

And how does Inniss know readers of Lewis depend entirely on Lewis for their knowledge of atheism?  This seems improbable -- Mormons make up a similar percentage of the American population, and most of us have talked to a few Mormons in our lives.  And some of the best-selling books of our time are by atheists.  Lewis readers are typically pretty intellectual, and are pretty likely to run into atheists.  How can one not? 

If it is true that Lewis at one time considered himself an atheist, his ignorance of the subject is a glaring indictment of atheism's failure to educate even its own adherents about the true merits of our position. For instance, in Lewis's The Case for Christianity, he makes this ludicrous statement: "When I was an Atheist, I had to persuade myself that the whole human race was pretty good fools until about one hundred years ago."  Perhaps C.S. Lewis, the naïve but skeptical student, could labor under the fantasy that there had been no unbelievers until the nineteenth century, but how could the mature, academician Lewis, expert on the subject of religious philosophy, fail to recognize the history of non-belief, which probably stretches back as far as religion itself?

Of course Lewis was aware of ancient atheists: he had been reading them for years, and often refers to them in his writings. (Mentioning Lucretius, for instance, in a letter to his father in 1916, at the age of 18.) In 1944, he writes in another letter, "Atheism is as old as Epicurus."

 "The whole human race" here, obviously, means "the vast majority of humanity."  That is, to those of us who are not anal, or feel some desperate need to discredit Lewis' testimony. 

But why did the Council for Secular Humanism publish an article on C. S. Lewis by a man who has apparently read so little of his work -- or at any rate, certainly does not know what he thinks about the matter at hand? 

Whom other than atheists did Lewis suppose his Bible was referring to in Psalms 14:1: "The fool hath said in his heart there is no God?" And did he not consider the possibly chilling effect such pronouncements may have had upon expressions along these lines? Did he not draw any conclusion from the fact that the Christian predilection for murdering anyone critical of their faith waned at about the same time he recognizes the appearance of atheism?

Since Lewis "recognized the appearance of atheism" before Christianity, these are all meaningless questions, as regards Lewis.  And again, if Inniss were to bother to get to know the famous writer he is critiquing, he would know that Lewis expresses sorrow over such persecutions, and it is obvious (get to know the man) that that sorrow is sincere. 

Meanwhile, there were millions of Christians in communist countries that practiced much harsher persecution of believers than probably ever occurred towards atheists in pre-modern Europe.

And of course, calling someone a "fool" is not the same as telling you to murder that person.  If insulting people were tantamount to murder, the prison population would have a much higher percentage of atheists in it that secular humanists claim to be the case at present.  (Definition of a "good day" on Pharyngula for a Christian: one only gets called a fool.)  Nor has the murder of atheists has been the norm among Christians, anymore than the murder of Christians has been the norm among atheists with power -- though the latter has, I think, been far more common. 

Lewis must have been one really chicken-* atheist. He certainly didn't bear himself with the confidence I have observed in every atheist I have ever met.

Confidence?  Or unwarranted cockiness? 

Inniss has given no warrant whatsoever for his vague slurs, yet.  But if "confidence" is now suddenly to be ascribed the status of a paramount virtue, I think Lewis' friends would be a little bemused at this criticism, as well.  C. S. Lewis, the most popular lecturer at Oxford University, was hardly a wall flower. 

In Surprised by Joy (now there's a Christian title for you), Lewis characterizes his and others' atheism as follows: "I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Anti-theists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry at God for not existing. I was equally angry at Him for creating a world." This is kind of like having a dog, but hating it for not barking at prowlers—a dilemma no atheist would recognize.

I think Inniss must mean "not" having a dog. 

But of course, human beings are complicated creatures.  Lewis is simply recognizing that complexity, that what we may deny with one part of our minds, we may recognize with another.  St. Paul says the same thing in Romans 1-2.  Jay Budziszewski nurses this insight to great psychological effect in his works, beginning with himself, as yes, a former atheist who he now acknowledges was telling himself fibs.  If "no" atheist is capable of understanding internal moral conflicts, then so much the worse for atheist psychology. 

Though of course Freud was an atheist, and did I believe at least understand this.  Or maybe Freud was a fake atheist, too? 

Any atheist will tell you that she or he could more easily become angry at Bugs Bunny than at God.  Lewis's description defies logic and, of course, logic is what atheism is all about . . .

Lewis taught philosophy at Oxford University, and could run rings around Mr. Inniss when it comes to logic. 

But of course, God is not Bugs Bunny, and that is the point.  No one claims, as Paul did of God, that "we are without excuse" if we do not believe in lisping rabbits.  Lewis was a Christian, and recognized that human beings are in conflict with themselves, including over the source of our being.

As for "logic is what atheism is all about," in years of dialoguing with atheists, I honestly hadn't noticed.  If I were to be reductionistic about it, and ignore some welcome exceptions, I might have guessed that anger was what atheism was all about.  Or pride.  Or perhaps libido. 

But actually, what atheism is really all about, is the denial that God exists.  Some atheists are logical in their thinking about God, even if mistaken -- trained philosophers tend to be logical even when they are wrong, and lots of philosophers are in fact atheists.  But many, in my experience, could hardly reason their way out of a wet paper bag, and his puerile arguments in this article so far suggest that Inniss probably belongs to that category.   

In trying to justify Christian beliefs with reason, Lewis rends huge gaps in the fabric of religious "logic," permitting all sorts of queer potential consequences. For example, Lewis defends the morality of witch-burners by saying that they merely made a "mistake of fact." In their mistaken belief that these witches were evil incarnate, they were acting quite morally in executing them. I will not dwell on all the faults of that logic, but will mention just one point.  If Lewis is willing to accept that witches do not exist, and that, while believing in them, it was right to put them to death, what other "ungodly" transgressions can we forgive as mere "mistakes of fact? . . . "

Here Inniss is just misrepresenting Lewis, and his criticism is therefore especially tedious.  Lewis' point is not that witch-burners were moral.  It is that one cannot reasonably cite the fact that we no longer put witches to death, as proof that morality has changed.

