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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

World Religions in Snoqualmie Valley


The "Wordless Stele," Mt. Tai.
This Saturday, I'll be giving an all-day seminar on "Understanding World Religions," at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church.  If you live in the Northwest, you're welcome to come!  The cost is $25, which includes lunch. 

The church is fairly easy to find.  Take the Preston exit from I 90, drive four miles to Fall City.  Cross the bridge, following signs towards Snoqualmie Falls to the right.  About a mile up, you'll see the church on the right hand side of 202, about half a block off the road.  Take the next right, circle around a bit, and there you are.

I like this church, because it has a really global vision.  Aside from helping provide water for people in Africa, they have also been aiding the tribes of Burma, which that wretched government has been making war on for 50 years, now. 

I have given the roughly the same series in Vancouver for KOINOS a couple times, now, and the response has been good.  We'll cover Christian theology of religions (a lot more interesting than you might suppose! -- rather thrilling, actually), "primitive religion," Indian and Chinese beliefs, Islam, and modern secular "religions" -- and how Christians should see each.   

Hope to see some of you there. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Coyne vs. Plantinga, Bambi vs Godzilla

Dr. Coyne marshals his forces
for the attack. 
Jerry Coyne attacking Plantinga on philosophy / theology! What next, is Bambi going to have another go at Godzilla?   Or will Flower the skunk step into the breach?  

Before reading Coyne's comments this morning, I first reread an old piece called "Response to Behe's Critics, IIA and IIB," that I posted a few years ago on Amazon, which analyzed Coyne's review of Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution.  In those posts, I listed some two dozen dubious arguments Coyne advanced, many of which involved logical errors, or just plain misreading Dr. Behe.  Number 20 seemed particularly portentious:

(20) Coyne: "Science long ago dispensed with the notion of a scala natura: a progressive ladder of life with humans at the top."

DM: "This is confused. If we talk about value and meaning, that is a philosophical, moral, or religious question, not a scientific one. Fortunately most scientists are well-rounded and human enough to recognize that in fact, some organisms are more significant than others. (At least after office hours.) If we're talking about complexity or intelligence, then even science can recognize a scale in nature. But Coyne seems to be artificially narrowing the subject to the criterion of adaptability, or how long a species has evolved."

Coyne: "So what scientific reason can there be for singling out just one species as the Designer's goal? How do we know that the goal was not butterflies or sunflowers?"

DM: "When scientists ask such stupid questions, I despair of common sense in the Academy. If science cannot tell us that people are more significant than sunflowers, that only goes to show the limits of science, not that Pascal and petunias are morally equivalent. A scientist with no theology ought at least to supplement his intellectual diet with a little philosophy."

Now, reading Coyne's "Sunday Sermon" this morning, it seems Coyne has "followed my advice," and added "a little philosophy" to his intellectual diet.  But he eats too fast, and fails to properly digest what he reads.  The results are not pretty:

"I don’t think many theologians have ever faced serious opposition to their ideas, at least on the debate platform."

I'll be happy to debate you on my ideas, Dr. Coyne, if you would like to remedy that alleged defficiency.   

"Today, my brothers and sisters, I’d like to speak briefly on Plantinga’s evidence for God’s existence, at least as laid out in his chapter “Reason and Belief on God”, pp. 102-161 in The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (James F. Sennett, ed., 1998, Eeerdmans Publishing Co.). That chapter itself is taken from a book edited by Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff: Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (1983, University of Notre Dame Press). "

An excellent essay.  Only, it is emphatically NOT about "Plantinga's evidence for God's existence," as Plantinga explains right away:

"In this essay I want to discuss a connected constellation of questions . . . Must one have evidence to be rational or reasonable in believing in God?" (Faith & Rationality, 16)

In fact, Plantinga makes no effort at all in this essay to give "evidence" for God's existence, nor does he promise to.  Coyne thus appears, from the very beginning, to have misconstrued the purpose of the essay he purports to be criticizing. 

Coyne continues:

"As we know, there’s no good empirical evidence for God’s existence . . . "

Coyne is preaching to the other flowers on the forest floor, here.  Considered philosophically, it is hard to know how anyone could possibly know that "there's no good empirical evidence for God's existence," still less be so smug about it.  Has Dr. Coyne checked all the planets in every galaxy, for such evidence?  Or even interviewed everyone on this planet?  One should be more cautious about claiming universal negatives.

In fact, Coyne apparently has not even bothered to read the places where Plantinga really does offer evidence for Christianity. 

This, at any rate, is a statement of dogmatism, not what Plantinga might call "the deliverances of empirical reasoning."  Or perhaps Coyne takes the lack of evidence for Christianity as "properly basic?"   

"After reviewing the history of theological evidentialism, beginning with Aquinas, Plantinga presents his own argument: that belief in God is a properly basic belief. A “properly basic belief” is one for which one doesn’t need evidence, for it is manifest to the senses immediately."

This, too, grossly mistates Plantinga's argument.  Plantinga explicitly says that one can only define "properly basic" beliefs inductively, not with an a priori definition.  Even the "foundationalist" definition of proper basicality that he give on page 75, then dismisses, does not assume that the properly basic object is "manifest to the senses immediately:"

"For any proposition A and person S, A is properly basic for S if and only if A is incorrigible for S or self-evident to S."

This Coyne misconstrues as Plantinga's own definition:

"Plantinga is fond of using philosophical logic to “clarify” ideas like this, and so this is how he defines his term:
For any proposition A and person S, A is properly basic for S if and only if A is incorrigible for S or self-evident to S. (p. 150)
But this is NOT Plantinga's definition of Proper Basicality.  Plantinga explains this in the immediately prior sentence:

"The modern foundationalist's criterion for proper basicality, for example, is doubly universal:"

Plantinga then gives this definition, and explains, in the following pages, why he finds the whole foundational argument wobbly.  To represent this as Plantinga's own definition, betrays a grotesque misreading of the text.

Coyne is also capable of purely philosophical misconstrual:

"Here are some examples of beliefs that Plantinga considers “properly basic,” i.e. beliefs for which one doesn’t need evidence. I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether evidence is unnecessary here:
  1. I had breakfast this morning
  2. I see a tree
  3. That person is in pain
  4. And, of course, there is a God"
Here, Coyne's misunderstanding is almost quaint.  Coyne is intruding into an ancient discussion, with Descartes and Kant and numerous other philosophers, over what we know, and how we know it.  (See comment section below, for more specific context, from philosopher Randal Rauser.)  Plantinga recognizes, from his long acquaintance with careful reasoning on the subject, that it is harder to support facts we "all know" in the naive sense, our sense impressions, for instance, or our memories, or the intuitive leap that allows us to recognize that other people share our feelings, with strict, evidential reasoning, without begging the question.  But Plantinga is assuming more careful thought on his reader's part.  He does not seem to anticipate a reader like Coyne, who is evidently not familiar with that conversation, and takes sense and cognitive construals naively for granted in a way that careful philosophers dare not.

