Archives For Lawrence Krauss

I’m thrilled this approach to defending Christianity is getting good air time. Rory Shiner’s self-deprecating Christ-focused winsomeness is now available in text form, thanks to Eternity (and Rory for sharing it). This would’ve been handy before I tried to type out the Shakespeare stuff.

I love that both Eternity and I settled on the word “winsome” to describe this approach. Seeing Krauss disarmed like this was pretty special, especially in contrast to the Brisbane debate. In a post-Christian world – where people aren’t just not into Christianity, but are also potentially angry about how we’ve wielded our power and influence during Christendom – subverting caricatures in a winsome way is going to be one of the keys to being heard.

Winsome.

Manner is, I think, as important as content in these contexts – because it is part of demonstrating your ethos – and a huge part of pathos.

Being on about Jesus is incredibly important – that was my main criticism of William Lane Craig’s approach – but being Christlike in the face of a hostile court is a huge part of communicating the gospel.

Being winsome will still win a hearing.

That is evident in the difference between how Krauss treats his two interlocutors during his Australian tour.

I love how Rory opens with self-deprecation. I love how he remains epistemically humble and acknowledges the parts of the Christian case that are likely to be unsatisfactory to those who don’t share our starting assumptions. I love that he doesn’t overreach. I love that he was a charming advocate who stuck to the main game – the resurrection, and did it with a bit of artistry.

“The potential of tonight’s event being something of a mismatch has given me two recurring nightmares over the past month. First, that my efforts would end up featuring on a Atheist YouTube comedy channel, and secondly, the abiding fear that the word “Shiner” will become a neologism in the atheist community—a newly minted verb to describe a wild mismatch resulting in hilarity. To Shiner, or to be Shinered.”

This next quote overlaps with the one from my last post. But it is so good.

This act of revelation centres of the man Jesus Christ, who was born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great and Tiberius, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who, Christians believe, was raised to new life by God somewhere in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a graveyard on the edge of Jerusalem.

At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history. It is not like the stories of dying and rising gods of antiquity. Such stories come from outside of Judaism, in which Jesus was firmly embedded. And those dying and rising gods were indexed against the seasons, and fertility. They were about how things are. And they were precisely gods, not men. Their dying and rising happened in the dream-time, in pre-history.

If you asked a pagan, “On what date did Osiris rise and at what time?” you would get you a puzzled face, saying: “You don’t really get myth, do you?” Jesus by contrast was crucified under Pontius Pilate, within the time of our history, and, it is alleged, rose to life in April, early in the morning, on a Sunday.

It is a claim of history. It is not scientific in the limited sense of observation, hypothesis, testing, repeating and so on.

No Christians claim that, under the right conditions, a 33 year old dead Jewish body will, in a sufficiently cold and dark tomb, come back to life within 72 hours. It is not a claim for something that happens, but for something that happened.

Whether on historical grounds it is reasonable to believe that that is what happened requires the kind of reasoning domestic to the discipline of history: written evidence, conjecture, probability, testimony and historical hypothesis.

 

My Lawrence Krauss v William Lane Craig post went a little viral with WLC’s fans – and even on Reddit’s r/atheism. I had no idea I was tilting at two sacred cows. Especially when it comes to the Christians – I can’t figure out how it is wrong or controversial to suggest that Christianity should be, primarily, about Christ.

Anyway. After that event, WLC and LK toured the country, with a couple more debates. Then WLC flew home, and Krauss didn’t. He stayed to have a final debate in Perth. Perth’s City Bible Forum brought out a local – a pastor – Rory Shiner. A real ‘David’ – if William Lane Craig can’t legitimately be described as such. Krauss’ fame as an intellectual far outweighs Shiner’s. If you read those links above, the David v Goliath analogy didn’t really work for either WLC fanboys or Krauss fanboys. Apparently Christianity is too big and powerful to be David, while WLC is too smart to be considered a David relative to Krauss…

Anyway.

Rory tried something a little different in his debate. He subverted the debate format. He appears to be prepared to take a few blows in order to be winsome and keep the conversation coming back to Jesus.

