Monday, January 2, 2012

Why Taylor is a Christian

Taylor has a guest post at Pharyngula explaining why he's a Christian. Kudos to Taylor for sticking his toe in the Pharyngula cesspool. P.Z. Myers graciously allowed Taylor to post, and Myers added this note:

(Want a chew toy? I’ve had a number of submissions to the “Why I am an atheist” series from Christians trying to play the apologetics game. Most of them are embarrassingly illiterate and incoherent, and I just throw them away; this one is at least competently written, even if the ideas are nonsense cribbed from William Lane Craig. Have fun tearing them up.)
Myers included a sweet graphic showing Jesus giving us the middle finger. I'll leave that out.

Taylor's post is here, with my comments. Myers commented as well, and that'll be tomorrow's post.

Why I am a Christian – Taylor

December 1, 2011 at 8:50 am PZ Myers

Hi PZ, I know this isn’t exactly what you called for, and you probably won’t post this on your famous blog (understandably), but I feel quite strongly that I have two very good reasons for being a Christian:

1) Existence
2) The Uniqueness of Christianity

Now I’ll elaborate a little:

1) The universe exists. Disregarding modern philosophy for a minute, I think this one is fairly obvious. As far as I can know anything, I know that the universe exists. That means it had to have a beginning. Now, the existence and order of the universe may or may not be explained by the Big Bang (I’m no theoretical physicist), but it seems to me that the Big Bang still needs a Big Banger. Someone or something to start the whole thing off. Multiverse theory? I think it still needs some work. And evidence. An eternal Universe? Ok, but I think there are some problems with assigning non-material properties (namely eternal existence) to material things (namely matter). I’ll come back to that. But for now, I’m at the point where I admit that there has to be a beginning, an “uncaused cause” as the philosopher’s put it.
Taylor is right. The existence of the universe alone is clear evidence for God's existence. God's existence is logically demonstrable (Aquinas' Five Ways, etc).

Atheism's greatest logical failure is its inability to account for the existence of the universe itself. The boilerplate Humean answer-- the universe needs no explanation for its existence-- demolishes the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which asserts that everything in nature has a reason sufficient to explain its existence (even if we do not know the reason).

The Principle of Sufficient Reason is the basis for all logic and science. Denial of the PSR for the universe makes science impossible, because the assertion "it just happened without reason" can be applied to each thing in nature just as readily as it can be applied to all of nature. "Shit happens" doesn't get you to science or logic.

2) That “uncaused cause,” that “Big Banger,” the being that caused everything else to exist, must be the God of the Christian Bible. Why? Because of Christianity’s uniqueness. Say what you will, but after years of studying world religions, Christianity is entirely unique. To oversimplify my case: Every other religion requires an action (service, certain words or actions, good works, etc.), in return for a reward. Christianity is the exact opposite. You are called by Christ first, saved from yourself (that’s the reward), and then the good works flow out of gratitude, or a desire to be more like God. You don’t have to do good works to be saved. Can you see how this is unique?
Christianity is certainly unique. It posits a personal relationship with the Creator. It is emphatically historical. It posits that God came to earth in one place at one time as one Man in order to redeem humanity.

I believe that the leap from the existence of God (which is logically demonstrable) to the Lordship of Christ is a discovery of the heart, one of Pascal's 'reasons that reason knows not of.' It is a love affair that must be experienced, not deduced.

Now, as to the point about assigning eternal properties to material objects, I don’t see how this is beneficial. Christianity says God created the universe, and He is eternal, intelligent, and caring. Atheism says that the universe created itself, and it is eternal, unintelligent, and uncaring. Is that really better? Personally, I can’t believe that this universe is unintelligent, nor that all of the pain and suffering I see is purposeless.
Atheism of course adds no wisdom. The assertion that existence has no purpose and no origin is nihilism masquerading as philosophy. Atheists typically find that God interferes with self-worship, and wish Him away.

It seems pretty straightforward to me, but I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
God bless, and stay warm up there,

United States
Here's Myers' reply (I'll answer it tomorrow):
(My response: #1 is meaningless. Physics has evidence that our universe had a beginning, but there is absolutely no reason to suppose a cosmic benign intelligence was behind it. An avalanche also has a beginning, but we don’t assume it was a little man triggering it by intent. #2 is absolutely the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard it many times) for believing Christianity is true. Here, I’ve just invented a religion: you achieve salvation by hopping precisely three times on one leg every morning. If you forget and die unhopped, you go to hell; so long as you have hopped, you are forgiven and go to heaven. That’s entirely unique, but it doesn’t make it true — in this case, and in Christianity’s case, it’s just stupid.
Now compare this Christian entry, selected as the best of the religious submissions so far, to the atheist submissions, which were chosen entirely at random.)


