Has there been a defeater for all forms of theism? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
A friend sent me an article recently about “The Argument From Locality” wanting to see if I’d answer. For those interested, the piece can be found here. This is a variant of an argument that has gone around several times. I do not see an author so since the web site is daylight atheism, I will refer to the author as DA. DA starts this way:
“I have formalized an argument that I have seen presented on other occasions in support of the conclusion that no version of theism is true. While other atheist writers have used aspects of it, it has not, as far as I know, been given a concise name. If I may remedy this, I would like to propose that this argument, which I present below, be henceforth referred to as the Argument from Locality.”
Already, this start is problematic. Every form of theism? How about deism? Could it be a deistic God exists? How about a God who might do a worldwide universal display at some later time? Note also that this argument does not deal with ANY of the traditional arguments from God’s existence. If one of those holds, the argument from locality is false. Why? The other arguments are built on metaphysical principles that one follow from the other in a syllogistic sense. We’ll find this argument depends on speculations about what God would or should do, presuppositions we’d find hard to test.
“The Argument from Locality runs as follows. Every religion currently being practiced on this planet, as well as every past religion which no longer has followers, has a definite, discernible origin in time and space. Even if the exact beginnings of a religion are murky, that religion still originated in a definite area and in a definite time period.”
Okay. No problem here.
“However, I argue that any god or gods which existed and which desired to reveal themselves to humanity would not do this – they would not provide a revelation to only one culture, at one time, in one place. There are several good reasons to believe this, and if it holds, then any religion which did have only a single point of origin cannot possibly be true. In short: The fact that all religions originated in one specific culture, at one specific time and place, points strongly to their being the product of that culture, time and place – and not the product of divine revelation.”
Note we already have the presuppositions setting in. “No god would do this!” How DA learned the ways of beings he doesn’t think exist is a question to ponder for sure. Still, we’ll see if DA’s contention holds up.
“For the Argument from Locality to hold, its key proposition – that no rational deity would create a religion with a single point of origin – must be defended. I believe it can be defended, for the following reasons:”
I believe it can’t be. Let’s see who’s right.
“Any deity which desired to be believed in would reveal itself to everyone, not just to a specific person, culture, race or nation. As discussed in “The One True Religion“, there can be no doubt that any religion that had it right would be universal. Modern science has taught us that all humans are the same on fundamental genetic and cognitive levels and that race is a social construct as much as it is a biological one.”
And here we have our first problem. DA is assuming all people would be just like him. Why? Well look at our scientific information! No mention of doing study in anthropology! No mention of going to different cultures and seeing how people act! As should be known, when comparing two things or more, what matters most is not their similarities, but their differences.
Imagine DA going to Japan for instance and coming into someone’s house and walking around with shoes on. They would be stunned. Imagine DA going into the home of a Middle Eastern man and being told “Welcome my guest. Everything I have is yours! I am your servant!” He would think the man insane instead of realizing this can be a way of greeting. Even here in America different groups of people have different customs and behaviors and what seems innocent to one person is a grave insult to another.
“In light of these facts, it is not rational to insist that a god – plainly not a creature of biology, with no special ties or allegiance to any subgroup of humanity – would select any single specific people or ethnicity to be its chosen. (It can hardly be a coincidence that every religion which claims God has a chosen people was founded by those who claimed they were the chosen people.)”
This just does not follow. I’m looking at this over and over and wondering what the connection is. Could it be perhaps that God does have reasons for not doing a sudden grand show that DA doesn’t know about? Could it be that God is more patient than DA realizes and is willing to use a plan to get His message out?
To which, if that was His plan and Christianity is the religion, it seems odd that DA is saying God did not do a good job revealing Himself since billions all over the world today believe in a religion that was revealed at a place and time 2,000 years ago. It looks like the plan worked well.
“It therefore follows that any god which founded a religion would probably provide its initial revelation to multiple peoples – preferably scattered throughout time and space, to ensure as wide a distribution of followers as possible – or, failing that, the initial revelation would be given to one group of people with instructions to spread it to others.”
