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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 17, 2023

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I had quite the throwback culture war experience this past weekend. While at a family gathering, my dad was cornered by an in-law and quizzed about my “agnosticism”.

He was asked if he had led me to this lack of faith, and was then informed that it’s the patriarch’s responsibility to “get his family into heaven” – a neat little double-duty insult of both himself and me.

I tend to be a very laid-back guy in meatspace, but found myself livid. I’ve been in this family for close to a decade, and the sheer cowardice and arrogance of this exchange was breathtaking. To circle around to one of my direct family members instead of having the cajones to challenge me directly was ridiculous (and in hindsight, what I should have really expected from these people).

We’ve been existing in what I thought was a reasonable detente. As a victorious participant in the Atheism culture war, I’ve been kinda-sorta prepared to have these skirmishes with my wife’s catholic family for a long time. The unspoken agreement was that I go to church for holidays, let you splash water on my children, and don’t bring up anyone’s hypocrisy/the church’s corruption, rampant pedophilia/the inherent idiocy in believing in god.

In exchange, I get to stay balls deep in my excellent wife and should be left alone.

I’ll be the first to admit the excesses of Atheism’s victory laps and see how “live and let live” can slide down the slope into a children’s drag show. But this indirect exchange reminded me that when the culture war pendulum swings back, I should be prepared for the petty tyrants and fools on the religious right to reassert themselves. We’re already starting to see the tendrils of this, even if some of their forces have been replaced with rainbow-skinsuit churches across the US.

For Christian motteziens - No disrespect intended. I'm aware of the hypocrisy of my arrogance in this post, and it's intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek

This post is an interesting little mirror to this sub's CW leanings. Imagine if the positions were reversed with a left-leaning interlocutor instead of a right-leaning one. Say you told a story where they were making snide passive-aggressive remarks implying you were racist. The response you would have gotten would almost certainly be cheering alongside you. I highly doubt they would be as unanimous in their scorn, claiming this post breaks rules, that your previous compromises means you somehow deserve this, or that snide remark essentially saying "we're not your therapist, bro".

The fact that Christianity's cultural side is inextricably linked to the superstitious side is clearly causing some amount of cognitive dissonance. But instead of resolving it (either by severing the two sides, or by rejecting Christianity entirely if doing so is infeasible), this sub... tries to ignore it as much as possible. This sub pretends it doesn't exist, and then gets really conspicuously oversensitive whenever someone reminds them of it.

I think it is not the sub as a whole, rather it is a large but not majority fraction of the sub.

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" thing going on with Christianity in this sub. The Christians and other Christianity-supporting participants on the sub generally do not attempt to argue that Christianity is true on the object level, even if they believe that it is. And the rest of the sub generally does not direct the same kind of object level skeptical analysis towards Christianity that it does towards woke beliefs like "disparate outcomes between men/women or whites/blacks are mainly caused by oppression".

The sub is a relatively free discussion forum that does not have any specified ideology but leans anti-woke, so there are both a bunch of anti-woke atheists and anti-woke Christians here.

Sure, I'll try my hand.

Let's start with the existence of God. What's seemed the strongest argument to me is just the question, why is there something rather than nothing?

Why does anything exist? What caused the big bang? The only answer that doesn't lead to an infinite regress, so far as I can tell, is that something must necessarily exist. The main candidates for this that I've heard of are a God of some form, or a Tegmark IV multiverse—the extreme of mathematical platonism, where everything possible exists.

(What about just things happening utterly randomly and causelessly? I'd be really worried about that breaking induction—why doesn't that happen again. To be clear, I'm not talking about the constrained randomness of quantum mechanics. What about a loop or an infinite regress? I'd think we can just collect all the terms and ask if that has a cause.)

The first hypothesis seems more likely than the second, because it seems to better explain why I'd find myself in an orderly world. There are many more ways to disorder something than to order them—e.g. there's only one world where the laws of physics continue as usual, but a much greater number where they broke down 3 seconds ago. I'd also be worried about whether things like Boltzmann brains could end up being common enough to harm our epistemology—not in itself a measure of likelihood, but one hurting pretty severely the ability to do epistemology, since again, the law of induction becomes pretty broken. I'm also unsure whether consciousness harms the ability encapsulate everything mathematically, which the Tegmark hypothesis would seem to require.

Let's say there's some a pretty good chance there's some necessarily existent thing out there. What sort of thing might it be? One perfect in every way seems like one of the relatively more likely possibilities, though it might be hard to say what's a perfection. Not sure how to do anything more exact here, but a pretty decent a priori probability is enough to matter, I'd think.

Okay, that's all towards some form of theism. What about Christianity in particular? The largest obstacle, I think, to most people is that miracles seem really unlikely. This is mitigated to a pretty substantial extent if you think that a god exists. Once there's a mechanism to account for miracles existing, that seems to raise the probability a good bit. If you will, it's no longer something beyond some unbreakable laws of physics, since it's something allowed under the true laws of physics that aren't usually in play. (If you still find it hard to believe that this sort of thing can happen, do you also treat the simulation hypothesis as absurd—at least, if it thinks that there could be intervention once in a while.) But in any case, some documentary evidence and some accompanying historical evidence seem rather sparse to believe in a resurrection from the dead. I think the accompanying teachings of the christian scriptures significantly raise the reasonableness of thinking that it took place, since it places it in a context where this is at least something not improbably, where this is the way to accomplish some aims. This is especially the case since descriptions of what took place were written hundreds of years beforehand—see Isaiah 52:13 through to the end of Isaiah 53. The gospels and epistles are also better than average for ancient historical texts in some other respects—they're written not too long after the death of Jesus, within the lifetime of those who knew him when he was alive. Paul, at one point, refers to 500 people who witnessed Christ after his death.

Let's say that all that argumentation fails. There still seem to be reasons that it might be a sensible thing to adhere to, even if you think it's relatively unlikely. Pascal's wager is formidable, for one. Ethics or purpose seem a good bit easier to come by, which, by no means necessary, do mean that those worlds might be ones that you should concern yourself with more.

  1. It is not necessarily necessary for everything to have a cause. There is nothing fundamentally illogical as far as I can tell about the notion of an uncaused phenomenon. And if you believe that everything must have a cause, then that applies just as much to God as it does to the universe, so bringing God in does not actually solve the problem.

  2. Why we find ourselves in an orderly world can be explained by the anthropic principle of "if the world was not orderly, we would not be here asking the question".

  3. Miracles actually are not something that I reject. By the very nature of some phenomena, they can be both true yet also either fundamentally or at least in practice beyond the reach of scientific investigation. For example, let us say that I remember 20 years ago seeing a rock shaped like an arrowhead on a certain trail, but I do not remember exactly where the trail was. Let us say this actually happened, the rock was real. Yet there is in practice no way to prove that it was real. More fundamentally, there is the hard problem of consciousness, which I think quite possibly will be forever beyond the reach of scientific investigation. So it is not that I think it is impossible that 2000 years ago a man multiplied loaves of bread and rose from the dead. I just think that given the available evidence for it, there is no reason to be so convinced that it happened that one fundamentally orders one's life around the belief that it happened.

And if you believe that everything must have a cause, then that applies just as much to God as it does to the universe, so bringing God in does not actually solve the problem.

This is probably the worst of the atheist arguments against a creator, because it seems to result in a failure of basic comprehension. Theists (and deists) are saying “God is, by definition, the exception to the rule that all things must have a cause. He is the Unmoved Mover, and the Uncaused Causer.” And you’re saying, “But wouldn’t an Uncaused Causer need a cause too?” No, obviously not, that’s literally what makes him the Prime Mover. You’re rejecting Christians’ conception of God out of hand, but then acting like you actually refuted their argument, whereas the reality is that you just refused to acknowledge that they made it.

But the universe itself can be a causeless phenomenon, there is no need to posit a God. You can call the universe itself God, of course, but this is not what Christians mean by God.

Okay fine, but you’ve already shifted the goalposts significantly. Your original argument was “nothing can be causeless, not even God”. Now you’ve switched to “okay, God could be causeless, but so could the universe even if it wasn’t God”. Two completely different and mutually-contradictory arguments.

I never said that nothing can be causeless. I said the opposite: "It is not necessarily necessary for everything to have a cause. There is nothing fundamentally illogical as far as I can tell about the notion of an uncaused phenomenon.".

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The two things could still be mutually excluding possibilities: If it's impossible for a thing to exist without a cause, than the Uncaused Cause is impossible too, much like a circumference-less circle is impossible; if that's not the case, then there's no reason there must be only one from which everything else is caused. You can, of course, say that everything needs a cause to exist except for a special uncaused being that is an exception to the general rule; but then the statement collapses to "assuming that one and only one Uncaused Cause exists, then one and only one Uncaused Cause exists".

Can a phenomenon be both "causeless" and have a discrete beginning/end? That seems to invite paradox unless you want to go the full Pyrrho and argue against the principles of cause and effect more generally.

I don't see why not but to be fair, I am not well versed in either philosophy or physics.

It's amazing to me how much sway the aristotelian unmoved mover god has on a religion that clearly describes a moving, changing god. In genesis god has human emotions, moves around and even shows up at the door of Abraham, on earth. In other words he behaves more like Odin (or rather Baal) than like god-the-philosophical-entity. And even if you discount genesis (and much of the old testament) as analogical writing and superstitions of simple people, how can it be that Jesus is god and also that god is unmoved, unchanging, simple, etc?

For problems with cosmological arguments see Sobel, Logic and Theism, chapter 5.

God's active, doing things, but not changing, exactly. Maybe changing in relation to other things, but not in relation to himself. If you think that's unbiblical, I have a quote for you: "I, the LORD, do not change." And another: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever"

You lose a lot of the persuasive power of the argument if you admit that there are things (Jesus Christ) that appear to be moving but do not in fact count as "moving" for the argument. The observation that there are some things that move falls away, as far as I am concerned everything could be like Jesus and actually be motionless.

The problem with those biblical quotes is that there is a colloquial meaning to change and a philosophical one, cosmological arguments only work with the latter but those quotes in context point to the former.

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Right, to be clear, I am not a Christian, and my (admittedly amateurish) research into comparative religion and study of the development of early Judaism demonstrates very clearly to me that the Old Testament is in no sense whatsoever an account of an Aristotelian God-As-Pure-Logos. I’m merely pointing out that the specific argument “the Prime Mover argument is wrong because even a Prime Mover would need a mover” is a bad argument. Most of the other arguments against Judaic and Christian cosmology are still very valid and true.

I’m merely pointing out that the specific argument “the Prime Mover argument is wrong because even a Prime Mover would need a mover” is a bad argument

Yes, you are right about this. I've just been thinking about this for a while and latched on to your message to write it down since you also said: "You’re rejecting Christians’ conception of God out of hand, but then acting like you actually refuted their argument". The argument has other problems, though.

Why we find ourselves in an orderly world can be explained by the anthropic principle of "if the world was not orderly, we would not be here asking the question".

I've never liked this as a rebuttal to the point made. It definitely answers the question as you've phrased it. Why do we find ourselves in an orderly world? Because if it weren't orderly, we wouldn't find ourselves anywhere. I get the line of reasoning, but it gives no insight into why the world is orderly, which is what question is really being asked. It merely asserts that it is the case, which wasn't really up for debate.