The best advert for his methodology is the description from an atheist who was there as a:

“magnanimous and cheerful crucifixion”

(source – that came from Rory on Twitter when I asked him how it went).

This, I think, is how you “debate” – it’s certainly how you be Christlike in this sort of situation.

Krauss is clearly a little enamoured with this conversation, and with Rory – he even says they have become friends in 24 hours (in video 2).

 

He can’t help but be nice. It’s in stark contrast to his approach to William Lane Craig.

Check them out. Discuss them. What lines are you going to steal? I love the Shakespeare stuff (video 1, from 27 minutes).

I like that he channels Paul at the Areopagus. I also likes that he writes off ‘generic’ forms of knowing God (sort of – “they wave their arms in a godward direction”), in favour of knowing God from revelation.

The Shakespeare analogy is so good that I’ve typed it out here to come back to in the future.

“When Christians speak of God they speak of a character not in our world. He’s not part of the drama. If the world is Hamlet, then God is Shakespeare. Shakespeare is nowhere present in Hamlet, and yet by Shakespeare everything that happens in Hamlet lives and moves and has its being…”

And then…

“If God is to our universe as Shakespeare is to Hamlet, then revelation is necessary. Could Ophelia conclude anything about the nature and character of Shakespeare from her position in Hamlet? No Hamlet, like our universe, makes a good deal of sense on its own. And just as the literary critic does not need to keep invoking the Shakespeare hypothesis to make sense of the drama, the scientist does not need to keep invoking the God hypothesis to make sense of her discoveries, and for Christians, this is not a bug. It’s a feature. We have a universe that is gloriously open to empirical investigation, and any Christian here should wait with bated breath for Doctor Krauss’ next book as we discover good and gorgeous things about our world. But for Ophelia to know Shakespeare – to stretch our analogy to breaking point – is for Shakespeare to write himself into the play. And that’s the specific Christian claim. Christians claim that the transcendent God of creation has for reasons of love written himself into the unfinished drama of human experience. The act of revelation centres on the man Jesus of Nazareth. Born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and who Christians believe was raised to new life in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a grave yard on the edge of Jerusalem. At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history.”

Is this not a better way than blustering ahead without listening to what your interlocutor is throwing at you?

Krauss v Lane Craig round 2 happened in Sydney last night. The head to head is producing interesting conversations around the traps – and these are a good thing.

The conversation I’m keen to keep pursuing is the nature of properly Christian apologetics.

Here’s something William Lane Craig said in a pre-round 2 preview in Eternity

“E: Some Christians would say that if you don’t get the gospel out, or talk about Jesus in these discussions, then you lose. What do you think?

Oh, you won’t hear a gospel presentation tonight. It has nothing to do with Christianity per se tonight. We as Christians share with Jews, Muslims and even deists a common commitment to the existence of a creator and designer of the universe, who is the ultimate reality and from which everything else derives, and that’s what I’m defending tonight. This is a broad, theistic claim in opposition to Dr Krauss’ atheism.”

Since that question pretty much articulates the objection I raised in my previous post, I thought I might bash out this response.

I think the Apostle Paul would be horrified with this methodology.

I think this reconstruction of Paul’s feelings matters when thinking about how we defend our faith because I think Paul is perhaps the most effective Christian apologist of all time, and apart from Jesus, the best model for Christian engagement with the world and the intellectual defence of Christian belief (I won’t argue it here – read my project). Or read Acts 17 and Paul’s appearance before the Areopagus. Or try to account for Christianity still existing today without Paul’s contribution to Christianity today…

This statement means William Lane Craig went into a debate, deliberately limited by the title of the debate, and resolved NOT to know Jesus and him crucified. 

I can’t imagine Paul ever doing this. I can’t imagine any Christian apologist doing this – let me clarify. I think William Lane Craig is a Christian. And I think he’s an apologist. I think it’s just clear the “Christian” doesn’t qualify the “apologist” function.

