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Monday, February 22, 2010

My Observations on the D'Souza-Loftus Debate

I have finished listening to the entire two hour debate between Dinesh D'Souza and John Loftus on the subject, Does the Christian God Exist.

Most reviewers of the debate, including those who agree with John's position, have said that John lost the debate. I would agree if we are talking about the technical rules of debating. Dinesh presented his points more clearly and more emphatically than John. John's overall presentation was weak and somewhat disorganized. He failed to challenge many of Dinesh's points and rebuttals. However, I think this was due to the fact that Dinesh is an experienced debater and a polished speaker. As I reflected upon the specific arguments that Dinesh and John gave, however, I believe John is the clear winner on substance.

Below is my summary of the debate along with my comments (in bold). I have only listened to the debate once, and while I tried to take good notes, I may have missed some things or placed them in the wrong place. With that caveat, here is my summary of the debate.

Opening Statement from John Loftus:

Dinesh will argue that belief in the Christian God is possible no matter how unlikely. I call it the "Dumb and Dumber" Defense from the movie with the same title. In the movie, Jim Carrey is told by a girl that he has one chance in a million of getting her. Carrey is excited, and says, "well then I do have a chance." Loftus says that the likelihood of the Christian God existing is about the same as the chance Carrey has of getting the girl.

While I basically agree with John's point, I would not have used the "Dumb and Dumber" reference as it seems that you are calling Dinesh and Christians dumb. That just serves to turn the audience against you from the very beginning.

1. Loftus argues that our religion is largely determined by where we are born. He says that if Dinesh had been born in an Arab country, he would likely be defending the Muslim God tonight instead of the Christian God. Loftus maintains that people tend to follow the religion which is dominant in the culture in which they are born and reared.

This point is indisputable but could have been phrased more carefully. Dinesh and probably some of the audience thought John was saying that the geography was the determining factor rather than the indoctrination provided by the child's parents and culture.

2. Loftus argues that Christianity is not unique in its enormous growth or positive influence on society. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world today. They all think that their religion is a positive influence on society. Hindus think the same. Shintoists think the same, etc.

True

3. Loftus argues that showing that something is consistent with a belief in the Christian God is not the same thing as proving that the Christian God exists. For example, he expects Dinesh to use the "big bang" theory to argue for the Christian God. The fact is that Muslims could use the same argument. So the argument does not prove anything relative to the existence of the God Christians believe in.

True

4. Loftus argues that the Bible demonstrates a superstitious, pre-scientific understanding of the world. For example, the Bible presents a donkey that talks, DNA being changed by viewing peeled sticks, Egyptian magicians changing sticks into snakes, etc. No educated person today would believe such things really happened.

True, but some Christians who admit there are some errors and myths in the Bible, still hold on to their Christian faith. They would argue only fundamentalists accept everything in the Bible as literally true.

5. Loftus argues that a belief in the Christian God is based on historical evidence and that history is very weak in evidential value because it is subjective and biased.

Once again true but not presented in a clear way that would be easily understood by audience. Could be taken to mean that we cannot know anything about history. John alluded to some author that has written on this subject but he should have quoted the author and formulated a clear argument.

6. Loftus argues that if the Christian God really existed, He would have condemned slavery, female subjugation, and the killing of people who have a different religion. He would have made doctrines over which Christians have spilt each other's blood, such as the doctrine of the eucharist, unambiguously clear. Instead, he left it vague even though he would have known that it would be a major point of contention among his followers.

Excellent point and one that should have been driven home time and time again.

7. Loftus argues that the problem of evil negates the existence of the Christian God. He says that a loving parent would not give his child something that he knows can cause harm. He says that even though God knew that giving man free will would produce enormous suffering, he did it anyway. He compares a mother giving a razor blade to a two year old. If that toddler hurts himself or someone else with the blade, its the mother who is at fault.

Another excellent point which should have been restated when Dinesh failed to answer it.

Opening Statement from Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh says he is "baffled" by John's opening statement. He says that we are here to debate facts and John has given us "argumentum diarrhea." He says that Loftus is "just whining." He says John needs to make specific arguments against the Christian God.

I find Dinesh's comments insulting and condescending. I also think that John did make some specific arguments against the Christian God which Dinesh just ignores. John would have been better served to enumerate his arguments and restate them in the conclusion to his opening statement but this does not permit Dinesh to just ignore them.

Dinesh then responds to John's first point by saying that the argument about where someone is born being determinative of what they believe is the "genetic fallacy." He says that he was born in India, a Hindu country, yet by choice became a Christian. He says that if someone was born in Oxford, England instead of Oxford, Mississippi, that person would be more likely to believe in evolution. Does that have anything to do with whether evolution is true or false? No, it doesn't. Thus, John's argument is irrelevant.

Dinesh is flat wrong about John's argument being a genetic fallacy. I have discussed this in a previous post.

Furthermore, I think Dinesh is being disingenuous when he says he was born in a Hindu country, yet became a Christian. My understanding is that Dinesh was born to Christian parents in India. That changes everything. At 17, he came to the USA. This is where John could have been clearer in his argumentation. Its not the geography of where someone is born as much as it is the religion of the parents to which he is born.

Dinesh does not address any of the other points made by John but rather begins to make his positive case for the existence of the Christian God.


1. Dinesh argues that Christianity has a better explanation of the ultimate questions of life than does science. He says that science has "no clue" to the following questions:
a. Where did we come from?
b. What is the purpose of life?
c. What is after death?

Of course science doesn't touch on these philosophical questions. It is not the domain of science. Just because religions have answers to these questions does not mean they are the right answers.