To rephrase the point in a slightly less charged light. When discussing the question "Why does the necessary precursor to A exist?", answering "A exists, therefore the necessary precursor to A exists" doesn't answer the question. It completely ignores the "Why" part of the question.

  1. Well, I don't think God has a cause, so that's not quite the argument. It's pretty dangerous epistemically, to say that things can be arbitrary, though, unless you manage to justify restricting that. I mean, why not think this comment I'm writing is uncaused? Or that a black hole is about to causelessly appear in your house? Or that the universe will vanish in two seconds?

  2. Sort of. But you also get orderly worlds which are more bizarre (remember, think how many ways there are for unusual things to happen), and it also destroys induction, because of all the worlds where it was ordinary for the past however many billion years except for a bizarre change three seconds from now dwarfs the ones where it continues ordinarily, but anthropically look identical.

  3. It doesn't require an enormous level of credulity to require ordering one's life around it, for pascal's wager type reasons.

I've been talking about Christianity in the past few days a lot more than I have in a while but I saw your comment and it activated my old debate-bro instincts and I couldn't resist.

The actual philosophical question of whether God exists never really interested me that much. I actually don't particularly care whether God exists, unless he inspired a religion with books and prophets that dictates how I should live. Then I care. So for discussions like this, I'm usually happy to grant the existence of God for the sake of argument and move on to discussing Christianity in particular.

his is especially the case since descriptions of what took place were written hundreds of years beforehand—see Isaiah 52:13 through to the end of Isaiah 53.

Leaving aside the long debate over whether the 'suffering servant' is in fact a single messianic figure, a corporate representative, or something else Isaiah 53 is something of a double-edged sword for apologists. On the one hand, a very popular apologetic, popularized especially by NT Wright in recent years (and which I think is bad for other reasons, but I digress), goes like this: "first century Jews had no concept of a dying and rising messiah. So the story of the resurrection is not something the disciples would make up or come to believe in a million years unless they actually experienced it. Therefore, the best explanation for the disciples' belief in the resurrection is that it really took place." On the other hand, Christians want to claim that Isaiah clearly prophesied the death and resurrection of Jesus centuries earlier. But if the scriptures contained a clear and unambiguous prediction of a messiah that would die and be resurrected, then one need not posit a genuine resurrection to account for the belief of the earliest Christians that their teacher, after his brutal execution by the state, was raised from the dead. It's right there in the prophets. If Isaiah says the messiah will die and be raised, and Jesus is the messiah, then Jesus was raised from the dead. QED.

The gospels and epistles are also better than average for ancient historical texts in some other respects—they're written not too long after the death of Jesus, within the lifetime of those who knew him when he was alive.

True. But the synoptics also all plagiarize each other, so they aren't independent sources. Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses, by tradition. The Gospel of Matthew draws heavily from the gospel of Mark, so genuine Matthean authorship can be discounted, since it makes no sense that a man who walked with Jesus and personally saw him raised from the dead would plagiarize the account of someone who did not (even the call of Matthew itself in gMatthew is cribbed from Mark!). John was also an eyewitness by tradition, but even if he doesn't know the synoptics (and some think he does), then you have at best two independent sources for the most incredible event in all of human history, and both of them from authors who would have every reason to believe this incredible claim, and who clearly have a vested interest in getting you to believe it, and only one of them even potentially from an eyewitness. It's not like there's any hostile testimony to the resurrection.

Paul, at one point, refers to 500 people who witnessed Christ after his death.

I've never understood this apologetic. The appearance to the 500 appears exactly once in the New Testament: right here, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. There's no elaboration, we're not told who these 500 were, the circumstances of the supposed appearance, or anything at all, either here or anywhere else. It's a single throwaway reference. For all I know Paul made this up. Or the person he got it from did.

Pascal's wager is formidable, for one.

I think Pascal's Wager is defanged by the internal diversity of Christianity. While the old joke about there being tens of thousands of Christian denominations each damning all the others to Hell is an exaggeration, it's directionally correct. Getting a Catholic to admit it nowadays is like pulling teeth, but it remains dogma that there is no salvation outside the church, and while there are carveouts in some cases for invincible ignorance and things like that, few of those caveats would apply to the vast majority of modern protestants, so the teaching of the RCC remains that the great majority of modern protestants are gonna burn. Conversely, a number of Protestant confessions clearly anathematize the RCC, and a number even expressly identify the Papacy as the Antichrist. And there are plenty of low-church baptist types who think catholics are demon-worshipping idolaters. And then there are plenty of protestants that think plenty of other protestants are going to hell. And then there are protestants who don't think anybody is going to hell (either universalist or annihilationist). You could say being a Christian of some kind is still better than being a non-believer, but since there are Christians who don't think non-believers necessarily go to hell, I'm not sure it really increases your chances all that much. Then there's Islam...

My reasons for rejecting the truth of Christianity were not that I think miracles are prima facie impossible, or even necessarily impossible, but boil down mostly to three main points:

  1. The Hebrew/Christian scriptures teach empirically false things about the world.
  2. The scriptures are internally inconsistent, both on matters of plain facts and broader theological and philosophical questions.
  3. The scriptures contain clearly falsified prophesies.
  4. The scriptures are exactly the scriptures we would expect their authors, as human beings of their time and place, to produce. Positing divine inspiration is unparsimonious and unnecessary.

I can elaborate on any of these, because I do enjoy talking about this stuff, but I won't make this comment any longer.

The obvious rejoinders are that something clearly happened at the temple in Jerusalem in the opening years of the 1st century that went on to have major social and political ramifications throughout the empire. We know this because the fact that we have any near contemporary documentation or archeological corroboration of the Gospel narrative at all is in itself remarkable.

There was an effort post on this subject from 4 - 5 years ago now that I'd like to link but am currently able to find because reddit's search function sucks and they'd disabled 3rd party APIs but the long and the short of it is that we have more contemporary evidence of there being encounter between Pontus Pilate as Deputy Governor of Syria and a Jewish Carpenter turned Rabbi than we do the existence of Hannibal Barca, Atilla the Hun, and a good number of Roman Emperors. Accordingly, complaints about how the main body of the Gospel account seem to have been written 50 - 100 years after the fact (IE precisely when the original events described would have been passing from living memory into legend) come across as something like an isolated demand for rigor.

Likewise claims that "The Hebrew/Christian scriptures teach empirically false things about the world." or that "The scriptures are internally inconsistent" tend to be grossly overstated and rely on selective quoting so without specific examples such claims really are worth engaging with.

The obvious rejoinders are that something clearly happened at the temple in Jerusalem in the opening years of the 1st century that went on to have major social and political ramifications throughout the empire

Okay. But so what?

Accordingly, complaints about how the main body of the Gospel account seem to have been written 50 - 100 years after the fact (IE precisely when the original events described would have been passing from living memory into legend) come across as something like an isolated demand for rigor.

It is the opposite. Historians rely on biographers of Alexander for information about his career, while rejecting the claims of those same biographers that he was a son of Zeus or that his armies were led through the deserts by snakes. The claims of Caesar’s biographers that he crossed the Rubicon are accepted, but not the claims that they were encouraged by the apparition of a goddess. It is apologists who insist that, unlike every other historical document, the gospels must be taken as all or nothing. If we accept that Jesus lived and was crucified, we must also accept his miracles and resurrection.

Likewise claims that "The Hebrew/Christian scriptures teach empirically false things about the world." or that "The scriptures are internally inconsistent" tend to be grossly overstated and rely on selective quoting so without specific examples such claims really are worth engaging with.

The New Testament implicitly and explicitly relies on falsified Aristotelian cosmology, to give one example. I can elaborate if you want.

Okay. But so what?

So it shifts the burden of proof.

The new Aeithist line of argument as popularized by guys like Harris and Dawkins typically goes that Jesus didn't exist and if he did he was a nobody who was executed without fanfare. The events described in the Gospel were a story made up by Paul and the rise of the cult of Christianity can be attributed entirely to him. To be fair I can kind of see how they might come to that conclusion (Paul really does come across as a social climbing mary-stue) but if that is the case than some alternate explanation for the rukus at the temple, and ensuing social and political upheaval must be offered.

It is the opposite.

No it's not. Historians rely on biographers right until it becomes convenient to argue the absence of literal firsthand sources represents evidence of absence. It's not all or nothing, it's something for something. That is unless you'd like to acknowledge that Alexander's alleged parentage is evidence that he never existed either. If christ was crucified and his followers were willing to face execution themselves over the claim that he'd been resurrected just how much more do you need?

The New Testament implicitly and explicitly relies on falsified Aristotelian cosmology,

First off define "falsified", proving a heliocentric model of solar system from first principles is not as easy as so-called skeptics like to pretend it is and even if it was can you point to a specific line within The New Testament that would be falsified by the earth revolving around the sun rather than vice versa?

The new Aeithist line of argument as popularized by guys like Harris and Dawkins typically goes that Jesus didn't exist and if he did he was a nobody who was executed without fanfare.

I would never argue Jesus didn't exist. He did. But he was a nobody executed without fanfare. That's not new atheism, that's the gospels. That's the whole point of the gospels. The meek preacher squashed unceremoniously by the pagan tyrants is actually the conquering king of Heaven.

The events described in the Gospel were a story made up by Paul and the rise of the cult of Christianity can be attributed entirely to him.

I don't know whose position this is, but it's not mine, and it's not that of any halfway well-informed skeptic I'm familiar with. The story told by the gospels is probably broadly true. Jesus really was a 1st century apocalyptic prophet and faith healer who roamed the Judean countryside building up a following. He really did preach the coming judgment of God and the need for repentance and right-living. He really did butt heads with rival sects and local religious leaders. He really did carry out faith healings. He really did go up with his disciples to Jerusalem for passover (probably expecting the imminent inauguration of the kingdom). He really did cause a disturbance at the temple, which resulted in his arrest. He really was executed by Pontius Pilate. Some of his disciples really did have experiences that convinced them Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to Heaven. Where I differ is that I don't think the best explanation for these facts is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.

If christ was crucified and his followers were willing to face execution themselves over the claim that he'd been resurrected just how much more do you need?

Something that isn't one or two members of Jesus' religious movement with every incentive to believe and propagate this saying, "trust me bro."

The argument from martyrdom is weak. There's little evidence that anyone was particularly interested in hunting down Christians in the early years. Frankly it hardly matters to me, since I don't think the disciples were lying, I think they genuinely believed Jesus had been raised.

and even if it was can you point to a specific line within The New Testament that would be falsified by the earth revolving around the sun rather than vice versa?

A good demonstration of the cosmology of the NT is the story of the ascension. Jesus rises from the dead, and then he spends forty days with his disciples, before returning to Heaven. When the time comes for him to leave, he floats into the sky until a cloud takes him out of sight.

Most modern Christians, at least those who have given the matter any thought, will tell you that Heaven is not a place within the 3-D universe. It's maybe a parallel universe, or not a spatio-temporal location at all, but rather a kind of experience, or state of being. I believe the Catholic position is that Heaven is simply the experience of the human soul contemplating the presence of God.