Coyne barges in like an Enfante Terrible, posing the questions of an amateur, indeed begging his reader to ignore careful thought, and go with their (uninformed) gut intuition.  This is, of course, very much what non-biologists do, when they say, "But look at how complex the eye is!  I'll leave it to the choir to judge whether or not it was designed -- but obviously it was!" 

At one point, admittedly, Coyne does recognizes difficulties with naively accepting sensual data:

"But of course what is “evident’ to one person may not be so for others; for example, you may be deluded about whether you had breakfast, and the tree you see may be a hallucination. This is especially true for belief #4 above. How does Plantinga get around that? By asserting that the grounds for belief may differ from person to person and from community to community:
Accordingly, criteria for proper basicality must be reached from below rather than above; they should not be presented ex cathedra but argued to and tested by a relevant set of examples. But there is no reason to assume, in advance, that everyone will agree on the examples. The Christian will of course suppose that belief in God is entirely proper and rational; if he does not accept this belief on the basis of other propositions, he will conclude that it is basic for him and properly so. Followers of Bertrand Russell and Madelyn Murray O’Hare may disagree; but how is that relevant? Must my criteria, or those of the Christian community, conform to their examples? Surely not. The Christian community is responsible to its set of examples, not to theirs. (p. 151)
"I find this evasive, self-serving, and intellectually indefensible. What he is saying is that what counts as “grounds” (i.e., evidence) . . . "

By persisting in conflating "evidence" and "grounds for belief," Coyne gives evidence that he needs to begin by studying Philosophy 101, not by attacking Alvin Plantinga. 

" . . . for God for some people won’t—and needn’t—count for others. That, of course, is a big difference between science and theology."

But it is not.  I have grounds for thinking I see a bare, leafless aspen tree outside my office window, right now.  Dr. Coyne may think he has no such grounds.  He may in fact have no such grounds.  He may in fact have no such tree. 

So what follows about the grounding of my belief in the tree?  Very little.  Similarly, if I think faith in God is grounded for me, or if indeed it is grounded for me, or even if God has indeed revealed Himself to me, say by sending an angel to liberate me from prison, it hardly follows that Dr. Coyne will necessarily admit that, not, perhaps, sharing those grounds.  Even if faith in God is grounded for Dr. Coyne, it is also possible he denies that grounding, perhaps for reasons Plantinga (and St. Paul) mention at various points. 

"Of course this argument can be used to support all kinds of nonsensical beliefs. Plantinga brings up one: belief in The Great Pumpkin, of Peanuts fame . . . And what, exactly, is that relevant difference?
Thus, for example, the Reformed epistemologist may concur with Calvin in holding that god has implanted in us a natural tendency to see his hand in the world around us; the same cannot be said for the Great Pumpkin, there being no Great Pumpkin and no natural tendency to accept beliefs about the Great Pumpkin. (pp. 151-152).
"What a tangled thicket of logic we must make our way through here!"

Here one almost sympathizes with Dr. Coyne.  He does, indeed, seem to find Plantinga a "tangled thicket."  Perhaps he is doing his best to follow an abstract logical argument, maybe for the first time since his undergraduate days, and is finding, to his surprise, that his best is not quite enough. 

What follows are Coyne's attempts to hack through that thicket:

"First of all, not everyone has a natural tendency to see God’s hand in the world . . . "

Plantinga didn't say that exactly.  He said some people may think (hinting that he is sympathetic) that God has implanted an awareness of Him in us.  It would not at all follow, in Plantinga's view, that given sin, everyone would retain that awareness in its full and least ambiguous form.  (In our interview, indeed, Dr. Plantinga noted that he wished his own awareness were keener than it is.)   

"and even if they do, how does Plantinga know that that tendency was implanted by God, rather than having been taught to credulous children by their parents or preachers?"

How does Coyne know that it wasn't implanted by God, perhaps at times by means of parents and preachers?  (Though developmental psychologist Olivera Petrovich finds that it even seems to turn up among young Japanese children who are not so taught.) 

"Is there really a “natural tendency” to accept beliefs in God without having been taught them?"

Probably.

"And which God?"

The Creator God.  The God who demands justice.  The St. Paul /Calvin /Plantinga model nicely accounts for polytheism, if that is the alternative Coyne is heading towards. 

When I asked Dr. Plantinga if he felt the discovery of belief in God like the Christian God in primitive cultures could be taken as evidence for this view, he agreed that it can.  And as I have argued here a couple times before, I think it can

"And on what basis does he say “there is no Great Pumpkin”?

Presumably, he has no Sensus Cucurbitus Majorus, and does not think anyone else does, either. 

"There is a natural tendency among Muslims to accept a God different in nature from the God of Christians: that is the Islamic “basic belief.”

I doubt it.  I think, from experience, that most or many Muslims believe in the Creator God in a similar way to Christians, even if they discount evidence that he has revealed himself uniquely in Jesus Christ.  (And here, I think Plantinga would also talk about evidence.) 

"And how does one adjudicate among competing existence claims—about Jesus versus Mohammed, for example? According to Plantinga, you can’t: each community has its own “basic beliefs” that can’t be argued against. It’s madness. It’s no way to find out what’s true."

Here, again, Dr. Coyne seems simply confused.  Alvin Plantinga is not saying that evidence has nothing at all to say about Christian or Muslim beliefs.  He is talking specifically about belief in God. 

The title of the essay, indeed is "Reason and Belief in God."  Philosophers tend in my experience to be careful with words and titles.  Much of Coyne's confusion could be cleared up if he simply bothered to read more carefully. 

I think that faith in Jesus as Christ can be much more direct than historical skeptics assume, and can in fact sideswipe a lot of the attacks by the Bart Ehrmans and John Crossans of this world.  This will be the crux of my contribution to Faith Seeking Understanding

But that is not because there is no evidence for Jesus, it is because the evidence is plain enough that ordinary readers can easily pick up on it.  Even a deer, after all, recognizes a tiger, whether or not he can defend his perception to the American Zoological Association. 

The point here, though, is that just because Plantinga claims some parts of the Christian faith may be properly basic to some people, it does not follow that they cannot be rationally questioned, or that other parts may not be properly basic, or to all people. 