I wonder if part of the problem is that in order to “give an account” for the hope that we have, we’ve tried to answer every objection people who don’t know Jesus might have when it comes to Christianity. That seems to be Craig’s modus operandi – convince people to be a theist and that will naturally lead them to Christianity – but Paul seems to pretty consistently aim to present the resurrection of the dead – particularly the resurrection of Jesus – because that is the absolute basis – the ground zero – of intellectual objection to Christianity.

It’s the point at which Christianity is falsifiable, and the point Christianity hangs on in terms of all the claims it makes about our status before God.

“16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” – 1 Corinthians 15

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. – Romans 4

The intellectual offence Christianity presents is not that we believe in God – if we think it is, we’re giving far too much ground to the New Atheists.

Using a platform where you’re speaking to thousands of people who are interested in the relative truth claims made by Christianity and atheism to deliberately not articulate the core of Christianity – Jesus, his incarnation as revelation, his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead – is negligent at best.

That is where most objections to Christianity come from. That is where the offence is. The crucifixion. The resurrection. It has been since day one. The crucifixion has become such a core part of our cultural narrative – count the crosses you see in the average day – that the offence of the cross has been lost a bit.

But it was offensive. Here’s what Cicero said about 70 years before Jesus.

“Even if death be threatened, we may die free men; but the executioner, and the veiling of the head, and the mere name of the cross, should be far removed, not only from the persons of Roman citizens—from their thoughts, and eyes, and ears. For not only the actual fact and endurance of all these things, but the bare possibility of being exposed to them,—the expectation, the mere mention of them even,—is unworthy of a Roman citizen and of a free man…”

It was equally offensive to Paul’s Jewish audience. Here’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy 21.

22 If someone guilty of a capital offence is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

The Cross was – and still should be – an incredible impediment to apologetics, but it should also, I think, shape our approach to apologetics (see my earlier thoughts on Lawrence Krauss v WLC).

Apart from the Christians – who were actually accused of atheism in the Roman Empire – the Stoics were the closest thing to atheists going round in the first century. They were driven by rationality. They pursued decision making free from emotions. They were idealists. There’s something incredibly appealing about the Stoic framework. They certainly didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

And this is where Paul goes in Athens. When he’s speaking to a Stoic audience – he doesn’t argue from cosmology – and in some sense the Stoics did with nature what the New Atheists do with science. Or present a sort of abstract monotheism – even though he’s talking to people who are potentially pantheistic, if not atheistic (though you couldn’t really get away with atheism in Rome). Here’s what the Stoic founding fathers believed.

 

The substance of God is declared by Zeno to be the whole world and the heaven, as well as by Chrysippus in his first book Of the Gods, and by Posidonius in his first book with the same title. Again, Antipater in the seventh book of his work On the Cosmos says that the substance of God is akin to air, while Boëthus in his work On Nature speaks of the sphere of the fixed stars as the substance of God. Now the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the world together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. Nature is defined as a force moving of itself, producing and preserving in being its offspring in accordance with seminal principles within definite periods, and effecting results homogeneous with their sources

“God is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus ; he is also called by many other names. In the beginning he was by himself” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Here’s what the poetic account of the founding of Athens declares about the resurrection…

Oh, monsters utterly loathed and detested by the gods! Zeus could undo fetters, there is a remedy for that, and many means of release. But when the dust has drawn up the blood of a man, once he is dead, there is no return to life. – Aeschylus, The Eumenides

So Paul is facing an essentially pantheistic/polytheistic audience who build and certify gods for every cause – and rather than providing evidence for a monotheistic God that the Deists would be happy with – he simply asserts that God exists and created the world on the way to getting to the real offence of the gospel.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

I think part of the problem I have with WLC is that we seem to have a profoundly different answer to the following question.

PB: What is your best evidence there is no God, and what’s the best evidence there is a God?

Well, I would say that the best evidence that there is a God is that the hypothesis that God exists explains a wide range of the data of human experience that’s very diverse. So it’s an extremely powerful hypothesis. It gives you things like an explanation of the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, of intelligent life. But also the presence of mind in the cosmos, an objective foundation for moral values and duties, and things of that sort—it’s a wide range of data that makes sense on a theistic worldview.

