[Cross-posted from War On Error]
Christian apologists from around the world gathered in San Diego to discuss honestly their misgivings about defending the faith. It was an unprecedented, no-holds-barred, “skeptifest” of Biblical proportions. It had been long supposed that Christians could stand up to any intellectual attacks and hence had nothing to fear from brandishing their confidence for all to see. Everyone was encouraged to get their most skeptical thoughts and doubts “out there” and see what others had to say. By some accounts, from some of my atheist friends who were allowed to attend, this apparently snow-balled into mass apostasy. I’m still a little skeptical, but I’ve pulled some intriguing quotes from the transcript. Take a look…
At first everyone was a bit squeamish to speak and a few offered some rather vague random points of contention that really didn’t matter that much to the big picture. Finally, William Lane Craig just blurted out why he’d apparently stopped trusting the Holy Spirit:
Of course, anyone (or, at least any sort of theist) can claim to have a self-authenticating witness of God to the truth of his religion. […] they’ve just had some emotional experience…
Dead silence. Um…that’s the HOLY FREAKING SPIRIT you are talking about. And yet Richard Swinburne cheered Craig on and was remarkably sarcastic noting (with air quotes no less) we’d never want to be forced into certain absurdities based on that kind of evidence:
…if it seems to me Poseidon exists, then it is good evidence that Poseidon exists.
He had the whole crowd rolling with laughter since they all knew that the Greek pantheon had a long history of success in the hearts and minds of ancient Greeks. Were they really going there? Maybe I’m missing something.
Staunch evidentialist, Lydia McGrew, wanted to turn the conversation to more tangible matters and get the ball rolling on discussing her lack of confidence in the resurrection of Jesus:
Well of course the prior probability is very low and we all know that. […]
There’s a most unfortunate passage by G. K. Chesterton in which he says, “If my Apple woman, the woman who sells me apples tells me that she saw a miracle I should believe her. I believe her about apples so I should believe her about miracles.” That’s a paraphrase; it’s not an exact quotation.
I really wish Chesterton hadn’t said that because that’s just wrong as an approach. You don’t just automatically say, “Oh, somebody says they saw a miracle, I’m going to buy it.” You have to have much stronger evidence than that.
Indeed. I can agree with that. Triablogger, Steve Hays immediately piped up with three pertinent examples of the kind of evidence we would need to justify various kinds of similar extraordinary claims:
[In reference to having an alien spaceship] On the face of it, I could discharge my burden of proof by showing you the spacecraft. Of course, you might insist on having it properly inspected (to eliminate a hoax).
So what evidence would I need to prove that I own this unique coin? […] Ideally, the only evidence I’d need to prove that I own this unique coin is the coin itself. My ability to produce the coin upon request. Maybe you’d demand that the coin be authenticated. Fine.
…suppose I call you up and tell you I’ve just won the lottery (and on the first occasion I’ve ever bought a ticket). Surely that’s an extraordinary claim. Naturally you’re skeptical, so I invite you over to my house, where you see with your own eyes both my ticket and the newspaper reporting the winning numbers. I’d say that would be sufficient for you to rationally believe that I’ve won the lottery.
So it was a case of a highly improbable event that required evidence of a[n] admittedly powerful […] kind in order to be rationally believed.
I can’t help but note that it was almost as though the words of atheist, Richard Carrier, were on the minds of all those in attendance:
If Jesus was a god and really wanted to save the world, he would have appeared and delivered his Gospel personally to the whole world.
Recognizing of course that Jesus didn’t do this, Craig spoke up again to say what had been weighing on everyone’s mind since the conference began:
…you are thinking, “Well, goodness, if believing in God is a matter of weighing all of these sorts of arguments, then how can anybody know whether God exists? You’d have to be a philosopher or a scientist to figure out whether God exists!” In fact, I agree with you. A loving God would not leave it up to us to figure out by our own ingenuity and cleverness whether or not he exists.
People were clearly shocked. And it got everyone lingering on the problem of evil. Hays spoke up again to point out that the long standing explanations for evil from Calvinism and Arminianism both suck:
…it sounds bad […] to say that God predestined sin and evil. However, it also sounds bad to say that God allows sin and evil.