"What we have instead are such beliefs as:
  1. God is speaking to me
  2. God has created all this,
  3. God disapproves of what I have done,
  4. God forgives me, and
  5. God is to be thanked and praised.
Coyne might, for instance, have noticed that all of these sentences begin with the word "God," not with the words "Jesus Christ."
 "Remember, these are incorrigible beliefs: beliefs that it is impossible to hold without them being true!  I find this unbelievable, for all the propositions adduced above presume that God exists, so you know who is speaking to you, you know who has created all this, and you know who is forgiving and loving and yet demands to be thanked and praised. How can you use those “basic beliefs” to support the notion that “God exists” if they all presume that God exists? How can you intuit, for example, that “God is to be thanked and praised” unless you have a basic belief that there’s a God in the first place?"

Here is where Dr. Coyne should have paid closer attention to Plantinga's earlier arguments. 

My immediate sensory experience might be represented, in Plantinga's terms, as "I am being appeared to treely," or "I am being appeared to aspenly." 

It involves an intuitive jump -- not an argument! -- from that appearance, to "An aspen tree is standing in the late February sunshine outside my window." 

This would remain the same if I were to cut the tree down and take it en masse to a botanist.  "I am being audibly appeared to botanist-calling-it-aspen-ly," might describe my immediate sense impressions.  I intuit the botanist's mind, as I intuit the tree itself, by means (in these cases) of sense impressions and rational (but not provable) extrapolation. 

Suppose God speaks to humanity through Nature. 

How do we know this is not true?  How does Coyne know this is not true?  It seems to work, for billions of people.  And many people for whom it does not seem to work, often seem quite hostile to the idea of God, as St. Paul predicts, like Dr. Coyne himself. 

"And of course none of this justifies (nor does Plantinga attempt to justify) the” basic beliefs” in Plantinga’s own brand of Christianity, including his beliefs in the divinity of Jesus and the beneficence of God. Or are those not basic beliefs, but beliefs lifted from scripture?"

That is not the subject of this book.  Again, Plantinga nowhere that I know of, claims that every Christian belief is "properly basic." 

"To paraphrase Orwell, one has to be a theologian to believe things like this: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

Obviously untrue.  Ordinary people do often believe in God as Plantinga describes, and justifiably so, Plantinga is beginning to convince me.  Coyne does not seem to have made any arguments that even hint that he is wrong. 

Also, again, Dr. Plantinga is a philosopher, not a "theologian."

But if we're looking for Orwell quotes, how about this one?

"For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on.  And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforst were rewarded, and down we came.  But unfortunately there had been a little mistake: The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all; it was a cesspool full of barbed wire . . . It appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out.  The wound has a tendency to go septic." 

Arrogance is, perhaps, the name of the particular form of septus that describes a person who has had success in one field, and then assumes, without warrant, that that success allows him to take on and defeat opponents in entirely unrelated fields, without studying that field first, or even reading his opponent's argument carefully. 

And it is multiply clear that Jerry Coyne has not begun to read Alvin Plantinga accurately.  He is like Bambi butting his antlers on the bottom of Godzilla's foot, not having even stepped back to survey the entire creature he wants to butt antlers with, before going on the attack.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alvin Plantinga on the Social Character of Philosophy

I interviewed Alvin Plantinga yesterday morning by phone for our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding.  I was particularly glad that Dr. Plantinga agreed to participate, not only because he is probably the leading Christian philosopher of our time (the interview gave me the chance to read more of his work than I had, previously), but also because he has thought about St. Anselm and this great concept of "faith seeking understanding" in particular depth. 

It proved a lively conversation, which I think will furnish a fitting climax to Faith Seeking Understanding

I'll save specific quotes for the book.  But one general theme interested me for the implications it holds for "how we know things." 

I asked about the social character of philosophy.  Dr. Plantinga answered, no, philosophy is not just a matter of holing up in your den with a pile of books, but is a social enterprise, a great conversation through the centuries.  Descartes might seem to be an exception.  But even he was educated by the Jesuits, and sent his ideas around to friends for criticism. 

Think about the implications this has for those who worship science, who say science is the only real or worthy or truly useful way of ascertaining the facts.

Science is, of course, a highly useful enterprise.  But it is a less direct, less basic, epistemology than pure logic or math, or the kind of logical philosophy in which Dr. Plantinga and those with whom he carries out the "Great Conversation" are engaged.  If anything, logic is to biology or physics what they are to history or law: a more direct and certain way of knowing things.  Yet it is still an eminently social enterprise, a mutually-correcting and stimulating conversation.

What does that mean for the common breed of logical positivists who run so deep and heavy in the herd of New Atheists

We rely on other people for almost everything we know, from the name of the state we live in, to the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus.  History, which we as Christians rely so much upon, is part of a natural continuum of epistemologies, that in essence is really no different from the sciences, and is connected to philosophy and even the trust we place in our own minds.  This is what separates civilization from barbarism: not that we refuse to believe anything that hasn't been adequately proven by the "scientific method," but that we reasonably rely on one another (as well as the impulses that happen to come to us individually) to discover and sift the facts. 

And there really is no way of getting away from that, and remaining part of human civilization.  Even the Unabomber, after all, trusted the Post Office.   

Footnote: a conversation at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, a couple weeks ago, with a young student from China:

"So, what are you studying?"

"Philosophy."

"What in particular?"

"I'm taking classes here in philosophy of quantum mechanics, and mathematics."

"Hmmn.  Have you read Alvin Plantinga?"

"He's my teacher!"

"Really?  I'm just reading his Warranted Christian Belief."

"It was reading that book that led me to Christ!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Can Islam live with Christians?

Dr. Timothy Winter

The Right Debate?

February 7th, a debate was held at Keble College in Oxford on the question, Can the West Live with Islam?  The debate partners were Dr. Nigel Biggar and Dr. Timothy Winter, and frankly they bored me silly, and it seems some others in attendance.  Partly this is because they were asking an unreal question, and partly because both failed to give the right answer even to that. 

Winter, a British Muslim from Cambridge, began with a talk that essentially made two points: (1) Muslims are right to worry, because the West is doing a lot of worrisome things in regard to Islam, like wars in the Middle East and discrimination.  (2) It is true that Islam also concerns the West, but for a bunch of mostly paranoid and mistaken reasons.   
Keble College chapel; the debate venue was more
modern and less charming, off to the left, but this is
what caught my eye.

Nigel, a courtly Regius Professor of  then responded with a fairly milquetoast "We share some concerns with our friends the Muslims, but we also have concerns about some of them" sort of response. 