But such distinctions are, perhaps, the pedantic ornamentation of logic-chopping philosophers.   

Lewis haplessly paints himself into a corner on page 32 of The Case for Christianity when he proposes one of many "proofs" for God's existence:

(Note: this is a section in Mere Christianity, so Inniss is finally telling us what book he's writing about -- sort of!)

"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."

Lewis's premise here - that if minds were not designed by God, they must be unreliable for thinking - is almost laughable in view of the sadly over-abundant evidence that, designed by God or not, brains are obviously unreliable instruments. It is only with the utmost care that humans can hope to arrive at the correct answer to even the most rudimentary problems.

Care which Inniss, needless to say, is again not showing to the needed degree.

I have argued against the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, as Alvin Plantinga calls it, so essentially I agree that Lewis is probably mistaken, here.  But Inniss' critique is, as one might expect by now, remarkably shallow.  He does not notice that he himself is making an argument that begs the question, on Lewis' premises.  If Lewis is right, then what Inniss has observed, or deduced from those observations, is also not to be trusted, and his conclusions also unlikely to be true.  Simply stating the fact that he has come to them, does nothing by itself to undermine Lewis' argument.

And, of course, this criticism does nothing to support Inniss' claim that Lewis was never a real atheist -- that is, assuming Inniss has a main point, besides, "Christians respect Lewis, so if I disrespect Lewis, that will show the world what a smart man I am and how stupid Christianity is!" 

Ultimately, Lewis's appeal to Christians lies in his defense of Christianity through the use of rational arguments. By not appealing to faith or the divine word of the Bible, Lewis strives to put Christianity, and therefore Christians, on the same intellectual levels with science and rationalists.

This is, of course, absurd.  C. S. Lewis was a great scholar of European tradition, and knew that Christians invented modern science (largely at his own university).  He also knew that Christian philosophers had been reasoning brilliantly (and that faith was almost never construed as blind or divorced from the evidence) for centuries before that.  (Again, many of the most brilliant within walking distance of Lewis' quarters at Magdalene College.) 

Inniss' patronizing comments are embarrassing.  He clearly does not understand the Christian tradition.     

This approach is soothing to believers suffering from feelings of inferiority, who rarely note that Lewis's logic immediately collapses under even the most cursory critique. Consequently, Lewis has become one of the most widely read Christian writers. He attempts to provide reason for faith. But in reality, his reason will be accepted by few if any who do not already possess faith.

Again, the purpose of this article appears to be not to demonstrate anything about C. S. Lewis as an atheist, but rather to make Lewis "safe" for atheists.  So Inniss makes amateurish faints at philosophy, at history, and now at psychology, hoping his highly rational, critically-thinking skeptic readers will buy the bluff. 

And apparently many of them did -- at least, he got this childishly silly article published, somehow.  And I found it cited, so many years later. 

In reality, many intelligent people have come to faith through reading C. S. Lewis.  I also once argued, tongue slightly in cheek, that he played a role in overthrowing communism

23 comments:

Alex Sammons said...

This article was a wonderful and refreshing read after wading through so many misinterpretations of C.S.Lewis works.

I also enjoyed that while it was small, you still didn't take everything C.S.Lewis said so seriously and literally, I am mostly referring to the main quote from Mere Christianity.

"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."

So far I've viewed this quote to be more about giving anyone in between religion and no religion a logical thought process to come up with their own explanation of what is "real", while delving into the fact that not everyone knows very much about Atheists or Christians. Making his point of view come across as bite sized if you will, rather then "science be damned, not believing in god is illogical!".

I myself struggle with the end of his quote; "Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God." And it was refreshing to see that not every C.S.Lewis support "appears" to blindly follow everything he says.



David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Alex. Of course Lewis himself would never have understood that sort of "bard worship," and would have much preferred robust debate. But reading so brilliant a writer both critically and respectfully is no easy balance, whether you agree with him or not.

Patrick Inniss said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my essay. I think I can help you and your readers understand it a little better:

"So let's begin by poisoning the well in a mild way! Atheists don't convert, they 'suffer conversions.' (Lewis might have agreed with that.) Christians who tell such stories aren't 'believers,' but 'true believers,' a nod to the conceit that Christian faith is irrational."

My use of the term "true believer" was only a comment on the relative devoutness or devotion of the believer, and says nothing concerning the question of whether faith is rational, the answer to which finds no clear divide between believers and non-believers. I think you will find that Christians themselves use the term “true believer” in exactly the same manner as I did. I will provide copious examples if you’d like.

"If the book is Mere Christianity, as appears likely, why should Lewis spend a lot of time talking about atheism there? (Or, really, any of his other books. He talks about his own views as an atheist in Surprised by Joy, and also about the deep respect and affection he had for his tutor, who was an atheist. But I don't think that's the book Inniss is reading.)"

OK, you explained why Lewis doesn't talk a lot about atheism in Mere Christianity. I did not say that Lewis doesn't have a lot to say about atheism in any of his writing, just that I was disappointed in getting a book presented to me as written by a former atheist that had little to say about atheism.

More to follow

Patrick Inniss said...

Please allow me to offer the following additional comments:

" 'True Atheism?' As opposed to what, fake atheism? My right ear is still tingling from all the sermons by atheists telling me that atheists are not a church, do not have doctrines, disagree about everything except their rejection of God, and cannot be judged by what some wing-nut calling himself an atheist says or does. Now my left ear has to hear news of a Church of True Atheism, from which C. S. Lewis has, now, apparently been posthumously evicted."

It appears you’d prefer I not use the adjective “true” to describe atheist or believer. As much as Christian writing is full of references to "true saviors," "true" and "false" prophets, etc., I can't in fairness understand why I wouldn't be permitted to use the term "true atheist." Are you telling me there can't be people who consider themselves atheists but who wouldn't be considered such by others, and therefore could be fairly termed "false atheists?" Would you say it would be fair to call a self-proclaimed Christian a "fake Christian" if they denied the divinity of Jesus? The term "atheist" still has a meaning in the English language, even if atheists themselves have no dogma.