This is odd since the first point didn’t even follow. Yet how is this revelation to be done? Does DA not realize that people speak different languages? Does he not realize that these people would have to translate this message? Who does he think would do the translating? Could this not easily be controlled by the powerful? What would be the content? Repent? Repent to who? Who is this God? What is He like? Without past action, why should I trust Him?
Amusingly, DA ends by saying the revelation would be given to one group of people with instructions to spread it to others.
But I thought a rational God would not choose one group of people….
And isn’t that exactly what was done through the people of Israel? With a statement like this, DA has buried his own argument.
“But there are other points, detailed below, which tell against the second possibility; and while the first possibility would be virtually indisputable evidence of divine origin, it is a possibility which no known religion, present or past, embodies. It would be extraordinary for people from across the globe and throughout history who had no contact with each other to independently invent the exact same religion, without a god giving them all the same information through revelation. But again, this situation describes no religion in existence today or ever.”
It would be, and it gives me not a single reason to believe it either. Could I not just say this is a delusion? There are several people who claim religious experiences today. An atheist would say the content of them is a delusion. Yet again, we still have the problem of how this message would come about, how it would be translated, what the content would be, etc.
“If there is a reward for believing, it is fundamentally unfair that some would receive more and more reliable evidence than others.”
The first objection here is who told him that this was unfair supposedly? Where did this moral standard come from?
Second, could it also be that those who get more evidence are the ones who are seeking more evidence? As we’ll see in this post, DA has not done a good job of seeking.
Third, while some people can get more evidence depending on certain events, all that is needed is sufficient evidence. Do people have sufficient evidence that God has revealed Himself in Christ?
“An example may best elucidate this point. In Christianity, those who believe and worship God as he instructs are rewarded with a blissful eternity in Heaven. But not everyone has an equal chance to attain this reward.”
I’d say at the start that my view of Heaven is quite different from DA’s and it’s quite noteworthy that the Bible seems to spend more time talking about the resurrection than it does about Heaven.
Yet what is meant by an equal chance? Does this mean everyone has to have the exact same evidence? As we’ll see, this is problematic.
“According to Christianity, some people, such as Jesus’ apostles, were eyewitnesses to his life, his miracles, and his resurrection from the dead. Skeptics such as Doubting Thomas were able to assuage their doubts by examining Jesus’ empty tomb and touching his resurrected body. But modern skeptics do not have access to this evidence.”
Let’s suppose the incarnation and death and resurrection are essential for Christianity to be true. Is DA saying that for Chritsianity to be true, then Jesus must appear in every culture repeatedly and appear to everyone and be murdered and raised again? Wouldn’t a culture learn about this eventually and, I don’t know, stop murdering the God-man that comes down? And again, could not one culture still tell another they have the story wrong? Could there not be just as much religious conflict?
“No one alive today witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles, including the resurrection; even if they actually happened, the only evidence we now possess of them is a book, a copy of copies translated from an ancient language that contradicts itself in many places, that claims to contain the accounts of eyewitnesses.”
Absent is any mention of a work such as Craig Keener’s “Miracles” that offers eyewitness claims of miracles around the world today. Absent is any mention of Richard Bauckham’s study “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Absent is any mention of works on the historical evidence for the resurrection such as N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” or Mike Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.”
Furthermore, I see the same line here about copy of copies. This is meant to call the textual process into question. If that is the case, I think DA should be acquainted with the words of an authority on the subject who is a NT scholar of textual criticism. This scholar says:
“If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.”
He also says:
“In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.”
Who is this scholar? His name is Bart Ehrman.
The first quote is here: Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html
The second is from here: The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.
It is doubtful that DA has read anything other than Bart Ehrman on textual criticism. Has he read anything by Daniel Wallace? Has he read “The Reliability of the New Testament” edited by Rob Stewart. Has he read Wegner’s “A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible?”