The debate went along in this unpromising and unreal manner, through a few questions, until a fellow from Nigeria (who came with us) finally asked,

"What about the Muslim terrorists who are trying to kill Christians off in Northern Nigeria?"

This introduced a stronger element of reality into the discussion, but did not, in my opinion, quite get at the heart of the issue.  I raised my hand to expand on this challenge, but was not called upon. 

Here is what (in retrospect) I would have liked to have asserted and asked:

"You're asking the wrong question!  The real question is not whether the West can live with Islam.  Of course it can.  Any Christian in this room, can convert to Islam tonight, and live peacefully here in Britain, or in America, for the rest of his or her life.  Nor are Western nations about to invade, threaten, sanction or in any way disturb any Arab or other Muslim country that acts in a civilized manner -- or, probably, those that don't.  Heck, we have hardly sanctioned the lunatics in Iran who want to nuke Israel.  Apparently we need their oil too much, and learned too little from what happened when we tried to appease Adolf Hitler.

"No, the real question is whether Muslims can live with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and especially, Jews.

"Let me concentrate on Christians, with whom I am most familiar.

"Historical Christian populations that have lived in Iraq since long before the prophet Mohammed, that ruthless cutthroat, was born, are now fleeing Iraq and Egypt.  The five million Christians in Pakistan are threatened, not infrequently murdered in sporadic attacks.  Millions have already been murdered or enslaved in southern Sudan, though that state has finally obtained independence from the Muslim north. Muslims in northern Nigeria are trying to institute Sharia law on Christians, and engage in frequent pogroms, also burning down hundreds of churches. If revolution succeeds in Syria, it is reasonable to fear the large Christian population there will be attacked, as well.

"And what about converts to Christianity?  All schools of Islam law lay it down that anyone who converts out of Islam must be killed.  This penalty has often been carried out.  An African Muslim convert to Christianity who is an expert in Islamic Law told me, as a Muslim, he would of course have agreed that converts should be killed. Yet Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

"How can we, as believers in God, believe that the God who created the nebulae and the human heart, has to hold those who trust Him, not by conscience, nor even by persuasion, but by violence and murder?  This seems to feed directly into New Atheist talk about how the "faith meme" perpetuates itself by any means necessary.  Isn't it God who gave us freedom?  Or do Muslims, after all, worship so different a God?

"Are you so afraid that Islam is false, that you cannot allow your people to choose freely among religious options, but must use terror to keep your people in the fold?  Or will you work to allow people in Muslim countries obtain the same freedom of conscience and speech you enjoy here in Oxford?"  

Those are the questions I would have liked to address Dr. Winter, and would still like to ask other Muslims.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Republicans hate women! Democrats eat orphans!

Some writers gain immortality by the wisdom they distill into a few golden words: Lao Zi, Ecclesiastes, Aristotle, the Sermon on the Mount, the lyrics of the great Tang poets, great passages in Hamlet and elsewhere in Shakespeare. 

Others seem to seek 15 minutes of fame by expressed the essence of clap-trap and a finely distilled form. 

I came across one such commentator this morning, a poster on Amazon named Michael Altaribba, expressing some political notions.  Let's label those notions "A":

A. "It's a reflection of the Republican Party's fundamental (pun intended) misogyny . . . they see every woman as tainted, subservient, and inherently unclean. Women exist for the purpose of making children (preferably sons), keeping the house clean, and providing pleasure to their husbands. If they engage in sexual activity with someone other than their husbands, it is their fault, and they deserve to be punished, regardless of the circumstances. And, if they dare to actually enjoy that sexual activity, they are especially deserving of punishment.

"It's a revolting reflection of their Bronze Age social perspective. With any luck, the Republican candidate will lose by a landslide this November, and, perhaps finally, the Republican membership will reassess their ideology, and jettison the ideological poison (and those who produce it) from their midst."

Of course, it would be easy to formulate a caricature of Mr. Altaribba's preferred political party along similiar lines.  Let's call those lines "B:"

B. "For Democrats, babies are conceived to be killed, so their parents can pleasure one another, without worry about contractions or diapers. If they survive the womb, they are taken as tools in the teachers' unions omnivorous greed for benefits.  Later, when western society is forced by its creditors to deal with its economic (and concurrent moral) bankrupcy, the 'aborted generation' will be further saddled with paying back the $20 trillion in bribes the Democratic Party has paid its constituents for votes.  All this is sanctioned or prophesied by the spiritual denigration of humanity argued for by philosopher Peter Singer, for whom a baby is no more than a pig or dog.  Democrats obviously hate children.  Since secularism derides the spiritual aspect of humanity -- treating us as more than barn animals -- Democrats will no doubt want to will eat children once its legal."
 
I won't, of course, argue that B is true.  Its purpose is mainly to provide people on the Left who buy into A a mirror, by which they can see the absurdity of A.  But if anything, I do think it more plausible to say Democrats hate children, than that Republicans hate women.    
 
A.  Do Republicans hate women (more than Democrats)? 
 
To begin with, an excellent case could be made that Republican men like women more than Democrats do, or in a more flattering way.  54% of Democrats are now single, while 62% of Republicans are married.  If Democratic men really loved women so much, why don't they marry one? 
 
Oh, the slicker sorts reply, but it's so hard to choose!  Bill Clinton, for instance, surely loves women -- and they love him back!  While fooling around is certainly an activity that crosses the aisle, the culture of one-night stands and hookups seems most powerfully affirmed by a long series of Democratic politicians.  For every Newt Gingrich on the Republican side, one seems to find two or three equally prominent Bill Clintons, JFKs, or Teddy Kennedys, or even a Barney Frank, with a male prostitution ring run out of his apartment. 
 
Which might help explain the overwhelming Democratic support for abortion at all stages and under all circumstances.  If you want free love, what makes more sense than to rid oneself of the ultimate romantic entanglement -- a new generation of Wawas? 
 
But let's consider Michael's allegations, one by one: 
 
"It's a reflection of the Republican Party's fundamental (pun intended) misogyny... "\
 
Get Michael's point?  The trouble, the real reason Republicans allegedly hate women, is because so many Republicans are Christians, aka "fundamentalists."  That's also the point behind his later "Bronze Age" shot -- the Bronze Age being when most of the Bible was written. 
 
In an earlier series, "How Jesus Liberates Women," I laid out what I think is conclusive historical evidence that this common belief is badly mistaken.  Far from demonstrating a hatred of women, the "Bronze Age" teachings of the Bible have done more to liberate woman around the world, by the billion, than any other force of nature or supernature.  I still await a serious attempt by any skeptic to disprove these arguments. 
 