On this model, there's no immediate reason why Jesus should float into the sky to get to Heaven. You can come up with reasons why he would return to Heaven that way, but it's not obvious why going into the sky should get one closer to a parallel universe, or the beatific vision, or whatever you like. If you step into the shoes of an educated first-century writer like Luke, then the reason Jesus floats into the sky is obvious. That's how you get to Heaven. It's past the air (the first Heaven) and past the stars and moon (second Heaven). The throne room of God is in the "third Heaven", a concept directly from Ptolemaic cosmology (Paul references it by name in 2 Corinthians 12:2 - 4). It's distant and glorious, but also a place with a definite spatio-temporal location, so Jesus can go there in his physical, flesh and blood body.

Of course, you can reconcile this with the modern understanding that celestial spheres don't exist. William Lane Craig for example, says that Jesus was "accommodating" the disciples. In other words, being God, he knew that Greek cosmology was false, and you don't have to float into the sky to get to Heaven, but because his disciples had the standard contemporary view of the cosmos, floating into the sky was the best way for him to get across to them that he was going back to Heaven. But this is just adding epicycles (a particularly appropriate term here), when a far simpler and more parsimonious explanation is available: this isn't something that actually happened, and the reason it fits so neatly into the Ptolemaic universe and so awkwardly into ours is because Luke, who wrote this story down, wrongly believed in celestial spheres.

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Accordingly, complaints about how the main body of the Gospel account seem to have been written 50 - 100 years after the fact.

Or earlier. Acts cuts off, which makes it seem (along with Paul quoting Luke in 1 Timothy), that Luke was probably written by the mid 60s, 30 years or so after Christ's death.

Leaving aside the long debate over whether the 'suffering servant' is in fact a single messianic figure, a corporate representative, or something else

Yeah, I've heard the suggestion at some point that it's referring to Israel. Penal substitution seems clear enough to me in the passage that I can't see how that would make sense. Keep in mind I don't know Hebrew. And the identity might change within Isaiah, from passage to passage—I think one section probably referred to Cyrus, if I remember correctly.

An argument for a dichotomy between a resurrection being prophesied and it not being the sort of thing they'd make up.*

This is a good point. My impression, though, is that while a suffering and resurrecting Messiah is latent in the Jewish scriptures, it wasn't something that they were particularly aware of. Like, I don't think modern Jews really talk about that, even though it seems like it's in there, though of course some of that could be out of opposition to and distinguishing themselves from Christianity. They of course could have discovered it, but if it's not really in use, I think that objection loses most of its teeth.

But the synoptics also all plagiarize each other, so they aren't independent sources.

Of course. It seems likely to me that there'd be others though, in the actual history. If Paul isn't lying, then there are at least a bunch of claims that the resurrected Christ was witnessed at least somewhat publically (see 1 Corinthians 15), as well as a bunch of other apostles who were with Jesus. Since Paul actually was in Jerusalem sometimes, interacting with the apostles, even if only briefly, it seems unlikely to me that they would have deceived him only in this point—you'd have to assume an earlier conspiracy.

This was roughly what I was trying to use the 500 to support—that Paul thinks it was public. Presumably many of these people would still be alive and Christian, so there should be people he could actually point to, if he's not lying. And I see no reason why he'd lie—he seems sincere in his valuing Christ's resurrection as central, and I don't know especially why he'd feel the need to make up lies to defend that—he could just go along with those who say the resurrection in itself isn't too important if he's insincere. Others lying to him is more plausible.

It's not like there's any hostile testimony to the resurrection.

Well, of course. There is hostile testimony that the body's gone, though.

The main option in competition, to me, would seem to be the one arguing that the disciples stole the body. This doesn't make too much sense to me. Why would they all lie and do this, right after Jesus just died for his religious teaching? And then live out the rest of their lives based on this moment, preaching lies? They'd be desecrating a grave of one of their companions to die the same death, except this time knowingly based on lies. While also being theologically innovative, since it's not at all clear why stealing the body would be so important.

It also seems relatively unlikely that the gospel accounts would have women be the ones to have the lack body discovered first, if they were made up.

Pascal's wager fails because there are too many options*

You could say being a Christian of some kind is still better than being a non-believer, but since there are Christians who don't think non-believers necessarily go to hell, I'm not sure it really increases your chances all that much.

Yeah, this last bit is the only part that could get you out of Pascal's wager, I think. But you have to do better than "I'm not sure it really increases your chances all that much." It should have to be exactly 0 or negative, or the size of the reward or penalty will be enough to overcome any finite benefit or penalty. So you'd have to be committed to thinking that you'll be better off between all these worlds following none of them than any pro-Christianity course of action in any one of them. Given what the actual new testament seems to say (that no one can be saved except through Christ), I think that's less likely. Further, if anyone thinks non-believers don't necessarily go to hell, that's usually because they either think that those who didn't have a chance go to heaven (guess what, you've read this, you have a chance), or they think that good works, are sufficient, which would encourage pretty heavily some action on your part. At least, that's how that method to escape the wager seems to work to me.

Could you expand on your four main points?


*Summary put there for organizational purposes, not direct quotes

Yeah, I've heard the suggestion at some point that it's referring to Israel. Penal substitution seems clear enough to me in the passage that I can't see how that would make sense.

I've never really thought Isaiah 53 was especially evocative of crucifixion to begin with. It talks about someone being "crushed" and "pierced," but that right there encompasses just about all of the ways you could be violently killed in the ancient world. I think the passages could just as easily apply to anyone who has ever been unjustly murdered.

This is a good point. My impression, though, is that while a suffering and resurrecting Messiah is latent in the Jewish scriptures, it wasn't something that they were particularly aware of. Like, I don't think modern Jews really talk about that, even though it seems like it's in there, though of course some of that could be out of opposition to and distinguishing themselves from Christianity.

There are some early Jewish non-Christian messianic interpretations of the servant songs, so it wasn't entirely novel. To make this argument you'd have to thread the needle between "it's clear enough that we should be amazed at the prophetic powers of Isaiah" and "the prophecy is vague enough that someone like Peter or John couldn't have applied it to Jesus." I think it's extremely plausible that members of a small Jewish sect whose teacher has just been brutally executed would "search the scriptures" (the NT explicitly says they did this) and find this passage in Isaiah that talks about a righteous servant of God being unjustly killed, and decide it applies to their teacher.

Since Paul actually was in Jerusalem sometimes, interacting with the apostles, even if only briefly, it seems unlikely to me that they would have deceived him only in this point—you'd have to assume an earlier conspiracy.

The main option in competition, to me, would seem to be the one arguing that the disciples stole the body.

I don't think there was ever a conspiracy. I think Jesus was crucified, and some of his hardcore followers had visions of him after his death (hardly uncommon). Because Jesus had primed them to expect the general resurrection and the kingdom of God any day now, they interpreted these visions according to that framework, as proof that Jesus had been raised. This allowed them to maintain their belief that Jesus was the messiah (despite this having been apparently, and brutally, disconfirmed by his execution), and the kingdom and the resurrection were still coming. In fact, Jesus' resurrection was proof of the imminent general resurrection (that's why Paul calls him "first fruits"). Thus the movement's greatest failure was transmogrified into its greatest victory.

I don't think the story of Joseph of Arimathea's empty tomb is necessarily historical. Even in the gospels themselves you can see the story of the burial growing in the telling. In Mark the women get to the tomb and find the stone has already been rolled back, and an angel tells them Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee. In Matthew, they get there in time to see the action for themselves, the earthquake and the angel coming down from heaven and the terror of the guards (there are no guards in Mark). There's no reason to think the process of legendary accretion was not already going on prior to Mark's gospel. Most people who died--particularly criminals--were buried in ordinary graves in the earth, and IMO that's probably what happened to Jesus.

It should have to be exactly 0 or negative, or the size of the reward or penalty will be enough to overcome any finite benefit or penalty.

I think it's clear this breaks down somewhere. Guess what: God has decreed that if you don't paint your car pink, right now, you're going to Hell. I'm guessing you're not going to paint your car pink, probably because you know I just made it up for the sake of the argument, and you have absolutely no reason to believe it's true. Sure, it could be true. You can't 100% for sure prove it's not true. But clearly there is some minimum standard of evidence a threat of infinite torture has to meet before it is going to motivate us. So the question is whether Christianity (or Islam, or anything else) meets that standard.

Could you expand on your four main points?

  1. I gave one example here of how I think the New Testament assumes a false cosmology. I also think fundamentalists are quite right that the Bible teaches humans and all animal life were created in their present-day forms a couple thousand years ago. This was the nearly-unanimous opinion of all interpreters up until the modern period. To be a bit glib, I think theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists are coping. IMO you can accept the Biblical account, or the theory of evolution and the old age of the universe, but not both.

  2. With regards to inconsistencies in the scriptures, there's petty gotcha stuff like "aha! Matthew says Judas hanged himself, but Luke says he burst open and his guts spilled out!" but one thing that was really jarring to me was how vastly different the worldviews of the old and new testaments are. The New Testament is entirely concerned with resurrection and everlasting life. That's the whole point of the NT. The OT not only is not concerned with these things, it doesn't even have the concepts. With the exception of a single verse in Daniel (the latest book in the OT), there is no resurrection or afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. When you're dead, you're dead. There is no everlasting life, no hellfire, no heavenly bliss. Yahweh blesses and curses in this life. Your reward, if you're faithful, will be earthly prosperity and children to carry on your name. On the Christian view the resurrection and eternal life are the entire point of God's plan of history, but you'd never know that from the OT. There was some 19th century theologian who admitted that, going off of all the minutiae on ritual purity in the OT and the complete lack of information about the afterlife, one was forced to conclude that "Jehovah was more concerned with the hind parts of the Jews than with their souls." There is also, in the OT, no hint that God has some kind of cosmic enemy who is ultimately responsible for all the evil in the world. Satan does not exist for the authors of the OT (neither the serpent in Genesis nor 'the Satan' in Job are equivalent to the evil adversary from the NT). In the OT, Yahweh is generally responsible for everything, good and evil. There aren't any demons in the OT. The few times that 'evil spirits' appear, they are servants of Yahweh, not his enemies. In fact in literature from the intertestamental period you can chart the slow development of most of these doctrines, which IMO is much more consistent with an entirely human set of ideas slowly evolving and changing in response to shifting cultural conditions than it is with divine revelation.

  3. IMO the two most egregious examples are Jesus' and the early Christians expectation that the end was imminent, within a few decades at most, something that was clearly falsified by the end of the first century, and the similar prophecies of Daniel, a few centuries earlier, who very clearly predicted that God would supernaturally destroy Antiochus Epiphanes, and this would be immediately followed by the general resurrection and the end of the age, which also obviously didn't happen.

  4. I'm running out of characters but basically, Yahweh is a thoroughly typical god of the ancient Levant, often practically indistinguishable from Ba'al or El or Chemosh. He seems to have begun as a type of the Syrian storm god, same as Ba'al Hadad, though admittedly that far back sources get sparse. Later philosophers and theologians would impose Greek philosophical concepts like aseity, immutability, immateriality, and so on on the Biblical deity, but very little of that is actually there unless you read it in. Yahweh is a thoroughly human god, with thoroughly human passions and appetites. Like the other gods, he even eats sacrifices as his "food" (see Leviticus 21:6). If we say that Ba'al and Chemosh aren't real, it seems like special pleading to say that Yahweh is real and is also the God of the whole universe, despite the fact that he looks just like all the other gods people were worshipping in that time and place.

