Carson Weitnauer|10:00 PM CT

The Irony of Atheism

Editors' Note: On Saturday, March 24, leading atheists plan to hold a "Reason Rally" on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. They will raise up Reason as their banner, claiming that it will lead thinking persons away from belief in God.

In a pre-emptive response, Patheos Press has published an ebook featuring chapters by William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and 11 other Christian scholars. The following is a excerpt from True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism.

One of the great ironies of the contemporary atheistic movement comes from its ubiquitous use of rhetoric, branding, and emotional triggers to advocate for reason. The leading atheists trumpet their devotion to reason in all their public communications, typically featuring the word in bold type across the names of their books, websites, organizations, and events. For instance, Sam Harris, co-founder and chairman of Project Reason, has said, "The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love." Christopher Hitchens told us in God Is Not Great: "We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake." In the BBC (Channel 4) documentary The Enemies of Reason, Richard Dawkins, founder of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, claims, "Reason has built the modern world." Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer have gone so far as to argue that atheists should really be called "brights," in light of their insistence on a reasoned approach to all knowledge. Throughout their books, talks, and websites, the New Atheists consistently promote their allegiance to the glory of reason.

This is not a novel development; the "new" atheists are hardly the first atheists to claim the brand of reason for themselves. In Aristophanes's play The Knights, written in 424 B.C., Demosthenes asks Nicias, "Do you then believe there are gods? . . . What proof have you?" There is a well-established tradition that connects the skepticism of religion with a love for reason. But some of these connections are more dubious than others. For instance, during the French Revolution, a "Cult of Reason" ransacked churches for their silver and gold and "converted" these churches into Temples of Reason. In the government-sanctioned "Festival of Reason" that accompanied this movement, a young woman was presented as the Goddess of Reason.

At other times the connection has been presented hyperbolically, without reference to serious historical or sociological research. To provide just two examples, Nietzsche once wrote that "all founders of religions and their likes . . . feel a thirst for things which are contrary to reason and do not put too many difficulties in the way of satisfying it" (emphasis added). More recently, H. L. Mencken said, "Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration---courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth."

How Atheists Unwittingly Honor God

For the New Atheists, as for some of the old, ardent love for reason apparently motivates visceral disgust of religion. As Harris has said, "Religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction." Dawkins has even gone so far as to say that molesting children "may be less harmful in the long run" than giving children a religious education.

Despite such attacks, as Christians we are delighted that those who consider themselves our opponents are such ardent appreciators of reason. After all, Jesus famously proclaimed that the most important commandment includes loving God "with all of your mind" (Mk. 12:30). So, ironically, we believe that atheists honor God unawares when they reason well. Because we desire to honor God, we want to demonstrate why Christianity provides the most reasonable framework for the existence and use of reason.

The contrasts are clear: atheists claim that religion is the main barrier to reason. Christians believe our capacity to reason comes from being created in the image of an all-knowing God, and the active use of reason is an important way to honor him. Atheists brand themselves as a community united by reason. Christians marvel at how this group rallies together even as their most prominent leader, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution favors the selfish gene, not the reasonable group. Atheists work hard to eradicate religion for the sake of a brighter future. Christians are amazed that atheists so blissfully ignore the scientific fact that, if religion is a false consolation, the future always ends in death.

Atheism Is a Thought Stopper

Leading atheist Sam Harris says "faith is a conversation stopper." Christians reply that Harris has also said that none of us is "the author of your thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose." The reductionistic, deterministic, and materialistic worldview of many atheists seems, to reasonable Christians, to exclude the existence of transcendent, immaterial things like propositions, the rules of logic, and, most important of all, the very existence of minds.

These aren't straw men, but rather, a description of how many atheists see the stakes as well. Consider the famous Madalyn Murray O'Hair's speech on atheism from 1962:

We must look to materialistic philosophy which alone enables men to understand reality and to know how to deal with it . . . Atheism is based upon a materialist philosophy, which holds that nothing exists but natural phenomena. There are no supernatural forces or entities, nor can there be any. Nature simply exists. But there are those who deny this, who assert that only mind or idea or spirit is primary. This question of the relation of the human mind to material being is one of the fundamental questions dealt with by all philosophers, however satisfactorily. The Atheist must slice through all obfuscation to bedrock, to the basic idea that those who regard nature as primary and thought as a property (or function) of matter belong to the camp of materialism, and that those who maintain that spirit or idea or mind existed before nature or created nature or uphold nature belong to the camp of idealism. All conventional religions are based on idealism.

That is the question: do we have minds, or are we neurological processors akin to robots? And which worldview can better account for the existence and use of reason?

In short, [True Reason] directly challenges the goals of organized atheist communities. Our hope is their fear: a revitalization of faith and thinking Christianity. Their identity as reasoning individuals depends upon the truth of our worldview. Their communal ideals of honesty, freedom, love, and justice are borrowed from the Bible. The very existence of reasoning Christians responding to atheist rhetoric undermines their fallacious, straw man depiction of religious people.

Carson Weitnauer is the Director of Telos Ministries in Boston and blogs regularly at Reasons for God.

  • Michael Swart

    I believe there are two things that atheists leave out when they seek to apply their minds to understand where we come from, what we are and where we are ultimately going. These are two of the basic presuppositions in the reasoning of a Christian: We are sinners and that this has an effect on our reasoning abilities; we are mere creatures with limitations which including our mental thinking abilities.

    As Christians, we have help from the Scriptures. We can use what we believe God has revealed to us about our origins, existence and future. If the Scriptures are indeed a record of God speaking to his people (Hebrews 1:1-4), we have a book that speaks far more clearly than the book of Creation (including the sciences) will ever be able to speak. If God indeed created the universe and all that is in it, the account that he gives us will always trump what we as mere limited sinful mortal creatures can discover through our best but none the less feeble efforts.

    What we believe as Christians is often misrepresented by atheists. This may in part be because there is so much muddled thinking and ignorance of the Scriptures among professing Christians. One of our greatest needs today is for Christians to clearly present what the Scriptures actually and clearly teach. Then and only then should we begin to reason with atheists. Then we can begin to reason and show that we have a reasonable faith which is not simply another religion nor a leap in the dark. But at the end of the day it is not our reasoning prowess that will convince atheists of the truth of our beliefs. This will only happen when the Gospel and God's Word is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces them.

    • Carson Weitnauer


      Thanks for your gracious and interesting comment.

      I think you’re right about recognizing that both our sin and our creaturely limitations are factors which are often neglected by atheists. Another crucial factor that we discuss in True Reason is the importance of being made in the image of God, and how this grounds our confidence in the rational enterprise.

      More generally, the basic contours of Christian theology provide the essential components of a worldview in which the rational project is both coherent and worthwhile. Therefore, we need to continually encourage careful reasoning in all domains of life by Christians.

      The Christian love for and celebration of reason, as one of God’s many good gifts to us, will strengthen various scientific projects, culture-making projects, political initiatives, justice efforts, scholarship across the academic disciplines, our understanding of the Bible, and so on, in a way that honors and glorifies the One who gave us the ability to reason in the first place. Having a Christian worldview that accounts for and encourages human reason, will encourage us, as we have the opportunity, to reason with atheists, develop our theological understanding, and so on, that we might live fully human lives.

      Carson Weitnauer

    • keith

      The problem is in your phrase "what the Scriptures actually and clearly teach". The scriptures teach nothing clearly, witness the inability of any two religious people to agree on what the Bible says. As a simple example, the current evangelical position is that abortion is murder: interestingly enough, this wasn't "true" for Protestants until almost 1970, until that time, mainstream Protestant thought allowed abortion with little concern. It's a constant source of amazement to the atheist community just how malleable god's "unchanging" word can be.

      • Michael Swart

        Keith,you have been able to pick out the important phrase, "what the Scriptures actually and clearly teach," because of the nature of language. Why did I use this? The reason is that many religious people ignore the way they normally understand language when they consider a passage in the Bible. If they follow the way language works, they would in many instances recognize the main point of a passage. Recognizing does not necessarily mean to believe or accept. It means simply to get the main point.

        While there are certainly some very difficult passages in the Scriptures, it has been my experience that understanding the easier sections goes a long way to help to understand what is difficult. This also generally applies to all literature because language is characterized by coherence and cohesion, and is not usually used to conceal or confuse. The reason for so many interpretations of Scripture is not because of ambiguity or lack of clarity but because Christians often ignore the logic of language when working with the Scriptures. Perhaps it is a case of not making the Scriptures say what we want them to say but to go where they want to take us. Take that wonderful simple parable of the "good" Samaritan. We do not know if he was a good or bad man. Anyone who reads closely sees it is not about a "good" Samaritan but one who was compassionate towards the desperate Jew. This is what loving a neighbour means according to Jesus: that desperate people we are able to help receive a compassionate response from us. We may not want to go there but that is where the Scriptures are pointing us.

        This is an example of the value of thinking through an issue of carefully using what I believe is our God given ability to reason and together with what he has revealed.

        I will not comment on the abortion issue because it distracts from the point I am making.

        • keith

          Sam Harris covered this ground well:

          "It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?"

          • Michael Swart

            This is simply another red herring. You need to address the real issue.

