Second Response to Holtz

26 February 2006

In order to focus on the main issues, I am going to separate this response into several sections, constituting the main topics on which Holtz and I have been debating.

The Nature of Heaven

When I responded to the original article, I was not cognizant of the fact that Holtz was attempting to demonstrate that the nature of the afterlife is either inconsistent or hopelessly tedious. 1 Now, as an overall claim, this certainly lacks plausibility. I can easily imagine performing meaningful and fulfilling activities all throughout eternity. Almost every single goal that we aspire towards on this earth could, theoretically, be pursued in the afterlife. I can try to gain knowledge, develop friendships, participate in meaningful conversations, enjoy pleasurable activities such as eating, drinking, and thrill-seeking. Now, surely Holtz admits that these activities are worthwhile and pleasurable on this earth. Is their value and worth dependent upon a finite existence? I would venture to say not. These activities could be pursued endlessly and still be meaningful.

Let’s assume that Holtz is still unconvinced. Perhaps he will still think that these activities will get too boring if pursued for an eternity. Well, these things certainly wouldn’t get boring if we have an imperfect memory in heaven. Thus, although we will learn much, some will be forgotten and we can pursue this knowledge once again. The same is true of friendships, of jokes, and indeed of all experiences.

Now the objection might be that we are not getting anywhere, simply running around in a circle. First of all, this is not necessarily true, for it might be the case that, despite our imperfect memory, our aggregate knowledge, companionship etc. is always increasing. But second of all, I would ask why such supposed running around in a circle is meaningless. As long as we are enjoying ourselves, increasing the joy of others and of God, what is so meaningless? I doubt that Holtz would want to claim that enjoying ourselves and increasing the joy of others is meaningless. Is such an activity rendered meaningless simply because it is pursued for eternity? I think not.

In response to my claim that “jokes are infinite because they relate to the surroundings and situations humans find themselves in” Holtz says,

“There are only finitely many jokes that can be written in ten thousand words of English or less. Are you claiming that people in Heaven will be telling each other million-word jokes?”

First of all, Holtz is misunderstanding my position. I am not claiming that there are an infinite number of knock-knock jokes or written word jokes. I am claiming that humans often find humor in daily situations, which are potentially infinite. However, as I mentioned previously, if we have imperfect memories in heaven, then jokes will not necessarily become repetitive.

Therefore, it is easy to imagine a meaningful eternity. Furthermore, all of the stipulations mentioned so far are, I believe, consistent with Christian theology. I have, in this discussion, under-emphasized the role of worshipping and loving God in heaven, but that is because this is something which I don’t believe Holtz would find enjoyable. Thus, I have shown quite easily that the afterlife can be meaningful, enjoyable, and worthwhile.

Sinless in Heaven

Holtz wonders how we can be sinless in heaven without significant personality surgery, and I claimed that our closeness to God, combined with our choice to accept His salvation, will constitute sufficient motivation to withhold from sin. Holtz misinterprets this to mean that “personality flaws” or traits are modified, but that is not what is claimed. Holtz is skirting the issue, because my claim is simply that we will receive increased knowledge in heaven and also be close to someone who eliminates our desire to sin. Neither of these infringes on free will, thus Holtz’s charge of “brainwashing” are severely misplaced. 2

Justness of Hell

Since my personal theology of Hell does not involve constant flames or physical harm inflicted by demons, Holtz claims that I am “another Christian who doesn’t have the stomach to defend the traditional Christian doctrine of Hell.” But what is this supposed to prove? I am not in the least embarrassed to have a conception of hell that differs from that of the early church fathers. So what? The question is whether or not my interpretation of hell is consistent with the Bible, which, I believe, it is. Holtz can show me otherwise if he is able and willing.

It’s also clear that Holtz wants to establish a win-win argument for himself. Either I support the “traditional Christian doctrine of Hell,” in which case I am endorsing a cruel and philosophically untenable viewpoint, or I “don’t have the stomach” to accept this interpretation. Holtz is not addressing my theology of Hell, and that is his problem, not mine. The plain fact of the matter is that he has a much harder time objecting to a theology of Hell that doesn’t involve constant physical torture.

Academic Non-Consensus

Holtz claims that academic non-consensus is “a fact about the universe that my worldview can explain and that yours does not.” He chides me for falsely labeling this an argument. This seems to me to be simply word play. If he is not developing an argument, then what exactly is he doing? It is clear that he is attempting to establish an argument for the falsehood of Christianity. He is either developing an argument, in which case he is committing an argument from authority, or he is not developing an argument, in which case he is not doing anything to establish the falsity of Christianity.