As for evidence that Republicans are particularly mysogenistic, of course refuting that would take a different argument, even if many Republicans are Christian.  But since Michael has given no real evidence for his assertion, I don't see any need to offer any extra proof to rebut it.  But I do seem to remember a remarkable amount of vitriol swirling around the figure of Sarah Palin, an accomplished, reform-minded Alaska governer, over the past few years.  It almost seems, as Clarence Thomas points out, that what really angers Democrats, is when "their groups" walk off the liberal reservation and come to conservative conclusions. 
 
"They see every woman as tainted, subservient, and inherently unclean."
 
Michael seems to be suffering relaspses from bad experiences in a past life as a leper, apparently.  This is almost too over-the-top to do anything but laugh. 
 
"Women exist for the purpose of making children (preferably sons), keeping the house clean, and providing pleasure to their husbands."
 
Oh, that explains why more Republicans are married!  We want our womenfolk to scrub the floors after our masculine, beer-swilling, Monday-night-football watching sons throw up on them!  Curious, though, that married women are also far more likely to vote Republican than unmarried women.  They must all be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
 
Here again, thinking of actual Republican women I know, and the men who love them, one finds this caricature tremendously amusing.  
 
"If they engage in sexual activity with someone other than their husbands, it is their fault, and they deserve to be punished, regardless of the circumstances. And, if they dare to actually enjoy that sexual activity, they are especially deserving of punishment."
 
Here, I think, we see the nub of the matter for a lot of men on the Left.  What is better, for the natural desire of a callow, self-seeking man with little thought for the future, than that women would accept the adolescent 60s ideology of "free love?"  Free means, you get sex without paying anything in return -- no hand-holding at birth, no hospital bills, no cleaning diapers, no crying at inopportune times, no tuition, no work late at night like Tiny Tim's father for Scrouge.  You can live free and easy, come and go when you like, like Charlie Sheen, or many other healthy, left-wing, Hollywood role models.   
 
But if you say, "Love is for a lifetime.  I will love and honor you, in richness and poverty, sickness and health, so long as we both shall live, even when you wrinkle up and I could, were I to ignore my vows, might still 'get' younger women -- such is reality between the sexes -- I choose to stay by your side, and provide for you and our children" -- that's exploiting women, somehow!  
 
One wonders, sometimes, at the strange shapes people twist their minds into -- even if one cannot be sure of motives.      

"It's a revolting reflection of their Bronze Age social perspective. With any luck, the Republican candidate will lose by a landslide this November, and, perhaps finally, the Republican membership will reassess their ideology, and jettison the ideological poison (and those who produce it) from their midst."

Ideological poison, indeed. 

All such poison aside, if the Republican loses by a landslide this November, it appears we can be sure:

* Roe vs. Wade will continue as the Law of the Land, and with it an expansive Charlie Sheen lifestyle -- whether or not that makes for real and lasting happiness.  

* No one will do anything about our present debt, which has passed 100% of GDP, sailed through $15 trillion dollars, until Obama is gone, and the next generation is forced to finally pay the piper.  (Or our entire economy collaspses, as that of Greece has already done, as it may well soon do.) 

* The great god government will continue to do a great many things to undermine marriage, fueled by the kind of contempt for marriage commitments suggested (if I am not mistaken) by Michael's comments. 

Some philosophies become the pillars on which civilizations are founded.  Others, become the wrecking balls that destroy them. 

Most Democrats are not cannibals, of course, any more than most Republicans hate women. 

But many Democrats (and some Republicans) have become champion of ideologies that, it seems to me, are spiritually and economically cannibalizing our civilization.  And that, I think I can say without too much exagerration.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Is Christianity doomed in Britain?

Tim Keller spoke at Town Hall in
Oxford all last week, to large
crowds. 
"Christianity Under Attack!"  The headline on the front page of the Daily Mail read Saturday morning, if not in VE Day font, almost in VJ day font. 

"The right to practice the Christian faith in Britain is under attack after two controversial legal rulings against worshippers," the paper somewhat breathlessly, and it turned out a bit inaccurately, added.  The article on the front page and on an inner page, along with a long, pugnatious but reasonable editorial by George Cary, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, dealt with these rulings. 

The first concerned City Council meetings in the town of Devon.  Since the reign of Elizabeth I, prayers had been part of these meetings.  But now, due a suit brought by an atheist and former counsel member, they were to be discontinued. 

The second ruling had to due with a Bed and Breakfast run by Peter and Hazelmary Bull, in the small resort town of Marazion in Cornwall, at the extreme southwest tip of England.  The Bulls are a Christian couple of about seventy.  A few years ago, a man in his thirties booked a room in their house, then showed up with his gay lover.  The Bulls asked the couple to take separate rooms, since as Christians, they did not accept unmarried couples as guests in their home, either heterosexual, or homosexual.  The man brought suit, and now, has won the suit, and some $6000 in damages.  (A lot, one would think, for not being allowed to stay at a hotel -- if I were given equal damages from every hotel I was not allowed to stay at in China, I might be able to buy my own B & B!) 

So is this a sign of the times?  Has the England of King Alfred, John Wycliffe, John Wesley, and C. S. Lewis now become a de-Christianized, secularized haven of infidels?

One might think so, judging also by church attendance figures, which have been steadily declining for decades. 

Yet that is not the overwhelming impression I get, over the now, seven or so months I have spent in the UK.  Christianity does not appear to be on its last legs:

* Saturday I went looking for the Uffington White Horse, a 3000 year old figure of a horse made of chalk, longer than a football field, on a hill that now belongs to Oxfordshire.  This figure was celebrated in G. K. Chesterton's rousing Ballad of the White Horse

Unfortunately I did not find the horse.  But I did find the town of Faringdon, which I hoped would be within walking distance.  (The distance was not the problem -- finding a path was.) 

Anyway, the old market town was charming enough, its winding roads flanked by 3-story shops crowding against one another, bringing one into the town square.  Within a few blocks, I noticed four churches.  There was also a Christian bookstore in the town square.  You need some business to run a book store, these days, with on-line competition.  I also noticed a "Jesus is the answer" type banner along the way. 

* Christians in Oxford sponsored a series of evangelistic meetings, led by Tim Keller, the Manhattan pastor, this week.  Total attendance for Keller's meetings (there were other meetings as well) was probably about 2500-3000, including  repeat visitors over five days.  Obviously most in attendance were Christians, but also obviously most Christians in Oxford did not come. 