            • Phil


              Let me first say that I am glad to see such an embrace of reason in the original post and in the subsquent posts! I think that can only bode well...

              However, I am confused as to your comment here. How has Keith not addressed the real issue?

              From my standpoint, your original post was a call to teach the scriptures. Keith stated the scriptures do not teach clearly. You stated that (in effect) scriptures do teach clearly, it is just that people "avoid the language and logic" of the scriptures (not really sure what that means). Keith pointed out that the scriptures have been used by some of the most prominent thinkers of Christianity for some pretty horrible acts (acts, you presumably do not agree with). Given that your understanding of the scriptures differs from Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, (who believed such acts were allowed--even required--by the scriptures) do the scriptures teach clearly in this regard?

              I think it is fairly obvious that the multitude of interpretations demonstrates the scriptures do not teach clearly. [I presume it is an article of faith for you that they teach clearly. If you simply assert it as a matter of faith, I think you'd be fine.]

              [As another example, Christians cannot even agree on how Jesus will return, which actually seems pretty important.]

            • keith

              You continue to phrases like "read closely", "help to understand", and how Christians or "religious people" ignore the "logic" or "nature" of language. In other words, you have figured out how to read the bible so it's clear, instructive and presumably consistent.

              The problem is you're not alone. Millions of Christians under the guidance of the holy spirit, including the heavy-thinkers of your religion, managed to figure out how to read the bible in a clear and consistent way. And they came up with wildly different conclusions, conclusions invariably reflective of the times, societies and power struggles in which they lived.

              This isn't really on-point: but... doesn't it bother you people that the god of the whole universe, who desperately wanted to know and love you, and desperately wanted for you to know, serve and love him, and the bible is the best he could do? All that desire for fellowship, one chance to write it down, and it's wasted on telling you not to wear mixed fabrics, eat shellfish, or let women teach in church. I mean... doesn't that make you wonder, just a little bit?

    • david bartosik

      bring it man! Great response.....a little help from the scriptures might be an understatement though :) My atheist friends or muslim friends want to argue all day long about how what I believe is crazy, so at the end of the day I could continue arguing or say, ask God to reveal yourself to you. Nothing else I am going to say is going to sway you.

      • keith

        David, you're wrong, and I can be swayed. My position is falsifiable, and I'm absolutely and honestly prepared to be wrong. If god reveals his true self to the world, clearly and unequivocally, and settles the question, or someone makes a convincing argument god actually exists, I'm going to admit I'm wrong. My mind can be changed.

        What about yours?

        Here's the question: tell me what would change your mind about religion and god? What fact would cause you to say "Boy, was I wrong! Wow! I bet god doesn't exist!"

        In my experience with religious people, they are proud to say nothing would shake their belief in a deity, and facts aren't the issue for them.

        As William Harwood said, "The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence."

        • Carson Weitnauer

          Hi Keith,

          I really appreciate your openness. I think the Christian faith is falsifiable. For instance, if it was conclusively shown that Jesus did not exist, that would be a deal-breaker for me. Now, as best I can tell, that's an extreme, minority position, that goes against the results of centuries of excellent scholarship. But were that evidence to be overturned, that would falsify Christianity.

          The Apostle Paul offered a similar kind of falsifiable test in 1 Corinthians 15. "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." If the resurrection isn't factual, then *faith* is in vain. That is, Paul's faith was connected to reality, to publicly available evidence, and so on.

          Have you looked into any books or resources on the resurrection? The Resurrection of Jesus by Licona or The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona for instance.


          • keith

            I have read some of the books/resources on the resurrection, and I suspect you won't be surprised I find them unconvincing.

            The primary methodological difficulty for apologists like Licona and Craig is their reliance on the Bible as a source. The Bible is a weak historical source, as sources go, and its inconsistencies, coupled with a lack of extra-Biblical sources, limits Licona et al. to rhetorical argument. Rhetoric has its place, of course, but the lack of complementary sources, the fact the Christian church did not reach consensus on a physical resurrection for hundreds of years after Jesus' death, and lack of physical evidence are daunting. For me, personally, when I consider the staggering magnitude of the claim Christianity is making, I find rhetorical arguments insufficient to the task.

  • Joshua

    The more I think about it, the more I see why this approach to apologetics fails so often. This is just 'reason of the gaps'.

  • Tom Gilson

    Joshua, could you elaborate on that, please? Sometimes I see explanatory arguments (inference to the best explanation) confused with of-the-gaps arguments, so I'd like to get a better picture of what you have in mind.

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  • Kirsten

    I'd like to how my atheist brother would respond to this article. If he would really read it, not just skim and then come up with his reasonable explanation that all Christians are idiots for believing in the Bible.
    I think the paragraph that said "Faith is a conversation stopper" is true. As soon as faith comes up, we (Christians) are immediately written off. Unfortunately, I have not been able to reason my faith to anyone without the Bible. And if the Bible is a big lie to the atheist, they (my brother) won't/can't respect my reason.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi Kirsten,

      I'd be curious to know what your brother thinks as well. I imagine that an excerpt from one chapter of a book won't be convincing to him. I can also understand how your brother doesn't respect your reasoning when you are starting with a source, the Bible, that he doesn't accept. I hope True Reason, as a whole, would give you more resources for understanding why Christianity is a rational worldview, whereas atheism doesn't have the resources to support the existence or encourage the use of reason.

      I recommend a number of other introductory texts in what is called 'apologetics' (or the defense of the faith) at my website Reasons for God in the "Good Books" section (one of the links at the very top of the page). You might find some of those resources to be helpful to you as well.

      It will take hard work and ongoing study, but one of the ways to love your brother is to show that you care about his mind, his thoughts, his questions, his doubts, and his search for truth. I'm sure you know far better than I do other ways to show him that you love him. May God bless you as you faithfully share the gospel with him.


  • Joshua

    My problem lies with God being the 'best explanation'. I also don't like what generally boils down to 'X (reason, morality, logic, what have you) can't be explained on atheism, therefore, God/Christianity,'. That means that explanatory arguments that infer to the best explanation (God) carry no weight with me. It also means that presuppositional arguments carry no weight with me.

    Put simply, any line of thought that resembles anything like this above article, I don't like. I don't think reason or logic or anything like that proves God or Christianity.

    • AStev

      I don't think God is the "best explanation". Rather, I confess that he's the only explanation. Reason, logic, etc don't prove Christianity. Rather, they only exist because Christianity is true.

      • Joshua

        Yeah, that doesn't hold water with me.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi Joshua,

      Thanks for your comment. You wrote "I don't think reason or logic or anything like that proves God or Christianity." Do you think there are any rational means by which one could become a Christian? Or do you think that choosing Christianity is an inherently or necessarily irrational act? I'm curious to better understand where you are coming from.


  • keith

    "Their communal ideals of honesty, freedom, love, and justice are borrowed from the Bible."

    You cannot really be saying that none of those ideas exist outside of the Bible, or even pre-date the Bible?

    Obligatory snark: the biblical justice of sending bears to kill forty-two kids for laughing at a priest (2nd Kings) makes me think biblical justice might largely be in the eye of the beholder.

    • Carson Weitnauer


      I'm making the argument that these ideals are best and most reasonably supported by a Biblical worldview, especially in contrast to a naturalistic one. I am always glad to celebrate when anyone honors and upholds these values in their community or personal life. However, when it comes to why these are good values in the first place, I believe we need to turn to the Christian worldview.


      • keith

        I don't see any evidence to support that humans take values to be "good" because of Christianity.

        First, the Bible is hopelessly muddled and inchoate on values and ethics; I'll spare you the litany of Biblical quotes, I'm sure you know them better than I. I will note in passing that neither rape or slavery made god's top ten list, nor does god view either one with the same condemnation as he does wearing mixed fabrics. Anyone deriving their notion of "the good" from the Bible is either reading very, very selectively, or has a psychotic idea of what constitutes a good value in our society.

        Second, many values we term "good", for example, reciprocal altruism, caring for the sick or elderly, sharing food, infant adoption and so on, have been documented in diverse animal species. If we evolved from shared ancestors, that is precisely what we'd expect, all "animals" would have these values in some measure. If the Christian worldview is necessary to have a "good" value, why do animals have those behaviors?

        • Carson Weitnauer


          I think we are conflating two distinct but related issues: epistemology and ontology. Certainly people have knowledge of what is good from many different sources. But why? Where does their moral awareness come from? And what does it mean for something to be 'good'? My argument is that both of these fundamental features of human existence are explicable primarily because the Christian worldview is true. Whereas, by contrast, if naturalism is true, it is difficult if not impossible to see how these could be features of our world. I've written about these topics at length at my blog and they are part of David Wood's and Samuel Young's chapters in the book True Reason as well.

          • Phil


            I should probably read your blog, as I'm sure you've addressed this point somewhere. :)

            But the obvious response to your idea that we have an understanding of "good" BECAUSE the Christian worldview is true, is to point to other times (pre-Christ) and other cultures (Non-Christian), which have similar senses of Good.

            But I assume I am missing something?