And what of the “argument” itself? Well, as we have seen, it is a particularly bad one.

1.) It really is not something that needs to be explained at all. Either Christianity is true or false, and the evidence either supports or doesn’t support Christianity. The supposed “academic non-consensus” is a total non-issue. There simply is nothing to discuss here- Holtz is blowing smoke. 3

2.) If Holtz’s argument was cogent, then it would lead to contradictory results. For example, in the past the majority of academia did consider Christianity objectively true. So, during those times, was it rational to believe that Christianity was objectively compelling? Was it then rational to ask atheists to explain the academic non-consensus of atheism?

3.) A very large number of current and past philosophers have been strong Christians. Personally, I would like to see Holtz’s research on the actual strength of the “non-consensus”, even in current academia. He claims that, “I have yet to find any statistics on this, but I would expect that a majority of professional philosophers are atheists or agnostics.” Well, let’s see some statistics.

4.) Holtz’s claims get him in all sorts of trouble with regards to other beliefs he obviously holds as true. Ironically, as an atheist, Holtz has adopted a worldview which the vast majority of thinkers and laymen have rejected, both past and present. This is true despite the fact that atheism has been around much longer than Christianity. So how is he going to explain away this one? His comments here are quite revealing:

“Sorry, but I’ve never said that atheism is an objectively compelling thesis.”

Interestingly, he admits that atheism is not compelling. But this brings up an interesting point, because, to my knowledge, I have never claimed that Christianity was an “objectively compelling” viewpoint- those were Holtz’s words. Fine, so I’ll simply claim that Christianity is the worldview which is most likely to be true. Now what is Holtz going to claim? In fact, this view more accurately represents my actual beliefs anyway. My views closely align with Pascal’s,

“It was not then right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make Himself quite recognizable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. THere is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” 4

Holtz also believes that evolution is true, and probably that it is objectively compelling. Yet evolution has failed utterly to establish a consensus. Here, he makes the claim that belief in evolution “will become” a consensus. Well, personally, I think that statement is false, because evolution has hardly increased its following since near after its inception. But this claim that it “will become” a consensus is impossible strictly to disprove, so Holtz is unfairly shielding himself of criticism from his own faulty argument. In any case, it matters little, because his analysis has already been seen to fall apart when applied to atheism.

5.) It is untrue that my worldview does not offer an explanation for the supposed asymmetry of conversion, as Holtz alleges. In fact, I already offered an explanation:

“Since many people are brought up Christian, it makes sense that many would later reject it on their own account. On the other hand, VERY few people are brought up atheist. So it is entirely expected for there to be more Christian deconverts.”

What is Holtz going to do now? I have offered a completely reasonable explanation for the “asymmetry of conversion.” He responds by saying, “I never claimed to have statistically significant samples, and indeed call the evidence “anecdotal”. My point isn’t that there are “more” Christian deconverts; it’s that I can’t find any relevant atheist deconverts.” This move by Holtz is surprising. If we take him literally here, we must suppose that if we find just one (or at least just a few) “relevant atheist deconverts” then his argument crumbles to the ground. First of all, it is very possible that there are several “relevant” deconverts that Holtz simply has not found or heard of. In any case, my explanation of the asymmetry of conversion still stands despite Holtz’s supposed clarification. The fact of the matter is that I have explained his argument completely logically within my own worldview and he is trying to save face by weakening his position and, essentially, changing his argument. 5 Apparently, his new, watered-down argument is that ‘the fact that there is no relevant atheist deconvert” is a fact that his worldview explains and mine does not.

However, this “argument” is even worse than the first one. As a simple sociological claim, Holtz’s claim to have no knowledge of a “relevant” deconvert is hardly evidence that there is no such deconvert, since Holtz probably only knows or has even heard of less than .0001% of the people on the planet. 6 So if he is going to make the claim that there are no or few relevant deconverts, it is simply going to lack a strong evidential basis. I can simply deny the claim that there are no relevant deconverts.