Keller's presentations were quite good, I thought, based on the stories of the Gospel of John, and followed by lively questions. 

* I knew that the church was pretty healthy here in Oxford.  There are dozens of churches in this small city, including two ancient churches -- St. Aldates and St. Ebbes -- within a block of each other, that are very large, and cooperate on outreaches like this one.  One could, of course, ascribe the vigor of Oxford Christianity to its spiritual traditions -- colleges generally also have chapels -- or to the influx of more pious foreigners.  (I have met Christians from more than 40 countries, here, which makes for interesting potlucks in the International Pastorate!)

Also, it may be that in England, Christianity is more popular among the educated classes, than in society as a whole.  Indeed, one girl (a foreigner) who works in an office of 60 or 70, said she was the only Christian in the office. 

OCMS, once an Anglican church, across Port Meadow, where
horses and cattle have grazed for millennia.  The ruins of
Godwin nunnery lies to my back half  a kilometer.
There are plenty  of other churches in town,
though, still doing a booming business, and Godwin
seems sometimes to have served as a whorehouse during
the alleged "Age of Faith."  Smaller numbers may,
perhaps, serve the cause of mission clarity.
* On an earlier visit, I road a bus up to Stratford on Avon, where William Shakespeare was born, and conducted business.  His grave is at Trinity Church.  This church holds a lively evangelical fellowship.  They  have a good little Christian bookstore in the back, which of course also sells souvenirs, but also books on miracles, for instance.  The church looks pious for the great man whose bones it holds. 

* I've been staying at Wycliffe Hall, which is, among other things, a training facility for young Anglican clergy.  There seem to be plenty of enthusiastic young trainees, also at Aldate and Ebbes. 

So how is Christianity doing in Britain?  From passing visits, it doesn't look like it's about to fade away and disappear.  Maybe nominal Christianity is on the ropes.  Most identify with Christianity and don't want to lose the magnificent historical and cultural memory that the churches hold, and that are entwined about such quinscientental celebrations as Christmas.  Serious Christians are fewer in number, as perhaps they usually have been, but it doesn't look at all like they're about to go away.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Richard Carrier, the One True Philosopher, takes on God, again

Richard Carrier, apparently, has another new book out.  Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have mixed feelings about Dr. Carrier: those feelings might be described as one part respect, mixed with two parts "affectionate contempt," and three parts dumbfounded awe. 

The latter arises in reaction to Carrier's bravado, the indefatigably transcendent self-image that seems to lie behind his attempts, in turn, to straighthen out the fields of philosophy, biblical studies, origins of life biology, American politics -- his genius seems legion, or perhaps we should say legend. 

John Loftus gives a preview of Carrier's new book on his Debunking Christianity website.  Let's listen in, then respond, in a provisional way, to some of the arguments Richard seems to be making:

Carrier gives four reasons as summarized by Confessions of a Doubting Thomas:

Richard Carrier is not a "doubting Thomas," of course: he is a highly committed atheist, who does not at all want to believe in God.  Plenty of people in the 1st Century scoffed at Christian claims: Carrier might more accurately identify himself with one of the scoffers, not with Thomas. 

God is Silent: that is, if God is as most Christians describe him, he should be able to make his message clear to everybody. And what's more he should be willing to make his message clear to everybody. The reality is, however, that most people are not aware of a clear message from God, and the message that seems to be heard by believers is not a consistent or even a non-contradictory one.  Different believers get different messages and these conflict, and these lead (quite literally) to conflict. God appears to be unable to deliver a simple message to his people, let alone to everyone else. Thus, the Christian God is refuted by his silence."

If God is silent, why do billions of human beings today, believe they have heard from him?  (Including me?) 

I remember inviting an Egyptian Muslim over to our home for Christmas one year in Japan.  She shared her reasons for believing in God.  They had to do with perceptions of a designer that had come to her through nature, creatures in the Red Sea, pictures of which she showed me, for instance. 

The Bible says Nature reveals God.  It is legitimate to argue about cosmological arguments, or about design arguments.  But even if these arguments fail, Nature itself is read as a language that seems to tell many or most people, "I am here, and I am not silent!"

This is why early scientists spoke of the "Book of Nature." 

Suppose you are a prison guard in Hanoi.  Suppose you hear some sound, and suspect that the prisoners are communicating with one another.  But how?  You listen late at night, and hear some scraping.  Maybe it's just the rats!  Maybe people are striking their cups against the wall at random, as they move in closed quarters.  It doesn't sound like a language to you. 

Suppose you then find that spontaneously, all around the prison, your American wards are putting up little decorations, and singing songs.  You bring some of the prisoners into your office, and interrogate them.  "It's Christmas today!"  They tell you.  But they refuse to say how they found out.

Maybe they have all calculated the days, and independently concluded that it is Christmas.  Or maybe they have communicated -- maybe those scrapings, which sound random to you, are in fact a secret language. 

If you know the language, you can be sure that you have received a real message.  But if you do not know the language, you may suppose it is either a series of random noises, or perhaps a language, but like Jabberwocky, contains no coherent message. 

Is that because the language is, in fact, garbled? Or because we are still learning to listen? Maybe it is in part garbled so that those who overhear it with hostility, will dismiss it.

Maybe you don't want it to be a language, because you're like Seargent Shultz, and really just want to get along, without any such complications in your life. 

Even new prisoners, who are still learning the code, may be unsure if a given series of scrapings is, indeed, a message, or what it means. 

"I hear NUUTHEENG!"
Carrier cannot, then, reasonably be sure that God does not speak to others, even if not yet to him, through Nature.  Billions of people SEEM to perceive a fairly coherent message, even if some seem to find it garbled.  The fact that so many still hear his Voice, suggests that some skeptics may be like Sergeant Schultz -- they don't hear, because they don't want to hear.  

There are other languages, too, like the words of Jesus and the prophets, miracles, the conscience, our perceptions of beauty and justice, and our intuitive love of truth.  One might be able to explain these things in terms of evolution -- I know many have tried -- but can one justify them, or give them the normative stature we know they deserve?  

It is also a fact that peoples in hundreds or thousands of cultures around the world, contrary to skeptical assumptions, have come to a coherent concept of the Supreme God who transcends any one culture.  This is a subject I have written a lot on, including in this previous blog

So Carrier's first premise seems contradicted by a multiplicity of facts. 

The fact that people hold some different beliefs about ultimate truth, follows from the fact that God is also hidden, as he must be, if we are to be free.  If it were impossible to believe anything but the truth about God, could we be free?  Thus even in Star Trek, the "Prime Directive" is to allow otherworldly cultures to develop on their own, without outside interference. 