One last thing that doesn't neatly fit into these categories but was perhaps my single most shocking discovery when I first started looking into this stuff: so much of modern Christian theology is premised on a particular reading of Genesis 2-3, but when you actually read those chapters with fresh eyes and set aside several millennia's worth of Christian and Jewish interpretation, the classic Sunday school story of "the fall" simply isn't there. In brief; there is no indication Adam and Eve were ever created immortal, the serpent is not a fallen angel but simply an ordinary, if particularly crafty, "beast of the field" (the story doubles as an etiology for why snakes have no legs), there is no hint of anything like "original sin" (nor is there anywhere else in the OT), and most strikingly to me at least, the plain reading of the story is that the serpent tells the truth about the Tree of Knowledge.

Sure, you're correct that a crucifixion isn't obviously what's depicted here. I see the similarity more in a propitiatory and substitutionary sacrifice of a messiah. But yes, that does lower the closeness of the match compared to if the text were more explicit. Your point that it could just be an after-the-fact connection is stronger. I think that's less likely of the resurrection since it's unlikely that they'd just claim that, and the scriptural evidence is less manifest.

hardly uncommon

What would be uncommon, I would certainly assume, would be a group hallucination. Paul, the synoptics, John, all testify that he appeared to the twelve (well, to the eleven). Do you think that didn't happen, and they misremembered or misconveyed?

I don't think the story of Joseph of Arimathea's empty tomb is necessarily historical.

It's supported, though, by hostile testimony—the claim in response was that the body was stolen, not that he was never buried there. The simpler option for them to say, if he was never buried there, is just that he was never buried there. (Also, I'm not sure what mechanism would cause that to originate, if you both think that early Christians, including the twelve, were sincere, and the gospels are old.)

Even in the gospels themselves you can see the story of the burial growing in the telling.

I think that's a misreading of Matthew, for the simple reason of it doesn't explain how the body vanished. Rather I read it as that they came, then Matthew realized, Oh, wait, I wanted to talk about the guards and the tomb rolled away, he describes it from the perspective of the guards, and then resumes with the women—else it doesn't give Jesus an opportunity to walk out the tomb.

But clearly there is some minimum standard of evidence a threat of infinite torture has to meet before it is going to motivate us.

I think some of the reason is just that there are other infinites in play, and so you have to worry about them—it's not improbable that there are better ways to spend your time in pursuit of the ones you think relatively more worth concerning yourself about.

  1. Accomodation seems adequate for the other one. Yeah, old earth creationism of some form seems scientifically necessary but also isn't the easiest textually—the broad semantic meaning of day helps somewhat.

  2. There's a little more than nothing, for eternal life or a resurrection. Job 19:26, Isaiah 25:8, 26:19, Psalm 49:15, Hosea 13:14.

These are all earlier than Daniel. Admittedly they aren't much, and a few are arguable. If Sheol's considered a place, there's a lot more. But you're right that it's undeniable that that's not where the emphasis is put.

For demons, I'm inclined to think that the development is because of an increase in demonic activity at the time—it's unsurprising that this would lead to them playing a greater role. Yahweh's also responsible for everything in the new testament.

  1. Not especially familiar with Daniel. As to the new testament, well, it explicitly says a thousand years is like a day, so it internally moderates.

  2. Yahweh, at the very least, is different in the claim to be God over everything. Monotheism is different. I am who am seems to be hinting at something like aseity, even if not put exactly after that manner.

Sorry, the end especially was rushed.

What would be uncommon, I would certainly assume, would be a group hallucination. Paul, the synoptics, John, all testify that he appeared to the twelve (well, to the eleven). Do you think that didn't happen, and they misremembered or misconveyed?

I don’t think there were ever any group hallucinations. I think initially probably one or two or three people had (individual) visions of the risen Jesus, and the more spectacular stories in the gospels are the result of legendary accretion and invention years later. I have a sort of pet theory about what might have happened on/after Good Friday that I can share if you want (I started to write it out here but it got too long), though of course it is just speculation.

But for now, to see how an initially not-particularly-remarkable experience can snowball in memory (even something that took place before dozens of witnesses, even in the memories of those witnesses themselves), consider the ‘transfiguration of Brigham Young.’ To be very brief, this was an event in which Brigham Young supposedly demonstrated his right to succeed Joseph Smith as LDS prophet by giving a speech before the ‘saints’ at a camp meeting. While speaking before them, he was supernaturally transfigured so that he was identical to Joseph in speech and appearance.

The problem is that the earliest accounts, from weeks or months after the event, don’t mention this wonder. They talk about Young's speech, but with regards to the supposed miracle, they at most talk about “the mantle of the prophet” falling upon Young, or say that he appeared to take on Joseph’s mannerisms.

But within a few years/decades, dozens of people claimed to have witnessed firsthand the marvelous transformation. Some claimed only that the voice of Joseph came out of Brigham’s mouth, but many claimed that he literally took on the features of Joseph, a few even that a glowing light shone out from his face.

I don’t think any of these people were lying; I think over the years, they genuinely came to believe they had seen this miracle.

It's supported, though, by hostile testimony—the claim in response was that the body was stolen, not that he was never buried there.

Well, that’s what Matthew says the claim was. Was that what people in Jerusalem the morning after Easter Sunday were actually saying? Did anyone in the early months even care enough to dispute Christian claims? Maybe. Or maybe not. There’s no actual Jewish or pagan polemic against Christianity until Census 200 years later.

(Also, I'm not sure what mechanism would cause that to originate, if you both think that early Christians, including the twelve, were sincere, and the gospels are old.)

Depends on what you mean by “old.” I think they were written after AD 60. Thirty years, even twenty or ten, is more than enough time for stories and rumors to circulate and grow. “Jesus was buried” (Paul) easily becomes, “Jesus was buried in a fancy rock-cut tomb,” (Mark) easily becomes, “Jesus was buried in a fancy rock-cut tomb and the governor even set a watch on it!” (Matthew)

else it doesn't give Jesus an opportunity to walk out the tomb.

You’re assuming he has to. Elsewhere in the gospels the risen Jesus can teleport and walk through walls. Matthew may have even believed Jesus was assumed directly from the tomb up to Heaven. The rock seems to have been rolled away as much for the benefit of the witnesses as anything (“come and see the place where he was laid”).

Accomodation seems adequate for the other one.

I disagree. You can accommodate anything, but the more accommodations you have to swallow the less convincing the whole thing becomes. After I certain point for me, it becomes easier to just say the authors were wrong about things.

There's a little more than nothing, for eternal life or a resurrection.

There are a few verses here and there that look maybe-sort of resurrection-like if you squint, but I maintain the single verse in Daniel is the only clear articulation of this doctrine in the whole OT, which I think is surprising.

Yahweh's also responsible for everything in the new testament.

Yes but also no. From the NT down to the present day there is a tension between affirming that Yahweh is sovereign over everything but that also somehow, the evil spirits are genuinely his enemies and fighting against him in some real sense. The tension doesn’t exist in the OT. See the “lying spirit” Yahweh uses to deceive Ahab in 1 Kings 22 or the “evil spirit” he sends to torment Saul in 1 Samuel 16. These spirits aren't rebellious or anything like that, they’re just members of Yahweh’s heavenly court that do his “dirty work.” In the OT (with the exception of a few vague references to the defeat of the chaos monsters in primordial history, Yahweh’s enemies are always human).

Not especially familiar with Daniel.

The problem is mainly with the prophecy of the “King of the North” in Daniel 11. I didn’t want this post to be too long, but I can go into detail if you want.

well, it explicitly says a thousand years is like a day, so it internally moderates.

Jesus’ claims that “the generation” of his disciples would not pass away before the fulfillment of all things (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). He says some of his disciples will not “taste death” before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 16, Mark 9). In the olivet discourse he explicitly places the final judgment following the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul says that the time is so short that those who are married should live as unmarried, those who are mourning as if they were not, etc. (1 Corinthians 7). He also refers to himself and his generation as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10). The entire Book of Revelation is a promise that God is going to destroy the Roman Empire. Once you see the imminent apocalypticism in the NT IMO it’s hard to unsee it. It’s everywhere. John saying that “already the axe is at the root of the tree,” the epistles referring to their time as “the last days,” the periodic admonitions in Revelation that these are things “which must soon come to pass.”

Yes, there are apologetic answers to all of these problems, but I don’t find any of them particularly convincing, and again IMO the simplest answer with the greatest explanatory power is that Jesus and the early church expected the speedy wrap-up of history, and they were wrong. I actually think the famous “one day as a thousand years” line in 2 Peter, represents a very early example of apologetics on this precise issue. The author says that people have been mocking Christians, asking them, “where is the promise of his coming?” This of course would not have happened unless Christians were preaching the parousia as something in the imminent future, and now the author has to explain why that has not come about, hence the “thousand years” apologetic.

IMO this makes the constant promises of “soon” and “very near” and “at the door” throughout the NT meaningless. Okay, well that’s not human time, it’s God’s time. So why say it? Why this sense of urgency? Might as well have said “not very soon,” “pretty far away” and “it’s gonna be a while.” This would have been significantly less misleading to 1st century Christians, who presumably thought “soon” meant “soon.”

Monotheism is different.

More and more I think “monotheism” and “polytheism” are not especially useful categories.

In Assyria, Assur was called “God beyond gods,” “the lord of all lands” who “fashioned the vault of heaven and earth.” Enlil in Sumeria is called “the god of all the foreign lands” who “alone is exalted.” In Egypt Amun is “lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest existence, ancient of heaven” and “the one, maker of all that is.” Even Zeus, who is often thought of as being simply a guy on a mountaintop with superpowers, was often viewed in a much more exalted way. See Cleanthes’ hymn to Zeus written 300 years before Christ, which calls him “ever omnipotent,” and says that “the whole universe” obeys him and “all the works of nature” happen by the power of his thunderbolt. “Not a single thing that is done on earth happens” without him and it is even said that man “bears his likeness.” Yet the religions of the Greeks, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians, are never considered “monotheistic,” while Israelite religion is, although this is the exact same sort of language that is regularly applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. It’s not supposed to be rigorous theology, it’s just “praise language,” a way to say “my god is great.”

“I am that I am” is a strange passage. It might be more like “I will be who I will be,” not a philosophical statement of divine self-sufficiency but a deflection; “none of your business what my name is.”

More comments

The hardest part about Christianity is that all of the evidence points to a Pharisee who never met Jesus exploiting his death and fashionable Jewish apocalypticism onto disaffected Romans which he felt compelled to do after hallucinating that he saw the heavenly Jesus alone in a cave somewhere. Do I believe his hallucination was a secret revelation given to him by the heavenly body of Jesus himself? No.

If a miracle happens somewhere, you've piqued my interest and I'd be curious to follow up on it. If it turns out the miracle was a rumor spread by a guy who saw it in a hallucinatory vision, I move on pretty quickly.

You'll have to flesh this out. Assuming you're talking about Paul as your pharisee, this is manifestly incorrect, if you think Galatians is Pauline (which all the scholars do, not just the Christian ones)—he explicitly refers to the other, earlier, apostles, who actually interacted with Jesus. Or do you really think only Paul really mattered in getting us Christianity?