But more importantly, there are several “relevant” converts that Holtz dismisses (rather carelessly, I think) in his article HERE. I call these dismissals careless because:

a.) The factors Holtz uses to assist in his dismissal are exceedingly pervasive. In other words, there is almost no way to avoid at least some of the factors he mentions. Here are a few examples:

-example or pressure from parents, professors, or any authority figure
-personal misfortune such as disability, injury, illness, or the misfortune of a loved one

But how many people on the face of the planet have not been influenced by authority figures or suffered an injury? And this is just 2 of 13 factors Holtz cites. 7

b.) He is still researching 5 other candidates, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see whether they are miraculously able to avoid the 13 factors mentioned by Holtz.

c.) He fails to realize that, even if emotions play some undue role in a conversion one way or the other, it does not completely discount the role of rationality in said conversion.

d.) It is quite possible that these factors apply to many of the Christian deconverts that Holtz cites. For example, I have read Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith (see REVIEW), and even if I granted that his deconversion was partially due to rational reasons, it is basically impossible to deny that emotional reasons and other factors such as those listed by Holtz apply. Thus, it is by no means a given that Holtz can provide a large number of impressive Christian deconverts (if we analyze these converts by the standards Holtz implements.)

SUMMARY: Holtz’s argument here is a fallacy, but additionally it lacks evidential basis, has a plausible explanation in reference to the Christian worldview, and raises contradictions in Holtz’s own worldview. Thus, I think it is fair to say that his challenge on this account has been met.

Argument from Nonbelief

Holtz displays an inability to clarify between arguments when he charges that my writings on the Argument from Nonbelief “undermines [my] claim…that [I am] excused from explaining academic non-consensus.” However, the Argument from Nonbelief is an entirely different argument then the one that Holtz proposes. In fact, the AFN has nothing to do with “explaining academic non-consensus”- rather it addresses the question of why the God of classical theism would allow such widespread disbelief given omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence. In any case, he addresses my article in several places, so I will offer a response here.

In the article, I clearly distinguish between two different arguments- The Argument from Reasonable Nonbelief and the Argument from Nonbelief. The former is concerned with why God would allow a person to have reasonable nonbelief, but the second (which Theodore Drange formulated) does not rely on the existence of reasonable nonbelief, but is rather on much safer ground because it attempts to show that God would not even allow reasonable nonbelief of the quantity and variety found in the world today. In my opinion then, the second argument is much more powerful because it does not rely on the potentially dubious claim that persons have reasonable nonbelief; it only requires the modest and self-evident claim that some persons do disbelieve in God.

Now, concerning reasonable nonbelief, I contend in my article that:

The ironic thing about the Argument from Nonbelief is that the only way somebody can ever truly claim that they have unfair reasonable nonbelief is if they have lived out their entire existence and are now dead! Of course, dead men aren’t able to argue against the existence of God, so no man alive is able to fairly claim that the existence of God should be doubted because He would not allow reasonable nonbelief.

Holtz is not a fan of this argument, which he calls an “unfalsifiable argument” that is “a marvelous example of Christian doublethink.” As to the second charge, I can’t understand why Holtz would consider my argument “doublethink,” as the statement itself does not require me to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time. The charge that it is “unfalsifiable” is trivial, since the claims

- Some persons have reasonable nonbelief.
– Some persons have lived their entire lives in reasonable nonbelief.

are themselves unfalsifiable. I have simply taken these unfalsifiable claims, and have demonstrated that they do not furnish an epistemic reason for someone to doubt the existence of God. That is why we must definitively reject the Argument from Reasonable Nonbelief. The Argument from Nonbelief is much more impressive and therefore a much more interesting argument. Here I’ll simply note that Holtz offers no rebuttal to my point, but merely laughs at it several times in the article. Despite the potential polemical force of such supposed laughter, Holtz does not satisfactorily address my point. For example, he states:

“Hilarious. Do you seriously claim that nobody has ever died a reasonable atheist? Does the fact that I’m a reasonable atheist mean that I’m guaranteed not to die soon?”

Not necessarily. I think either 1.) you are an unreasonable atheist or 2.) you are a reasonable atheist who will, before your death, be given sufficient evidence. Unfortunately, I am not in an epistemic position to claim that Holtz is one or the other, but my argument stands, the fact that Holtz finds it “hilarious” notwithstanding. I’m still waiting for Holtz to explain to me how exactly I am going to be in the epistemic position to evaluate his or others’ nonbelief in a way that could ensure knowledge that such nonbelief was reasonable. (He won’t, because he can’t, as I argue in my article, and that is why we should focus on the second form of the Argument from Nonbelief.)

Holtz, still laughing at my thesis, reveals a complete misunderstanding of my position:

“Your claim that reasonable nonbelievers might all be given evidence on their deathbeds is hilariously question-begging.”