"And how does Inniss know readers of Lewis depend entirely on Lewis for their knowledge of atheism? This seems improbable -- Mormons make up a similar percentage of the American population, and most of us have talked to a few Mormons in our lives. And some of the best-selling books of our time are by atheists. Lewis readers are typically pretty intellectual, and are pretty likely to run into atheists. How can one not?"

I wouldn't presuppose to characterize the intellectual level of the common Lewis aficionado. When I said that "millions who read his work" won't ever discuss atheism, I meant with an atheist or other person of an opinion contrary to their own. Where I came from there was no shortage of people who would say they didn't know any atheists, or who would even claim to have never met one. Heck, there are even atheists who have never really talked about atheism to another atheist! And, come on now, can you really compare atheists to Mormons? I've never seen atheists evangelizing door to door!

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: Good to hear from you! Whatever the failures of that particular article, it speaks well of you, that you were able to read my frank and unsparing criticism, and respond politely and on-topic.

Yes, I agree that "atheism" has a particular meaning in the English language. What I don't grant is that you have given any reason to deny that Lewis' self-description of having been one, should be doubted. People are often in conflict with themselves: I know I am.

Atheists seem a bit more effective than Mormons in their evangelical techniques. Which is more effective: a 20 year old stranger calling himself "elder" who knocks on your door, or a 55 year old professor who derides your faith with all the wit and knowledge at his command? (See Peter Boghossian's best-seller, A Manual for Creating Atheists, for an example of what I'm talking about.)

One might grant that literally, given that hundreds of millions have read Lewis' books, millions of them have not bumped into such evangelizing atheists, and hundreds of thousands, maybe, who read Mere Christianity. But describing atheism was not one of the goals of MC. One would think accurately explaining Christian doctrines they purport to rebut OUGHT to be one of the goals of popular atheist manifestos, like Manual, and God Delusion, End of Faith, Irreligion, etc. But they all seem to get it almost completely wrong, especially when they talk about "faith," which they do all the time. So perhaps I share some of your frustration, and can sympathize with your article on that level.

Patrick Inniss said...

David, it's really pretty simple why I can't consider Lewis an atheist by any common definition: atheists reject the existence of any god or gods. There is ample evidence Lewis never arrived at that point, his anger at God being only one. Atheists are obviously not angry at God. It's really pretty simple. I won't try to analyze Lewis' motivation in insisting he was once an atheist. Many believers don't really understand atheism, since they have what seems to be in intrinsic inclination toward belief and cannot fathom why or how anyone would be different, so they will misidentify as temporary atheism their moments of doubt or slight lapses of faith. Maybe it's similar to the way you say atheist can't wrap their heads around faith. Or maybe Lewis just recognized that the atheist-to-Christian story was a much better read. It certainly has figured prominently in Lewis' marketing.

But Lewis himself openly acknowledged the contradiction between his position and "true atheism." Take this passage from Surprised by Joy:

<>

I would also like to submit this additional comment on your article:
You said,
"Of course Lewis was aware of ancient atheists: he had been reading them for years, and often refers to them in his writings. (Mentioning Lucretius, for instance, in a letter to his father in 1916, at the age of 18.) In 1944, he writes in another letter, 'Atheism is as old as Epicurus.'

'The whole human race' here, obviously, means "the vast majority of humanity." That is, to those of us who are not anal, or feel some desperate need to discredit Lewis' testimony."

Thank you for enlightening me on Lewis' views, but I don't think you have to be too anal to think that "The whole human race" means everybody, 100%. Without the context of Lewis' other writings, how could you interpret these words otherwise? I do credit Lewis with a fine mastery of the language, so I am puzzled why he would state something in a way that seems to contradict other things he said. I guess we all get sloppy sometimes, but in this case his exaggeration creates a serious omission. The difference between none and a few (that we know of) is highly significant and of serious consequence in Lewis' argument.

Patrick Inniss said...

Oops, sorry, it looks like I committed an HTML error in the above post, too bad the preview function doesn't work properly. Here's the quote from "Surprised by Joy:"

"You may ask how I combined this directly Atheistical thought, this great "Argument from Undesign" with my Occultist fancies. I do not think I achieved any logical connection between them. They swayed me in different moods, and had only this in common, that both made against Christianity."

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: The problem is, you wrote an article about someone you just don't understand very well. That's not a terrible sin, done once in a while, but it does explain the weakness of your thesis.

For one thing, Lewis was really not into "marketing." He was a very honest man. If he says he was once an atheist, the reasonable thing is to take him at his word.

Lewis was also not so much of a literalist that "the whole human race" would have to mean "every single last member of it" to him. (Nor, I think, to most of his first readers.) His argument was rhetorical and had to do with proportions, he probably would have just dropped his jaw at such a strict interpretation, to which he did not even subject the Bible itself.

How does atheism fit with off-and-on interest in the occult? Simple. The atheism came first. He loved the romantics, and then the idea that there might be something to romanticism occurred to him as a revelation.

But did that make him an "agnostic" in regard to God? Only if belief in the occult necessarily implies belief in God. But it does not: billions of people have believed in the former, but not the latter. In any case, as I said, the atheism came first.

Lewis was a young man who embraced atheism, was tutored by a hard-core rationalist, then later attracted by the occult. If you want to say there are deeper levels of atheism that he never matured enough to explore, or that his atheism was a weak thing, be my guest. If you want to say some Christians exaggerate that period of his life, fine. You may have warrant to say he was an immature or insecure atheist, but not that he was never any atheist at all.

Patrick Inniss said...

David -
Rather than trying to explain reasons for "the weakness of my thesis," your cause would be better served by providing supporting evidence for your position. Instead you advise that I "take him at his word." I don't see any reason to take Lewis or any writer at their word. I like to understand the truth, and tales of conversions from atheism to faith are instructive to me in understanding the way believers think. They are often less than they are cracked up to be, and Lewis' "conversion" fits that pattern.

