Friendly Atheist

Apocalypse Now? Or not yet

Six days later debate still rages (though slower now) on the Friendly Atheist thread (I even scored a second post about my comments that was actually quite flattering… check it out)… here’s a testimonial from the author of the original post – it probably gives a more balanced view than the quotes I mined here.

First of all, I want to thank Nathan for his continued patience and politeness in comments. Yes, we disagree with him – vehemently on some issues – but I’m impressed that the comments have stayed mostly productive and substantive.

Fellow commenter, Wayne, has raised an interesting interpretation of the mission of Jesus and the kingdom he proclaimed. His comments alone make that thread worth reading. He is singularly the most interesting commenter I’ve ever come across there. He is prepared, it seems, to not completely dismiss the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ teaching. He just interprets them in an interesting way.

He introduced his views like this:

You comment that you follow the teachings of Jesus. I assume that, like most Christians, you consider him the Son of God. I submit to you that, on the contrary, he was a human being who was an apocalypticist who was preaching that God was about to arrive in his kingdom and that the people must prepare themselves. In Mark 9:1, Jesus states “Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste death before they have seen the Kingdom of God having come in power. And Mark 13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation (i.e., presumably, the one he was addressing) will not pass away before all these things take place. In Mark 14:62 Truly I tell you, You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. In Mathew 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

I am a former Christian who had questions that religion could not answer, such as why Jesus would be preaching fervently for the people to prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom when it wasn’t supposed to happen for millenniums later. It simply made no sense. I’ve since realize the problem after much research from non religious sources, that it was actually supposed to happen back then, but it didn’t, which blew Christianity out of the water for me.

Then he brought up this theory on the promise to David…

Here is something to cogitate over. Yahweh made a covenant with the House of David that David’s descendants would hold the reigns of power over Israel for ever. Let me remind you that this is from a god who is all knowing. Well, the leader of a nation, I forget which, removed the ruling Davidian and replaced him with a nonDavidian. So much for an all knowing god.

Like most Christians I think Jesus was talking about his kingdom coming at the crucifixion (and resurrection). I’m a 2 Corinthians 1:20 man myself…

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

One thing I hate in these arguments – and it’s similar to Ben’s disdain for experts – is when people quote “scholars” as though an issue is decided. Like this quote from Wayne (who really did have an interesting hermeneutic, and one I hadn’t really encountered before. I knew it existed, I’d just never met anybody who bought it):

“How can we look at the Old Testament and take it seriously? Scholars have determined that Abraham was simply a legend and didn’t exist. Also, the book of Joshua tells a powerful tale of conquest, supported by a God who showed no respect for most of the Holy Land’s existing inhabitants, however scholars have determined it is not history and it never was.”

Oh yeah, and anything in the Bible that contradicts his interpretations of other bits of the Bible is invalid…

Unfortunately, scholars are convinced that Paul did not write the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (called the “Pastoral” epistles, because they deal with how these pastors should oversee their churches.) So this passage you quoted has no validity.

When I objected to his “scholars”, I got this response:

When it comes to religion, I will pick the majority of scholars over the majority of Christians anytime, especially when their interpretation makes more sense.

I decided that Wayne had been pretty heavily influenced by the previously featured Bart Erhman… I found, and posted, this quote from a scholar about Ehrman’s “scholarship”…

A criticism of Erhman from an NT lecturer:

It is mystifying however why he would attempt to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted which frankly reflect no in-depth interaction at all with exegetes, theologians, and even most historians of the NT period of whatever faith or no faith at all. A quick perusal of the footnotes to this book, reveal mostly cross-references to Ehrman’s earlier popular works, with a few exceptions sprinkled in—for example Raymond Brown and E.P Sanders, the former long dead, the latter long retired. What is especially telling and odd about this is Bart does not much reflect a knowledge of the exegetical or historical study of the text in the last thirty years. It’s as if he is basing his judgments on things he read whilst in Princeton Seminary. And that was a long time ago frankly.

Then another commenter took me to task for bringing Ehrman into the discussion. How dare I be so presumptuous. And Wayne linked me to this friend of his, where he’d commented with similar views (almost word for word) in the past… and credited Erhman. Priceless.

“I was originally Christian, but had too many questions like why did Jesus preach back then that you must prepare yourself for the coming Kingdom if it wasn’t going to happen until millenniums later. Or why did Jesus tell his disciples that some of them would still be standing when his Father would arrive in glory in his kingdom, if it wasn’t supposed to happen then? Ministers could never give me an answer, but Bart Erhman did.”