Furthermore, where does he think most of our information about ancient history comes from? Most of it comes from books! Does he treat the accounts of Plutarch the same way? What about the life of Alexander the Great?
As for contradictions, does he automatically throw out anything that has any contradiction in it? Suppose he comes across what he thinks is a contradiction? Does he bother to study it? Does he consider that perhaps a different culture wrote differently than he does? Does he consider that a writer like Plutarch could write about the same event in different accounts in ways that would seem contradictory?
“Even if Jesus’ life happened exactly as the Bible describes it, the Bible itself is the only witness to that fact, and our historical knowledge is so murky and the evidence so scanty that some people have argued that Jesus never existed at all.”
Some people have argued that. You won’t really find them in NT scholarship. For most scholars, that’s an idea that is lucky to even get a footnote. DA says the evidence is murky and scant and the Bible is the only witness. Absent then is any mention of the cases that people have made of what can be known about Jesus if we don’t use the Bible, and the list is pretty impressive. What if we only used Lucian, Tacitus, Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Pliny, Seutonius, etc.? None of these are Christian writers.
But we don’t have just that. We have four gospels which are first century manuscripts, and it would be wonderful to have four accounts within 70 years of a person that lived in the ancient world. We have not only that, but we also have the letters of Paul and other letters like Hebrews. Once again, DA has not done the work of interacting with what is presented. Dismissal is not an argument.
“But while people currently living must muddle through this tortuous mess if they are to arrive at the correct conclusion for salvation, that same conclusion was effortless for Jesus’ contemporaries, those who were witnesses to his life and his ministry.”
And if we followed church tradition, that same evidence led to their martyrdom. One suspects DA would not be as longing for evidence if he figured that would be the cost. Note in fact that our same principle applies. Those who were seeking during the ministry of Jesus would get the light revealed to them. Those who weren’t, would not.
Also, if DA thinks a case can be made that Jesus never even existed, it is clear he has not at all begun wading through this “tortuous mess.”
“This cannot be considered fair. Why should God pick a small number of people and overwhelm them with so much first-hand evidence that their coming to the correct conclusion is virtually assured, while all the rest of us are forced to subsist on scraps of handed-down hearsay? Is salvation like winning the lottery – a matter of luck? How can God be a god of justice if he gives some people a much better chance than others?”
DA once again appeals to some standard of morality that we have no idea of. Furthermore, what evidence is there that we have scraps of handed-down hearsay? The gospels and Pauline epistles are not short little reads always.
Not only that, for a faith that was revealed so badly apparently, why is DA arguing against it 2,000 years later in a locale and culture quite foreign to the original? The fact that he’s arguing indicates that the plan of revelation worked well. Furthermore, we still have the problem of what if this is a historical religion meant to take place in one time and place?
In fact, it could be argued that this was the best time and place. The world had a language that was universal. There was a travel system that allowed for travel from place to place. The philosophical categories to understand Christianity were in place. The Second Temple mindset was there as well. If this was to be revealed at one time, could this not be a good time?
“The answer is: he cannot. If God’s system of salvation is to be considered fair, then it must be a level playing field, giving everyone the same chance and the same evidence on which to base a decision. Plainly, in this case it is not. It does no good to say that the apostles who had first-hand evidence balanced this by paying in much greater persecution and hardship – many more recent Christians with nothing but hearsay to go on were subjected to persecutions at least as great for their faith. While I have used Christianity as an example, an analogous argument could be applied to any religion purportedly founded or sustained by specific miraculous events at a specific place and time.”
Indeed, many have suffered, but it is the assumption that they have just hearsay. First, it has not been established that this is what the gospel accounts are. Second, if Keener is right, miracles taking place are also testimony to what has happened. Third, if my position on this being a historical faith is right, then DA’s contention is just not possible. Again, we don’t need equal evidence. We need sufficient evidence.