In addition, I really have to ask you to further explain your statement, "Only if belief in the occult necessarily implies belief in God. But it does not: billions of people have believed in the former, but not the latter." Pursuit of that topic would obviously devolve into a discussion of the definitions of atheism and the occult, which doesn't particularly interest me. What does interest me is the contradiction between your statement positing the existence of billions of atheists and Lewis' assertion that atheists were either nonexistent or rare until relatively recently.

In a similar vein, you said:
"Since Lewis 'recognized the appearance of atheism' before Christianity, these are all meaningless questions, as regards Lewis. And again, if Inniss were to bother to get to know the famous writer he is critiquing, he would know that Lewis expresses sorrow over such persecutions, and it is obvious (get to know the man) that that sorrow is sincere."

I never accused Lewis of being sympathetic to the murder of atheists, the passage I cited just made it sound like he was ignorant of such events. And certainly if a Christian were to concern her- or himself with grieving for past sins, the murder of relatively few atheists would have to take a place in line far behind regret for the multitude of Jews and even other Christians slain over the centuries, so I would be interested in hearing what he had to say on those events. I only stated that any estimate of the number of atheists one finds at various points in the Christian era would have to factor in the brutal oppression that was in place until relatively lately. That fact should affect Lewis' assessment of atheist numbers throughout history. Surely Lewis should have known that even up until his lifetime people were being imprisoned under English blasphemy law. For him to state that there were no (or, in your interpretation, few) atheists in previous times is like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming that there are no gays in Iran. Perhaps Lewis meant to be hyperbolic, but knowing how atheists were oppressed, how could he assume that he had any accurate perception of the actual number of atheists during these periods of oppression? It might even be possible that under those conditions the rate of atheism, although concealed, might have been even higher than today! If you have any evidence one way or another, I'd be interested in hearing it. Otherwise, we're just speculating here.

The Roman philosopher you mentioned, Lucretius, in fact exemplifies my point, since Lucretius lived in the pre-Christian era, but in much of the Christian era his philosophy was considered heretical and anyone who promoted it, be they Christian or not, did so at their peril. If Lucretius had come along in the 14th century, we may have never heard of him.

In "Mere Christianity" Lewis characterizes atheists as "modern Western European materialists," while claiming as believers wide swaths of ancient and modern peoples. See a pattern here? Lewis attempts to de-legitimize atheism by suggesting that it is a recent invention. Indeed, another large group whom he seems to dismiss are Buddhists, many of whom would likely fall outside Lewis' definition of believers. Is he resorting to hyperbole again, or maybe just being "rhetorical," as you say?

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: You implied that Lewis was not a real atheist. That is to say, you accused him of misrepresenting his former self. All accusations of dishonesty carry a strong burden of proof, especially against people of generally admitted high character, which is certainly the case with C. S. Lewis.

You supported that implicit contention with two arguments: (1) Lewis thought there were absolutely no atheists in the pre-modern world. Exactly why it would prove him not to have been an atheist, if he were wrong, I'm not sure. But I showed above that he thought no such thing, you took a rhetorical generalization too literally. (2) You also take the fact that Lewis admitted self-doubts -- he did this both during his atheist phase, and during his Christian phase -- as evidence that he was not a "real atheist."

Let me recommend a recent book by the philosopher Jay Budziszewski, The Revenge of Conscience, again. Dr. B was also a convinced and outspoken atheist. In retrospect, however, he came to doubt that his disbelief -- as informed and educated as it had been -- had been genuine. He came to believe that he had been kidding himself all along.

Are we to deny people who outspokenly hold to an atheist position the title "atheist," if we suspect that deep down inside, they really know, on some occluded level of their souls, that there is a God? Or would you call that patronizing and question-begging? If the former, do I have your permission to express a general agnosticism about the very existence of atheism? If the latter, why should we retroactively deny the title "former atheist" to such persons?

As for atheism and the occult, nice maneuver. I could respond by pointing out that if one hundred billion human beings have lived throughout history, only two percent would need to be atheists to be "billions." And as a matter of fact, my old anthropology prof, himself an atheist, thought there always have been a small number of such "village atheists." I suspect he is right. Plus, some two billion people were educated or reeducated under atheistic communist regimes. But that doesn't undermine Lewis' main point, here: that modern atheists suppose that the vast majority of humanity has been dead wrong about the nature of the universe.

To be fair, though, I was, indeed, thinking of a broader definition of atheist, and you are right to ask me to be consistent. Most occultists have believed in some sort of divine being. This is because most have lived in polytheistic cultures. But there is no contradiction in Lewis believing in the occult, and disbelieving in God -- even if we forget, again, that the atheism came first.

As for Buddhists, most have in fact believed in the supernatural, which is what Lewis is talking about. Read the Dalai Lama's mother's autobiography. She's typical.

Patrick Inniss said...

David -

I'm not basing my arguments on what I suspect Lewis may have actually felt "deep down inside." I can only quote his own words and try to interpret them reasonably. Therefore I would not know whether Lewis is being dishonest or not, although I might admit that as a possibility. How can anyone ever be accused of dishonesty in regard to a matter of religious belief? That would require the application of logical arguments which are not directly relevant to the nature of religion. In the matter of religious honesty, for the most part you do have to "take a person at their word." But you can logically examine the beliefs they describe and determine how they should be categorized. This is what I have done. And others have done the same. If you would like to read an indictment of Lewis' status as an atheist from a Christian perspective, let me suggest this paper: http://mrianasoriginalfiction.houseofbetazed.com/CSLewisNeverAnAtheist.html.

There are still other points in your article I would like to address. You said: "Inniss has given no warrant whatsoever for his vague slurs, yet. But if "confidence" is now suddenly to be ascribed the status of a paramount virtue, I think Lewis' friends would be a little bemused at this criticism, as well. C. S. Lewis, the most popular lecturer at Oxford University, was hardly a wall flower."