Perhaps this post will be enough to bring Wayne here to continue this discussion. Lets see. It’s certainly the rambliest thing I’ve posted for a while.

Does skepticism neccessitate atheism?

I am a skeptic. Proudly. I treat all truth claims with an element of distrust – and many with disdain. But I am also a Christian. And by definition a theist, and a believer in the supernatural. My skepticism extends to all other religious claims – and many claims made by subsets of Christianity. What the relationship is between Christian belief and belief in the realm of ghosts, spiritual warfare and other supernatural issues is a matter for another post. Maybe.

I think I might have previously linked to this Clive James piece on the value of skepticism – if not, I apologise. It’s mostly about climate change skepticism, though a little bit about golf ball chips (a phenomena that occurs if you have a golf course next to a potato farm).

Skepticism is great – but if you hold onto it counter to the evidence you’re not a skeptic – you’re an idiot.

The golf-ball crisp might look like a crisp, and in a moment of delusion it might taste like a crisp, and you might even swallow the whole thing, rather proud of the strength it took to chew. But if there is a weird aftertaste, it might be time to ask yourself if you have not put too much value on your own opinion. The other way of saying “What do I know?” is “What do I know?” .

Which rather tangentially brings me to the purpose of this rant. I read this article on the Friendly Atheist about the relationship between skepticism and atheism – obviously they’re linked… it’s not rocket science to suggest that most atheists are skeptics. It comes with the territory. But do all skeptics have to be atheists?

A series of posts around the atheist blogosphere suggested that the two are inextricably linked – that atheism is a logical by product of skepticism.

It started with a speech at a camp for skeptics…the speaker then had to defend his claim from some criticism…

But because I have yet to see good evidence — philosophical, scientific, or otherwise — to support religious claims, I live under the assumption there is not a god or gods above,  making me an atheist. I am still open to evidence, just with rigorous philosophical and scientific standards. A perfect example to sum up the co-existence of these labels comes from what Jacob posted in the comments to his piece. “You ask if I am agnostic about Zeus. Yes. Fairies. Yes.” But, then, Jacob is also an aZeusist, and an afairist. That is, he lives without belief in Zeus or fairies.

The problem with all these assertions – and in fact every skeptical assertion – is that it is based on one’s personal standard of evidence. Which is a personal decision. And it should be. If you want to cover your eyes, block your ears and bury your head in the sand to avoid any “evidence” that may change your opinion on any matter – then that is your choice. And I will laugh at love you even if you are wrong.

So, in the post on the Friendly Atheist the writer made this rather bold claim…

I’ll use ’skepticism’ to mean the attitude that one should scale confidence in a belief to match the evidence, and ‘atheism’ to mean the lack of belief in a god. With these definitions, the two are clearly related.

Here’s another quote from that piece.

If a person is skeptical, we expect them to embrace atheism because that’s where the evidence leads.

Only when you set fairly narrow parameters for “evidence”… I think by “evidence” you mean that’s where an understanding of the world based on scientific naturalism leads.

For some of us scientific naturalism is a good starting point, but not an end point.

Since the principle of skepticism requires religion to be treated with scrutiny, how should the movement deal with the fact that scrutiny leads to atheism?

What this post is actually saying – and the root of the problem – is that these atheists, who are skeptics, have found the evidence wanting when it comes to the question of God – but not all skeptics have put the same faith in their particular evidential methodology.

Here’s how I think those quotes could have been more honestly framed – from a skeptical standpoint – I’ll bold my changes.

If a person is skeptical, I expect them to embrace atheism because that’s where I think the evidence leads them.

Since the principle of skepticism requires religion to be treated with scrutiny, how should I deal with my opinion that scrutiny leads to atheism?

Note the similarity to the quote from Clive James’ piece – what do I know? That’s the question that should be being asked in this case. Skepticism is a subjective philosophical position that requires convincing evidence – not some sort of objective standard.

For me, I am a skeptic when it comes to scientific naturalism’s ability to answer all of life’s questions, and I am convinced by the evidence of God’s word, my observations of human nature, and my experience as a believer.

Degrees of delusion

I’ve been having an interesting debate with some atheists (well I think it’s interesting and this is my blog afterall) over at the Friendly Atheist after the Friendly Atheist himself made this claim:

“Now, how do we shame those people who believe in reincarnation?

Or those people who believe that Heaven or Hell are actual places?

Or those people who believe that a god created the world in a week, that Adam and Eve were actual people, or that Jesus came back to life after being killed and has any ability to cleanse us of sins now?