            • Carson Weitnauer


              What I'm suggesting is that because we are the kind of beings that the Bible describes us as being, this means every human being has a moral awareness and rational capacity. It is because of who we are - people made in the image of God - that pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures are places where you can find a understanding of the good. Everyone's *knowledge* of the good is dependent on everyone *being* a moral being. The Biblical description of humans stands in distinct contrast to the naturalistic picture of humans, and the naturalistic ontology of what a human being is, in my view, is far less able to describe the universal moral experiences that we do in fact have.

            • Phil

              Hmmm, I guess I see no resaon why our capacity for "moral" behavior has to come from God. It seems more plausible to me that it is the product of thousands of years of evolution/group identification and behavior.

              Here's why I think a non-theistic answer is more reasonable:

              1) As Kevin pointed out above, our "good" behavior is shared by other species. I believe our behavior is on a continuum with theirs.

              [As an aside (and a big one at that), have you seen that you-tube video "Battle at Kruger" (actually, it is not easy watching) ?? There is some amazing species dynamics there. Including the praise-worthy "rescue" of the calf.]

              2. Our own morality continues to evolve and change. Behavior that was acceptable 2 thousand years ago is no longer acceptable now. (slavery comes to mind). That tells me that, rather than a God-given, morality is a natural process, and naturally changing.

              I could probably think of some other reasons, but I've got other stuff to do today......

            • Carson Weitnauer


              I appreciate that you put the words 'moral' and 'good' in quotes, because I do think that clarifies how the words are used differently within a naturalistic context. If morality is the product of evolution, group identification, etc., then a few challenging implications follow.

              For instance, how do we distinguish between the good and the bad, when morality is whatever evolution has produced? For instance, rape and murder are both actions that happen among humans (and other species). Why are they 'wrong' when they are equally persistent, cross-cultural behaviors that are the product of evolution?

              Or given that morality evolves and changes, how do we know if we have moral reform or regress when it changes? By what transcultural standard can we assess the morality of our own society? If we go from slavery to abolition, this is indeed a change, but by what criteria can we say it is an improvement?

              More challenges are available, but there are two for consideration. Thanks for the dialogue so far.

            • Phil


              These behaviors are wrong because they harm other people. I suppose you will argue that's too simplistic, but I think it is better than trying to argue from biblical morality (which allows for slavery, beating your servant, etc.)

            • keith

              To amplify Phil's point, atheists use our moral intuitions and reasoning to decide if there is an improvement.

              If we can agree that "harming other people" is bad, we have a standard measure. And, yes, I understand it's difficult to agree on these things, especially cross-culturally, but over time consensus is reached and progress is made.

              To your underlying point, I recognize the underlying belief of the religious community that without god we lack absolute notions of right and wrong, that god and religion provide us an essential definition of good and bad.

              That would be great, if god's ways were scrutable and he answered his email, but through a glass darkly, and all that: god is pro-abortion, anti-abortion, pro-slavery, anti-slavery, pro-anything, anti-anything, depending on your personal scriptural exegesis.

              Further, it is absolutely clear the religious use the same mechanisms as atheists to reach moral conclusions.

              Carson, I'm confident you don't support Luther's and Calvin's belief in burning witches, but that leaves us with a dilemma: since your bible is largely the same as theirs, what is it that causes you to know that burning women for imaginary actions is "bad", when these leaders of your church didn't believe that which is so obvious to you? Did god tell you, but not them? Or has society influenced your beliefs as to what what is "good" and "bad", and so informed your choice as to the scriptures you're willing to read literally as god's commandments to his people?

              Believers use their moral codes to decide which commandments of god they will follow, and which they’ll ignore.

              Did you know that abortion wasn’t “wrong” in this country until fairly recently? Protestant women were having abortions for 200 years, and it wasn’t considered a big deal. Somewhere around 1968, the bible completely changed its view on whether or not abortion is wrong.

              In 1971, Dr. Norman Geisler, past professor at Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary, said, "The embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person", in his book "Ethics: Alternatives and Issues", published by Zondervan Press. (

              Did the bible change between 1971 and the birth of the anti-abortion movement?

              Was there a new revelation from god?

              Christian morality comes from exactly the same place as atheist morality, it's just that we don't try and justify that morality by reference to deities.

            • Carson Weitnauer

              Phil, Keith,

              Very interesting responses.

              Phil, you wrote, "These behaviors are wrong because they harm other people."

              To cut to the chase: "Says who?" Who has the authority to pronounce "harming other people is wrong"? Why should I listen to your moral perspective? Or another culture? If honor killing is right for me, though it harms another person (they die), why should I listen to Western values on the subject?

              Keith, you wrote, "I recognize the underlying belief of the religious community that without god we lack absolute notions of right and wrong, that god and religion provide us an essential definition of good and bad."

              Exactly. If God, a being of perfect goodness, teaches us what is right and wrong, He has the proper moral standing to do so. Given that He is our Creator and Judge, and also our Example, He has the moral authority to speak about what is right and what is wrong. If we tell God, "says who?" then there are legitimate and just consequences for ignoring his wise and right moral precepts.

              Again, by contrast, under naturalism, if you can get away with it, if you have sufficient power, then 'says who?' is perfectly practical.

              Keith, you also wrote, "atheists use our moral intuitions and reasoning to decide if there is an improvement." Surely Christians do this as well, as you then illustrate in mentioning how Christians have reasoned to different moral conclusions. The core of the issue here is that the presence of moral disagreement doesn't invalidate the reality of moral absolutes. Developing or sharing a full blown set of biblical principles by which Christians can reason well in line with the Bible is going to have to be beyond the scope of this comment thread for me (though it is a great question).

            • keith

              I agree with you Carson: naturalism has no determinative response to "Says who?", and a religion with absolutes derived from a being of "perfect goodness" and "proper moral standing" does. We can even mostly agree when you say the presence of moral disagreement doesn't invalidate the reality of moral absolutes.

              My problem is the word "reality". Religion has never demonstrated moral absolutes exist; they may exist, but there's no evidence they do. It's entirely a matter of faith on your part that a moral absolute is even possible.

              But I'm a practical kind of guy, so I want to consider the practical applications.

              Even if I grant you the existence of moral absolutes, the inability of any religion to maintain a consistent moral position on any point demonstrates that no human institution has access to those moral absolutes.

              Even if I grant you the existence of moral absolutes, if you cannot reliably distinguish god's moral absolutes from your own societally-driven morality, god's moral absolutes are useless for all practical purposes.

              I would additionally argue that if a being of "perfect goodness" and "proper moral standing" existed, that being would have seen moral value in clearly and coherently communicating its values to others.

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  • Michael Swart

    @ Joshua
    Reason does not prove God but reason is necessary to understand the claims of the Scriptures. Reason does not equate belief but as Paul correctly wrote, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" Romans 10:17. See my next comment.

    Thanks for highlighting the importance of us being created in God's image. I am convinced that language is one facet of this. God is the God who speaks and communicates with man primarily by means of language. Language is amazing. It is meant to communicate and not to conceal or confuse (which happens when we misuse language for whatever reason). There are a number of passages in Scripture where the people listening to Jesus understood what he was saying but refused to accept the teaching. They understood because of the plain or natural sense of the language. There were other times when the disciples simply did not want to accept the plain sense of Jesus' word. Recognizing this is important for a Christian who is in conversation with an atheist as it shows where we need to begin - to get across clearly what the Bible teaches. This should be the main aim of Christian apologetics. Perhaps your book needs a chapter on "Language, Reason and Revelation"

    Your book is only available in Kindle format. Will it be made available as an ebook or can I read a Kindle book on my PC?

  • keith

    "That is the question: do we have minds, or are we neurological processors akin to robots? And which worldview can better account for the existence and use of reason?"

    Not to ruin a good story's ending, but we are almost certainly neurological processors akin to robots. Nobody can explain the mind, yet, but there's simply no evidence that there is anything other than naturalistic processes going on. We may not like it, but it's almost certainly true.

    And this is just a "god of the gaps" argument: if we don't know the answer to X, then the answer must be "god did it!"

    As we atheists are fond of quoting: "Think of anything where god was once the explanation of choice, but science has replaced god; that was easy, right? Medicine, astronomy, and a billion other things. Now think of anything were science was once the explanation of choice, but god has replaced science."

    Yeah, I can't think of anything, either.

    The mind isn't going to be the first.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi Keith,

      I appreciate your comments. I do think there is a tension between two of your claims in the above:
      1. "Nobody can explain the mind" and
      2. "We are almost certainly neurological processors akin to robots."

      However, we can still offer reasons for thinking that a reductionistic approach, in general, as a category of explanation, will be insufficient for a proper accounting of human reason. You can see arguments to this effect in True Reason. J.P. Moreland has written a book The Recalcitrant Imago Dei on a similar set of ideas. I've also written on the topic at my blog Reasons for God (linked above).

      The important thing about this kind of argument is that it isn't a God of the gaps approach. Rather, even granting (and welcoming) a full scientific understanding of the brain, I am arguing that this will be insufficient to explain a mind, reasons, and so on.


      • Phil


        Thanks for posting here!

        I actually don't think there is a tension in two of Keith's claims. I think you missed Keith's "yet" in his original post.

        • Carson Weitnauer

          Hi Phil, thanks for your comment.

          Even with the 'yet', wouldn't it be premature to state that our conclusions are "almost certain"?