  1. Whenever I read something like this post by Taylor (reposted here by Dr Egnor), I am filled with mixed emotion.
    Part of me is glad to see people reasoning and rationalizing the existence of God, purpose, and morality. It is a good thing, perhaps, that mankind seeks to see the signature of the Creator in His works. It is often heartening to hear people 'testify' as to the cause of their deeply held beliefs.
    Even the rage against Him by Atheist proclamations is evidence of His signature, in it's own rather toxic way.
    But another part of me is disturbed.
    Disturbed by the way people of faith are literally attacked for their testimony by sectarians and Atheists alike.
    Disturbed by the incessant need of the materialist to debunk the functional reality we exist in.
    I find it disturbing that a natural (almost instinctive), traditional, and advantageous set of core beliefs can be so OBVIOUS to so many, and invisible to a few.
    Even more disturbing is that so many of the folks in the 'invisible' category are neck deep in the physical sciences. This is not coincidence. There must be a rabbit down this rabbit hole.
    I see a Faustian pattern here...or perhaps arrows being shot from atop the tower. For all their effort, these worshippers of science have only confounded themselves more. Each horizon they reach seemingly instantly recedes upon contact. Physics is an excellent example of this effect, but it can be seen in all the disciplines.
    Add to this quixotic mess that the natural powers the positivists seek with such fervour makes their own positions seem nonsense and their ideas useless or even dangerous to those majority of folks who have not succumbed to their self induced blindness; those who have not killed the instinct to 'be'.
    Is this a 'Babel' effect?
    Or could it be that these people have so devoted themselves to matter that they have unwittingly taken Mephistopheles' offer?
    Remember in that cautionary tale (Faust) the Doctor's main rationale for accepting the infernal bargain is his disbelief in God and the Devil - his belief in the religion of 'me'.
    Brave on the part of Taylor. I hope he/she is not expecting more than a feral savaging.
    Hope that makes sense to some of the readers.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wow. Talk about going into the lions' den!

  4. @cREX: Don't be disturbed. Woe to you, rather, when all men speak well of you for your testimony.

  5. @KT Cat:

    I admire Taylor's courage. It's like being a swizzle stick in a cauldron of stupid.

  6. There is a lot of scientific evidence for believing in God and this evidence is growing all the time. As for Christianity, the historical evidence is overwelming!

  7. I find it amusing that Myers is so inconsistent in the manner in which he deals with submissions that are "embarrassingly illiterate and incoherent."

    I will be gracious and take his word for it that most of the submissions he receives from professing Christians fall into that category, but why does Myers have such little difficulty applying a non-critical double standard to those submissions that are in agreement with him, regardless of the vacuousness of their arguments or their literary incompetence.

    - LE

  8. Michael,

    Agreed. Christianity is unique amongst religions. For its incoherence.

    A while back, in one of your two eulogies to Christopher Hitchins, I noted his argument against Christianity. Humans ( or at least Homo sapiens) have been on Earth for at least 100,000 years, probably longer. Your god for all of this time is sitting on his hands, doing nothing. And then 2,000 years, he decides to send his son to redeem the world, by sending him to a tiny part of the Roman Empire, which controlled only a tiny part of the world.

    You dismissed his argument as being 'juvenile' without explanation.

    His argument can be expanded. Your god created the Universe in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Then 4.6 billion years ago, he created the solar system with the Earth. He created primitive life on Earth 3.8 billion years, and after a lot of trial and error, with most species going extinct, less than 200,000 years ago, he creates humans in Homo sapiens, after failed attempts in Homo habilis, erectus, neanderthalis, florensis etc.

    And then 2,000 years ago, he sends himself to Earth as his son, to sacrifice himself to himself, to atone for all human sin, past, present and future, including Original Sin, in the Garden of Eden (which didn't happen anyway).

    Coherent, isn't it?

    I read the latest book of your favorite 'historian' Rodney Stark 'the Triumph of Christianity' last weekend. Christianity wasn't particularly unique in the Roman world. There were several monotheistic religions, with similar elements, enjoying success in Italian and Greek cities, preparing the way for Christianity's later success.

    Christianity, even in Rodney Stark's account, wasn't a runaway success. If Matthew was true, with his account of the astounding events at the time of the execution of Jesus, then you'd expect Christianity to have spread like wildfire.

    It didn't. It grew slowly, by word of mouth and conversion of friends and family. It was a better product than paganism, providing very good support systems amongst Christian communities during times of distress, such as the frequent epidemics plaguing Roman cities. It was easier to adopt than Judaism (what adult male pagan would agree to circumcision?). Compared to paganism, it was liberating of women (as an aside, Constantine was converted by his mother).

    Christianity had a lot of social benefits, besides its religious ones with the afterlife. Despite these advantages, it took a very long time to reach even 10% of the population.

    One thing that Rodney Stark didn't do is to attempt an even basic defense of the truth claims of Christianity.

  9. @bach:

    Stark isn't a Christian, although he obviously has a lot of respect for Christian culture. He's a superb sociologist, who uses rigorous sociological methods in historical research.

    Regarding Hitchens argument that God didn't do things the way that Hitchens thought made sense, thus God doesn't exist. Pretty funny argument.