The best evidence there is God is the historical Jesus. The creator entering the creation and revealing himself through his word made flesh. God became man and changed the world. That’s the best evidence for God. It’s also got to be the basis of our apologetics or we’re getting the foundations all wrong.

Tonight was the long awaited first instalment of three public debates between Christian apologist Dr William Lane Craig and scientist-come-new-atheist Prof. Lawrence Krauss.

It confirmed most things that I thought about adversarial public debates between the religious and the irreligious – they aren’t very useful. Nuance is lost. People talk past one another. And everybody goes home more entrenched in their own position.

Except.

This time, unlike other debates I’ve watched, I felt like the atheist, Prof. Krauss, got the better of the Christian.

In the story of David and Goliath – an unlikely champion goes up against a big and powerful enemy and scores an unlikely win. He slays the powerful enemy.

In the gospel story an unlikely figure – a Jewish carpenter-come-Messianic figure – Jesus – goes up against the religious and political establishment and secures an unlikely win through the mechanism of a likely loss. The powerful enemy slays him. Only he is victorious in death. That’s the sublime paradox of the Gospel.

Tonight – William Lane Craig was trying to imitate David. He wanted to slay the giant. He brought some pretty impressive stones – his well-oiled set of philosophical axioms (though he certainly tried not to engage in the snark that Krauss brought to the table from the opening bell) – but he was the David you’d expect to see in most mismatches of this size. He was crushed. Blitzkriegged. Beaten from pillar to post.

The debate titled “Has Science Buried God” became, very quickly, “Krauss Buries Lane Craig.” Krauss barely touched on the debate topic, and when he did, it was to offer inane and debunked comparative cliches about Christianity in comparison with other ancient religions, or to over reach on science’s behalf – inconsistently attempting to suggest science is just a tool, but also suggesting that it is synonymous with rationality, rather than a tool for the rational. He was patronising, he treated the audience like children, he read his slides – word for word – he barely touched on his field of expertise. He also pretty constantly talked over the top of Lane Craig, relied on crass one liners like “forcing religion onto children is child abuse,” and was generally cantankerous. Despite a 10 minute opening plea from the moderator for a civil conversation between humans who held different opinions, Krauss was on the attack from beginning to end.

Where Krauss scored points, and where he took the argument away from Lane Craig, was on the unrelated question of Lane Craig’s moral theology, his account of the Canaanite genocide employing a Divine Command Theory argument – that God is always right to kill children, in judgment, on the basis that he also necessarily saves them in order to be a loving God.

Now. I’m not going to expand on why this argument is poor, theologically – except to say that both William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss need to reconsider what it means to read a passage in context, with a bit of literary and historical sensitivity. Why was the text written? What rhetorical purpose did it serve? Does it match the account of history found in subsequent parts of the narrative? Why did the text remain the way it did, not get edited, after the fact – when the Canaanite children (and adults) were intermingling with Israel and causing all sorts of domestic destabilisation? These are questions neither of these guys answers.

I’d suggest the violence in Canaan requires a fair amount of historical sensitivity, an understanding of where Israel was coming from – if they are fleeing slavery, a slavery where the king of Egypt slaughtered their male children on a cruel whim, if they were a people without a land in the Ancient Near East, and if they did believe, and had marked out previously, their own land that had since become occupied – then they were confronted with a bit of a dilemma. Then you’ve got to consider that similar commands to kill all the Canaanites are coupled with commands not to marry the Canaanites. Something complicated is going on.

Unpacking that sort of complication is probably out of the question in a format like this. Impossible even. That it took up so much of a debate that, by title, had nothing to do with the topic, is a failing of the debate – and especially a failing of William Lane Craig, who like a punch drunk boxer, decided to hang out on the ropes and let Krauss pummel him.

But William Lane Craig’s bigger failing. In my mind. Was that he didn’t ever really go beyond providing a philosophically cogent case for theism. Here he was as Christianity’s champion (it possibly didn’t help that the moderator kept including Islam and Judaism in the discussion – which was odd given the event was sponsored by the City Bible Forum). And instead of championing Christianity, a robust Christianity centred on the historical person of Jesus, he was championing abstract concepts of a loving God who can carry out genocide.