God is Inert: that is, there is no evidence that there is a loving and supremely powerful God at work in the world. Innocent children suffer and die. Good people suffer and die. Innocent children of good Christian people suffer and die. God apparently does nothing to stop this. This is inconsistent with the claimed character of the Christian God, thus, God is refuted by his inactivity.

The Problem of Pain has been discussed by believers and unbelievers since ancient Greece, if not earlier.  Ancient Jews and Christians were of course more familiar with pain than we are, in our anti-septic world.  Most babies died.  Epidemics swept whole populations out of existence.  Warfare was more common.  Yet people came to the conclusion that God does care, and does act in the world.  This is the strongest argument in the atheist arsenal, but it is curious that its force seems to be strongest just when we have found so many devices to get rid of pain. 

Wrong Evidence: basically, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, and the biblical evidence is barely even mundane. The best evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus is four non-eyewitness accounts, which contradict each other on important issues, and a bunch of letters, ostensibly from someone who never met Jesus in the flesh and only had a vision of him. And all these were written a couple of decades after the alleged events, at the earliest. How is all that sufficient evidence for the greatest claim ever made?

Here we come into all sorts of disagreements, which one can only list, and not respond to at length on the spot:

* Is Carrier begging the question with his term "extraordinary claim?"  Maybe for him, the idea that God would act in the world is "extraordinary."  Maybe for me, the idea that God would NOT act is "extraordinary."  Choosing between these options would take quite a bit of discussion; maybe we should return to this question at some point. 

* I think the NT evidence IS extraordinary, for reasons I gave in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could

* There are, in fact, between three and five eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus, in the New Testament, along with numerous close second-hand accounts. 

* Carrier's description of what the Bible claims about Paul's meeting with Jesus is incorrect, as NT Wright demonstrates.  That meeting cannot validly be described as "only had a vision of him."  For one thing, visions do not ordinarily render a person blind, then accurately tell him about a stranger who will come and cure him some days hence.  We might call this a "smart vision." 

* What's wrong with writing about events a couple decades later?  I do that all the time, as (I have found) do my seniors.  If Dr. Carrier is fortunate enough to reach a similiar or later stage of maturity (may he enjoy good health), he may find himself referring to events he has himself witnessed a couple decades later, and still remembers quite clearly. 

Wrong Universe: the Christian claim is that God made the universe and put us, the pinnacle of creation, into it. So why is 99.99999% of all creation hostile to us?

Is it?  I can't live in space, but does that make space "hostile" to me?  Be careful what writers smuggle in with their anthropomorphisms.

As far as we can tell, if you scaled the entire universe down to the equivalent size of a house, then the tiny zone which is capable of sustaining human life is as small as a single proton! Invisibly and insignificantly small. This is not what we would expect if the universe was intelligently designed for us, but is exactly what you would expect if we are merely an accidental by-product of a chaotic universe.

I know of no suggestion in the Bible that God created all the universe just for us.  Maybe He likes lots of stars; if so, who can blame Him?   

Aside from which, if we live in three-dimensional space, that space will either be bounded or not.  If unbounded, it will either be full of things, or empty.  If full of things, those things will either include sentient life, or not.  Every possibility will be used by skeptics of this mind-set as an argument against God.  Why did God create so much empty space?  Why so many dead planets with atmospheres of sulfer-dioxide or carbon dioxide?  Why, we know we're just one rational species out of ten trillion!  Why should God care anything about us? 

All such arguments are as vacuous as most of space itself.  There simply seems to be no relationship between premises and conclusion.  If nothing else, the astounding discoveries of modern astronomy underline the ancient phrase, "the Heavens declare the glory of God." 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Oxford diary.

* I'm staying at Wycliffe Hall, only about three or four blocks from my studies.  College Park is even closer, so I did manage to get in one run so far, down to the Cherwell, around where the ducks mill before a small waterfall, then around again.  But it was starting to snow -- yeah, that's my excuse -- so I didn't go more than one round.

* Each night it would get colder.  One morning, the pond by the river was frozen, with a little skirting of ice where the water intruded into land a few inches.  The next morning, chunks of ice were floating free.  The next morning, the river was almost frozen over, as was the quarter-mile long, shallow pond or lake in Port Meadow.  The ice was only about an inch and a half thick, but lots of people were walking on it with their kids on Saturday, and some grown men had out hockey sticks and were going at it.  As I walked across the ice, though, it snappy, crackled, and popped -- not thick enough for me, yet. 

* Then that night it snowed, turned to rain, clouds, then fog, and the ice was ruined. 

* I've been reading Alvin Plantinga lately.  I had planned to buy a book or two before leaving for the UK, but had to print off a few chapters, instead.  Some brilliant stuff. 

Last night chatted with a Chinese fellow (Mr. Chen) studying "math, physics, and philosophy."  I asked him a bit about it -- the philosophy seemed a bit too mathematical for my taste -- then asked if he'd read Plantinga.  "He's my teacher!"  He replied.  "Warranted Christian Belief is the book that led me to become a Christian!"

Who says arguments don't convince people? 

Plantinga is, indeed, lucidity on skates: the air crackles, the ice beneath does not, his humor is fatal, killing you with the friendly absuridity to which your argument has just been reduced,

* Tim Keller is rumored to be speaking at Oxford Town Hall this week.  May have to go. 

* Wycliffe Hall is a nice place to stay: the room is warm enough, things generally work, people are helpful.  I prefer Commonwealth House, though, because there are more internationals, and people are coming and going more -- you don't feel at all like you're butting in on a group of colleagues, as sometimes I do at Wycliffe. 

* They're building a museum across the alley from Commonwealth, or trying to (it'll take ten million pounds!) called "Story Museum," or something like that.  It'll be a museum to remember all the great stories created in Oxford: Alice in Wonderland, Middle Earth, Narnia, Pullman's Dark Materials, or whatever they're called.  For the first time, I almost wish my dissertation were not nearing completion . . . A wonderful idea.   And in a great location!  (It'll also be across the street from Christ Church College, where Lewis Carroll was math teacher.  And heck, while we're mentioning it, Lawrence of Arabia went to St. Aldates, behind Commonwealth -- that's almost a fairy tale.  No comment on Mr. Of Arabia's romantic proclivities intended.) 

* Meanwhile, back in the real world, the snow has turned to mush, and walking become difficult.  It's supposed to freeze again the next few nights. 