“If there is a punishment for not believing, it is fundamentally unfair that some would receive less evidence than others, or no evidence at all. This is the flip side of the previous point, but is different in subtle yet important ways. If a religion claims to be the exclusive way to salvation and threatens Hell for those who do not believe in it, then what happens to those who never even heard of it due to distance in time or space? What chance do they have of escaping damnation?
For example, if Christianity is the correct religion, then generation after generation – dozens of indigenous cultures, thousands of tribes, millions and millions of people – in North, Central and South America, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, in Australia and Indonesia – all lived and died in total, tragic ignorance of the one true god, without ever being given a chance to know the love of Jesus or hear about the sacrifice he made. This holds true both for those people who lived before Jesus as well as those who lived during or after his time but before missionaries arrived there. They were never told about the Bible, never got to witness or benefit from any miracles, and never even had one single prophet raised up from among their number. Why did God neglect these people? ”
This is a long section, but simply one argument. To start with, DA needs to know someone does not go to Hell for failing to believe. They go to Hell for their sins. Believing in Jesus is the antidote to that judgment, but if you go to judgment and don’t have Jesus, what will God judge you by?
God is also not arbitrary. He gives the same standard. It’s perfection. What other system could be used? Would it be a points system? How would we know how many points? Would that not be arbitrary anyway? How many points does a good deed give? How many points does a bad one take away? How many per deed?
DA also assumes that in the Christian worldview that all such people go straight to Hell. This is not a common evangelical position. It is instead argued that people are judged by the light that they have. In fact, in passages like Revelation 7, we are told a great number from all over the world experience the presence of God in joy.
Also, DA assumes there has been no miracle done or revelation sent. DA is unaware then of dreams Muslims have today of Jesus appearing to them. (In fact, I have a good friend who is a convert from Islam who had such an event where Jesus revealed Himself in a dream.) DA is unaware of missionaries that go to deliver the gospel and are told by the people that they have been waiting for them because they were told to look for people with a book who would be giving a revelation of the one true God. DA assumes that no miracle has taken place. Again, any reaction to Keener? Has DA even heard of Keener?
“More importantly, what is the fate of those who never heard? Did they all go to Hell when they died, simply because God chose not to tell them the way to salvation? Or did they somehow get to Heaven without the redemptive powers of Jesus or even the Jewish law? And if so, if this is possible, then what was the point of sending Jesus or giving the law at all?”
DA has a false assumption here as well. Either they’ve heard of Jesus and therefore have access, or else they have not heard and if they get there then, Jesus was not necessary. Could it be that Jesus is necessary even if people have not heard of Him?
For instance, OT saints are saved by looking forward to the coming Messiah. None of them had to know that His name was Jesus and He’d die on a cross and rose again. They had to show loyalty to what had been revealed to them by YHWH. Why could not the same apply to pagans?
Indeed, it does! Romans 1 states that at the start, this knowledge of God was revealed not through special revelation, but through creation itself, but man chose to instead look to the creation itself instead of through it and worship the creation. Romans 2 goes along with this saying that people know right and wrong not through special revelation, but rather through a general revelation written on their own hearts. If someone does not follow the evidence they have, upon what grounds is more owed?
“The Bible, supposedly God’s instruction book to humanity, nowhere addresses this crucial problem. Since the Bible is supposed to contain all relevant information regarding God’s plan of salvation, it is exceedingly strange and hard to explain, at least for those who believe in it, that it does not answer such an obviously important question.”
No it’s not. Why should it explain it? Considering the cost it took to write something in the ancient world and the time it took to do so, a writer would want to be concise and hit on the central issues. Speculation about those who never heard would not be of interest.
Also, DA has an understanding that the message is salvation. It’s not. The message is the kingdom of God with Christ ruling as king. Salvation is a part of that, but that is not the main thing. Salvation is saying that this is your proper response to the rule of God in Christ. That makes no sense without that rule being established.
Furthermore, why consider the Bible as God’s instruction book? It is a common understanding that the Bible is meant to be an ethical guide for us. No one would dispute that the Bible has ethical statements in it to be followed, but that is not the central purpose. It is also not written to tell us everything about salvation. How could it?