          • keith

            There is no scientific evidence of anything other than natural processes involved. When there's no indication of supernatural involvement, why strain to include it?

            And why do Christians focus on the mind? In the same way we cannot yet explain the mind and consciousness in full, we cannot explain gravity, either. Why don't Christians argue gravity is so fundamentally complex and irreducible that god must be involved, keeping our hammers from falling into space.

            We could base it on Colossians 1.17: "He himself existed before anything else did, and he holds all things together." (NIV)

            There are many, many things we don't know. Not knowing something isn't evidence for god.

            • Tim J

              Hi Keith,

              I think you've misunderstood (or I misunderstood :) ). You would be right that it would be a "god of the gaps" argument if the argument was that the brain is so complex that only a Christian worldview can explain it.

              What Carson is instead saying is that the naturalism and materialism that accompanies atheism strips people of moral or rational agency. If humans behavior, including reasoning, is nothing more than the result of natural and material inputs, then your reason is not "free" but in fact a determined result of the genetic and environmental factors that have shaped you. Atheists may call a set of thoughts and mental processes "reason", but it is only a label for a predetermined pattern of thought. The only way that their could be free or rational thought is if there was a force or agency that was free of the deterministic material chain. If there is no such freedom, then the pattern of thoughts we call reason (shaped by our parents, culture, experience and science) are no better than belief in Zeus (also shaped by parents, culture, experience and science).

            • Carson Weitnauer

              Keith, Tim's explanation of my argument is right on. There's more to it than that as we explain in the rest of the book, but that's a major strand of what we're saying.

              Tim, thanks for the clear explanation!


      • keith

        I've skimmed Moreland's book (but not read it carefully, if what I'm about to say contradicts the book's detail, don't bother being gentle). *grin*

        I think Moreland is cheating: he defines mind, reason and so on in ways that cannot be explained naturalistically, and then says that naturalism has failed. That doesn't mean mind cannot be explained naturalistically, only that it's possible to describe something that cannot be explained naturalistically. Further, Moreland presents no evidence that his view of the world is correct, he's making it all up.

        There's nothing wrong with that, but when his ideas explain nothing about the observable world around us, there's nothing testable. That makes his ideas interesting and valuable, but fundamentally they don't have the power to persuade through evidence, all you can say at the end of the day is, "well, it sounds right to me".

        • Carson Weitnauer


          "Cheating" strikes me as a bit of a hard word, given the rigor with which Moreland develops his thesis in that book (and in general). The question you're asking is a good one, though, and it does depend on whether or not you think Moreland's definitions are specific and accurate for each of the concepts he analyzes. It is a bit simple, but yes, I think "it sounds right to me" is fair enough. (We always say that when we agree with someone, right?). To be more specific, I think the way he describes these terms fits well with reality as it is, but the redefinition of these terms that he argues is necessary under naturalism is woefully inadequate.

  • Kevin M

    Have we lost reason in and from the Gospel? The good news that forms the New Testament (and arguably drives the Old Testament)is that God took on flesh and became a man in history in the person of Jesus, the one long promised by the Old Testament. He confirmed who he was by fulfillment of all prophecy, indisputable miracles, and ultimately demonstrating this reality through resurrection from the dead.

    Either this event happened as proclaimed in historical record by the very eyewitnesses who recorded them, or we are, in the words of Paul, "of all men most to be pitied." I would never want to defend religion for religion's sake, nor follow a religion that wasn't true.

    As Christians, our belief is most well-reasoned because it is grounded in historical evidence and testimony, and can only be discounted based on a priori or speculative reasoning on the level of neo-nazi's who deny the holocaust. It is only irrational if one chooses to deny the historical reality.

    My faith, as a Christian then, is no longer exercised in a vacuum ("it is real if I only believe"), but exercised as trusting in God's work in history in Christ upon the cross to institute what He has promised as a result.

    • Phil

      "As Christians, our belief is most well-reasoned becuase it is grounded in historical evidence and testimony, and can only be discounted based on a priori or speculative reasoning on the level of neo-nazi's who deny the holocaust. It is only irrational if one chooses to deny the historical reality."

      Your grounding in historical evidence and testimony is the exact reason why I am also 1) A Mormon. 2) A Muslim. 3) Bahai 4) Sikh (and possibly others?), all of which make the same claim.

      • Kevin M

        Hi Phil - Are you saying that these other religions attest to a resurrection from the dead, as evidence?

        Joseph Smith makes a historical claim as the only witness to a spiritual experience, Muhammad makes a historical claim as the only witness to a spiritual experience, and the other two make philosophical claims to spiritual reality.

        No other religion points to a historical event, such as resurrection from the dead (a physical, verifiable event), and asserts so many witnesses to that event. Not only this, but the witnesses made their claims within the historical context in which these claims could easily have been disputed, whether referring to Jesus' miracles or to his resurrection. I think it's fair to say that someone of reason can admit that the historical truth claims of Christianity are quite different than the testimony and claims of other religions.

        Apart from this, that the above author asserts that the atheist position is that religion is antithetical to reason, I am mainly arguing for the Christian holding to historical evidence for the basis of their religion is certainly grounded in reason.

        • Phil

          Hey Kevin,

          My point was that each of these religions have real people (existing in history) as the founders of their religion, claiming actualy events (existing in history) as the basis for the religion, and that others testify that these actual events are true. I think that pretty much sums up Christianity.

          You place more value on the "actual event" of the resurrection because there is corraboration (that is more than 1 person) who "testify" to the event. First, I think you are wrong about Mormonism: while I believe Joesph Smith read the plates himself (alone), there are the testimonies (famous testimonies, I believe, although I am not that familiar with it) of the other people with saw Jesus and Moses appear directly with Smith. There are at least two (maybe three) people who saw this (at the same time), and wrote up their testimonies at to the truthfullness of their experience. That seems pretty good to me. (I may have the details wrong), and certainly seems comparable to your claim about the resurrection.

          [As an aside, I find the resurrection in the Bible to be very odd. First, Mark doesn't even mention it, as if it isn't important. Other gospels mention that he's resurrected, but people don't recognize him??? Again, odd. And suspect. Not to mention the fact that--to my mind at least--the whole idea of resurrection (and the disciples' understanding of resurrection) is called into question by Mark 8:28]

          Furthermore, I'd like to push you on the idea that 1 person experiencing something alone is wholy different than several people experiencing something. As a starting point, there are plenty examples of "mass hysteria," or at least several people experiencing something at the same time that we believe not to be true, despite their corrobaration. UFOs come to mind. Witches, also. Finally, I don't believe we have any testimonies from actualy people who were actually there. Just stories subsequently told later.

          If the most important thing are the effects of the experience, than all the experiences of the founders are "true," [Mormonism, Muslim, etc.] at least as viewed by subsquent behavior of the people involved.

          • Kevin M

            Phil – In your first paragraph above, it appears that you misunderstood my point. Note that I originally stated that each of them made a historical claim. In comparing their claims to Christianity, however, the issue arises not in the historicity of the claims themselves, it is the content of the claims that is distinct from Christianity. A spiritual event that no one is witness to, save the one making the claim, has far less weight than a historical event of which many have witnessed and testified .

            In the second paragraph, it appears that you get it a little more: “You place more value on the "actual event" of the resurrection because there is corroboration (that is more than 1 person) who "testify" to the event.” - That’s basically correct, as far as verifiability of truth is concerned.

            Before discussing your thoughts on Joseph Smith, however, I want to go back to the original point I made. The article is discussing the atheist position that religion is antithetical to reason. Christianity makes its religious assertions in many ways, but fundamentally upon the historical claims of the resurrection. It is based on sound reason, because it is directly tied to a historical event, the resurrection.
            Your rebuttal “Your grounding in historical evidence and testimony is the exact reason why I am also 1) A Mormon. 2) A Muslim. 3) Bahai 4) Sikh (and possibly others?), all of which make the same claim.” seemed to argue that these other religions, too, are based on sound reason, contra the atheist position, and I noted that there is in fact a huge distinction between Christianity and these others (see 1st and 2nd paragraph above).

            As to Joseph Smith’s claims, then, I agree that it comes closer to Christianity in terms of eyewitness claims to the fact that he had “revelations” and that they saw the golden tablets (I couldn’t confirm your comment that others saw him with Jesus and Moses), but I would continue to question the veracity of the Mormon religion based on sound reason, as its existence rests upon 1) the existence of Christianity itself, and 2) is fundamentally different in its basic theology from the basic Christian tenets. There is a logical contradiction between the 2 beliefs; they cannot both be true at the same time. If the Mormon claims are true, then Christianity as known through the Bible is false, but if false, then Mormonism cannot be true.

            Again, the main point is in agreement with the article above in principle, that the Christian religion is in fact based on the use of the sound reason of logic and historical evidence, and the atheist argument that the Christian religion would be antithetical to sound reason is false.

            As to your aside about the resurrection and Mark, I’m not sure what you mean that Mark “doesn’t even mention it”. The resurrection is discussed in chapter 16, verses 1-8. Also, the surrounding context of Mark 8:28 doesn’t even discuss the resurrection… not sure if you meant another verse(?)