He interacted with the other apostles but only a apparently few times and mostly seemed to be doing his own thing with the gentiles, and they eventually seemed to be very conflicted with him over retaining Jewish law etc. I think a lot of that gets papered over in the bible to make Paul look more broadly accepted and integrated them. But just looking at the history, the whole Jewish movement in Christianity got wiped out with the persecution of Jews in Rome, and all that appears left from the original Jesus movement is the Q source and the book of James, neither of which back Paul's claims of the heavenly Jesus or heavenly apocalypse.

Which is to say, all that's left from the original Jesus movement is certain moral teachings and miracles. If that's all Christianity was I could actually see myself engaging with it as a way of integrating with a positive moral community. But the heavenly Christ mythology which every Christian is expected to believe all comes from the one guy (and the direct followers of his school of thought) who never met Jesus in real life, and there's no way I'll ever be able to buy that.

It's not just Paul. Neither the synoptics nor the Johannine texts look the same as Paul's style and emphases. Paul doesn't talk about the kingdom of God the way you see in Mark (note, neither Q nor James).

Also, assuming Acts 15 has some basis in history, they ultimately settled on the same thing regarding Jewish practices. And I'll note that the Judaizers described in Galatians, Corinth, etc. do not incite Paul to write about differences in Christology or devotion to Christ, which seems fairly relevant in evaluating whether a "heavenly Christ" is uniquely Pauline.

which he felt compelled to do after hallucinating that he saw the heavenly Jesus alone in a cave somewhere.

Saul the Pharisee was on the road in a group of his compatriots, on their way to go arrest some heretics, when he was (quite famously) blinded publicly by Jesus and sent to a Christian to be healed. Luke, Paul’s companion and archivist, wrote of it thrice in Acts. Now, whether it was:

  • a genuine miracle of Saul’s eyesight being stolen by Jesus (who once made a guy new eyeballs from mud and spit, according to some interpretations of the Gospels, so clearly He’s the expert on eyes),
  • some hypnotic trance he fell into on the road to Damascus which was based on cognitive dissonance and resolved by being touched by one of the men he would have arrested,
  • a migraine-based hallucination, or a seizure, or a micro-stroke, or some other medical incident he took as a sign,
  • a UFO (aliens or time travelers) showing up and hitting him with a conversion ray of some sort, or
  • a made-up incident in a made-up book,

it certainly wasn’t Saul alone in a cave somewhere getting a mystic vision from sensory deprivation, volcanic gases, or fermented elderberries.

Well he was "alone" in that he continually claims he received the vision alone, it was a direct experience with Christ that he didn't share with anyone else. I don't know why I remembered it as a cave, I may have just be confused on that.

Well he was "alone" in that he continually claims he received the vision alone, it was a direct experience with Christ that he didn't share with anyone else. I don't know why I remembered it as a cave, I may have just be confused on that.

You probably confused him with Mohammed.

Let's say that all that argumentation fails. There still seem to be reasons that it might be a sensible thing to adhere to, even if you think it's relatively unlikely. Pascal's wager is formidable, for one.

Pascal's wager is terrible because infinite rewards break game theory.

Suppose I ask you to give me $10 and in exchange I will reward you with $10000. Should you take this wager? To answer this question you could estimate the probability p that I'm telling the truth and calculate the expected value of the wager: 10000p - 10(1-p). If it is positive you should pay, if it isn't you shouldn't. It's unlikely that you will be able to prove that p=0 but it also doesn't matter, as long as you estimate it to be low enough that all you need to know.

But suppose I promise you an infinite reward for your $10. The condition is now ∞p - 10(1-p) > 0 which is always true if p > 0. So, as long as you can't call me a liar certainly you have to enter the wager. What's worse this is independent of the entry price. As long as I ask for a finite price, no matter how large, you have to pay it.

What does this mean? Either we should reject all wagers that involve infinite rewards (because otherwise we would have to take all of them) or, if we choose not to, we are lucky that there are multiple incompatible religion. Because taking one religion's wager means rejecting many other and some of the other will have infinite punishments for rejecting them all of the wagers are undecidable and we are free to choose whichever we want or reject all of them.

Also I wanted to point out how bizarre the entry about the wager in the pensées is: it ends with a note that, if this argument (the wager) isn't enough to convince you to believe you should then go to mass every day and the monotonous repetition of the liturgy will make you as stupid as a beast and then you will be able to believe. It seems unexplicably blasphemous to me.

Rejecting infinite wagers doesn't suffice, you'd still need to worry about graham's-number wagers.

The correct thing would seem to orient yourself around one of the possible infinite rewards—work out what credibly is the best, weigh competing infinite positives and negatives, etc. I'm not sure what the math would entail, but I don't see why they'd all cancel out.

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" thing going on with Christianity in this sub.

Yes, a single day does not go by without someone making a sneering remark about Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and various forms of Paganism, but for some strange reason no one want to touch Christianity.

This is sarcastic right? I can't tell.

Yes, of course.

While I could understand the idea that people here have grown softer on religion in general - a process I observed in myself, and which I think I can even defend in debate - I think it's ridiculous to claim we're soft on Christianity in particular.

Shhhhh! You can't let the outsiders know about the secret Vatican agreement to fund this site in exchange for pushing Christianity on the unaware readers! Amadan is secretly a monsignor and his and my interactions are only to keep up the pretence!

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" sort of thing going on with Christianity in this sub.

You can't even debate a vatnik out of their belief that Ukrainians deserve to be bombed, I've tried that. Convincing a Christian to abandon their beliefs by debating them in an even more futile exercise. Can't push them out, have to pull them in.

Keep in mind that a large fraction of this sub experienced early-2000s atheism first- or maybe secondhand. For reasons Scott has discussed it ended up incredibly uncool. The willingness to skip over familiar arguments has quite a bit to do with that.

And the rest of the sub generally does not direct the same kind of object level skeptical analysis towards Christianity that it does towards woke beliefs like "disparate outcomes between men/women or whites/blacks are mainly caused by oppression".

I think another reason for this is that if you really want to read object level sceptical analysis of Christianity you can just go look it up - there's tons of that stuff out there, and a lot of it is fairly high quality. Additionally, it isn't like you can actually test a lot of Christian claims without dying, which has the unfortunate side-effect of preventing you from confirming whether it was the Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox, Arians, Gnostics, Lutherans, Protestants, Anglicans or Baha'i who were right (and of course there are theories that you end up with whatever afterlife you're expecting to get, which if true would even make that experiment inconclusive). Woke claims on the other hand, don't require dealing with the supernatural. You can just look at the statistics, perform experiments, evaluate your own lived experience in the world etc and notice the issues with woke theories. Furthermore, the number of places you can actually criticise these theories is substantially more limited - so I'm not surprised at all by the relative amounts of object level scepticism towards Christianity/wokeness.

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" thing going on with Christianity in this sub.

I think most of us don't want to restage The Wars Of Religion, Part Deux on here. If OP says "Christians are all idiots" okay, I'm not going to come back with "and you too!" because this is not worth getting into the fight over.

There are things I would fight over when it comes to religion, but Yet Another Euphoric announcing their euphoria isn't novel enough or challenging enough to ding the bell for me.

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" thing going on with Christianity in this sub.

This is exactly it. It's supremely ironic that the same politeness and détente I have with my family is reflected here. But by asserting there's a limit as to how much I'll be insulted and pushed by Christians then the mask clearly falls off.

Yes I'm attacking the sacred cows, jokingly, in my post. But just say "Big Bang" and walk away, don't fly off the handle.

But instead of resolving it (either by severing the two sides, or by rejecting Christianity entirely if doing so is infeasible), this sub... tries to ignore it as much as possible. This sub pretends it doesn't exist, and then gets really conspicuously oversensitive whenever someone reminds them of it.

Well, now and then it comes up, but we have actually managed a detente here that the outside world has not: the atheists won't sneer at the Christians, and the Christians won't wag their fingers about Jesus and hell. (When that detente gets broken, as happened recently, you are likely to get modded.) Nobody wants this place to become either a platform for evangelizing or /r/atheism.

That Christianity gets treated with the kid gloves here is a blatant double-standard. The modding happens because the Christians don't even bother trying to defend their superstitions since they know they'll get trounced, so instead they fight with oversensitive interpretations of the rules (declaring anodyne statements to be "unnecessarily antagonistic", "bad faith", stuff like that).

Nobody wants this place to become either a platform for evangelizing or /r/atheism.

This forum should be open grounds to challenge any view.

When you try to claim that Christianity gets treated with kid gloves, you get bland shoulder shrugs and some upvotes. When you point out that actually, it's atheism that is treated with kid gloves, you get banned. The modding happens because atheists don't even bother trying to defend their absolute bollocks metaphysics since they know they'll get trounced, so instead they fight with oversensitive interpretations of the rules (declaring that actually responding to people's questions is "obnoxious" and "unnecessarily antagonistic").

If anything in this forum is 'sacred' in the language of Robin Hanson, it is atheism. It shall not mix with the profane things, like arguments about the culture war.

As a Very Religious Person I think you're a bit off-base here. Your parody post was much less well-written than the original, in addition to secretly being a parody. "consider the idea that methodological constraints actually are a metaphysical theory, or further implying that shoes are atheists."--I don't even know what this means or where this comes from.

If it had been either higher quality or more up-front about its nature you would have been fine.

My biggest mistake was overestimating both the philosophical knowledge and the Internet Atheist meme history knowledge of the community. (The former bit is from world famous philosopher Rene Girard. The latter bit came from the Internet Atheism Wars, and I suppose it would be vastly more well-recognized ten to fifteen years ago. I guess I'm getting old now.)

...but, of course, that's not the reason that was given for the modding! And perhaps even more importantly, it's completely inapplicable to this modding. What is your hypothesis for why I'm off-base this time? Was it less well-written than the original? Was it secret that it was a parody? Did I make reference to something that completely confused you and made you have no idea where it came from? What's the problem now?

Am I missing something? You're just referring to the modding where a mod called out your characterization of the previous action, right? I'd hardly called that modding at all.

Maybe I'm wrong, and @Amadan can correct me if I'm wrong. But I read:

But if you're really looking for another ban to whine about, do this again.

And I thought that the implication was that there was something wrong with this comment.

Do you think that the only problem was my "characterization" of the previous action? If so, that would be pretty incredible, in my mind, because not to put to fine a point on it, I disagree with their chosen characterization of the previous action. I have also been told that it will not be "relitigated". Point of fact is that it has actually never been "litigated" a first time! There was just a ban, and then nothing. We could just continue on having different characterizations of the past. We could have a discussion to clarify and come to a reasonably joint characterization. What I think is not really something we can do is simply to declare that any characterization I give that is not simply quoting something that I disagree with is a bannable offense because I supposedly "know perfectly well" that my own opinion has magically been declared wrong without discussion, such that even having a different opinion is "lying" about it.

I mean, it is within @Amadan's prerogative to simply declare that my perspective is bannable without discussion, but I think that should be explicitly stated as such. And it should be abundantly clear that this is what is happening, rather than that I am "lying" about something I supposedly "know perfectly well".

EDIT: In fact, it would be perfectly useful if this were declared. Because right now, I think it's apparent that there is total confusion as to what Amadan is going for. Like I said:

Was it less well-written than the original? Was it secret that it was a parody? Did I make reference to something that completely confused you and made you have no idea where it came from? What's the problem now?