I’m not going to pretend the genocide question is easy. It’s not.

But Christian morality isn’t based on Divine Commands from Deuteronomy or a “developing morality through the New Testament and over the next thousand years” as moderator Scott Stephens put it. Christian morality and ethics are based on Divine Example. The life and death of Jesus Christ, historically, on behalf of his enemies. As an act of love.

And here’s where I think Lane Craig’s biggest failing came – and I think it’s the big failing most Christians fall into when we’re thrust into adversarial positions.

He tried to imitate David. Not Jesus. He set out to slay the giant. And he didn’t even do that right… In the story of David and Goliath, David rejects the conventional weapons of warfare and uses a sling. So ultimately David’s bizarre method of ancient near eastern giant slaying has more in common with Jesus taking it to the Roman establishment by being crucified than it has with playing a power game.

This might be a little simplistic – but giant slaying in improbable situations is nice in theory. But it’s not, I would argue, paradigmatic for Christ shaped interactions with the world, nor is it particularly conducive to presenting a gospel of weakness – the story of a king killed on a cross.

While I reckon God is capable of using small and inadequate people to win great victories – David didn’t beat Goliath by wearing armour and taking the fight to him. I don’t think we win people over by engaging in this sort of debate where you’re using the verbal equivalent of the Queensberry Rules and talking past one another, not to one another.

Lane Craig was gracious under fire. Don’t get me wrong. But didn’t really try to reach across the divide to Krauss in a particularly winsome way. He didn’t simply turn the other cheek and cop the flogging that Krauss dished out. And he certainly didn’t get to the cross – even when he was specifically asked about an ethic that cares for the vulnerable he went to Jesus’ words, not his actions at the cross.

I understand that I’m essentially advocating that Christians go into these situations to essentially deliberately lose the fight but win the war. With dignity. But that’s the only way to, I think, faithfully embody the gospel in an adversarial situation. You don’t imitate Jesus by landing the most telling blows on your opponent. You imitate Jesus by how you take the blows, while pointing people to the gospel.

It would be cliched and anti-intellectual for me to just run to 1 Corinthians 1 at this point…

“18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

I think philosophical thinking, and being prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, is important. I’m not suggesting we abandon the field of apologetics – there just has to be a way to shape the way we do apologetics through the example of the cross, and with the message of the cross. I guess I am suggesting that in some sense, our philosophy, for it to be properly Christian, not simply defending theism, monotheism even, we do need to take the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 seriously…

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It’s hard to do this in a debate. But Paul managed in similar setting throughout Acts – and he paid the penalty for his refusal to play Corinthian debate/oratory games – we see that in the way he defends his approach to public speaking in 2 Corinthians. It’d be nice for those engaging in discussions with the New Atheists, or even just with run of the mill atheists, to be trying to present God’s wisdom. Not man’s.

I thought last night’s Q&A was going to be a trainwreck.

The Christian panellist, Christian Democrat MP from New South Wales, Fred Nile, isn’t exactly presented in the media as being moderate and nuanced. Lawrence Krauss went toe-to-toe with John Dickson – one of Australia’s most impressive Christian thinkers, and while it was a bit of an agree fest, Krauss showed he was capable of being winsome and engaging. And he was back. The rest of the panel were window dressing for this fight – former British Anglican Bishop, the openly gay Gene Robinson was on as something like the middle ground between the two, and there were a couple of Australian pollies – Amanda Vanstone and Susan Ryan.

I was worried. I wasn’t going to watch. And then I flicked to the ABC at about 9:45. And caught this interaction…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, there Fred. I want to ask you when the suicide rate is so high in LGBT teens, when you use such hateful and disgusting language about them, do you not feel – or I think maybe you should – feel slightly responsible for some of this that goes on?

FRED NILE: I must object to that because I will give you $1,000 if you can find anywhere where I have said anything which is hateful or vicious about homosexuals. Okay.