* My seminar seems to have been a success.  Dr. Farr led it.  During the seminar, he went around the room and asked each scholar whether he subscribed to exclusivism, inclusivism, or pluralism, the three usual choices.  (Which I had just been explaining, also berating.)  No one chose pluralism, which is good -- I'd been dumping on it most of all -- but maybe half chose exclusivism, despite my objections, and one or two volunteered that he agreed with me that the game was rigged wrongly. 

Dr. Farr studied with John Hick, the pre-eminent pluralist.  I asked him to say which he favored; his reply seemed surprisingly mumbled -- or is that nuanced -- but I gathered he saw something to Hick's position, anyway. 

*

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Me and Pascal, together again

My close personal friend,
Blaise Pascal
John Loftus posted a blog yesterday accusing me (and Pascal!) of "empty rhetoric."  I am, of course, flattered at the company, and hope the great scientist is not rolling over in his grave right now.

 This is an "accusation" I feel compelled to respond to, if for no other reason, to drive the comparison between myself and Blaise Pascal home, for all those people in Junior High School who doubted I'd ever amount to much. :- )

Seriously, John's accusations come at a propitious time: I've just sent in my rebuttal of John's Outsider Test for Faith, as a chapter to an e-book on the subject of Faith and Reason, being put together by a nice fellow from Campus Crusade, and due to come out in two or three months, I believe.  In that chapter, I intend to show not only that the OTF does not harm Christianity, but actually supports it, in four important ways.

Here's my preliminary answer to John's jabs in this post:

JL: "Christian apologists will write peer reviewed articles defending Pascal's Wager. Given Pascal's premises his argument basically works. In order to see how it works you have to grant that reason cannot decide between two options. The two options for Pascal were non-belief and a Catholicism where nonbelievers risk an eternal punishment in hell for their nonbelief. Given these two options it would be better to believe . . . "

"The reason I bring this additional deceptive strategy up is because Christian apologist David Marshall continues to spout off that there is one God who can be seen in every religion. I had asked him
who answers prayers? His response: 'Who answers prayer? God, of course. That's "Bog" in Russian, "Dieu" in French, "Shang Di" in Chinese (also other names), and "Allah" in Arabic.'  Now if you read the link I provided he did not attempt to answer the difficulties inherent in saying this. He responded with rhetoric, empty rhetoric, that is utterly lacking in substance."

Let's start with Pascal. Why is it that every skeptic on the planet seems to have read "Pascal's Wager," but none of them has read the rest of the book? 
Loftus also mentions
William James.  Not a
BAD fellow, mind you.
Pascal, 'empty rhetoric lacking in substance?'  Who are you trying to fool? You might say that about Camus, or Marx, or Freud, but not about Pascal.  Pascal has already explained why Christianity ought, intellectually, to be a live option for any serious reader of his book, by giving a variety of evidences that it is true.  His Wager is frosting on the cake.  (Or, I would prefer to think, whipped cream, Japanese style.) 

And if you've really read my books, as you seem to indicate, you should know better that to imply that they are 'lacking in substance,' either.  My arguments may be right or wrong, but they are certainly substantive. 

And no I don't claim (still less "spout") that 'there is one God who can be seen in every religion.

You need to begin by getting the argument you're critiquing right.   My claim is not about religions at all. It is that God is known by many names in many cultures . . . (this) is accepted by Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Chinese, Africans, Native Americans, common folks, and scholars alike, so I'm not sure why you make it sound as if I'm saying something new, here.   

It's not that God can be seen IN all religions, but that God is recognized as transcending particular traditions BY many people in many different religions.  A useful analogy might be the difference between, "People from every country have gone to the moon," and "The moon is perceived, though sometimes hazily or in part, from many nations around the world." 

JL: "As an evangelical Marshall does not think God through Allah authorized Mohammad to be his prophet, for Marshall would say God's prophetic word through Mohammad contains obvious errors.  God through Mohammad wants Muslims to kill Jews while the God of the Old Testament called Jews his chosen ones and granted them Palestine as an eternal possession. God through Mohammad said Jesus did not die on the cross while God in the New Testament said he died and that he arose from the dead."

Of course people disagree about what God has done or said!   Some Christians think God created the world instantly, 6000 years ago, others slowly, intervening in the biological process, others entirely through evolution. It hardly follows that they worship 'different Gods,' even if their understanding of him differs.   (As does our understanding of other human beings -- I know you differently than William Lane Craig knows you, differently than your wife or accountant or customers for your business know you.  But there's still just one you!)

JL: "He is not a pluralist like John Hick, you see. He wants to appear to be a rational level-headed believer and this means making these kinds of rhetorically empty statements.  The reality is that Marshall is an evangelical standing in the tradition of evangelicalism.  As a world traveler he instinctively knows evangelicalism is dead in the water, so he resorts to using empty rhetoric to appear reasonable, or at least, that's what it looks like to me."

Speaking of empty rhetoric . . .

As a world traveler I know that conservative Christianity has never thrived as widely as it does today. That will come up in my response to the OTF, too.

I just presented a seminar yesterday largely rebutting Hick, in a room full of serious Christian thinkers from Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and Latin America. They represent often thriving churches, in some cases churches that are quite young.  None of them agree with Hick (I asked), apart maybe, to some extent, the facilitator of the seminar, a philosopher who (as it happens) studied under Hick.

So much for dead in the water.

As to whether I "want to appear to be a rational, level-headed believer," honestly its not my first priority.   Being rational is higher on the list than appearing one, and that list also includes such things as, "David Marshall wants to go sliding on frozen backwaters of the Thames if it gets colder as forecast over the next few days, then maybe take pictures of the spires in the snow from Christ Church meadow on Sunday."

What people on John's blog think of me, is (with all due respect) a somewhat lower priority. 

"Marshall claims that God is Allah is Yahweh is ______ (fill in the deity of your choice) and that this represents the best of the deities believed by the world religions. But he lands squarely in the evangelical camp. What then becomes of his claim that God is Allah is Yahweh is ______ (fill in the deity of your choice)? Nothing of substance at all!"

I honestly don't know what to make of this.  God is one.  He has names in many languages, and had those names before missionaries showed up.  The locals often recognized that missionaries were talking about the same God they had known of, from time out of mind.  This fact, that "God showed up" around the world, undermines the OTF something fierce, as I intend to show, in my upcoming chapter.  But it certainly doesn't follow that all conceptions of God are exactly the same.  Why this should trouble me, or anyone else, as a Christian, when I find Paul recognizing the same thing in Athens already, I don't know.  But perhaps, John, when you read the full explanation of why the OTF supports the Gospel of Jesus, you'll see the light and finally remember to give Shang Di the glory.