My slur was not very vague at all in the original, uncensored text. And citing Lewis' later success at Oxford in no way impugns my point about what kind of atheist he was. By then he was well beyond his "atheism."

Then you went on to say, "But of course, human beings are complicated creatures. Lewis is simply recognizing that complexity, that what we may deny with one part of our minds, we may recognize with another. St. Paul says the same thing in Romans 1-2. Jay Budziszewski nurses this insight to great psychological effect in his works, beginning with himself, as yes, a former atheist who he now acknowledges was telling himself fibs. If "no" atheist is capable of understanding internal moral conflicts, then so much the worse for atheist psychology."

From my (an atheist's) perspective this sort of internal conflict makes little sense. You don't simultaneously believe and disbelieve in something. You may have doubts, certainly, and recognize the perplexing ambiguity in our understanding of the world and ourselves. But anger at God is not something atheists feel, in my experience. It is, however, something that believers attribute to atheists.

Regarding "internal moral conflicts," yes, atheists do experience these, but I fail to see what this has to do with the struggle to resolve the question of God's existence. The latter is not a moral question, at least not directly. It is, rather, a question of fact like any other question concerning the universe. Is it possible to travel faster than the speed of light? Did life originate on earth? Are there parallel universes? Does God exist? These are not moral questions. How would Lewis address these issues? I suspect he might claim not believe in faster-than-light travel, but also be angry that someone might exceed the speed of light to go back in time to marry his mother.

Patrick Inniss said...

Thanks for calling Jay Budziszewski to my attention. His account of his alleged conversion from atheism was interesting, especially since I found that his “atheism” was of a nature very similar to Lewis’. Whereas Lewis said he was angry at God, Budziszewski reports, in “Escape from Nihilism,” that he was trying to, “get back at him.” But, in an interview at http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/jbudziszewski_int1_feb05.asp, Budziszewski calls himself only a “practical atheist:” “I was a practical atheist. I was never a theoretical atheist; I wasn’t quite fool enough to think that I could prove that there isn’t a God. What I thought was that there wasn’t any God who could make a difference.” I might point out here that by most definitions of atheism it is not necessary to prove that there are no gods, only to assert that there is no known affirmative proof of a god or gods. And if you believe that there is a god, even a powerless god, then you are not an atheist. I guess Budziszewski is saying that believing in an aloof or impotent god is just the same as believing there is no god in terms of one’s approach to life, the “practical” consequences. Whether that is true or not, the term “practical atheist” seems rather contrived. In point of fact, this explanation of his stance toward God, as an entity that couldn’t effectively interact in human affairs, is starkly in contrast to his claim that as an atheist he was trying to “get back at” God. Why would one seek revenge against a god that was incapable of affecting the events of life one way or another? In any case, neither of these mutually exclusive views is consistent with atheism since they both involve belief in God.

Since you have studied Budziszewski and I have read only a few snippets, perhaps you can explain this in some logically consistent manner. But for right now I’ll have to categorize this as probably another fake atheist-to-believer conversion tale. I am not discounting the possibility that Lewis and Budziszewski actually were “real” atheists, but that is not how they describe themselves. Perhaps there is some explanation for this.

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: I've been involved in a discussion over a book on atheism. After I'd posted an article I wrote about faith and reason, which he really liked, a fellow who is neither atheist nor Christian, a retired math prof, posted this yesterday:

"I just received an astonishing email from a world renowned atheist-scientist and author of numerous books on the subject of this thread. The emailer . . . has doubts about his atheism for the VERY REASONS discussed in this thread: faith as based on proof vs. faith as opposed to proof."

So I guess a doubting atheist is no longer an atheist, either?

You have given, so far, no reason to doubt that Lewis was, for a period, an atheist. Again, reasonable people expect human beings to be conflicted and in doubt about their beliefs, from time to time. Maybe you're one of those people who never has doubts, so you just don't understand that. In that case, please consider the possibility that some people are unlike yourself in that regard.

It may also be, as some Christians think, that at some deep level of his or her being, everyone knows that God is real. It may be that when they begin to listen to his voice, they realize it has been speaking to them for a long time. C.S. Lewis has a very good story about this, called "The Shoddy Lands."

I have read quite a bit of Budziszewski, but don't at the moment recall a passage that would resolve this issue.

Patrick Inniss said...

David -

Consider this, please: Maybe at some level all believers know that there is no God, but at a more conscious level they tell themselves that there is one because it is comforting. How is that any less likely than supposing we all know there is a god? If we start to psychoanalyze this, you can create almost any scenario to support your preference. Maybe someday we’ll know enough about the mind to explain all this, but if you want to take a Freudian approach we’re just fabricating made-to-order, comfortable constructs. There is a theory that the mind evolved toward transcendentalism as an adaptive response, and I think some evidence is beginning to point to a very real neurological basis for religious belief, but we’re still far from knowing the whole truth. It will be the ultimate irony if Darwinian factors are found to be responsible for the existence of religion.

Atheist doubt? I’m not saying that no atheist ever flipped. Please refer to how I have defined atheism: The ASSERTION that there is no KNOWN evidence that God exists. Does that leave room for doubt? Well of course, at least a little. But this allowance that tomorrow some new, unexpected evidence may sweep away all former beliefs does NOT lead an atheist to be angry at the god that may somehow exist. It just puts God in the same category as mermaids, unicorns and leprechauns. I can’t tell you absolutely that those don’t exist, either, but I’m not likely to get angry at leprechauns for hoarding all that gold while Ireland was afflicted with so much deprivation. It’s not just a matter of having some doubt; it’s an issue of either believing or not believing. If you are angry at leprechauns, then you must believe in leprechauns. And you can’t be angry at the god you don’t believe in. I can’t make it any simpler than that.

David B Marshall said...

I don't think that's a viable definition of atheism, or a wise philosophical stance to take. Allow me to analyze:

"The ASSERTION that there is no KNOWN evidence that God exists."

How can anyone know that? How can you responsibly assert that no one on Earth (or maybe in the multiverse, you put no bounds around the assertion) has evidence for God's existence?