TONY JONES: Okay. I think it is time to move on.

Fred was facing a pretty hostile group of panellists – even the other religious guy was against his clear presentation of the historically orthodox understanding of the gospel. He managed to be relatively gracious, speak of God’s judgment, and keep pointing the conversation back to Jesus.

I missed this bit… according to the transcript.

FRED NILE: Because I take, as my authority, Jesus Christ, the son of God, and also the living word and I believe that God gave to us the written word, the holy Bible and as a Bishop you would know the church for 2,000 years and longer has upheld marriage as it is and has also said that homosexuality is immoral and unnatural and so on. So you are going against the teaching of the church so you should be ashamed to be a Bishop and going against the teaching of the church.

TONY JONES: I’m just going to interrupt because…

FRED NILE: I am agreeing with (the transcript says “referring to”) that atheist over there.

That came after Gene Robinson had played down any meaningful distinction between religions.

GENE ROBINSON: I am actually delighted to respond to that question. It is the experience of the living God in my own life. That is why I stick with it. That is why I believe that the church, the synagogue, the mosque can constantly reform itself because God’s will is being revealed to us over time. We are constantly understanding better God’s will and this is one of those places where we are changing what we have believed for 2 or 3,000 years. I believe that scripture is holy in the sense that it is the story of people who have had an experience with the living God and we read it in order to know where to look in our own lives for an experience of the living God. And so I do believe in it. The Church has got a lot to apologise for but, then again, don’t we all? And I believe that this is the way to discern God’s will and I am thrilled to be a part of that.

I also missed this.

AMANDA VANSTONE: So you can be a nice person your whole life and still not get into heaven?

FRED NILE: That’s right. That’s right.

TONY JONES: Just excuse me for one second because…

AMANDA VANSTONE: It is not worth going there.

FRED NILE: Yes.

TONY JONES: …on this table we have two…

FRED NILE: To have eternal life you…

TONY JONES: Excuse me. Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: …have to believe in Jesus Christ as saviour.

TONY JONES: Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: There’s only one way.

Amanda Vanstone came back at him again…

TONY JONES: Just to sort of end this part of the discussion, can I just bring Fred back in here. I mean are you worried if you create an exclusive world where your version of Christianity leaves out people like Gene, that that is actually bad?

FRED NILE: Well, I’m not leaving him out. He is excluding himself. I haven’t left him out. I want him to come in.

TONY JONES: Well, in fact, he’s not excluding himself in the sense that he is a bishop with his own congregation.

FRED NILE: I would like you, at the end of this program, to say, “I believe in what you have just been saying Fred.” I hope he might do that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But all the people who also believe in God but from other religions are also excluded, I presume. So basically you’re an atheist about all the other religions. It’s just yours you’re not. Is that correct?

FRED NILE: I leave it to God. He is the judge and he will judge each person.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: So, no, but are they excluded? If you’re not a Christian but you, say, you’re a very faithful Muslim or a faithful Jew, are you excluded?

FRED NILE: I’m just saying God will judge them not me.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’ve got a…

FRED NILE: I know God is a loving God and God will be fair in his dealing with each individual.

And kept pushing that “good enough for God” wheelbarrow all the way up the hill.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don’t know the details of the second case but they would seem, on what you have said, to be inextricably related. I mean the more you have people saying Muslims want to go and kill everybody, the more you have whipping everyone else up into a frenzy of fear and apprehension and a feeling that they must deal with this. So it goes back to what my granny said: if you lead a good life, you will get into any heaven worth getting into and it follows that you – you know, if I get up to Heaven and St Peters says, ‘Gee, you made a mistake and you went to the Anglican Church and you should have gone to a Catholic one or you should have gone to some other church,” I’m going to be bitterly disappointed because I went to a Christian school and I was taught the need to be a good person and not judge people, as you say, on labels. It doesn’t matter if they are Catholic or Anglican or Muslim or whatever. What matters is whether they are a good and decent person and that is how we should be dealing with each other. And once you start this, “Well, they’re Muslims. They want to kill you,” well, you’re separating it out, you’re getting into us and them and you will have battles, ugly ones, where people will be killed.