“The most relevant thing it says is its dictum that no man gets to Heaven without Jesus Christ, which implies that all those millions of people who lived and died without ever hearing of him were all damned through no fault of their own, but merely because they were born in the wrong place or at the wrong time.”
Again, this does not follow. One could say the death and resurrection of Jesus is necessary, but hearing about it is not. Christians would in a sense have to say this because we believe in the salvation of OT saints. Why could this not just as well apply to others who are “righteous pagans” and follow the light that they have?
“This is horrendously unfair – an infinite atrocity from a god one of whose main characteristics is supposed to be justice.”
As we have seen, DA has not dealt with problems to his theory and has not given a moral standard. If my case is right, nothing unfair has been done.
“Lacking biblical guidance, some Christian apologists have attempted to solve this problem themselves. But the answers they have come up with are extremely weak, self-evidently flawed, and give rise to more questions than they answer. A typical example can be found in Jack Chick’s book “The Soul-Winner’s Handy Guide“, which hedges on the matter by offering a variety of poor solutions.”
So DA wants to interact with Christian apologists and he goes to Jack Chick?
Yep. No need to interact with real scholarship here. Don’t interact with Paul Copan or Peter Kreeft or other Christian philosophers on this issue. Just go straight to Jack Chick.
“Firstly, it claims that all people are sinners and that God always judges righteously, though this does not in any way answer the problem; in fact, it is a refusal to face the problem.”
Actually, no. This can just as easily be the start of a case presented later, but to be fair, I don’t read Jack Chick. I prefer to read actual authorities.
“Secondly, it asserts of these people that “God’s laws are already written in their hearts”. If that is the case, then why was it necessary for God to give the laws to anyone? Why do Christian groups today go to all the effort of sending missionaries to other countries if they will only tell people what they already know? And even if people do have such innate knowledge, this does not change the fact that those who were born elsewhere and elsewhen still had much less evidence to go on than those who lived in a time and a place where God was regularly dispensing miracles. Surely the vague promptings of conscience cannot be as powerful an impetus toward salvation as an eyewitness experience to the power of God.”
DA doesn’t realize the purpose of the Law in Israel was not so they would be good boys and girls, but so that they would enter into covenant with Him. The Law of Israel also included laws that are not part of general revelation, such as ceremonial and civil laws. These laws have never been a requirement for all to follow.
Why send missionaries then? Clearly to share specific revelation and because the truth of Christ is not written on the hearts, only the truth of morality.
“Finally, Chick’s book reluctantly offers, “Perhaps God, in his foreknowledge, had already known these people would not believe even if they were presented the gospel.” This is ludicrous. Are we to believe that in all these cultures – millions of people who lived throughout thousands of years – there wasn’t one single person who would have accepted the gospel if he had heard it? Humans are not so monolithic and never have been. And when Christian missionaries did arrive to conquer and colonize these cultures, they seemed to have little enough difficulty finding converts.”
I have no wish to defend Chick’s point here. I’m just including this to show I am being thorough.
“Besides, throughout the New Testament, God repeatedly reveals his message to people whom he must know will reject it. (See Matthew 10:5-6, for example, where Jesus tells his disciples to go and preach to the Jews, despite his lamentation in chapter 8 that most if not all of them are going to Hell.) And this does make sense. After all, if God had decided not to reveal his message to people whom he knows will not accept it, there would be no reason for him to reveal his message to anyone at all. He could just use his omniscient foreknowledge to pick out the people who would accept it if they heard it, save them, and condemn the rest. For Christians to say that God places a high emphasis on evangelism, then turn around and say that he doesn’t bother spreading his word to everyone, is profoundly inconsistent, not to mention unjust.”
Only the last point needs to be addressed about evangelism. No inconsistency exists. God is the master. We are the servants. Why should the servant expect the master to do all the work? Again also, no standard of justice has been given.