It is simply false that I made or even implied such a statement. I challenge Holtz to cite anything close to this claim in the article I cite (or in any of my writings at all). Interested readers can read the article HERE and see for themselves. I merely claimed that it is possible that reasonable nonbelievers may be presented evidence sometime during their life. I personally doubt that very many of these individuals, if they exist, were given the evidence on their deathbeds. This is apparently a figment of Holtz’s imagination.

Next, Holtz claims that “[My] point about “coercion” and “automatons” is refuted by your own scriptures. There are numerous persons that the Bible claims were granted direct first-person eyewitness of Yahweh or his miracles, starting with Adam and continuing beyond the Apostles. The Bible repeatedly admits that many of these eyewitnesses nevertheless retained enough free will to reject or deny the Lord…”

Rather than disprove my thesis, this argument tends to support it. Holtz apparently thinks that I am arguing that miracles lead to a violation of free will even though I point out the exact opposite in my article:

Drange claims that showing people miracles does not interfere with their free will. This much is true. By merely showing a miracle God leaves it up to the human as to whether or not such will be accepted as evidence. 8

This is corroborated by the stories in the Bible Holtz cites. A careful reader will realize that my article utilizes the Free Will Defense to prevent the arguer from claiming that God could or should implant belief directly or some such thing. However, I use the defense that God wishes to develop loving relationships and reward justly in order to combat the charge that God should perform frequent miracles. In essence, Holtz’s biblical argument that miracles do not guarantee a loving relationship serve to bolster, rather than refute, my arguments pertaining to the Argument from Nonbelief.

The Origin of Life

In response to my claim that Abiogenesis theories are currently unconvincing, Holtz claims:

“I don’t debate creationism, because the secular peer-reviewed literature is so univocal on this subject. I defy you to quote a peer-reviewed secular biology reference text claiming that there is no prospect for a non-supernatural explanation of the origin of life.”

There are several problems with this response.

1.) Holtz’s reference to creationism is confusing. I am talking about the origin of life, not issues of evolution or creationism. In fact, one can be an evolutionist (or even a naturalist) and completely agree with my statement, namely, that “Abiogenesis theories are looking quite grim.”

2.) Although the secular peer-reviewed literature may be univocal on the subject of evolution or even (maybe) on the naturalistic origin of life, this does not demonstrate that they are univocal on the success of current Abiogenesis theories.

3.) Holtz “defies” me to find a quote in the peer-reviewed literature that claims there is “no prospect” for a naturalistic account of life’s origin. But this requirement is ridiculous, and a complete distortion of my much more modest claim. I never claimed that there was “no prospect” for a naturalistic account in the future (indeed, how could anyone even theoretically come to this conclusion?). I only claimed that the prospects right now were dim. Moreover, no scientist should ever claim that there is “no prospect” for a naturalistic explanation- such a statement would be an outright denial of the scientific method, which admits the possibility of change with future research. So even those who are extremely skeptical of naturalistic theories for the origin of life would probably not make that claim at all, let alone in a peer-reviewed text. There are, however, statements in the literature which support my contention that “Abiogenesis theories are looking quite grim.” 9

4.) The whole argument itself is another argument from authority, which is certainly insufficient to establish the plausibility of Abiogenesis theories.

5.) Holtz still has not offered one iota of evidence that Abiogenesis theories are currently plausible, despite being given ample opportunity to do so. He could at least provide a reference to a Talk.Origins article that supports Abiogenesis, but he doesn’t even do that.

Holtz asks, “Is your official response that you consider the non-supernatural origin of life to be impossible? Would this be logical impossibility, metaphysical impossibility, nomological impossibility, or statistical impossibility?”

My stance currently would probably be that it is a statistical impossibility given what we know, but I would also settle for the claim that it is statistically very unlikely. It may also be nomologically impossible, perhaps.

Holtz is unimpressed with my “understanding of the current theories of the origin of life,” but in fact I was very cognizant of the fact that current theories are somewhat more complicated than the “mixing of chemicals.” In essence though, that is what Abiogenesis theories must deal with, although it is true that they might benefit from the influence of outside factors (such as, for example, lightning), but on naturalistic theories it is for the most part accurate to say that the chemicals are on their own.

Miracles and Prophecy

Holtz believes that God should provide him with better evidence, such as prophecy and miracles. He states, “It hardly makes your god(s) more lovable and respectable to unfairly deny us the evidence that he provided so freely to so many people in the past.”