Or do you mean merely that YOU lack such evidence? In that case, isn't that just a comment about your own life history? Wouldn't it be wiser to call yourself an agnostic, given how small a portion of the evidence you personally can have viewed in one mortal life?

Or are you saying that it is wise to assert that which one cannot possibly know?

And what do you mean by "evidence?" I usually mean, "a reason to believe something is so." Are you really claiming that even you yourself have never come across any such evidence at all? Or perhaps, that so far as you know, you have found reasons to dismiss all instances of purported evidence proffered you? In which case, might it not be the case -- with support from Occam -- that this is a description of your volition, more than of the facts proffered as evidence? Because obviously, most people, at least in the US, think there is such evidence.

Personally, I would prefer a definition like "the assertion that God does not exist."

Sure, it's possible that at some deep level, no one believes in God. But considering, for instance, a friend who was a successful Muslim imam, then converted to Christianity because he (says he) heard the audible voice of God calling him to do that, I'll take some convincing. It may be, to borrow Jesus' metaphor, that God stands and knocks at the door of all our hearts, and we listen, or turn away. But no one can hear the audible voice of godless telling him there is no God. So these two beliefs are epistemologically asymmetric.

Patrick Inniss said...

David -

Your initial question for me seems to be, "How can I know what is known?" Obviously when I said no "known" evidence, I meant relative to our experience here on the planet Earth. If I had intended to extend the breadth of my assertion to other worlds, I could have simply omitted the "known." Don't you think that's a pretty reasonable boundary to set for the purposes of this discussion, without then have to go the next step and consider parallel universes and the possible warping of reality that might imply? I am saying that within the knowledge of man, there is no proof of the existence of God. I originally said evidence, perhaps a little too broad since some people will categorize almost anything as evidence. I should have said "reliable" or even "compelling" evidence, but in my thinking the only thing that deserves to be called evidence is reliable evidence. Relative to the existence of God, we have nothing of the sort. Of course I am constrained by my own experience, but that does not in itself disprove the soundness of my position. My statement can be shown to be false merely by providing any sound evidence of God's existence. Easy, no?

I was confused by your reference to Occam - are you suggesting that I dismiss "evidence" of God's existence because I don't want there to be any evidence, and that this is a more economical solution to the problem than the evidence actually being worthless? This repeats a common Christian meme that atheists want there not to be a god. I think I understand why this thinking is so prevalent. Christians invariably want there to be a god, preferably the Christian god, and this desire is perhaps the single most sustaining aspect of their faith. Conflating the desirability of some supposed fact with the truthfulness of that "fact" contributes much to the nature of the religious mentality. This is something like confirmation bias, and we all should recognize and be wary of that psychological pitfall. However, the fact that Christians want there to be a God does NOT mean that atheist necessarily want the opposite. Some atheists will say it would be kind of cool to have a god of some sort running things. However I haven't spoken to any that preferred Jehovah, what with his chosen people, eternal damnation, etc, so you may have a point if you were referring strictly to the Judeo-Christian god. Personally I don't have any strong feelings on the subject, since the existence of God seems pretty impossible. But it's certainly not the case that I want there not to be a god. If it did exist, it would be well beyond our understanding. Caring one way or the other is a moot point for me and I would suspect most atheists. So I'd have to reject your suggestion that my "volition" is influencing my evaluation of the evidence.

I am also somewhat flummoxed by your preference of a definition of atheism as "the assertion that God does not exist," especially after criticizing me for "knowing" that no one, even a space alien, has evidence. I'll admit that your definition is a common shorthand for atheism, but most atheists will concede that they can no more prove there is no god than you can prove there is. Saying that the evidence does not exist for something is a much more modest claim than saying that the something itself does not exist. For us the lack of evidence that God exists is sufficient for us not to believe in it, we don't need to prove God's non-existence. There are a lot of other things both atheists and non-atheists don't believe in without insisting on proof of non-existence. Why make a special case for God?

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: There is no "we" here. You can only speak of what evidence you have, or think you have, not of what the rest of humanity, such as myself, or all 3 billion people in Asia, may have.

The question is not proving your statement to be false to your satisfaction (which is the yardstick you are obviously using), but why in the world you consider yourself justified in making such a statement.

Yes, I am saying it is simpler to suppose you are prejudiced against there being compelling evidence for God, than to suppose the millions who claim to have seen such evidence, are all deluded. This is not a "meme," except in the broad sense of being a thought shared by others (as are your thoughts about atheism), this is evident from your comments.

Actually, I think it is far more modest to say God does not exist, than to say there is no evidence for God. For instance, a miracle would be evidence for God, in the sense that it makes theism more probable than it would be if no miracles occurred. But to say, "No miracles have ever occurred," is obviously well beyond what any historian can claim, working as an historian. Of course, "There is no God" may entail negation of even broader realms of evidence, so certainly agnosticism is far more respectable. But psychologically, this seems more respectable.

Patrick Inniss said...

David, anything I say may be proven wrong. That's one of the reasons I communicate. If any of my ideas are wrong, I'd like to know about it. And I do find that out all the time. Sure, I speak for myself, but I also speak as a member of human society, and therefore feel fully entitled to use the term "we" to refer to that group which includes me, you, and everyone else on earth. None of us has any evidence supporting the existence of God. You have spoken of the things you consider evidence. You seem to be suggesting that 3 billion people in Asia have such evidence. An opinion poll is not evidence of any other fact than what people believe. Is it possible for millions of people to be deluded? I imagine that you yourself can come up with examples of that. And what is the nature of the evidence these people would produce if we brought them forth? Their parents and priests told them there was a god. They read it in an ancient text. They dreamed there was a god. They look at the stars and know there is a god. Their cousin was sick, they prayed, and then he got well. They heard a voice in their head. Without lowering the standards for evidence to this level, we have no evidence for God. Do you really consider this evidence worthy of consideration?