How wishy washy and meaningless. She didn’t pull her punches after Tony Jones had rung the bell for the end of the evening’s discussion though, hitting out with this low blow that Fred Nile couldn’t reply to.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Fred. Fred, I think I can help you with one thing at least and that is that any God worth following wants converts not conscripts. So religious people should stop looking to parliaments to conscript people into a belief that they don’t adopt.

That’s bad. It’s not very nice. It’s poor form. According to her view of salvation, she should be a little worried now.

Krauss on Labels

This was another bit that showed the intolerance of the New Atheists and the contrast with Jesus… this was in a discussion of the recent events in England…

FRED NILE:… I follow what Jesus said: love your enemies and that is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It’s not a source of violence against people at all.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Who are the enemies in this case? I just don’t who the enemy are. Are you saying Islam is the enemy? You know, the problem is…

FRED NILE: Well, whoever is attacking you…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Yeah.

FRED NILE: Whoever is attacking you, like in Cairo, burning down the Cathedral, that is your enemy. So you still love them but you try to change that society.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Part of the problem here, and I agree with, of course, what you just said, but we label people and religion is a wonderful way of labelling people and making us versus them. And so we don’t see the people, we see them being Christians or Muslims and we hate them because of that and so that’s another reason why, I think, religion gets in the way because it causes us to stereotype people instead of seeing people as individuals with a common humanity…

Tony Jones interrupts with something meaningless… and Krauss gets back on point…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: The point is that obviously they were driven by hate. My point was that they were not killing that poor young man because they knew him, they knew anything about him. They had already labelled him by a bunch of labels: military, representative of a Christian state that had done supposed atrocities against Islam and that is the kind of labelling that leads people to be able to do these heinous acts because they no longer see people as people but representative of something they hate and that, to me, is one of the real problems of the us versus themness of religious groups that cause other people to no longer be people.

Then he lets this clanger rip. Holy contradiction Batman.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Steve Weinberg, who is a physicist and also an atheist, said that there are good people and there are bad people and good people do good things and bad people do bad things. When good people do bad things, it’s religion.

Where Nile went wrong

Nile wasn’t great on the homosexuality question. He was faithful. He tried. He tried to be loving. But he was just outclassed and out of touch on the origins of homosexual orientation. He argued that same sex attraction is a choice because it is changeable – when all that reveals is that change is possible, it says nothing about the origins of the attraction. What was interesting was that Krauss and Robinson had a bit of a disagreement – Robinson, “the gay Gene” (line of the night) suggested same sex attraction is a product of environmental factors that kick in before you’re three, which is consistent with just about everything I’ve read on the topic. Krauss “corrected” him, apparently he’s a biologist now, and there is a gay gene out there. Because some animals are gay. That’ll be news to people who’ve conducted twin studies.

I didn’t love his emphasis on the distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament – the continuity is greater than the departure, and Jesus affirms the New Testament. It’s hard to present a nuanced account of the narratives of the Old Testament when the dices are loaded like they were in the questions, and when people have pretty strong preconceptions about horrible stories in the Old Testament, as though God affirms what is happening there. Like this exchange. Thanks for your objectivity and literary nuance Tony…

TONY JONES: Just like, in fact, you could take that psalm, which is out of the old testament, which suggests you could dash babies’ heads against rocks as part of a revenge against the Babylonians…

FRED NILE: Well, that’s the point I’m making, that that is no longer relevant in the new testament period. Jesus said that was the old covenant. We’re now under the new covenant.