“Similar situations arise with many other religions. According to Judaism, God chose the Israelites as his people and gave his laws only to them. So what happens to everyone else? Do they have no chance? Is God a racist, condemning people to eternal exclusion from his kingdom based on the situation of their birth? Likewise Islam. Does the Qur’an, God’s final revelation to humankind, anywhere explicitly tell us the fate of those who lived and died without ever hearing of monotheism? Since Allah states he does not forgive idolatry, are the pagans and polytheists of ancient times damned to infinite torment for circumstances beyond their control?”
We have already addressed the purpose of the law and what is general revelation and what isn’t. Also, a passage like Amos 3:2 shows that because Israel was chosen, that was the basis for their judgment. It has not yet been mentioned that DA likely has an assumption that punishment and reward is the same for everyone. There are degrees in both cases.
“A religion which strongly reflects the beliefs of its time is more likely to be a product of its time than of revelation. If a given religion was purely the invention of human beings, we would expect that that religion would bear similarities to its culture of origin. On the other hand, a transcendent or all-knowing deity, or even one that was merely far wiser than human beings, would not be limited by what was known or believed at the time he dispensed a revelation, but could provide new information of which people were not previously aware and which did not correspond to any concepts in their experience. However, when we examine religions, we find that the former and not the latter situation invariably applies.”
Why new information would have to be revealed is not spelled out, but in fact, in Christianity, new information was revealed. We had a fuller revelation of the nature of God in Christ. We have a deeper understanding of morality based on the life of Christ. It could be DA is being like Dawkins expecting scientific information would be revealed. Why should it be?
“Christianity, again, is a perfect example of this. The theology of this religion blends apocalyptic fears, Jewish monotheistic ideals, Greek ethical philosophy, and the worship practices and beliefs of the mystery cults at precisely the time when those things were mixing at a cosmopolitan crossroads of the Roman Empire. Granted, God could decide to reveal his wisdom to humanity at a time and place when it would exactly resemble a syncretistic fusion of the prevailing theologies of the day. However, all else being equal, the principle of Occam’s Razor should lead us to conclude that it is nothing more than that. Positing a deity is an extra assumption that is not necessary and gives no additional explanatory power to any attempt to explain the origins of the Christian religion.”
DA is free to see if he can make a historical basis for when Mithras, Osiris, Dionyuss, Horus, Attis, etc. lived on this Earth and what eyewitnesses wrote about them if he wishes. Again, it is more likely that DA has brought into modern copycat nonsense that not even Bart Ehrman takes seriously.
“Another way in which this aspect of the Argument from Locality applies is in regard to those religious tenets which state beliefs and approve practices that were widely agreed upon at the time, but that today are recognized to be false or morally wrong. One particularly glaring example is the way the Christian and Jewish scriptures both implicitly and explicitly approve of the practices of human slavery and the institutional inequality of women.”
Absent is any interaction with works on slavery in the Ancient Near East culture. In fact, the seeds of the destruction of slavery are rooted in Scripture and the basis for its destruction the first time was the idea that man is in the image of God. Slavery was a less than desirable condition tolerated for the time being until its non-existence was more feasible. Poor people had to have someone to work for after all and they could not go to the local Wal-Mart and get a job.
As for women, has DA not heard of Ruth and Esther? How about Deborah and Hannah and other women celebrated in the OT? This OT is also the same one that says men and women both bear the image of God fully in the very first chapter!
Does he not see how Jesus interacted with women in his ministry? Does he not note that Paul said there is no male or female in Christ, or even slave and free? If anything uplifted women to where they are today, it was Christianity.
“Likewise, these writings show no special insight into the workings of the universe other than what was widely known to the people of their time, and make many mistakes common to those who lived in that era – for example, the belief that mental illness and physical disability were caused by demon possession.”
Nowhere do I see the NT saying that all mental illness and physical disability are the result of demon possession. It does indicate that some can be. Has DA proven otherwise? Has he examined every case past and present and shown none of them are the result of demonic activity? Note there are several healings in the NT that aren’t connected to demons. This even includes raisings of the dead.