However, contra Holtz, it is untrue (assuming the Bible is completely, literally true) that “many people in the past” have been given evidence by virtue of divine miracles. Rather, an extremely minute portion of humanity has been witness of such events. Furthermore, these miracles occurred to important people that had a significant impact on the eventual Christian message. Unfortunately, Holtz is simply not as important as Paul or Moses for establishing God’s revelation in history. That Holtz expects miraculous intervention by God, even though an extreme minority of people who have ever lived have experienced such events, may be more indicative of his own perceived self-importance than the alleged lack of responsibility on the part of God.

I also claim that the Resurrection may have finished God’s revelation in history, in a sense, and thus entails that few or no miracles are any longer required. Holtz replies, “If the resurrection was such an efficacious miracle, why wasn’t it done earlier, and why has its effectiveness drastically worn off just as mankind acquired a scientific grasp of biology, cosmology, and history?” It is not clear what Holtz is talking about here. The Christian religion is as strong in number as it ever was, to my knowledge. So it is not true that the “efficacy” of Christ’s Resurrection has been reduced. Furthermore, my point was not that Christ’s Resurrection will serve to cause most to believe, I merely claimed that it marked the end of God’s revelation in history and He therefore has little need to miraculously intervene.

Proving God’s Existence Vs. God’s Nature

In the original article, Holtz asks if there will ever be any compelling new evidence for God. I responded by saying perhaps, and providing a link to an article that supports the existence of God as the Cosmic Observer who chooses quantum states. Holtz thinks I am going the wrong direction,

“I asked about ‘your god(s)’ — Yahweh and Jesus. Arguments for abstract theism do not qualify as ‘compelling new evidence for your god(s)’.”

Establishing the existence of God does help to establish the rationality of the Christian religion in general. Indeed, quantum indeterminacy does not establish Christ as the Son of God, but it goes a long way towards establishing God the Father. In any case, I was not aware that Holtz required evidence that supported belief in Christ’s divinity or the Trinity. However, in any case, I don’t think more evidence is needed either for rational belief in the God of classical theism or for Christ as the Son of God. As we shall see, though, Holtz is essentially silent when it comes to addressing the arguments for God’s existence.

Prayer

As for the issue of prayer 10, I mentioned that it is possible that a link between prayer and healing will be identified in the future, although, to be honest, I am rather doubtful that such will be the case. This is true because praying to God is not meant to provide us with whatever it is that we want. 11

Cosmological and Teleological Arguments

In my original response I cite the Cosmological and Teleological argument as good evidence of God’s existence (I actually link to the Cosmological argument, but not the Teleological). However, there is a definite paucity of responses to these two arguments. To my knowledge, Holtz has not said one thing in response to my formulation of the Cosmological Argument, which is perhaps the strongest argument for God’s existence. His response to the Teleological argument is almost as weak; he claims that the set of fundamental constants consists of “only” 20 factors and that science is “unrelentingly” reducing this number. Holtz, apparently not a proponent of research or documentation, offers absolutely no evidence that his assertions here are actually true. Nevertheless, even assuming they are true, Holtz is on shaky ground here, for a couple reasons.

1.) Assume that the universe requires 20 fundamental constants to be fine-tuned, but that there is a fifty percent chance of each constant falling within the life-permitting range. Even with such generous assumptions, the odds of a life-permitting universe are 1 in 2,097,152. Even if the number of constants is reduced to 15, the odds are 1 in 65,536- still quite low. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on those odds.

2.) The absolute number of fundamental constants needing fine-tuning is not particularly important. Rather, it is the odds of any one constant falling on the life-permitting range. Thus, even if there is only 1 fundamental constant, it still may be the case that the Teleological Argument is sound. Paul Davies cites an example of this:

“…The observed structure of the universe seems to depend very sensitively on the precise matching of explosive vigour to gravitating power….At the so-called Planck time…the matching was accurate to one part in 10^60.” 12

In other words, the fine-tuning of just one fundamental constant requires accuracy to 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Thus, we see that the absolute number of fundamental constants is not necessarily relevant to the success of the Teleological Argument.

Holtz also claims that “You completely ignored my point about anthropic arguments, which you apparently need to research.” To recap, he claims that I must deal with the following, “anthropic arguments for why [the constants] should allow the development of life and intelligence.” Well, it would be nice if Holtz would provide some sort of source for his supposed argument, but, since he is not a proponent of research or documentation, I’ll have to try to interpret exactly what he is talking about. Now, I know that some opponents of the Teleological Argument will claim that the “Anthropic Principle” guarantees that only life-supporting universes will be observed by us, and thus it is unsurprising to find us in one. 13 I’m not sure if this is Holtz’s argument though, since this is a philosophical, rather than empirical objection to the Teleological Principle and as such could not really be supported by the unrelenting progress of science.