            • Phil

              With regard to Mark, and taking the words literally, how does it make ANY sense that Jesus is John the baptist? How could anyone even make that claim? I believe the only way for that to make sense is that someone is saying John the baptist is resurrected in Jesus.

              I would be curious to hear your interpretation, though.

            • Phil

              First, I mean the immediate above to say "With regard to Mark 8:28, and taking the words..."

              Second, from an outsider's perspective, I see no reason to accept your claim that the testimony of those who saw a resurrected Jesus is fundamentally true, and at the same time reject the testimony of those who saw the actual golden tablets that Joseph Smith translated is fundamentally false.

              If your point is that "eyewitness testimony" is what makes truth verifiable, than both are equally "true."

              Also, your reason for questioning Mormonism doesn't seem particularly compelling to me. I don't believe Mormons view their religion as contradicting the basic Christian tenets. Whom should I believe?

              Finally, I am not particularly interesting in arguing the "atheist position." My point is that I believe Christianity is no more or less true than other world religions.

            • Kevin M

              RE: Mark 8:28, Jesus is asking the question “who do people say that I am?” It is the equivalent of our public opinion polls of today - the response of the people does not necessarily indicate the truth (and underlying His question, the context shows he was intentionally moving towards “who do YOU say that I am” in verse 29, and the subsequent response by Peter). In their opinion, they were able to think that Jesus could be John the Baptist or Elijah, because their context was that the God of the Old Testament was real, and He was a God who had acted miraculously throughout their history, and it was prophesied that Elijah would return (Malachi 4:5). There were also other reported instances of the spirit of one prophet being in another (cf. 2 Kings 2:15); it does not require a connection to “resurrection”, since Elijah isn’t even reported to have died. – An interesting “tell”, if you will, regarding the reliability of these accounts is that the people involved in the discussion are admittedly ignorant of who Jesus is, even His disciples (cf. John 14:9; Luke 8:25). They were able to discern that He was most likely the promised Christ (Messiah), but only time in their relationship with Him, His teachings, His miracles, and ultimately the resurrection brought them to fully understand who He was. If the story were a fictional development, I would expect their knowledge and affirmation of who Jesus was to be much neater and tighter.

              Two points on the Mormon/Christian comparison:

              First, I am not saying that eyewitness testimony equals truth. Such testimony, instead, lends towards evidence in discerning what the truth may be (think court of law), but there are other factors that must also be examined to determine what the truth is. Also, I did not say that Mormonism was false ipso facto because Christianity was true. I said that the essential doctrines of each was contradictory enough, such that both could not be true together.

              The eyewitnesses to the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection are also the very ones who testify what is true about the Christian religion. The early apostles’ testimony to who Jesus is, and to the basic tenets of Christianity are inseparably linked. The basic tenets of Mormonism, however, contradict what the early apostles teach are the basic tenets of Christianity.

              One example is that the Bible teaches that humans are created beings (Genesis 1-2), and we are adopted into sonship with God (Galatians 4:5), through Jesus’ work of reconciliation on the cross (Colossians 1:21). We are by nature children of wrath (cf. Ephesians 2:3); we are not mini-gods by nature. The one and only true Son of God by nature, according to the Scriptures, is Jesus (John 1:18).

              Mormonism teaches that human beings are gods; actual offspring of the God of the universe, and in this sense, humans are on par with Jesus. (I would go into much more of similar contradictions, but I’m aiming for brevity in this writing venue.) If then, I evaluate the two religions on a purely logical basis, in this one example, both tenets cannot be true. Here is where the greater challenge rests on Mormonism: its basis for existence is in the reality of Jesus the Christ. If the primary method for understanding that reality is grounded in the written testimony of the early apostles, for which the apostles’ teaching is inseparable from this reality, then by rejecting the basic tenets of Christianity, they are in effect saying that Christianity is false, the very reality for which the Mormon religion is founded.

              Second, in relation to the eyewitness testimony, it was quite possible for the Jews to produce Jesus’ body or declare that they never saw miracles from Him, etc, but this never occurred. Apart from an actual resurrection, anyone could have disputed their testimony by producing evidence to the contrary. The opposite is true for the Mormon: they had the ability to produce something to offer proof, the golden tablets, but they were reportedly “not allowed” to show them and they conveniently disappeared. - In the end, I’m going to rely more on the Christian testimony because of the overwhelming number who saw the resurrected Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:6), and because of His fulfillment of prophecy related to the cross found in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22).

            • Phil


              First, I appreciate your lengthy response. As this thread seems to be winding down (Carson hasn't posted in several days), I will try to keep my reply brief.

              As an initial matter, you appear to have studied these issues much more thoroughly than I (although I, again, appreciate your response), so that there may be immediate, obvious, responses that I am unaware of.

              With regard to Mark 8:28, I think you missed my point. I understand the thrust of Mark 8:27-29, and that Jesus was intentionally moving towards Marck 8:29. My point was that for "John the Baptist" to be a possible answer (even if the wrong answer (italicized)), that means there has to be a cultural milieu in which "John the Baptist" is a possible answer. [Indeed, Peter literally says that some people are saying that Jesus IS John the Baptist. (Not the spirit of John the Baptist). Who are these people? John's disciples? Jesus's?]

              Given such a cultural milieu, there is clearly a precedent whereby somebody who was recently killed can take up residence in somebody else's body. [I haven't studied the Greek, or Early Christian history, so I am unfamiliar with all the possibilities.] Regardless, I think this passage is clearly damaging to the idea that Jesus was literally resurrected. It seems just as possible that the resurrected Jesus the disciples saw was something similar to what is explained here, that is, they saw Jesus "in another person's body."

              With regard to your "tell" as to the truthfullness of Jesus's identity, I actually reach the exact opposite conclusion. I can think of no reason whatsoever for Jesus to be "dodgy" about who he is and what his mission is (especially to his disciples!). Why quiz Peter about Jesus's identity? Why not be forthright? Why tell the disciples not to tell anyone, if your whole point is to have disciples? It literally makes no sense. The only thing I can think is:

              1) Jesus himself did not know who he was (or rather he only learned as time progressed).
              2) It was a later invention of the gospel writers (possibly even disciples), in order to explain 1) why the Jesus movement did not catch on when Jesus was alive or 2) why there are other (competing) explanations for who Jesus was.

              Finally, with regard to Mormonism. I don't have time/energy to get into it (this is long enough already!)--other than to say that there are millions of Mormons who believe that the entire old and new testament is consistent with their teachings. While you point to apparent discrepancies, I am 100 percent sure that I can find an "explanation" that describes why those discrepancies aren't really discrepancies. Again, whom should I believe?

            • Kevin M

              Hey Phil - Thanks for the lengthy discussion. I, too, have appreciated your insights. A couple closing things to consider:
              1) Your “John the Baptist” question does not negate the testimony that Jesus was physically and fleshly resurrected from the dead; although I will grant you “possible” as an intellectual category ; )
              2) There are distinct semantic differences that should move you away from the one and closer to the other: a) they found his empty tomb and linen cloths lying there (e.g., no dead body; John 20:5-7; Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:2-3), b) they connected His resurrection with Old Testament scriptures that foretold He would rise from the dead (John 20:9; Luke 24:6-7; 25-27; cf. OT references from last reply), and c) when He was present after His resurrection He specifically offered the evidence of His crucified body as proof (John 20:27).
              3) Of the OT evidence I offered in the previous reply and the cultural milieu you reference, the “other person’s body” was clearly another person’s body and was recognized as such in conjunction with their claim.
              4) I could offer some other reasons for Jesus' apparent "dodgyness" based on the context ; I’m sure you could too, if you take another look - Luke 22:67

              Are you aware of the contradictory shift in reasoning you do between Christianity and Mormonism? If I follow your positions correctly, there are NO “explanations” for the apparent discrepancies you find in the Christian story, but surely there are “explanations” for the “discrepancies” in the Mormon religion... respectfully, the one example I gave was based on sound logic and the law of non-contradiction - much more than an apparent discrepancy.

        • keith

          Phil, many other religions point to resurrection of the dead, including eyewitnesses. You don't even have to rely on gods: it is written that witnesses saw Augustus Caesar's resurrected body winging to heaven after his death, and that after Rabbi Judah died, he'd occasionally come by the house on Sabbath Eve. I won't elaborate further, I'm sure you can Google as well as I.

          This historical truth claims of Christianity are precisely like the testimony and claims of other religions. I say this because of one undeniable fact: the Bible is riddled with errors and inconsistencies, was written in many times at many places, and then subsequently edited for several hundred years.

          • Phil

            Very interesting. Thanks for posting.

    • keith

      Kevin, most of us understand what you believe.

      Some of us don't think you're correct.

      We find the historicity of the bible, the character of Jesus, the fulfilled prophecy, the miracles, the resurrection from the dead, all highly suspect.

      You don't want to follow a religion that isn't true, and I admire that -- me either. But here's a question: if nobody wants to follow a religion that isn't true, why is it that a person's religion can be predicted, at a high rate of confidence, by knowing where they were born? That doesn't sound to me like a religion that is true, that sounds to me like parental influence is the dominate factor in the religion a person will be as an adult.

      If one religion is actually true, it hardly seems fair that billions of people are destined for an eternity of torment in hell because of where they were born.