It would be helpful to know that these are not the problem, if that is the case. For example, is it bannable to adjust wording in someone's argument in order to demonstrate that the form of an argument can be applied to a different set of particulars, implying a conclusion that is different from the expectation of one's interlocutor? If so, it would be extremely valuable to know this. I was under the impression that such argumentative method has been well-established since Plato's time, so if it is unacceptable here, I just want a clear statement, so that I know what to avoid in the future. Right now, I have absolutely no bloody clue what the actual problem is.

More comments

When you try to claim that Christianity gets treated with kid gloves, you get bland shoulder shrugs and some upvotes. When you point out that actually, it's atheism that is treated with kid gloves, you get banned.

Right there in the link that you helpfully provided is the reason why you were banned, along with proof that what I accused you of doing when I banned you was correct. So you know perfectly well that the reason why you were banned is not what you're claiming.

"Pointing out that actually, it's atheism that is treated with kid gloves" is not something you get banned for. Antagonism, disingenuously rewording someone else's post without being open about what you're doing, and posting in blatant bad faith (or, not to put too fine a point on it, lying about why you were banned), on the other hand...

I suspect you posted this message just so you could get banned and add that to your list of injustices. You've been more or less well-behaved since that last ban, and you've posted a few AAQCs, which suggests maybe I should cut you some slack, despite my reflex to just give you what you want. But if you're really looking for another ban to whine about, do this again.

I have been around long enough to know that 95% of the time, "It's holistic," means, "It's bullshit." Interestingly, I've even seen this attempted in peer review. Thankfully, the Editor in Chief didn't buy it and told the academic janny to do a better job. He needed something real, specific, and actionable.

You wrote:

No one post is terrible, but most of them are obnoxious and unnecessarily antagonistic.

Point me to one. Make it something specific. Something real. Something actionable. Something that can actually be put into practice to improve future posting. Without something, the most likely conclusion is, "Atheism is the sacred at The Motte."

Notice that last time, your complaint was that I didn't make it obvious enough that I was riffing off something. [EDIT for appropriate bold:] This time, that is exceedingly obvious. Last time, you complained about me responding to follow-on questions. This time, I have said nothing else up to this point. Give me something real. Something actual. Something actionable.

This is neither a court of law nor an academic journal, and we're not relitigating your last ban. You can conclude whatsoever you please; people claim lots of things.

I asked about this time. But just like when you mod comments, you sometimes make notes about how there is parsimony with prior comments by the offender... when we "litigate" this modding, it would be helpful if the mod comments are parsimonious with prior mod comments.

I actually remember your post. You got banned because you took someone else's post, inverted a bunch of the language without telling people, posted it as your own, and then started sneering in the replies. There was a moderator post detailing most of that among the replies.

I remember you, too.

My version brought data.

This forum should be open grounds to challenge any view.

At the risk of getting modded for "waging the culture war", go ahead, challenge away. Show us what you've got.

That's not how it really works. The atheist view is typically a response to Christian arguments, not a pre-emptive strike declaring 100% certainty that no gods exist.

You seem to be confusing atheist with agnostic.

There's no such thing as a dictionary-definition Atheist. Nobody can prove god doesn't exist, when those who say He does can shift His definition to fit reality.

An Atheist is an agnostic who's 99% certain that the common conceptions of any God made by humans is not real.

According to most progressives there's no such thing as "wokism" or "the deep state" either but that doesn't mean you don't know exactly what im talking about.

An Atheist is an agnostic who's 99% certain that the common conceptions of any God made by humans is not real.

By that definition, atheists are perfectly orthodox religious believers, or have you really never heard of the way of negation/apophatic theology? Usually summed up as "We cannot say what God is, only what God is not".

Ironically, in view of the comment about angeology, our friend Pseudo-Dionysius was one of those:

Pseudo Dionysius describes the kataphatic or affirmative way to the divine as the "way of speech": that we can come to some understanding of the Transcendent by attributing all the perfections of the created order to God as its source. In this sense, we can say "God is Love", "God is Beauty", "God is Good". The apophatic or negative way stresses God's absolute transcendence and unknowability in such a way that we cannot say anything about the divine essence because God is so totally beyond being. The dual concept of the immanence and transcendence of God can help us to understand the simultaneous truth of both "ways" to God: at the same time as God is immanent, God is also transcendent. At the same time as God is knowable, God is also unknowable. God cannot be thought of as one or the other only.

God's appearance to Moses in the burning bush was often elaborated on by the Early Church Fathers, especially Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395), realizing the fundamental unknowability of God; an exegesis which continued in the medieval mystical tradition. Their response is that, although God is unknowable, Jesus as person can be followed, since "following Christ is the human way of seeing God."

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) was an early proponent of apophatic theology. Clement holds that God is unknowable, although God's unknowability, concerns only his essence, not his energies, or powers. According to R.A. Baker, in Clement's writings the term theoria develops further from a mere intellectual "seeing" toward a spiritual form of contemplation. Clement's apophatic theology or philosophy is closely related to this kind of theoria and the "mystic vision of the soul." For Clement, God is transcendent and immanent. According to Baker, Clement's apophaticism is mainly driven not by Biblical texts, but by the Platonic tradition. His conception of an ineffable God is a synthesis of Plato and Philo, as seen from a Biblical perspective. According to Osborne, it is a synthesis in a Biblical framework; according to Baker, while the Platonic tradition accounts for the negative approach, the Biblical tradition accounts for the positive approach. Theoria and abstraction is the means to conceive of this ineffable God; it is preceded by dispassion.

The two words can be used interchangeably in some cases. Most atheists are agnostic by design, while most Christians are gnostic. It's usually Christians making the first claims.

Well my, my, isn't that a convenient restatement of the position? "Oh yeah I totally could take you with one hand tied behind my back, but I have to go water my hydrangeas right now!"

Isn't that "fighting with oversensitive interpretations of the rules", Benny-ben?

Benny-ben

Don't do that.

Fair point. But when someone comes in all pigeon-pouter chest about "my philosophy can wipe the floor with yours", then collapses back into "no, your philosophy has gotta start it first, else I'm not justified in throwing the first punch!", it eggs me on to be Condescending Auntie.

Well my, my, isn't that a convenient restatement of the position? "Oh yeah I totally could take you with one hand tied behind my back, but I have to go water my hydrangeas right now!"

No, this is a blatant strawman of my position. I'm saying I'm not a gnostic atheist here.

Benny-ben?

Come now.

Aw, but you make me want to ruffle your hair and pinch your adorable chubby cheeks, little Ben with your "My dad can take your dad!" attitude!

Sorry. I'm being annoying. Apologies for that.

That Christianity gets treated with the kid gloves here is a blatant double-standard.

How has Christianity been treated with kid gloves here?

so instead they fight with oversensitive interpretations of the rules (declaring anodyne statements to be "unnecessarily antagonistic", "bad faith", stuff like that).

Their interpretations of the rules don't matter. The mods' do.

This forum should be open grounds to challenge any view.

You're allowed to challenge Christianity, like any other view. But "LOL Christians and their Invisible Sky Fairy" will be treated the same as low-effort sneering at any other view.

You are allowed to criticize Islam and you are allowed to criticize Christianity. If Islam has fewer defenders here, it's because there are fewer of them. That's a function of what people are willing to write about, not what we do or don't allow.

Say you told a story where they were making snide passive-aggressive remarks implying you were racist.

Except in this case, OP really is a racist. OP is not religious, thinks it's all nonsense, and only goes along with it for his wife and thinks his kids will junk it as soon as they're old enough. The in-law asking about the agnosticism may be an asshole, but they're not making a false claim. He is agnostic and indeed atheist.

In your example, we would indeed be racists and be going "why are these dumb progressives trying to get me to accept N-words are just as good as me? I'm willing to pretend I go along with their horseshit because I like fucking my wife*, why are they really trying to persuade me to stop being racist?"

*His own wording, not mine.

I'm willing to pretend I go along with their horseshit because I like fucking my wife

Is an extremely uncharitable reframing. My throwaway and silly line seems to be what many people, and you in particular, are centered on, so let's address the elephant in the room.

Did I, in fact, steal a high-quality Christian woman from her probable marriage to another Catholic? Sure - and my response to angst over that is Deal With It. The godly dating pool should have provided more men who actually help with kids, can hold a conversation / make a joke, and cook every once in a while instead of laying around in front of the TV.

The analogs to interracial marriage are plentiful. Your daughter can marry an black atheist, but only if he agrees to never bring up race submit completely to your belief system. You're not a bigot, honest, but you've seen too many horror stories of women being left as single mothers realizing that they've been lied to by hypocrites.

The godly dating pool should have provided more men who actually help with kids, can hold a conversation / make a joke, and cook every once in a while instead of laying around in front of the TV.

The gender gap is very interesting. Seems like religious women will very often need to settle for a man either much less religious, or somewhat less religious and also much less impressive than they are.

That has been my experience. Men can also be in the same position too but it's far less common. They end up becoming more religious, or at least saying they are, much later in life.

~3% of the women in my dating pool were agnostic. It was never practical for me to require that in partners.

So in my initial reading of your post, I missed that an in-law confronted your father. I though it was a member of your own family. That is pretty wild to say the least, and an unhelpful approach to any conversation of weight. You have all my sympathies there.

At the same time, if you're response to the others who disagree with your behavior is Deal With It, expect to be returned the same when seeking sympathy that others are behaving ways you don't agree with.

It was a silly line and you probably shouldn't have included it if you wanted to be taken seriously.

If you just wanted to complain about your dumb in-laws, as a humorous piece, okay but you sounded too serious for that.

You wanted to marry this particular woman, and these were the conditions. Would you be doing strikeouts if it read:

Your daughter can marry a wifebeater, but only if he agrees to never hit her. You're not a bigot, honest, but you've seen too many horror stories of women being abused within intimate partnerships.

The choice, ultimately, was up to you and her. If agreeing to the Catholic conditions was too much, you could have decided not to marry her. If she wanted to marry you but you didn't want to agree, then she could have agreed not to have the church wedding and not baptise the kids.

Both of you made compromises, and while I can't speak for her, you seem to have indeed gone into it with your fingers crossed behind your back; yeah I'm gonna say I agree but I really don't. I'm happy to lie to people in order to get what I want.

I think we're all getting caught up on that, as distinct from your larger point that you're an atheist and not going to change on that. On that point, your in-law is out of order. The rest of it, which you introduced, is about you wanting to eat your cake and have it.

This is.... precisely why I posted it. I appreciate you catching it!

Do individuals relations need to be so strongly hyphenated with the zeitgeist. With individual relations, everything is negotiable.

Just talk to them. Make your boundaries known without having an explosion. Tell them in clear words that this behavior is not acceptable. Be ready to erect boundaries if need be. Talk to your wife before you do anything. Ideally, she will take care of it for you.

get his family into heaven

That being said, I struggle to make sense of people who are logical about everything except religion. Not so much about the existence of God or the social technology that is religion. I mean religion as the arbitrary yet oddly specific rituals that can make or break your entry into heaven.

It is one thing to delude yourself for comfort or to believe in the social value of religion. But, to live in a world of Science in 2023 and to think that the specific sub-set of rules outlined by your pastor will get you into "Christian heaven" is some proper hypocrisy. By definition, if these people believe in the power of these specific rituals to get you into heaven, then don't 99% of all living humans go to not-heaven. (hell?). Even if these in-laws are right, then surely a place where 99% of people go after death, can't be THAT bad.