Probably what he is talking about here is that, purportedly, scientists are uncovering laws or principles which guarantee (or make more likely) the selection of life-permitting values for the fundamental constants. But where is the empirical evidence for such tendencies or laws? The fact that Holtz cites no examples (yet ironically claims that I “apparently need to research” these things) certainly produces a skepticism concerning the plausibility of his claim, and indeed such skepticism is confirmed upon a perusal of recent Teleological literature. In the book “God and Design.” 14 published in 2003 and containing extremely recent papers on the design argument (including no less than 6 papers that are directly skeptical of the Teleological Argument) I can find no trace of such tendencies.

If Holtz is talking about Grand Unified Theories which might unite the laws of physics, he is barking up the wrong tree. As Robin Collins points out,

“Even if such a theory were developed, it would still be a huge coincidence that the Grand Unified Theory implied just those values of these parameters of physics that are life-permitting, instead of some other values. 15

Such attempts merely push the issue of design back a step, they do not subvert the need for design.

In any case, I am much more well-versed in the Cosmological Argument, which (perhaps wisely?) Holtz has left untouched. I would be more than happy to simply toss the Teleological Argument and base the rationality of God’s existence completely on the Cosmological Argument. It will therefore be interesting to see if Holtz is able to conjure up any solid arguments against this argument as defended HERE.

God of the Gaps

Given the serious lacuna in Holtz’s response pertaining to refutations of these powerful arguments for theism, one may be curious to see if he has developed any other attempted objections. We see that, rather than get down to the nitty gritty of arguments and evidence, Holtz repeatedly endorses the God-of-the-Gaps objection. I am rather unimpressed with this form of objection (for reasons found HERE), since it seems to be little more than an excuse for rejecting theistic arguments out of hand. On this article (and the related article HERE) Holtz replies:

“Your article makes a basic mistake about the level at which the identified argument operates. It’s not an argument that gods don’t exist; it’s an argument that there will be increasingly fewer gaps in science on which to hang claims that gods can explain the gaps. The trend of course cannot prove that gods don’t exist, but it indeed undermines confidence in the argument that the current gaps in science are evidence of god(s).”

This reply is mistaken in two ways.

1.) Whether or not the “argument” is construed as disproving God’s existence is irrelevant to the responses found in my article. In said article, I show that the Argument from the History of Science fails to establish any sort of argument whatsoever. Whatever it is that the AHS is supposed to demonstrate, it simply doesn’t demonstrate it, since it is false.

2.) The “trend” claimed by Holtz, is imaginary, as demonstrated in the article but left unaddressed. Thus, even if Holtz’s reasoning is solid, the argument doesn’t go through because there is little or no empirical basis for it. Holtz will need to reestablish the actual existence of the purported trend before he can begin to support the argument.

Holtz also claims, “The true cop-out is to say that the existence of even one unanswered question in science means that there must be gods or ghosts or faeries or elves or leprechauns.”

Well, I didn’t try to establish the existence of ghosts or faeries or elves or leprechauns. I tried to establish the existence of God as defined HERE. Since the origin of the universe requires a being that possesses the qualities God has, it is reasonable to infer that God exists. What is wrong with this reasoning?

Moreover, the Cosmological Argument isn’t necessarily based upon a gap in science, even according to Holtz’s definition. The Cosmological Argument is based on the metaphysical problem of explaining the existence of a finite universe.

“Your article only addresses a strawman argument that god(s) are conceptually incoherent or beyond the ability of science to evaluate. Reasonable atheists accept that god(s) could be scientifically proven. There is only one clause in your article that even begins to defend the idea of using god(s) as explanations: ‘the origin of the universe seems to require the characteristics of God’. The bottom line is that there is a gap in humanity’s current cosmology and biology, and so you hypothesize a gap-shaped god to fill it. Humans have been doing this for millennia, and you’re no different.”

Several points:

1.) It is unfair to call the arguments I address “strawmen,” since they are arguments that are oftentimes advanced by atheists. It may be the case that Holtz does not accept such arguments, and that is fine. But in my article I attempted to be thorough, which is why several forms of the argument are critiqued.

2.) Note that Holtz does not deny my claim that the origin of the universe requires a being possessing the same qualities as God (and, therefore, God).

3.) Holtz merely reasserts his opinion that using God as an explanation here is committing God of the Gaps. However, he is not really dealing with the article here, he is avoiding it.