      • Carson Weitnauer


        David Marshall's chapter on Loftus' Outsider-Insider Test of Faith in True Reason directly addresses your comment about the correlation between predicting a person's religion and where they are born. I'd be curious to hear your feedback on it.


      • Kevin M

        Hi Keith,

        >>>That doesn't sound to me like a religion that is true, that sounds to me like parental influence is the dominate factor in the religion a person will be as an adult.<<>>>If one religion is actually true, it hardly seems fair that billions of people are destined for an eternity of torment in hell because of where they were born.<<<<<< - I demonstrated above that there is no ipso facto environmental cause for what one believes, however, to some degree I view this is a sad mark on cultural Christianity, as a whole, Keith, and we call it "practical atheism". In spite of all that we hold true..., many are too scared or uncomfortable, or buy into society's push to not upset the apple cart, ...not enough are proclaiming the good news, as we should.

        On the flip side, however, holding that the historical evidence is true (God became a man in the person of Jesus, lived on earth, died and rose again to make a way for mankind to be reconciled to God for their sins)I can then follow the account of the true God in the Bible that traces a history of mankind rejecting God in spite of His clear revelation to them throughout time. And throughout time, mankind has rejected him time and again, and it still holds that many would and do reject him, in spite of the clear proclamation that he is and has made a way for people to have eternal life through Christ's work on the cross. - I find it ironic the Christian disciple must take responsibility for his sins and the consequences of that sin, and God offers him forgiveness through Christ. The one who does not believe in God, however, is quick to blame God for mankind's evil, if he exists, but not willing to take responsibility for what he, himself, has done.

        • Kevin M

          Arrgh! There's a whole bunch above that didn't make it into the comments. You can ignore the part about "I demonstrated above.." = P

  • V

    The use of pure reason and logic can only lead an unbiased or unindoctrinated person to believe there is little or no evidence that God exists. Following that straight line of logic, the most appropriate conclusion one can draw is that there is most likely not a biblical 'God', since no incontrovertible/provable evidence (beyond any reasonable doubt by our measure of law, for example, for any other claim) exists, the position of the existence of a caring, all-knowing God is unsupported. Most of the above comments, and the article as well, show a perspective of: 'God exists, so why are these pesky atheists denying it?' Then you purport that atheists using reason is actually honoring your God, while at the same time being a "thought stopper." This is flagrantly false, and upside-down logic. The unbiased investigation of existential questions using logical inference is not a testament to a creator -- it is in fact evidence of our own ability to think and adapt to our environment using the best of our intelligence (which I'm sure you would respond saying it's "God-given"). This line of reasoning teaches people to question everything because that is the basis of knowledge. Teaching a child from their youngest years that there is an invisible being that loves and cares for them, whom they can communicate with, whom has a plan for them, and somehow is not held responsible for all the "evil" and unfairness in this world, but instead must be praised and his name protected at all costs (despite having NO tangible, reasonable, verifiable, nonbiblical evidence that it exists) -- THAT is a thought stopper. And that is not reason, it's tradition and past ignorance being sold as salvation and social acceptance. The social pressure to conform to these pre-fabricated ideals is also immensely strong, so much so that many will behave as if they believe, even when they have strong doubts. I would invite Christian readers to truly consider their allegiance to this God. Then consider what would happen if you were born in the Middle East? Europe? China? Africa? You would most likely have adopted the religious belief systems, customs, rituals, and morals of the dominant religion in your area. This is basic psychology and sociology at work.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi V,

      From my reading of your comment, it seems like there is some misunderstanding of what the excerpt from my chapter is trying to get across. We don't begin with the thesis "God exists" in True Reason, but we do provide reasons to think that God does exist. One way of doing that is to look at the explanatory power of Christianity. If Christianity is true, what does that explain about the world? If it explains a great deal about the world, then that counts in favor of the reasonableness of Christianity.

      Your comments about our beliefs are based on our place of birth are also interesting. I would recommend David Marshall's chapter on the Outsider-Insider Test of Faith in True Reason to you. I've also written a post on this at my blog (linked above) called "If you were born in another country, would you still be a Christian?" that responds to this perspective.

  • Steve Cornell

    Excellent point about the ironic claim on "reason." David Bentley Hart lamented a lack of “reflective and brilliant atheists” as one of the “innumerable evidences of late modern culture’s lack of spiritual depth.” I agree.

    Whenever I’ve written about the strange militant brand of atheism represented by men like Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens, much of the response (as with the writings of these men) can be characterized (as Hart noted) by “historical illiteracy, theatrical indignation, and subfusc moralizing.”

    Hart continued, “The entire tribe of the new atheists is a disappointment. A reflective and brilliant atheist is a man much to be admired, if he truly demonstrated an understanding of what it is he is rejecting; and an atheist genuinely willing to accept the full implications of his convictions (Nietzche being a nonpareil example) should not be reviled for those convictions. But it seems obvious that among the innumerable evidences of late modern culture’s lack of spiritual depths one must include its manifest impotence to produce profound atheists. Instead the best it seems we can hope for today are dreary purveyors of historical illiteracy, theatrical indignation, subfusc moralizing, and the sort of illogical confusions that Richard Dawkins has brought to a level of almost transcendent perfection” (xii, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, David Bentley Hart).

    If you doubt Hart’s concerns, read his book: "Atheist Delusions." It is perhaps the most thorough book on the matter. Consider also 6 difficulties atheists encounter:

    • Phil


      I find this to be a rather bizarre post. The entire thing seems to be an ad hominem attack on atheists (with a nice touch of supercilliousness thrown in), and then your resounding retort to atheism are the following 6 ideas (reworded):

      1) The teleological argument for God.
      2) The idea that there must a first mover.
      3) Morality is only possible with God.
      4) The idea that there can be no evil without God.
      5) The historical evidence for Christianity.
      6) Human beings are different than other animals.

      There is a ton of literature out there on this. I don't think any major thinker finds these ideas dispositive or conclusive. If that is the best there is, I suspect there is no need for a Nietzche-level intellect to dismantle it.

      • Steve Cornell


        I certainly acknowledge the strong nature of Hart's indictments of "historical illiteracy, theatrical indignation, and subfusc moralizing.” If such claims were made without rigorous support, I would accept a charge of ad hominem attack. This is why I advised doubters to read his book because his indictments are thoroughly supported by carefully documented research.

        As to my six points (not Harts) with due respect, it's one thing to try to reduce or simplify the six points with longstanding associations and to claim "a ton of literature" - "any major thinker" and "no need for a Nietzche-level intellect," but (as I am certain you realize), it's quite another to offer specific rationally coherent counter points. Informed dialogue requires specific points and counter points. Summarizations (whether Harts or yours) demand better response than condescending reduction or generalized associations. I've become convinced that atheists avoid specifics because their counter points fail to meet the demands of logic and rational dialogue that they profess to extol.

        • Phil

          Your points are fair enough. I felt like I was merely responding in kind.

          At any rate, Hart's book certainly looks interesting.

        • keith

          Sure, Steve, here you go.

          1) This is just the teleological argument (, it’s been around forever (with its most recent incarnation as part of Intelligent design), there are a variety of refutations.

          2) This is just the cosmological argument (, it’s been around forever, there are a variety of refutations. Saying god doesn’t need a cause is simply “special pleading” — there is no logical reason that god should be exempt from the initial statement that “whatever exists has a cause”.

          3) This is just “you can’t be good without god”, and people are good without god all the time: countries like Sweden or Denmark are less religious than the US with less crime, and the US prison population is more religious than the general population, not less.

          Note that believers demonstrably have their own morality apart from god. US Christians are unlikely to stone their children for advocating a different religion as commanded by god in Deuteronomy 13. That tells us that believers use their own moral codes to decide which commandments of god they will follow, and which they’ll ignore. A detailed discussion can be found at

          4) I don't see any difference between this and (3), same answer.

          5) The resurrection of Jesus is highly suspect, and the fact that many early Christian sects rejected the whole notion of a physical resurrection should give any Christian pause: if those closest to the event didn't believe in a physical resurrection, why should we?

          Additionally, the claims of Jesus' resurrection are invariably based on the Bible, which is undeniably riddled with errors and inconsistencies, was written in many times at many places, and then subsequently edited for several hundred years.

          Finally, note that we don't have hundreds of eyewitnesses to the event: we have one report claiming there were hundreds of eyewitnesses. I could write down that a thousand people saw me transform into a unicorn, but would you believe that?

          6) Admitting human beings are evolved from animals, and largely the same as other animals, causes me no problem at all, as an atheist. Are we "importantly different" from other animals? Depends on what you mean by "important". We have an amazing chunk of brain, called the prefrontal cortex, that most animals lack, and it allows us to evaluate "evidence". And, there is no evidence at all (none, nada, zip), that there was anything supernatural involved in our evolution. To argue that the existence of creativity, love, reason and moral values implies a creator is just wishful thinking.

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    How Atheists Unwittingly Honor God

    When I read that section title, I had a small chuckle.

    • V

      Me too.