Would I say no miracles have occurred? By your definition, yes, unhesitatingly. If you watch the news on TV, they call miracles every day. Incredibly unlikely things happen, and things we don't understand. A doctor makes a prediction that turns out to be wrong. Some individual survives when others in similar circumstances perish. When these things have a good effect, they are frequently called miracles. If you are inclined to superstition, you interpret these events as evidence of some supernatural force at work. We can consider specific cases if you like. Clever practitioners have even fooled scientists studying the paranormal, so I don't hold it against anyone if they are taken in, especially if they have already conditioned their minds to accept such things uncritically.

I was amused by your logic that a miracle, or supposedly any unexplained phenomenon, is evidence of God's existence because it "makes theism more probable than it would be if no miracles occurred.'" Similarly, if I hit a golf ball which nobody could find, I might propose that as evidence I had put it into orbit. The fact that I could offer no plausible explanation how a ball could be hit into orbit would be of no concern, only the fact that we had no explanation for where the ball went.

You see, saying God did something is really no explanation at all. You are just saying some unknown process occurred and you decided to call it "God." You can explain nothing of the mechanism, energy source or motivation of this process, where it originates or when it will happen again. People have been explaining the unknown like this for eons, and many of those things they formerly attributed to the supernatural are now understood by science. I suppose it's a habit we just can't shake.

You apparently believe that God speaks to people. Did Ramtha speak to J.Z. Knight? How do you know one way or the other? Even discounting apparent con artists, voices of spirits speaking to someone might have a much more mundane explanation. Science has demonstrated that "spiritual" experiences can be stimulated by drugs, mental disorders, physical or emotional stress, sensory deprivation, brain tumors and even electromagnetic fields. The difference between hearing the voice of God and not hearing it could just be whether you got too close to a large generator, or maybe the LSD you took in 1983. Perhaps some brains are wired to generate God-like voices just like other people can mentally compute cube roots, who knows? Now would be a good time to refer to Occam, since there is actually some science out there to consider as a less complex alternative to the intervention of a superbeing.

David B Marshall said...

Patrick: The person who is lowering the meaning of the word "evidence" is you, by guessing about why billions of people believe, then guessing about the merits of those reasons, and then taking those wild and baseless guesses as some sort of evidence themselves! That is not modest. Again, your determination to go beyond what you really know, shows that in your own way, common among so-called "skeptics," you are quite credulous and ready to believe in rumors.

I said a "miracle would be evidence for God," not "an unexplained event would be evidence for God." Please do not distort my arguments.

An explanation does not need to be complete to be an explanation. Good thing, since NO explanations yet are complete.

Your final paragraph just begs the question. I made no claims about Ramtha; why should I? Nor did I make any claims about "spiritual experiences." Pray attend to my actual arguments, let's not fight the ghosts of past imagined or real conversations. Occam is not an excuse for being glib, or ignoring evidence, or pretending to have examined it all, when you have not.

Patrick Inniss said...

David –

My post did include what you call “guesses” regarding what evidence we might get from your claim of 3 billion believers in Asia. I asked you what evidence for God they would produce, and suggested my perception. Instead of responding to that argument concerning the quality of what you consider evidence, you have decided to merely criticize my view as "wild and baseless." That does not advance the dialog. If you would like to correct me, please go ahead, I welcome it. But not responding to real questions does not provide me with any new information or insight.

You said a miracle is evidence for God, but not an “unexplained event.” So I suppose you draw some distinction between the two. Would you care to elaborate? In view of your reluctance to offer specifics, I could guess at your meaning, but you seem to have a problem with that.

You said, "An explanation does not need to be complete to be an explanation. Good thing, since NO explanations yet are complete." If I interpret you correctly, this is your response to my pointing out that attributing something to God really tells us nothing about how something happened. In terms of believing in these miracles the problem is that it is impossible to evaluate the truth of a claim like "God did it." There is nothing to measure, no factors to consider, no evidence to weigh against known cases and competing explanations. It's all just smoke, unlike physical events which can be determined to be as described or not. I could say, "That miracle was caused by a rare interdimensional transposition," or "That was due to a sudden discharge of chi," or even, "Such a sudden recovery could only indicate contact with extraterrestrials." I'm sure a more imaginative person than I could think of an unlimited number of possibilities. How are such "explanations" any less satisfactory than "God did it?"

I asked you how you could tell whether someone claiming to hear Ramtha was really hearing him. You chose not to answer that reasonable question and instead pointed out that you had said nothing about Ramtha. Previously you talked about people hearing God, but objected when I cited “spiritual experiences." You don't consider hearing God, or at least believing that, a spiritual experience? The one question you did pose for me, between the attacks and complaints, is why should you have made any claims concerning Ramtha. I'm sorry if that topic offended you in some way. I never said that you mentioned Ramtha. But you brought up the subject of hearing the voice of God, and Ramtha is a god who somebody claimed spoke to them. By the way, could the various factors I mentioned as causes for spiritual experiences (including hearing voices thought to be God) also be evidence of God? Or would someone who reported hearing God be disqualified if he was found to just have a brain tumor? Oh, and for the record, I'm not suggesting that you previously said anything about tumors.

You accuse me of not examining all the evidence. To this I plead guilty. I was hoping that dialog would help me toward greater understanding, although I will never examine ALL the evidence, especially by your loose standard. Are you implying that you have looked at everything?

Perhaps I am credulous. However, instead of just calling me credulous, you should consider illuminating the flaws in my logic or the falsity of my assumptions. I challenged the quality of your evidence, I think rather effectively. Your response is that I am “ready to believe in rumors.” Rather than spending your time characterizing me unfavorably I'd invite you to construct a reasoned criticism of my position. That way maybe we'd both learn something.

David B Marshall said...

Sure. The category of "unexplained events" is much broader than the category of miracles, just as the category of "unidentified flying objects" is broader than that of "alien spacecraft." "Unexplained" is a historical claim about the state of "our" knowledge. "Miracle" is a particular kind of supernatural event.