Everyone was dismayed by this. How could they all have been defending such bad explanations for evil all of this time? How in the world had Christian apologetics kept up with it? They weren’t all that stupid and/or delusion were they!?! No one especially wanted to hear atheist, John Loftus, say, "I told you so." Even though their faiths seemed to be cracking under the weight of their collective doubts, they all agreed no one wanted to hear that guy gloat.
Hays had clearly been thinking things through and gave everyone an astute analogy to help explain where most everyone had gone wrong with their apologetic sensibilities:
An ufologist is often a smart, sophisticated individual, deeply committed to secular science. […] And while it’s easy to make fun of ufology, an astute ufologist has a well-lubricated answer to all the stock objections. […] Conspiracy theories are the snare of bright minds. They have just enough suggestive, tantalizing evidence to be appealing, but never enough evidence to be compelling. […] As far as I’m concerned, the issue is not how long it would take for a legend to develop. Anyone can write anything at any time.
Almost too proud of himself for how well he’d explained things, something clearly snapped in his mind. Hays collapsed on the floor in front of everyone and started mumbling almost incoherently. It seemed he was talking about himself though he couldn’t bring himself to even speak in the first person:
…he indulges in so many ad hominem attacks […] which includes that constitutional incapacity for self criticism in its judgmental criticism of others which emboldens him to openly expose his emotional insecurities, oblivious to the disconnect between the image he is laboring to project and what is really coming through.
It also seemed that he was admitting that all of his previous apologetic efforts could not be said to:
…move us from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge.
He’d realized that too many people had been wondering if Hays was:
…really that dense, or if he is just playing dumb to advance his agenda.
And whether or not it was always just a “rhetorical tactic:”
…to impose an all-or-nothing dilemma on the reader.
Hays was okay apparently and someone nursed him back to health in a corner of the room as the conference moved on. Was he really talking about himself?!? We may never know.
The next day after Hays had recomposed himself, he was overheard talking to fellow Triablogger, Jason Engwer, about all the horrible things that he’d said about agnostic, Ed Babinski, to get out of the force of the case in Ed’s “The Cosmology of the Bible” chapter in “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails." Hays finally admitted it was implausible to dismiss all the evidence that the Bible embraces a false cosmology:
Mixed metaphors are mutually inconsistent if taken literally, but a wide variety of metaphors can and do figurate the very same concept.
So I guess they did understand the criticism after all to all their hairsplitting? Not sure.
Elsewhere, William Lane Craig was overheard discussing the many universes hypothesis with Robin Collins:
We appear then to be confronted with two alternatives: posit either a cosmic Designer or an exhaustively random, infinite number of other worlds. Faced with these options, is not theism just as rational a choice as multiple worlds?
They both agreed they hadn’t taken the hypothesis seriously enough in the past and that we really weren’t in any position to decide between two rational options. I didn’t think Christians were capable of agnosticism on that issue…
Near the end of the conference there were a lot of tears shed and everyone was looking around at each other a bit anxiously, thankful they had not brought any babies to test their new atheist appetites on or any children to dismember to make sure they were made of all atoms. Triablogger, Paul Manata went around poking walls, waiving his arms up and down, and testing various places on the floor to check on the uniformity of the universe for everyone. He kept yelling, “It’s all clear!” over and over again to the annoyance of all. Finally they told him to shut up and that they should just go with it until further notice. However everyone was still bracing for impact and wondering how they could prepare for the inevitable Nazi-brainwashing-rapist-regime that was sure to sweep the whole world away from them now that they’d changed their minds about Jesus.
Fortunately libertarian renegade and (former) theologian extraordinaire, Vox Day spoke up to call attention to atheist, Sam Harris’ book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”:
I have to applaud Sam for having the intellectual courage to seize the bull by the horns; unlike his fellow New Atheists (except Daniel Dennett), he has recognized the weak point of the lack of universal warrant and is attempting to do something about it.
So amazingly, all was not lost.
If anyone has any other interesting quotes from the conference, post them in the comments, please.