I know, "2005 called, they want their Christopher Hitchens rants back". But still, do these people never reflect on what they believe in ? Even for a moment ?

I find people who are unable to fathom how an intelligent person could be a Christian have often never engaged with any Christian apologetics, and often don't even really know any Christians in real life. I think Christianity is false, but I don't think you have to be stupid or willfully ignorant to believe in it.

I can agree that they're not stupid, but willful ignorance? Absolutely.

A God that doesn't do anything else except set up a clockwork universe and then fuck off and never intervenes where anyone can see it isn't an entity worth worshipping.

Cue apologetics about how if God was obvious, then there would be no need for "faith", which is absolutely howl-worthy when you consider how convenient it was that there were clear and obvious miracles right up till the point we could properly document and examine them.

That is willful ignorance, for all that they're drinking their own kool-aid. At some point a rational entity who hasn't fucked their own priors sees that an explanation without a million epicycles that reduced to God doesn't really do anything is better stated as God not existing.

A God that doesn't do anything else except set up a clockwork universe and then fuck off and never intervenes where anyone can see it isn't an entity worth worshipping.

The variant that persuaded me actually came from the Atheists, who asserted that a God who attempts to secure your love through threats of eternal torture is a monster. That seemed like a pretty good argument to me, along with the obvious-when-you-think-about-it point that if a God existed, and if he wanted us to know he existed, we'd simply have the unalterable knowledge baked in. Of course, if we knew for a certainty that he existed, then the promise of heaven and the threat of hell would be dispositive, even if Hell is the absence of God and a choice we make, etc, etc. On the other hand, if God existed, and wanted us to choose to love him of our own free will, the only way that works is if we get to choose whether or not to believe in him as well. In that case, leaving his existence plausible but ambiguous makes perfect sense, together with Hell as the absence of God and a choice we make, etc, etc. It fits even better if you presume annihilationism is correct, and the people who reject God get exactly what they're expecting: death, and then non-existence.

In any case, the chain of logic seems simple: God wants to share love with people. It's not love unless it's freely chosen. The choice is permanent, and the choice being offered is better than it not being offered. Certain knowledge of the consequences of the choice corrupt the free nature of the choice. Given those constraints, blinding the choice is the obvious way forward.

  1. What about the all the times that he made himself glaringly obvious? The whole infinite bread and fishes, walking on water type of deal. A bit rich to claim that we're supposed to live in ambiguity, while also holding that God made himself pretty clear on the matter, sadly before we had camcorders and youtube, or the Scientific Method.
  2. I bundle this line of argument into the whole epicycles upon epicycles deal. Christianity claims mutually inconsistent and contradictory attributes of a singular entity, and then does their best to reconcile the irreconcilable, whereas someone who didn't take the existence of God as axiomatic can simply look at the broader picture and conclude that it doesn't exist.
  3. An omnibenevolent entity wouldn't create a Hell, let alone one that's also omniscient and omnipotent so it knows with perfect certainty where we're going to end up.

What about the all the times that he made himself glaringly obvious? The whole infinite bread and fishes, walking on water type of deal.

Walking on water was only seen by Christ's disciples, who had already chosen to follow him. Would you consider bread and fishes glaringly obvious? I wouldn't.

More generally, Christ was very clear and intentional most of the time about keeping his miracles secret. When he raised people from the dead he generally allowed 1-2 people in to see it, if any. There are a few exceptions, but the general rule is that ambiguity is better for our moral development.

A bit rich to claim that we're supposed to live in ambiguity, while also holding that God made himself pretty clear on the matter

Pretty clear is not perfectly clear. Evidence of God is not a stepwise function. The more evidence you have, the more moral responsibility you have too. Some ambiguity is still present even when the evidence is overwhelming.

Christianity claims mutually inconsistent and contradictory attributes of a singular entity, and then does their best to reconcile the irreconcilable, whereas someone who didn't take the existence of God as axiomatic can simply look at the broader picture and conclude that it doesn't exist.

You make two arguments here:

  1. Christians holds God's existence as axiomatic, which leads them astray

  2. It is evident that God doesn't exist

2 is debatable. 1 is just dirty rhetorical tactics. Christians obviously do not hold the existence of God as axiomatic, or none would ever leave the church. If you can change your mind about an axiom based on evidence then it's not an axiom. Characterizing belief-in-God as axiomatic is just shorthand for "how dare they disagree with me even though I think they're wrong." More importantly, epicycles are a perfectly rational way of explaining a phenomenon given sufficient evidence for that phenomenon. The laws of physics as currently understood contain just as many epicycles, if not more.

An omnibenevolent entity wouldn't create a Hell, let alone one that's also omniscient and omnipotent so it knows with perfect certainty where we're going to end up.

You continue to make this claim without engaging with counterarguments. Even in this thread, @FCfromSSC directly defined hell as "the absence of God" which is quite a bit different from how you characterize it here (as a place God sends people).

It's perfectly consistent for God to value agency above all else, especially since it's agency that gives meaning to moral virtue. It's perfectly consistent to suppose that if God did create people who were incapable of evil, he would not be granting them agency at all.

More generally, Christ was very clear and intentional most of the time about keeping his miracles secret. When he raised people from the dead he generally allowed 1-2 people in to see it, if any. There are a few exceptions, but the general rule is that ambiguity is better for our moral development.

OK. Now do the whole Old Testament.

Christians obviously do not hold the existence of God as axiomatic, or none would ever leave the church.

I'm using axiomatic to include priors with a probability of both 1 and 1-epsilon. Mathematicians regularly employ axioms, yet are open to reconsidering what they consider axiomatic if the downstream consequences are conflicting or nonsensical, they consider adjusting their upstream assumptions.

Who knows how the brain actually encodes Bayesian priors (it actually does do that, as best as we can tell), it might not be possible for a prior in the brain to be literally one or zero, but observational evidence tells me some people get close, and no amount of evidence anyone can feasibly muster can move them.

Frankly speaking that you even consider point 2 to even be up for debate given most reasonable starting priors, is strong evidence of point 1. What exactly would it take to convince you that God doesn't exist?

It's perfectly consistent for God to value agency above all else, especially since it's agency that gives meaning to moral virtue. It's perfectly consistent to suppose that if God did create people who were incapable of evil, he would not be granting them agency at all.

The whole omniscience part makes the concept of "agency" rather dubious doesn't it? Ah yes, I know perfectly well in advance if you're going to take the red pill or the blue pill, sucks that you're with 100% certainty going to take the one I've laced with cyanide. On you kid, L+ratio.

I asked Bing what the general consensus about what Hell actually is is the myriad strains of Christianity. Said consensus apparent doesn't exist.

According to the web search results, there are three common views on hell in Christian theology: Traditionalism, Universalism, and Annihilationism1

Traditionalism is the view that the unredeemed dead suffer for all eternity in flames of fire. This is the most widely recognized view and is often depicted in popular culture. Some biblical texts that support this view are Matthew 25:41, Revelation 14:11, and Revelation 20:101

Universalism is the view that there is no eternal dwelling place for the unredeemed dead. Instead, all people will end up living with God for eternity. This view emphasizes God’s love and mercy and believes that everyone will eventually repent and accept God. Some biblical texts that support this view are John 3:16, Romans 5:18, and 1 Timothy 4:102

Annihilationism is the view that the unredeemed dead will ultimately cease to exist so that only the redeemed will live with God in eternity. This view holds that eternal punishment is incompatible with God’s justice and goodness and that some people will persist in rejecting God. Some biblical texts that support this view are Matthew 10:28, Romans 6:23, and 2 Thessalonians 1:92

I don't see Hell as the "absence of God" as a mainstream position, and given that it clearly seems to me that he's on an extended vacation, if this counts as Hell, then call me a happy sinner.

Besides, the number of epicycles that a theory is allowed to hold before it ought to be rejected is clearly a function of how useful said theory is at predicting experimental results and constraining expectations. The Standard Model of Physics does an awful lot better at predicting the nature and evolution of the universe than the Bible does, so we can tack on Dark Matter or Dark Energy with the clear knowledge that something must be missing in our understanding.

Now do the whole Old Testament.

All the people in the Old Testament are constantly denying God, worshipping idols, etc. even after seeing miracles. Obviously the evidence they saw was still ambiguous or they wouldn't be doing those things.

I'm using axiomatic to include priors with a probability of both 1 and 1-epsilon.

1-epsilon still doesn't address the people that leave the church, it just sounds like it does.

observational evidence tells me some people get close, and no amount of evidence anyone can feasibly muster can move them.

This is a good thing and is how evidence should work. If something is true, it should be difficult to dissuade someone. If someone has seen lots of evidence for something over the course of their life, of course counterbalancing that evidence will also require quite a lot of work, possibly more than anyone can feasibly muster. Being confident in a belief is not the same thing as adopting that belief as an axiom.

Mathematicians regularly employ axioms, yet are open to reconsidering what they consider axiomatic if the downstream consequences are conflicting or nonsensical, they consider adjusting their upstream assumptions.

Either you're wrong or they use a different definition of "axiom" than the commonly accepted one. Like I said, if your axioms depend on evidence, they're not axioms at all. Sounds like their actual axioms are something like "truth must be consistent", and the things you describe as axioms would be better characterized as useful assumptions. There is no such thing as a downstream axiom--it's either an axiom or it's not one.

I don't see Hell as the "absence of God" as a mainstream position

To be honest none of those Bing options really address that; they're more concerned with the ultimate fate of people who get sent to Hell, not the nature of what Hell is. This is obvious enough that I question why you even included that point. I asked Bing "please describe a few commonly-held beliefs regarding the nature of christian hell" and on my first try got a much better response:

Sure, I can describe some of the commonly-held beliefs regarding the nature of Christian hell. According to Wikipedia1, hell in Christianity is the place or state into which, by God’s definitive judgment, unrepentant sinners pass in the general judgment, or, as some Christians believe, immediately after death (particular judgment). Different words are used in the Bible to refer to hell, such as Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Tartarus. These words may have different meanings and connotations depending on the context and the translation.

Some of the beliefs about hell in Christianity include:

Hell is a place of eternal torments where the wicked suffer physical and spiritual pain in fire and darkness (cf. Matthew 25:41-46; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10-15). This is the traditional view held by most Catholics and Protestants for centuries2 Hell is a place of annihilation where the wicked cease to exist after being consumed by fire (cf. Matthew 10:28; Malachi 4:1-3). This is a view held by some Christians who reject the idea of eternal punishment as incompatible with God’s justice and love2

Hell is a place of separation from God where the wicked experience the absence of God’s presence and grace (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Luke 16:19-31). This is a view held by some Christians who emphasize the free will of human beings and their choice to reject God’s offer of salvation

Hell is a place of purification where the wicked undergo a process of cleansing and correction before they can enter heaven (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Matthew 5:25-26). This is a view held by some Catholics who believe in a place called Purgatory where souls are purified from their sins

Hell is a state of mind where the wicked experience their own self-inflicted misery and alienation from God (cf. Luke 12:47-48; Romans 2:5-11). This is a view held by some Christians who believe that heaven and hell are not physical places but spiritual realities that depend on one’s relationship with God

These are some of the main beliefs about hell in Christianity, but there are also variations and nuances among different denominations and individuals. Some Christians may also hold more than one belief or have doubts about the nature of hell. Ultimately, Christians believe that only God knows who will go to hell and what hell is like

So, obviously "hell is the absence of God" is in fact a pretty mainstream position.