No, miracles are not just "smoke." Like all historical events, their effect can be traced. Their character, if they are genuine miracles, should also conform to the known character of God. But God, by hypothesis, is more intelligent than human beings. From this it follows that humans will not be able to fully "scan" God's purposes or even His methods. Just as, a dog scientist cannot fully comprehend what we do with books. That is the nature of epistemology: as the objects we study grow in intelligence and independence, our ability to fully comprehend them decreases.

Hearing from God is a spiritual experience, but it need not be a miracle, and it is not the only spiritual experience.

I'm not offended by your mention of Ramtha, I'm just not sure how it helps our discussion. I don't know much about Ramtha. I have the vague impression he is a divine being of some sort who purportedly speaks through some New Age guru. I doubt either of us believes in Ramtha, or has any reasons to believe in Ramtha, so I'm not sure you need persuasion on that point. You tell me: why don't you believe in Ramtha? I can talk about gurus I've met, if you like, and think it's relevant.

Finally, to your question about what 3 billion Asians have experienced, my point was to elicit greater intellectual modesty on your part. You have obliged me, and I appreciate that. I'm not going to commit the same error I was accusing you of, now.

Please don't take my frank criticism ill. That's how I talk in these forums. Sometimes it makes friends, sometimes it makes enemies. When I get it wrong, don't hesitate to point that out.

Patrick Inniss said...

David - Thanks for your response. I appreciate your clarifications, but I’m afraid I still have a few niggling questions. For instance, you said that a miracle is an unexplained event which is also supernatural. But I’m afraid I then need some definition of supernatural so that I can use that to distinguish between miracles and other unexplained events.

I didn’t mean to say the miracles themselves are “smoke,” but the explanation of a supernatural cause is. I’m not sure what you mean that miracles “should conform to the known character of God,” but saying that we cannot understand their underlying mechanism because God itself is unfathomable does nothing to distinguish miracles from all the other stuff we have yet to understand. Speaking of God’s “known character” and in the next sentence saying that we cannot “fully ‘scan’ God’s purposes or even his methods” creates a glaring inconsistency. Of course, this is not an unusual pattern: to talk about God in some detail until something comes up that doesn’t fit the prescribed pattern, and then attribute that part to God’s mysterious nature. I think this gets us close to the heart of the issue with the work of C. S. Lewis: he tries to convince us that he can prove the existence of God through reasoning, but the logic and consistency never quite meet the same standards by which we judge the truth of everything else in the universe. Here you seem to be heading toward some attempt to explain miracles as evidence of God in a manner that is logically persuasive, are you not? If so, I’m anxious to hear what you come up with. I never found Lewis very convincing. Perhaps you can do better.

I liked the analogy of the dog observing the human reading a book, which works on some level to reveal the normal Christian perspective on the relationship of God to humanity, but doesn’t work in the sense that the dog can at least see the man and knows that there is a man, even if he has no deeper understanding. We, on the other hand, cannot detect God with any of our senses, nor confirm his presence through any other objective means. Also, just because the dog can’t understand reading, that doesn’t make reading supernatural, but perhaps I am carrying the analogy too far. As long as I’m this deep into it, though, let me point out that behavior beyond our understanding is not necessarily the hallmark of unimaginable intelligence. I regularly see people on the street doing things nobody can understand, and I’d be surprised if you would categorize them as God-like.

And I’m not quite ready to let you off the hook in explaining how saying “God did it” is more logically tenable than the extraordinary explanations I offered for “miracles.” I think your answer to that question would be enlightening.

No, I don’t believe in Ramtha. J. Z. Knight, as far as I have ever read, which I admit isn’t very far, never provided anything like evidence, at least by my standards, that she was actually in contact with a spirit from prehistory. Basically she asked you to either buy her theatrics or just to take her word for it, whereas you’d think that she could have produced some knowledge - linguistic, geographical or really any cultural facts - that would indicate she actually did communicate with an ancient spirit. Of course, I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I am disinclined to accept such stories from the start. But what I was interested to hear is how you would distinguish between what you find to be credible tales of God speaking to a person and a case such as Ramtha/J. Z. Knight, which I would presume you would reject. It seems to me that they would be roughly equivalent by any objective measure.

David B Marshall said...

"It's been nice chatting, Patrick. Unfortunately I'm now in China, and it appears impossible to post blogs from here -- someone must have incurred the wrath. So I won't be posting here much for a while.

"A few final notes. Again, the hypothesis that there is a God who is smarter than us necessarily entails that we will not be able to fully scan and predict his actions. It does not entail that He cannot reveal His own character and motives to us, at times. There is no "inconsistency" between these two claims -- the same is even true of people we know, to a lesser extent. You will never be able to fully anticipate me, nor I you, yet we can get some idea of one another's motives, if we let down barriers and allow it. One can only judge the rationality of belief in a given entity, by his hypothetical character.

"Sure, humans are visible to dogs, God is not visible to us. No analogy is perfect. But I agree with you to this extent: if there is no positive reason to believe in God, well then there isn't. I agree with Lewis, and Keener, that miracles do happen sometimes, and that is one very important reason to believe.

"Another reason to believe has to do with your Ramtha analogy. Are you sure the only reason you don't believe her story is that (a) she doesn't offer good evidence? Or isn't it also because (b) "her theatrics," as you put it, the internal implausibility of the claims and the disconfirming character of her personality, and (c) the intrinsic a priori plausibility of the story itself? I think you'll agree that these also feed into it. So to answer your question, there are at least three big differences here (a) the evidence for Christian miracles is vastly better; (b) Jesus is vastly more plausible to me than Ramtha; (c) my "plausibility structure," based on all sorts of other evidence and also a dose of Occam, makes theism far more credible to me (and it seems most modern people) than polytheism.

"But all of these are highly involved issues, on which long and wonderful books have been and will be written, and into which I'm afraid I won't be able to enter here for some time.

"Thanks again for responding to my criticism of your article, and continuing the dialogue. Obviously we haven't solved all the issues we disagree with on, but I hope you found it interesting, as I did, and maybe we can talk again when the lines of communication reopen.

"All the best,

"David"