  • V

    @Carson: I appreciate your demeanor in responding to my comment. However, the point I was making is that we should not be guided by pre-provided views of the world based on what could be termed their 'explicative accuracy' -- i.e. that if Christianity seems to explain the state of the world, then we can deduce that it is 'reasonable.' That idea is flawed because it fails to analyze more than subjective interpretations of Christianity's influence throughout history, and in addition is merely a surface association without testable or verifiable referents. It reminds me of a concept in Psychological Statistics and Testing - "Correlation". Tests of correlation often show significant relationships between variables, however, correlation alone is not enough evidence to say with confidence and accuracy that the results are related. For example, two similar graphs showing a series of spikes in the months June, July, and August was shown in a class I once took, indicating high levels of ice cream intake. Alongside it was a very similar graph showing correlating levels of high temperature. One could deduce through prima facie observation that they are related (and it is 'reasonable' to assume that based on the initial data). Then we were shown a similar graph showing those same months having a related spike of violent crime. Using only correlative data as a basis, we would then have to assume that a) not only do people eat ice cream at peak levels when heat is at its peak levels in our weather, but in addition, there must also be an equal chance of correlation between ice cream intake and violent crime, because their levels are correlated quite closely. (If A is related to B, and B is related to C, then A must be related to C.) Making another analysis of this data (and obviously understanding that ice cream intake and violent crime are not directly related) could lead one to conclude that correlation may support a hypothesis, but is not enough to validly conclude causality without other methods of further testing. My point is that any belief worth having (especially those that have great influence on our behavior and worldview) should be guided by principals of applicable validitiy and reliability through methods of testing and investigation not related to tradition or socio-cultural indoctrination. Not simply 'cold science', but the Scientific Method, which I should not have to defend as our best, unbiased investigative tool. This is an opinion shared by many (if not most) atheists -- primarily because the methodology of investigation is what is most important -- not the seeking of relationships to existing belief systems to shore up their perceived validity and applicability to daily life. In our opinion, if I can claim to represent a significant portion of atheists, is that no belief is worth having that requires a rejection or lack of rigorous investigation of ALL the facts, even those that may prove what we hoped to be true, as untrue.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi V,

      And I appreciate the demeanor of your comments!

      I agree with you that mere correlation isn't sufficient to establish causation, for instance. However, I do think that explanatory power is an important logical tool for assessing competing hypotheses, and is recognized as such within the scientific discipline (e.g., at wikipedia under the "explanatory power" entry).

      One of the major points of your post seems to be the following section, "My point is that any belief worth having (especially those that have great influence on our behavior and worldview) should be guided by principals of applicable validity and reliability through methods of testing and investigation not related to tradition or socio-cultural indoctrination. Not simply 'cold science', but the Scientific Method, which I should not have to defend as our best, unbiased investigative tool."

      Two questions:
      1. In all seriousness, and with respect: are you able to use the Scientific Method to demonstrate that the Scientific Method is the only proper means to assess which beliefs are worth having? In other words, which particular scientific studies have shown this conclusion to be true?

      2. I do want to investigate ALL the facts, even those that seem to be or are contradictory with my current position. For instance, though, that would include the realm of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Currently, I believe that evidence to be robust and persuasive. I'm curious if you've ever read a scholarly work discussing the positive evidence for the resurrection, such as Licona's "The Resurrection of Jesus"?

      Thanks again for your comment.


      • keith

        You're asking V prove a negative: we will never demonstrate the Scientific Method is the only proper means of acquiring knowledge (maybe chicken entrails do work better than anything else and we just haven't figured that out).

        But the theoretical possibility of other ways to determine the truth value of beliefs does nothing to prop up the horrendous track record religion has at determining the truth value of its beliefs.

        The problem is religion lacks any notion of correction or clarification over time. If religion were a way of assessing beliefs, wouldn't it be improving? We'd have better prophecies, better prayer techniques, or proof that angels really do exist.

        Can you say that religion has somehow "learned" something about John Calvin's beliefs on burning witches? That somehow, his belief that witches exist, and they should be burned, has been clarified and corrected over time, such that religion knows more than it knew in the 17th century? The only improvements in religion (for example, not burning witches), have been a result of science forcing religion to abandon some of its beliefs.

        The Scientific Method may not be the only way to assess a belief; religion is inarguably a worse approach.

        The only argument to make is that some things are simply inaccessible to science and therefore we are forced to rely on other, inferior, ways of knowing things. And that is exactly the argument being made about consciousness, the mind, free will and so on. We'll know soon enough, I suspect, and I anticipate that religion will once again, for the umpteenth time, be proven wrong.

        • Carson Weitnauer

          Hi Keith,

          I think I was asking V to prove a positive claim, that the scientific method is the only way to know what is true. Because there are no scientific ways to show this is the case, this is clearly too narrow of an epistemology. Therefore, once we broaden out the different ways there are of knowing something, I think we will have a more comprehensively rational approach to reality.

          As for the second point, it seems to me that perhaps the way you are defining religion is too narrow? My own understanding of Christianity is that, because we are all made in God's image, and situated in His Creation, and that God has a plan for us, we have a moral responsibility to utilize all of our human capacities to better understand reality. In other words, my religious commitments provide a coherent context for me to pursue scientific truth, reason carefully, love others, contribute to society and so on. This provides an important context, therefore, for growing in my understanding about the wisdom of, say, witch burning.

          By contrast, I'm suggesting the naturalistic perspective of reality is reductionistic, in a way that turns purpose into arbitrary preference, reason into neurological patterns, and morality into social pressure, to provide a few examples of how these reductions can take place.

          • Phil


            Just with regards to the first point: you are asking V to prove a negative.

            Think of this example: Bob's boss comes to him and says: "Bob, I need you to do some legal research. I need you to find out whether "Alpha versus Bravo" is the only legal decision in existence that deals with the subject of X."

            Now Bob cannot do this. In effect, he is being told "make sure there is no other legal decision in existence that deals with the subject X." He is being asked to prove a negative. Sure he can try to do some research on X, but he can never be sure that he missed a decision.

            In order for Bob (himself) to be absolutely sure that "Alpha versus Bravo" is the only decision, Bob has to go and literally read every case ever written. That way he can say "Boss, I KNOW that this is the only case that talks about X." Now, in this example, the number of legal cases written is a finite set, and so someone could (in theory) know that this is the only case. But this is a practical impossibility.

            And "other means of acquiring knowledge" is not a finite set.

            Actually, I think Kevin and Carson agree. Both agree that it is impossible to prove that the Scientific method is the only way to arrive at truth. However, I think it does not follow (as Carson seems to say) that there ARE other ways to arrive at truth (merely that it is possible).

            • Phil

              Ugh. I meant the second paragraph above to say:

              Bob's boss comes to him and says: "Bob, I need you to do some legal research. I need you to make sure that "Alpha versus Bravo" is the only legal decision in existence that deals with the subject of X."

  • Joshua

    And this is why Christianity is headed in the wrong direction. How about instead of trying to make Christianity the most reasonable thing out there by going to absurd lengths, we simply do what Jesus asked: love as he loved. Crazy idea, I know. But I'm sure atheists would appreciate that, rather than being told how unreasonable they are for coming to the entirely reasonable conclusion that God is probably not there.

    • Carson Weitnauer

      Hi Joshua,

      Yes, if I am going to absurd lengths in an attempt to show that Christianity is reasonable, than I am contradicting myself in the most ironic of ways. That is definitely a project worth abandoning! I'm not yet convinced, of course, that this project is so absurd. I'm interested in hearing an argument to that effect of course.

      Second, I do want to acknowledge that I may not have communicated as well as I could have. At no point do I wish to claim that atheists (the people) are inherently unreasonable. I do wish to claim that a few specific leaders of the New Atheist movement have not been terribly reasonable, but more broadly, our focus is on atheism (the worldview) and a set of arguments which show that this worldview cannot coherently explain the existence or encourage the use of reason.

      In fact, one of the primary reasons for writing a book about reason, that compares Christianity and atheism, comes from my conviction that atheists are reasoning people. If I thought atheists were totally irrational, it wouldn't make sense to attempt to reason with them. But as it is, I know that atheists are reasoning people, and therefore I work hard to provide the best reasons I can for the truth of Christianity. I think this may be one of many means by which God chooses to work in their lives.

      You advise that I focus on loving as Jesus loved. I assure you that is the desire of my heart, though it is admittedly a desire which is lived out in imperfect ways. However, I don't think that loving people is necessarily in tension with reasoning with people. If I become arrogant or argumentative, sure, that's not loving - and again, I'll charge myself as guilty of that on more than one occasion. But to reason with people shows a respect for their minds, their questions, their doubts, their ideas, their interest in reason and truth, and so on. To not care about what people think or why they believe what they do seems terribly unloving to me.

      In Philippians 1:9-11, the Apostle Paul wrote a similar thought which has often inspired me. He said, "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

      It seems in this passage that one of the main ideas is that if the Philippians grow in love, they will also grow in knowledge and discernment, and this will lead to transformed lives that honor God. The kind of knowledge in view is primarily moral knowledge, but nevertheless, Paul associates an increase in love with an increase in knowledge. we could look at many other passages on this point, but the key idea I'm communicating here is that Christians ought to care about people's minds and reasons if they are to love them comprehensively and well.