The answer isn’t that that verse somehow applied literally once upon a time. The answer is to look at genre. Psalms, poetry, aren’t exactly known for being law. The Psalm does not say “you must dash babies’ heads against rocks”… nor is there any evidence that Israel was ever in a position where dashing Babylonian babies against rocks was a possibility. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Psalm is saying that Babylon is really, really, really bad. So bad that people who do things that sound really, really, really, bad to them are commended because they are so bad that such an act is good by comparison. That seems to make more sense of the text than a command to murder babies. Especially in its literary context, and in the narrative context (Israel’s history). Here is the offending verse…

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

This insensitivity to the context of passages in the Old Testament was demonstrated by panellists as well, so Krauss:

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I am sure we will get to talk more about marriage but I want to go back to the questioner a little bit because it seems to me I actually kind of agree with him a little. I can’t quite understand why you stay in the church. I mean, look, you read the Bible and it’s pretty explicit. You know, there’s that wonderful section, really heart-warming, where Lot is visited by these angels, men and the town’s people want to take him on a raid and he says ‘No, no, rape my daughters instead,’ and, you know, it is one of the wonderful parts of the Bible. And when you read all of this and, you know, you read that men who lay together should be killed and all that, you know you can interpret it all you want but you’re sort of picking and choosing, I think. You decide you want to be a Christian and you throw out the stuff that you don’t like, like I think most Christians do, actually. Throw out the stuff you don’t like, keep the stuff you do. Why not just throw out the whole thing and just be happy and love people and be gay?

Lot’s actions aren’t affirmed in this narrative, you get the sense, if you’re a normal reader, that Lot isn’t held up as a paragon of righteousness here. Description isn’t prescription. This would be like me reading Krauss describing his version of Christian theology and ignoring the context and assuming that’s what he believes…

“People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell.”

Or perhaps:

“Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus.”

The fuller context of these quotes is more fun than the misquoting game though…

Where Nile got it right – pushing Krauss on Jesus

The best bit of the night, for mine, was how incoherent Krauss looked on Jesus. He lost points a couple of times, and had the twittersphere turning against the snide new atheists with gems like this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, let me jump in and say – I mean we’re all pretending Jesus was this great guy but let’s step back and say this guy also seemed to say if you don’t believe in me you know what, you’ll be condemned. You know you won’t get to heaven. You’ll be condemned eternally to pain and worse than the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, just for not believing in me. What kind of God would you – I mean, you know, what kind of love is that? What kind of love…

FRED NILE: That was the…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell for all eternity for choosing – choosing to have the – to use their brains and I find that just, you know.

Then there was this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus. It seems to me amazing that you solve the problems of the world by having someone sacrifice – by having this person violently tortured and sacrificed for the sins of a non-existent forbearer, who made a mistake of taking an apple from a rib-woman. I mean it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right.

FRED NILE: Jesus was dying for all of our sins. Your sins and my sins and the victim’s sins.

And finally, what I think made the night worth the price of admission… or what would have if I’d paid to be admitted…

FRED NILE: I would just like to challenge Lawrence that the greatest fact is the fact of Jesus Christ.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: How do you know?

FRED NILE: He is a reality and he came into this world to show us the way of salvation and he said in his own teaching…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Is that because he said he did?

FRED NILE: …”Who do you say that I am?” And so the question you have to ask who was Jesus Christ and what is his meaning – what is his meaning, his life to you and his death? You talked about the crucifixion. What does his death mean for you? And it’s a source of salvation. He died for our sins, the sins of the world.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you know, when someone tells me they’re God I tend not to believe it. Okay. But, you know…

FRED NILE: But have you studied…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Hold on.

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough as a scientist…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I’m not even sure he was real, to tell you the truth.

FRED NILE: …to study – to study Jesus Christ and to study the new testament?

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough, I just…

TONY JONES: Fred. Fred. Fred.

FRED NILE: …would like you to give me…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: When I was a kid…

TONY JONES: Can I just put this to you, the counterpoint: Are you open-minded enough to accept the Muslim position that Mohammed is the greatest man in history?

FRED NILE: I don’t believe he is the greatest man in history in the same way Jesus Christ was. Jesus Christ was the son of God and…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But that’s because you have decided he is.

FRED NILE: But that’s factual history. You can actually study that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Factual history?

FRED NILE: There are documents, there are historical documents, that show that. It’s not a myth.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: That show what: that he existed or he is the son of God?

FRED NILE: That he existed and how he was born and so on.