Besides, the number of epicycles that a theory is allowed to hold before it ought to be rejected is clearly a function of how useful said theory is at predicting experimental results and constraining expectations. The Standard Model of Physics does an awful lot better at predicting the nature and evolution of the universe than the Bible does, so we can tack on Dark Matter or Dark Energy with the clear knowledge that something must be missing in our understanding.

Yes I know. So now we're back to square one, as I was saying, where your claim is that there's not enough evidence for Christianity. This is a much less interesting criticism than one about epicycles, forgetting that epicycles are how we get things like the laws of physics in the first place.

The whole omniscience part makes the concept of "agency" rather dubious doesn't it? Ah yes, I know perfectly well in advance if you're going to take the red pill or the blue pill, sucks that you're with 100% certainty going to take the one I've laced with cyanide. On you kid, L+ratio.

If you don't know which of the pills is laced with cyanide, that's not exactly your choice, is it? If you do know, then it's still your choice even if the choice-offerer knows what your decision will be before you've made it.

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On the other hand, if God existed, and wanted us to choose to love him of our own free will, the only way that works is if we get to choose whether or not to believe in him as well.

It seems there are a few pages stuck together here, linking "can choose whether to believe in X" and "can choose whether to love X".

Also, at least in the variety of Christianity I was taught, God doesn't threaten people with eternal torture. He simply gives people what they want for eternity: if that's to be without him, then so be it, and so they end up in a torturous existence by their choice - hell is simply a place where humans, angels, and perhaps others exist without God or the fear of death, which is all they need to create a terrible existence by their own efforts. I'm not a Christian, but like a lot of Christianity, this seems to be to be insightful and plausible in itself. It certainly makes far more sense than an all-benevolent, all-powerful God setting up a realm of eternal torture for fallible beings, and (for some insane reason) hiring a fallen angel to run the place.

That's no God then, that's an Asshole Genie.

Not sure about that: is it being an Asshole Genie to not force someone to love you and want to be around you?

If someone makes a prideful wish, should a genie revise that wish to something smarter?

The asshole genie thing is that God should know very well that rejecting religion and not worshipping God does not actually mean you wish to be away from all that is good in the world - you simply don't believe that the good things are all absolutely reliant on him.

Going "oh so you want to be cast into the outer darkness" is a cheap gotcha rather unbecoming of any deity that claims to be all-loving. "Oh you don't want broccoli? Well I guess I won't feed you at all."

Taking it further, this idea of the nature of Hell necessitates that God either isn't all-powerful so he physically cannot embrace those who rejected him, isn't all-knowing so he doesn't realize that people don't interpret their wishes as he would, or not all-benevolent so he doesn't give a fuck and would rather cast them into Hell out of spite for being wrong about his existence.

a prideful wish

I see it as more "a sensible wish based on the information I have".

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that a God who attempts to secure your love through threats of eternal torture is a monster

This has been my general approach too. There are few universal 'goods' across all religions. Those are likely good places to start.
Don't betray, murder, rape, lie, steal or be hypocrite. I try my hardest to do all of them. the not lying and not-betraying (even unintentionally) bits are especially hard to keep up all the time.

It's one of the reasons I don't buy people's crap on religion. I have yet meet anyone who consistently does even just these 5. If it's that difficult to follow the LCM (lowest-common-multiple) of all religions together. No way anyone is able to those and all the extras that come depending on which religion you think wins the jackpot.

people who reject God get exactly what they're expecting: death, and then non-existence.

Perks of being Hindu / Buddhist. Release from the eternal cycle of life/death is exactly what Moksha/Nirvana looks like. So by following an Indian-origin religion and rejecting Christianity, a person gets both the incentive (aim for non-existence) and a guarantee of success (non-existence). Thanks Jesus ?

Win-win if you ask me.

I believe that miracles continue to happen and that the Catholic Church documents the ones with substantial evidence. It’s also on guard against hoaxes and mistakes and rarely declares an event to be a miracle.

I know it sounds hokey to a non-Catholic, but look into the Eucharistic miracles. Especially those examined by pathologists .

I looked into eucharistic miracles a while back. The chain of sources inevitably bottoms out in Catholic publications. While they are often touted as having been examined by pathologists, the only one in which I've ever seen an actual research paper detailing methods and findings (rather than simply an assurance that the miracle has been authenticated by qualified persons) was the miracle of Lanciano, and in that case all that could be confirmed was that it was an actual piece of a human heart, not that it had ever been a host. Nor was it miraculously preserved, but completely desiccated.

which is absolutely howl-worthy when you consider how convenient it was that there were clear and obvious miracles right up till the point we could properly document and examine them.

Well yes, because if they're not documentable, they don't eliminate the need for faith. If they are, then they would, so they don't happen.

I don't even necessarily disagree with you, but this is just a terrible point. It's countered by the very argument it's trying to address.

What exactly changed that anatomically modern humans living in the period 3-1k BC deserved to have glaring and obvious information doled out from the heavens and yet we moderns are so unfortunate? The seas don't part themselves anymore, it's up to us to raise them the old fashioned way by raising global temperatures.

Call me cynical, but I see a glaring decrease in the intensity and magnitude of such interventions as documentation and history keeping improved through the ages. Christians can claim that Jesus was a real person modern Israel, not that he lead an army to overthrow the Romans, because actual Roman scholars would have disagreed.

How exactly does your degree of faith matter, if your omniscient creator knew exactly how much of it you'd have well before you were even born, and whether it would sufficient or not to spare you from a Hell of their making?

What I struggle with is the idea that those who are in heaven can be in paradise with knowledge that maybe their parents, brothers, sisters, spouse, kids, etc. rot in hell. How could anyone find paradise knowing that?

Part of the joy and sorrow of Heaven I anticipate is having no illusions.

This means I will remember the full depths of the public and secret sins I’ve been saved from by Jesus’ sacrifice. I will be made aware of the kinds of sins I would have committed if I hadn’t been sealed by the Holy Spirit and motivated by love instead of spite or greed. I will be left knowing just how righteous God would have been to condemn me away from His presence for eternity.

With no illusions, I will also be able to see the righteousness of the condemnation of all who chose to reject the Way of love-for-all and the damage they willingly cause wherever they may be. If one of the dwellers in misery is a close relative or even a lover, I will mourn them, but I will be disgusted by the depths of the evil they chose and agree they deserve their fate, just as I would have.

This all assumes the particular variant of Christianity I’ve been taught is theologically and cosmologically accurate. I’d like to be pleasantly surprised that all humans throughout history have ended up accepting Jesus’ forgiveness either before or after their death, and Hell ends up holding only the demonic angels who rebelled. I pray nightly that all will have ended up saved. But having watched both Sound of Freedom and the documentary Anne Frank Remembered this month, I don’t have hopes quite that high.

I'm not clear on how this differs from "I could be happy in Heaven despite knowing there are people in Hell because my mind would be rewritten to consider this justice". A divine entity reshaping you like that could make you think of anything as justice. How would you tell the difference between this, and the Hypothetical Reverse God who condemns all Christians making you think you perfectly deserve misery?

...Also, I can't help but notice that this whole "without these specific rituals and beliefs, you suffer forever" business feels a lot more like an idea maximising pressure to spread it than the kind of thing you'd expect from the Almighty. It seems very petty, very suspiciously human, for an entity with the majesty and sheer greatness of God to hold that kind of a grudge.

Who am I to teach God mercy? Well, I don't have a torture-dimension for my enemies, so I have that going for me. I sort of feel like the Almighty should be able to outdo me here, rather than the opposite.

The only necessary belief is that God counts Jesus’ death as fulfilling my death penalty for the harm I’ve caused.

The only necessary “ritual” is that I do not “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.”

The eternal suffering comes from being imprisoned away from the source of all goodness and kindness with all the other hateful people, and malicious powerful spiritual entities imprisoned too.

Boy, all those people with the thick book and the huge churches must be really wasting their time, then.

Necessary is the bare minimum to escape condemnation. It defies belief that you can have misunderstood this when user rolfmoo was talking about the many specific rituals and beliefs he thinks one must hold to enter Heaven and escape fiery damnation. The thick book, huge buildings, many rituals, and ancillary beliefs all serve the minimums, but have additional purposes.

just as I would have

Just as you do. Christianity is not salvation by being sufficiently good enough, but is by the mercy of God in forgiving our sins.

Thanks! Clarification: …but I will be disgusted by the depths of the evil they chose and agree they deserve their fate, a fate I would have shared were it not for grace.

That idea is just alien to me. I couldn’t imagine my sweet daughters suffering in hell and me just saying “yep infinite torment is justified for being born and not choosing to believe in a particular religion with all human frailties.”

CS Lewis (along with many others) does have a solution which is that hell is proverbially locked from the inside. You seem to hint at it as well (ie maybe one can be saved after death). But are we really to believe that it is just to suffer eternally for not accepting a gift that was unclear if true, especially when there are many other religions with their own afterlife? Sorry you picked wrong eternal damnation. I can’t reconcile that with (1) a loving god and (2) a place where I could be happy. The Lewis solution seems at least palatable to me but being raised Protestant sola scriptura still has a heavy pull on me.

Even if these in-laws are right, then surely a place where 99% of people go after death, can't be THAT bad.

I can never tell if people who are saying this are just being unserious, or are actually this unfamiliar with the thing that they're trying to criticize.

Hell is the absence of good. It is unpleasant be definition, if you are imagining being in a place and it not being so bad actually then you are by definition not talking about hell. There isn't a bargain to be made here where actually things aren't bad because "that's where all the cool people are" or something.

It doesn't make sense that pretty much everyone goes there but there's no good there. Are all non-Christians evil?

Catholic doctrine isn’t so definitive as you’re likely familiar with from Protestants. While Jesus is the only savior, who is to be saved is not fully defined.

Here’s CCC 847:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

I think that's hard to fit with the supposedly infallible council of Florence damning all heretics and schismatics and jews and pagans, but I'm not Catholic so it's not a big deal to me.

Yes, according to Christianity, and all Christians too (although they're being fixed over time).

According to Christians, everyone is evil. Part of the whole salvation thing is that you give God root access, and he patches you to be capable of being incrementally less evil. One interpretation has it that without the patch, people get steadily more evil from the point at which they learn what evil actually is. Since death doesn't actually end them, this decay continues until they are completely evil, at which point they have achieved the state of Hell. There's no socializing with cool people in hell, because the part that makes people cool is one of the ones that goes away, along with the parts that allow socializing, and the parts that make one "people".

By definition, if these people believe in the power of these specific rituals to get you into heaven, then don't 99% of all living humans go to not-heaven. (hell?). Even if these in-laws are right, then surely a place where 99% of people go after death, can't be THAT bad.

If we’re broad and say Christians can be saved, it’s historically been perhaps 20-40% of world population. That’s not nothing.

Further, as Catholics we believe that Christ descended into Hell after his crucifixion and proclaimed the good news to the just dead.

That modern people have chosen to reject the Church or even the heretical sects, doesn’t speak to whether the Truth of Christ is true.