      • Joshua

        I wasn't speaking specifically to you here - it was just a general note on some of the commentary here. I am, however, pretty disillusioned with the whole apologetics scene - but I apologize for the harsh tone I took.

        • Carson Weitnauer

          Ok, fair enough. I agree with your basic point that people who specialize in apologetics do need to continually work to make sure they aren't getting lost in the ideas but are connecting with actual people in loving ways. It is an important reminder.

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  • Matt Tague

    It never ceases to amaze me how atheists want to do away with Christianity because they believe it presents a barrier to clear thinking, yet on the other hand they believe in a deterministic worldview that presupposes a lack of any sort of free will. If both of those are true, then we are all just "doing what we are doing" and they should be content to "let it be." Why are they so ardently trying to do away with faith? If their worldview is correct, they should simply accept what is.

    • Joshua

      Atheism doesn't necessarily entail determinism.

    • keith

      Just because the facts tell us free will is an illusion doesn't alter the effects or importance of our decisions.

      Imagine I insert a switch in your brain that allows me to press a button causing you to punch the next person you see. You and I can now agree you have no free will. Does your lack of free will lessen the pain felt by the person you punch, or somehow make that pain illusory?

      The assumption you're making is that atheists are necessarily nihilists; that's not correct.

  • Matt Tague

    Most atheists are deterministic in their outlook. I am not addressing the consistency or lack of consistency in their worldview, just the way it usually plays out in how they actually talk and address things.

    • keith

      I agree with you Matt, most atheists are also determinists. I believe disbelief in one form of the supernatural is highly correlated with disbelief in other forms of the supernatural.

      But to your original point: atheists believe their lives are meaningful and we care deeply about the same things you care about -- that's why we aren't content to just "let it be", as you phrased it.

      We just don't believe in deities, that's all. Is that such a big deal?

      And yet, as of 2009, North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas don't allow atheists to hold public office.

  • DRT

    Hey wait! I thought the Calvinists were the ones who believed in meticulous predestination, so they not only believe that we don't influence what we do, but what we think, plan and do was planned by god beforehand.

    Atheists ain't nuthin' compared to Calvinists.

  • DRT

    Keith, I don't want to debate, but do want to say a couple of things.

    All three of my kids struggle with atheism, I struggled with atheism, I believe it is very rational to consider atheism. I even believe that it is more unfortunate, rather than evil, to become an atheist because of my experience.

    One of the most important thought I have had was in studying Kierkegaard. Although I don't agree with everything, there was a quote where he said something like "who says we have to be rational?" While I certainly do not want the world to operate that way, I am more than a little intrigued by this assertion. I view play, love, and many of the the other more powerful (evolved and natural) emotions to not really be rational to the participant. It may be rational in the scheme of things, but not really for the one participating.

    So my religious project took on the hypothesis "why not". Well, it becomes obvious that there are many reasons why not, and I don't want to go there, be after awhile of studying "why not", then my study turned to "OK, not that, but then what?".

    You see, I agree that many of the ideas of religions the world over are counter productive to what we, or a god, would want. I found that it is quite easy to dismiss religions as a group, and religiosity as being wrong for society. But still, if there does happen to be a god (and there is no logic for that, but who says we need to be rational, none of us really are) then what should we believe?

    So that is where I have set my sights. Instead of breaking down all the religiosity of the world and arguing that there is no god, I have decided that there is (why not?) and have then decided what would be best for us to believe given people are going to believe in god.

    Just something you might want to consider. I would never have predicted where that has taken me.

  • Peter Beardsley

    I don't understand how an atheist can be anything except completely fatalistic. If you honestly believe that all life, as well as human life, came into being by nothing but the inevitable result of a string of nuclear / electronic / chemical reactions with no outside interference by an intelligent presence, the question is begged: Did it stop? If it didn't, aren't all thoughts and actions merely the result of that continuing string of reactions? Good, evil, intelligence, power, and weakness are nothing but illusions, as choice and consciousness themselves are illusions.

    Consciousness and choice are reduced to a set of chemical reactions playing themselves out; and the perception of them is merely an odd side effect.

    If it did stop, at least to some extent, why? To say that it did is to say that chemicals are able, by some accident, to develop some form of true consciousness and choice that can alter that string of reactions.

    To believe such a thing is not only to believe in the possibility (which seems like a leap in itself), but in the history, of such a thing actually happening.

    How is believing in the ability of chemicals to create human beings any different than believing in tree spirits or in sun and moon gods? They both attribute powers seemingly reserved for intelligent beings to inanimate things.

    To eliminate the possibility of, at a minimum, divine interference is to believe one or the other, and things such as Darwinism, even if it were 100% true, hardly suffice as answers.

  • keith

    I think atheists and the religious are both likely fatalistic in the sense of recognizing an inevitable end: atheists because we believe in a naturalistic universe, the religious because god "has a plan".

    If you mean, fatalistic in the sense of powerless to do anything other than we actually do, then yes, perhaps atheists are more likely to be fatalistic than mainstream Christians, although I think it's fair to say Calvinists (Presbyterians and Baptists, according to Wikipedia) have to work hard to distinguish their brand of predestination from this meaning of fatalism. Charles Spurgeon wrote "We believe that God hath predestinated all things from the beginning, but there is a difference between the predestination of an intelligent, all-wise, all-bounteous God, and that blind fatalism which simply says, ‘It is because it is to be.’” He may be correct in his claim, but my response would be that it's a difference with relatively few practical applications.

    Not sure if this is on-point, but you can say that Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam are all overtly fatalistic, and of the majors, only Buddhism isn't. Which makes sense, once you invent omniscient, omnipotent actors, fatalism is going to be hard to avoid.

    I'm getting lost in your last two paragraphs, can you explain further?

    I don't think naturalists say "it stopped": naturalists say a process started (and nobody yet knows why or how), and that process continues today. If you're saying naturalism doesn't preclude a deity starting the whole thing off, I agree.

    • Peter Beardsley

      You will get no argument from me that this is a way in which consistent Calvinists (which includes most Presbyterians, many Baptists, and others, but by no means all or even most Christians) and consistent atheists are incredibly similar, if not totally identical.

      I know enough about Islam to throw that in as well, though Islam is a large world religion that exists in many distinct cultures, and most blanket statements about it are liable to be statements with which some segments will take issue.

      Hinduism is, well, very different from the others. Depending on the sect, you can be talking about a very strange sort of monotheistic modalism, polytheism, or something more similar (though by no means totally) to the Christian Trinity. Some sects appear to be very fatalistic, some not.

      While I would agree that naturalism in and of itself doesn't preclude divine intervention / interference, that wasn't what I was getting at.

      My point is that either it (the long, inevitable string of reactions) stopped, at least to an extent, or it didn't (law of excluded middle). If it didn't, the logical conclusion is complete fatalism. If it did, then one must attribute a seemingly divine aspect onto chemicals: the ability to create intelligent, moral agents: consciousness capable of making real choices such that the string of reactions doesn't have an inevitable result.

      My second to last paragraph (which, I realize, is not a perfect analogy) is that the attribution of divine properties onto inanimate objects is very similar to the pagan beliefs in sun gods, moon gods, and tree spirits.

    • Peter Beardsley

      My last paragraph was a statement on Darwinism's ability to answer these questions. Even if it is true, and even if it is able to provide an answer to some of the questions raised in regards to the concept of choice within atheism (and I don't think it does), it seems to raise more questions than it answers: if human beings are created by a long string of reactions and the concept of choice is completely false, why would natural selection breed such a false perception into people?

      I'm not saying that perception cannot lie. As Bertrand Russel's mini-treatise on epistemology in Problems of Philosophy makes clear: all we perceive, at best, are logical projections of reality based on perspective. But it's easy to see within the Darwinist worldview how such a thing would be beneficial: that even if sense data doesn't necessarily tell the whole truth, it tells a significant amount, and that data can be used to aid in the survival and propagation of the species.

      But how does a false notion of choice aid the species? Does it? If it doesn't, will it be bred out of existence by natural selection eventually? If it does, then how? How is that giant lie helpful? Either way, how could that come into being?

      And that's just one side of that coin.

  • keith

    I'm no evolutionary biologist, so I haven't any right to an opinion: is it plausible that believing you can affect the world around you as you choose to do so, that your wins and losses are yours, would yield a positive result?

    Regardless, evolution is a dull knife: it may have been a side-effect of another change, one that was sufficiently beneficial to be retained.

    I suspect "eventually" doesn't really matter for human-kind. Evolution is so slow it's unlikely to play any part in our future.

    • DRT

      I have thought quite a bit about evolution of humans from here on out. If you are to believe that natural selection is the mechanism by which evolution happens, then we are now at the point that we can, and do, override natural selection quite emphatically.

      And it may be OK to do this. Because natural selection actually does not mean that the most fit will survive, it means those most fit to reproduce will survive. And there is a big difference there.

      So how can we evolve further if society is conservative and eschews any deviation? Especially long term deviations?

      I believe that evolution is going to evolve in light of our enlightened state.

  • keith

    Peter, by chance I happened to pick up Sam Harris' book, "Free Will" today. It's spot-on to your comments about fatalism, and I recommend it to you highly.

    • Joshua

      By 'chance'? Heh heh. Funny given the content of this conversation.

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