It’s all the same degree of delusion

Emphasis mine.

I didn’t like the idea that Christians, who are monotheists, are as delusional as either pantheists those who see God in everything, everywhere (eg Hindus who, crudely speaking, believe in reincarnation because spiritual matter can not be lost), or polytheists who believe in many Gods.

I think as soon as you add the word “degree” into a statement like that you have to show that all these beliefs are equally ridiculous. I think it’s patently clear that they’re not. Mostly because there are certain beliefs that are universally ridiculed – like Scientology.

I think it’s funny that atheists seem quite happy generalising about Christians using the most crazy fundamentalist doctrines they can find while at the same time refusing to allow Christians to generalise about atheists – because they’re all different.

In the discussion I put forward a proposition, which I think was a good one, and as yet nobody has addressed it in their responses… I’ll reproduce it here.

“I often wonder if the atheist cause would be better served by supporting the Christians who are trying to teach other Christians good doctrine rather than throwing out the proverbial baby and bathwater.”

Strobel light

I was so intrigued by Lee Strobel’s approach to talking to atheists at the Friendly Atheist, and so annoyed by a Facebook friend’s recent somewhat ill thought out Answers in Genesis inspired attack on the morality of atheists, that I decided to ask my atheist friends for advice on how they’d like to be talked to.

Christians, by nature of their belief in God, have an imperative to share the gospel with their atheist friends, and in fact any non-Christian friends. It would be unloving not to. Atheists have a low tolerance for evangelism – but they do tolerate it when they understand the motivation. Or so I have found, and generalised. The problem for atheists is that once you reject the notion of God any further assumptions about how God might or might act move further and further away from that point of distinction. For the Christian it is perfectly rational, because we believe in God, to then believe that he would intervene in things, provide the mechanism for a relationship and raise the dead. We work deductively from that point. The atheist would prefer to work inductively (it seems) from the point of something miraculous (other than our miraculously balanced continued existence) like a visible miracle or visible, physical, answered prayer.

That’s a rather long preamble. I asked my friends, who I will identify by their online nom de plumes (except for Benny) some questions. While there are some obvious problems with some of their answers from a Christian perspective, they answered honestly and gave a pretty good representation of a cross section of atheist thoughts on the matter.

What should the church do better, in your opinions, if it wants to grow?


Push its community spirit more. I think people today would appreciate being part of a social group as much as learning their chosen religion. I think the non-church opinion of churches is that they are becoming less of benefit to the community and more benefit to members and the religion. ie, there is a divide opening.

Mr Paroxysm

That’s an odd question for an atheist/agnostic to answer as they wouldn’t want the church to grow.  I think Ben covered this though.  The good churches do is with community building and support systems.  I think it is important however to keep the religious aspect separate from support groups/charity they provide and instead let people naturally discover those aspects if they wish.  The Salvation Army does this extremely well.

What arguments from Christians do you have the most problems addressing?

Mr Paroxysm
I don’t really find any subject difficult to address.  I suppose when the Christian uses "read the bible" as some kind of proof then you fall into an argument about the legitimacy of the bible and considering all the different theories on it’s authorship, differences in translation, included and omitted texts most of which can not be historically proven from either side and likely never will be (with exception to translation issue, the original text isn’t an issue for debate as far as I’ve ever seen just the different translations can be confounding)

Mr Snuffle

Problem is I don’t find any of it convincing, and when you start getting into prayer/resurrection it all just sounds ridiculous. If you want to understand the way I think about what you say, simply replace the words "Christian God" with "Santa", and then ask yourself which part of the argument you find the most compelling.

I think the meat of the argument you make is the argument for a god, any god. Or the likelihood of God as a starting point.

Assuming for a moment that Christianity is true, how should Christians do better at not annoying non-believers and people from other religions?


Who knows. Toning down the righteousness would be a good start. I think non-Christians are sick of having their views thwarted/not taken seriously because apparently they are morally and ideologically inferior.

Mr Paroxysm

Well your first point is something that I think encapsulates what I was going to say.  Christianity is true… for you.  What Christians need to recognise is that their religion is a personal truth and all other religions are as personally true for other people.  Obviously for themselves Christianity it "True" but they need to recognise that they do not lay claim to any more evidence of truth than any other religion.  You have faith that your religion is true but so does everyone else.  The difference is with the Atheist who sees equality amongst all religions but has no faith in the evidence presented by any.
Christians (as with any other religion) can not expect their personal truth to be impactful to anyone not adhering to their dogma. 

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