    I'm sure God is explaining it to him now.

  10. Michael,

    Rodney Stark described himself as an 'independent Christian' when he went to Baylor University in 2007. Previously he described himself as agnostic. Perhaps he's not Christian enough for you?

    What exactly do you mean by 'rigorous sociological methods in historical research'? That's just nonsense. Piling fine sounding words together to create the illusion of knowing what you're talking about.

    You still haven't addressed Christopher Hitchens' argument (or the expanded one). I'm certain that there's no god explaining to the equally nonexistent soul of Christopher Hitchens the errors of his ways.

    The Universe looks exactly the way it would if there is no benevolent creating god. Insisting that your god would have made it this way is just special pleading, telling a story for which you don't have any evidence.

  11. @bach:

    [You still haven't addressed Christopher Hitchens' argument (or the expanded one).]

    I'm still laughing. "The Source of Being Himself didn't do stuff the way I would have, therefore He doesn't exist". You have remarkable insight into the Foundation of Existence, which of course you assert doesn't exist, so you have insight into nothing. Sounds about right.

    [The Universe looks exactly the way it would if there is no benevolent creating god]

    With an N of 1, you'll have a tough time getting a p < .05.

    I love scientism.

  12. Michael,

    Well, the Universe does look exactly the way it would if there wasn't a benevolent creating god. For almost 200,000 years of the time humans have been on Earth, your god has been indifferent to the suffering of humans. And then 2,000 years ago he decides to take action in a tiny part of the Roman Empire, which made up only a tiny portion of the world. So most of the world didn't get the benefit of salvation, and it took some areas almost 1,900 years to get the benefit (finding Papuan highland villages in the 1930s came as a considerable shock). A considerable proportion of the 100 billion humans who have ever lived on Earth haven't had the benefit of your loving god who takes an intense interest in the lives of humans.

    Sounds as though you don't have any insight, Michael. You're still antiscience. Scientism is just a madeup term of abuse.

  13. Bachfiend, you seem to specialize in formulating and describing a literary caracature of Christianity, rather than actually dealing with specific points of contention or doubt. Over the last few years I have witnessed similar efforts by Christians to illustrate ridiculous pseudo-chains of cause and effect in a depiction of alleged evolutionary events in biology, all in an effort to discredit and ridicule the "other side."

    Although some efforts were more sophisticated than others, and all demonstrated some cleverness and amusement (as yours does), none of them helped further dialogue with those who held opposing views. But I doubted that was ever their intent in the first place, just as I doubt that you are really looking for answers from Dr. Egnor. - LE

  14. Anonymous,

    I'm attacking Michael's idea of god. A loving, all powerful, all wise deity who has the interest of all humans in mind. But who then intervenes by sending himself as his son to sacrifice himself to himself to atone for all human sin, past, present and future, but around 200,000 years after humans evolved, and only in a tiny area of the Roman Empire, with most of the human population being unaware of the self sacrifice.

  15. @bach:

    [Well, the Universe does look exactly the way it would if there wasn't a benevolent creating god.]

    If God doesn't exist, how can you know so much about what Nothing would have done?

    Your beef seems to be with Christian doctrine, rather than God's existence per se.

    And your explanation for the existence of the universe?

    [For almost 200,000 years of the time humans have been on Earth, your god has been indifferent to the suffering of humans.]

    Yea. The Hebrew prophets conveyed God's indifference to suffering.

    [And then 2,000 years ago he decides to take action in a tiny part of the Roman Empire, which made up only a tiny portion of the world.]

    The Lord came at an auspicious time. Judaism had prepared the basic concepts of monotheism and of God's law and mercy. Rome was a huge empire uniting many different peoples, with extensive roads, a common language, common law.

    It was an extraordinarily effective time for the Lord to become incarnate and begin the gospel.

    But you know how the Guy Who Doesn't Exist would have done it, had He existed.

    Pretty funny.

  16. @John Henry,
    There is much wisdom in what you have responded. I appreciate you putting the effort and thought into engaging my concerns. You have given me pause for thought.
    God bless you, Sir.

    "But I doubted that was ever their intent in the first place, just as I doubt that you are really looking for answers from Dr. Egnor."
    I think your doubts would be very well founded. Bach comes off as observant and occasionally sharp, but seems more interested in form and loyalties than truth.

    "And then 2,000 years ago he decides to take action in a tiny part of the Roman Empire, which made up only a tiny portion of the world."
    I have heard some pretty funny interpretations of history come from you and your side, but this one takes the cake.
    The Roman Empire was 'tiny', eh? Egypt and the Levant are 'tiny'? Goodness....
    Time for the atheist hymn: '♫Tiny insignificant planet, in a remote part of an obscure galaxy, a backward race of poorly evolved animals called man had fun killing each other for nothing ♫....'
    Makes you just feel soooo good inside.

    "But you know how the Guy Who Doesn't Exist would have done it, had He existed...Pretty funny."
    If Atheism was a dirty joke, this would be the punchline. Kudos, Doc!