“Again, under the Argument from Locality this is exactly what we should expect: these religions, being the product of those time periods, cannot be expected to show knowledge advanced beyond what the people of those periods possessed.”
And given the time and cost of writing and not to mention delivery of writing, we would not expect them to waste time writing so much on secondary issues. The apostles were not made to be scientists but made to be deliverers of the message of the Kingdom.
“In closing, consider what would refute the Argument from Locality. We could have found ourselves living in a world with only one religion, spread throughout the globe, with prophets from among every people. We could have found that, when we first contacted isolated native tribes, their religion was identical to one that already existed rather than being entirely their own. We could have found religions that bore no resemblance to the culture of their time and place of origin, in possession of advanced scientific knowledge or advanced ethical principles totally unlike what was commonly believed at the time. These are reasonable things to expect if there really was a god genuinely interested in revealing itself to humanity and being worshipped.”
No. What refutes it is a reasonable case. DA once again has the mindset often shown. “If God were as smart as I am, He would know how He ought to reveal Himself. Since He did not do so, He does not exist.” DA will need to interact with our reasons.
“But in reality, we find none of these things. What we find are numerous contradictory and conflicting religions, some with specific “chosen” races or ethnicities, and the further separated they are in time and space, the more their beliefs clash. When we encounter previously isolated tribes, their religions are always new and unique. When we examine the ethical codes and scientific knowledge of religions, they always bear strong resemblances to the times and places where those religions originated. Under the assumption of atheism, this is precisely what we should expect.”
Part of the problem is DA writes as a Post-Gutenberg Post-Enlightenment thinker who assumes scientific knowledge is what everyone cares about. Not so. DA will need to interact with our arguments and the reasons put forward and with real scholarship instead of Jack Chick. Note that not ONE theistic argument has been countered thus far.
“One could, of course, argue that this does not prove anything, that God deliberately intended things to be this way. Maybe he has reasons of his own, unknowable to us, for sending his messengers to only one people. Maybe he decided not to disclose advanced knowledge to primitive people. Maybe he allows evil spirits to delude people into creating false religions. Maybe, maybe, maybe – but that is precisely the point. When one believes in supernatural beings that can violate the laws of nature at will and that have motivations inscrutable to humans, all grounds for believing one proposition over another vanish, all knowledge disappears. There is no longer any reason to expect any state of affairs rather than any other. Such a doctrine is impossible to falsify and leads to nothing but epistemic chaos. In explaining anything, theism turns out to explain nothing.”
Unlike DA, I don’t hold to a natural-supernatural distinction. Yet DA has naught but speculation here. Who says God’s motivation is inscrutable? Numerous Christian phlosophers have written on this. Why also believe that all grounds for belieiving propositions vanish? They don’t. The propositions to be believed are consistent propositions backed by evidence. DA has this idea that if you allow a miracle, anything goes, and then looks at the world and says “Why aren’t there miracles?” If we present evidence of one DA will say “If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.” In essence, he is arguing in a circle.
“But atheism does not have the luxury of infinitely imaginative explanations unconstrained by fact. Given a few first principles – physical laws and observations whose existence no one disputes – atheism requires that the world can only be one way, and that is the way we in fact find it to be. Believers may argue why God set up the world in just the one way we would expect it to be if he did not exist, but for a freethinker, the conclusion is obvious.”
It could only be one way? Why? Why could it not be a brute fact as some atheist thinkers said? Why should I think on atheism that the laws of nature will be consistent? Why think the universe will not just pop out of existence? These are questions that philosophers regularly do argue about.
Of course, we could just as well ask where the first principles come from. DA has not given any argument. He has not given a metaphysical basis for existence or countered a single theistic argument and has said his own speculations are enough.
In conclusion, we find DA’s approach highly lacking and raising more problems than it solves, but such is what we are used to. It is easier to just speculate than to actually interact with real scholarship and contend with it.