4.) Holtz doesn’t even attempt to address on of the central claims of my article- that omitting God as a potential cause of, for example, the beginning of the universe would eliminate a potentially true option from the pool of ideas. This argument alone decisively shows that Holtz’s methodology is flawed.

SUMMARY: Holtz repeatedly uses the God of the Gaps objection as an excuse to ignore theistic arguments. Nevertheless, he doesn’t address either of the articles I cite satisfactorily. He has still not addressed my claim that the alleged tendency for science to undermine theism is false. This thesis completely undermines Holtz’s entire case here, so he would be wise to at least attempt a refutation. Moreover, he has not addressed my claim that the God of the Gaps objection entails the out-of-hand rejection of a potential truth from the pool of live options.

Miscellany

“I still can’t tell how significant you find it that belief in your god(s) correlates so highly with parental belief in your god(s). That’s understandable; I’ve never heard of a Christian apologist seriously addressing this issue.”

I find it somewhat significant, but I do not believe it constitutes a strong reason to reject Christianity. The issue has, however, been addressed by Christian apologists. 16

“Ah, so you admit that fallible arguments by fallible men are more convincing than the divinely-inspired revelation — and direct quotations — of your god(s)? Thank you for this admission of the incompetence of the revelatory efforts of your god(s).”

On the contrary, I believe it is the stupidity of humans who misinterpret the Bible or fail to read it in context that is the problem.

I claim that, “The perfection of the scriptures is only compromised if for some reason it is claimed that perfect scriptures must contain clear and unambiguous reference to the activities of Satan in Hell.”

Holtz responds, “I’m not claiming that they “must contain clear and unambiguous reference”; I’m claiming that they DO contain vague and ambiguous reference. There is a moral obligation on your god(s) to be clear about the stakes involved here. That obligation has clearly not been met.”

The Bible does contain ample warnings about Hell. Holtz apparently wants a discourse on the types of activities that Satan participates in during Hell. There is no reason for God to include this in his special revelation to mankind. If there is a reason, Holtz must specify it.

Holtz asks, “So the millions of Christians who fantasize about reunion with loved ones in Heaven have all managed to misinterpret your god’s perfect and benevolent revelation in precisely the same way?”

That’s very possible. But I never said that we will not be able to reunite with loved ones, I said there would be no marriage in heaven. This is, to my knowledge, the majority view on the subject within Christianity.

Conclusion:

Holtz claims that academic non-consensus is explained by his worldview and not by Christianity; I showed that his argument was a fallacy, is contradicted by his own worldview, lacks a strong evidential basis, and has a plausible explanation within the confines of a Christian worldview. He claims that Heaven is pointless; I showed that such a position can only be supported if Holtz believes that meaningful human activities only have a purpose if pursued for a finite time, and furthermore that other considerations could make eternity meaningful even without such a stipulation. He claims that Hell is unjust; I explained my own theology of Hell which Holtz has failed to rebut. He claims that arguments for God’s existence use the God of the Gaps; I showed that such an objection is philosophically unwarranted and lacking an evidential basis. He attempted to address my refutation of the Argument from Nonbelief; however he failed to distinguish between arguments, laughed to himself about a strawman he erected, ultimately failed to address the arguments, and cited Biblical verses which actually support my thesis. He attempted to address the Teleological Argument; however he fails to back up his arguments with research or documentation, fails to realize that the argument is not dependent upon a plethora of fundamental constants, and mistakenly assumes that scientists are discovering anthropic tendencies. He attempts to support naturalistic origin of life scenarios; however, he misrepresents my position, fails repeatedly to offer any evidence or documentation for the purported plausibility of origin of life theories, and misconstrues the issue as one between evolution and creation.

NOTES

1. The reason that I claim issues of afterlife are of “minimal importance” throughout our exchange is that I cannot really do anything to effect the nature of the afterlife, I can only try to effect where I am going. In actuality, I think that we should be “eternity minded” people, viewing events from the eternal perspective. But, the silly questions about whether or not I’ll play chess in heaven or whether I will attain 100 percent math knowledge are simply unneeded mental distractions from more important issues, such as whether God exists, what God’s nature is like, and what I should try to do and accomplish during my earthly existence.

2. These stipulations can be paralleled in the real world. For example, it is possible for increased knowledge of a certain person to eradicate hatred or prejudice against that person. Similarly, some people, by virtue of living a morally good life, elicit a similar moral attitude. Thus, when I am around, let’s say, my father, who is a good man, I am less inclined to sin because of his positive influence. Obviously, none of this involves eradication of free will, so it is clear that my argument for heavenly sinlessness is sound.

3. After claiming this in my previous response, I offer further reasons to discount Holtz’s “argument.” Amazingly, he partly responds by saying, “Your attempt to handwave toward an explanation demonstrates your recognition of your need to explain the academic non-consensus.” Here Holtz apparently has difficulty comprehending the nature of argumentation. It is obvious from the context of my response that I did consider my first argument sound, and thus his argument discredited. However, I then go on to show why even if I am wrong about the lack of need to explain non-consensus, Holtz’s argument doesn’t go through. This is extremely common in debates and I am surprised that Holtz doesn’t pick up on it.

4. Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (London: J. M. Dent, 1932), no. 430, p. 118.

5. I predict that Holtz will deny that he has shifted positions here. However, it is clear that he has. Consider his original argument:

“Many Christians (including ministers and priests, and theologians) convert to atheism even though while still Christians they had been well-versed in Christian apologetics. By contrast, it is very hard to find atheists who converted to Christianity even though while still atheists they had been well-versed in the arguments against Christianity. If the best atheistic arguments against Christianity are better than the best Christian arguments against atheism, then such an asymmetry is precisely what one would expect.”

It seems he is talking about the asymmetry in general, not the fact that there is purportedly no relevant atheist deconvert. His new, watered-down position is:

“I never claimed to have statistically significant samples, and indeed call the evidence “anecdotal”. My point isn’t that there are “more” Christian deconverts; it’s that I can’t find any relevant atheist deconverts.”

This is a different position, because he now makes the weaker claim that he “can’t find” any single cases of relevant deconverts. However, as I point out in the article, this new stance further weakens his case, since the fact that he can’t find a relevant deconvert is hardly good evidence that there is not one, and since one is all it takes, the whole argument is complete trash. Remember that Holtz is forced to adopt this stance because of my plausible explanation of the supposed “asymmetry of conversion” within the confines of the Christian worldview.

6. This is the case even if he has heard of well over 150,000 distinct people, 50,000 of whom, on average, are Christians.

7. On this score, Holtz replies that “The question isn’t about being unaffected; it’s about being ‘without undue influence’.” However, the difference between being “affected” by such things and being “unduly influenced” by them is potentially quite arbitrary. Furthermore, even in the stronger sense of having “undue influence,” it would be almost impossible to avoid all of these 13 factors (although Holtz claims to have done so).

8. Showing somebody a miracle, thus, does not impinge free will in the strong sense. However, I would argue that excessive persuasion could interfere with significant free will by making belief in God trivial and easy. See my Problem of Evil HERE for a defense of the importance of significant free will.

9. For example, Yockey has also expressed dissatisfaction with Abiogenesis theories:

“Although at the beginning the paradigm was worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm is self-deception on the ideology of its champions. … The history of science shows that a paradigm, once it has achieved the status of acceptance (and is incorporated in textbooks) and regardless of its failures, is declared invalid only when a new paradigm is available to replace it. Nevertheless, in order to make progress in science, it is necessary to clear the decks, so to speak, of failed paradigms. This must be done even if this leaves the decks entirely clear and no paradigms survive. It is a characteristic of the true believer in religion, philosophy and ideology that he must have a set of beliefs, come what may (Hoffer, 1951). Belief in a primeval soup on the grounds that no other paradigm is available is an example of the logical fallacy of the false alternative. In science it is a virtue to acknowledge ignorance. This has been universally the case in the history of science as Kuhn (1970) has discussed in detail. There is no reason that this should be different in the research on the origin of life.” (Yockey, 1992. Information Theory and Molecular Biology, p. 336, Cambridge University Press)

10. I do admit that I misrepresented Holtz’s position by stating or implying that he expected “all” prayers to be answered. This misrepresentation was not intentional, I was merely exaggerating. However, I concede that I should have been more cautious with my wording.

11. Holding, J.P. “Insert Prayer for Gumball”, found at http://www.tektonics.org/lp/prayfor.html

12. Davies, Paul. God and the New Physics. (New York: Simon and Shuster), 1983. p 179.

13. If this is Holtz’s argument, then it is a very weak one. The marksman analogy created by Leslie and supported by Craig really undermines this philosophical attack on the Teleological Argument. See Craig, William Lane. “The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle.” Found at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/teleo.html.

14. Manson, Neil et al. “God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science.” New York: Routledge (2003)

15. Ibid, p. 191

16. See Craig, William Lane. “Politically Incorrect Salvation.” Found at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/politically.html




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