2. Dinesh argues that the universe had a singular beginning and thus must have had a cause. He says nature could not have produced itself because at the time of the big bang, there was nothing. He says that the Hebrew Bible recognized this truth, because it teaches that "first there was nothing and then there was something." This something, i.e., the universe, was caused to exist by the Christian God.

First, as John already pointed out, there is not agreement among scientists on cosmic singularity. As a matter of fact, Stephen Hawking, whom Dinesh cites as his authority on this matter, has since changed his mind. In A Brief History of Time (p. 53), Hawking writes:

"So in the end our work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity. It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe-as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account."

It would have been good if John would have nailed Dinesh on this misrepresentation of Hawking.

Second, the Hebrew Bible does not say that "first there was nothing and then there was something." Dinesh makes an assertion but provides no scriptural evidence. Furthermore, if Dinesh is claiming that the Bible is being true to science in this case, then why isn't it in other places, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua? The Christian apologist cannot "have his cake and eat it too."


3. Dinesh argues that the universe is finally tuned and that if any of the laws of the universe were even slightly different than they are, no life would exist. He says this demands belief in a God who cares for us.

While Dinesh is right about the fact that the laws of the universe could not be changed and life still exist, this does not argue for the Christian God. In fact, it does not even argue for a God at all.

Dinesh pauses to mention that he is arguing for the Christian God on the basis of secular reason not divine scriptures.

He is arguing for a deity but nothing in his argument demands the Christian deity. Furthermore, many Christian apologists would say that Dinesh has already "sold out" by placing secular reason over divine revelation as his ultimate authority. That is because they realize that if reason is the ultimate authority, then Christianity is not true.

4. Dinesh argues that things in the world are not the way they ought to be. He says that all of us can imagine perfection but we are not able to attain to it. He says that no religion but the Christian religion solves the problem "from the top down." Man cannot reach up to perfection but the Christian God can reach down and bring us to perfection.

I found this argument to be quite vague. Because we can imagine perfection does not mean that it has to exist. Furthermore, if the Christian God is lifting mankind up to his level, he is doing a pretty poor job of it. In addition, other religions have means for individuals to reach perfection. I fail to see how this argument does anything to prove the God of the Christians exists.

5. Dinesh argues that there is strong historical evidence that Jesus existed and that he was raised from the dead. He says that the historical evidence that Jesus existed is far greater than the evidence that Socrates existed, yet no serious philosopher or historian today doubts that Socrates really existed. He says there are four historical facts upon which the majority of scholars agree: a. A man named Jesus lived in 1st century; b. This man Jesus was crucified; c. This man Jesus was buried in a tomb; d. This man Jesus was seen alive by both believers and skeptics three days later.

These ideas are plagiarized from William Craig. First, these 4 things are not historical "facts." They are reports that purport to be historical. I would accept these 4 things as probably historical if you were to change letter d. to read: This man Jesus was reportedly seen alive three days later but the reports were written by his own followers many decades after the event supposedly happened.

6. Dinesh argues that the universe requires an explanation.

Okay, but that does not mean that we know what the explanation is and it certainly doesn't demand that we postulate the God of the Bible as the only viable explanation.

7. Dinesh argues that the existence of a moral law demands a lawgiver.

This is an assertion without any proof. Why does morality demand a supernatural being? Dinesh does not say. Why would a moral code demand the Christian God? I really tire of this argument because the morality displayed in the Bible is inferior to the morality of civilized people today. If the Bible was written by the moral lawgiver, then why does it demonstrate such a poor morality itself?

Rebuttal by John Loftus

1. Loftus mentions brainwashing and says that Dinesh and Christians are brainwashed as much as Muslims.

While this may be true, although I would prefer to say they have been indoctrinated, it is not productive to bring up in a debate. It sounds insulting and condescending and turns the audience against you.

2. Loftus argues that history is subjective and is therefore very weak in terms of evidence.

I agree but Loftus does not substantiate his point. He should have formulated a specific argument.

3. Loftus argues that Christians accept the conclusions of science in every area except those where it contradicts their holy book. He mentions that "cosmic singularity" has been refuted by Victor Stenger.

This is an excellent point that I think needs to be driven home more forcefully. Christians trust medical science when they get sick. They trust aeronautical science when they get on a plane but when science contradicts anything in the Bible, they take the Bible over science. Regarding Stenger, John again fails to cite the specific argument that Stenger makes. Just saying that an author has refuted something without citing the author is not a good argument.

Rebuttal by Dinesh

1. With regard to John's charge of brainwashing, Dinesh counters by saying that the vast majority of people in the world believe in God, so if John is right, virtually the whole world is brainwashed.

Saying the majority of the world believes in God is argumentum ad populum and is not a valid argument. The whole world used to believe the earth was flat too.

2. Dinesh says science is on his side and refers to a list of 200 of the greatest scientists from history who believe in God. He says that with regard to science, "Loftus is lying." Dinesh claims that "cosmic singularity" is an established fact and cites Stephen Hawking. He says that when atheists don't know how to explain something they chant: "quantum".

Dinesh is being disingenuous again. Yes, many scientists in the past believed in God but most today do not. Dinesh should have mentioned the dates when these "200 greatest scientists" lived. With regard to "cosmic singularity", it is Dinesh who is stating a falsehood. Hawking has repudiated "cosmic singularity" and Dinesh either knows that or should know it. Its the Christians who insert "Goddidit" for anything they can't explain. To say that atheists chant, "quantum" is not a parallel. There is scientific evidence for "quantum physics" and there is none for God.

Cross Examination

Dinesh refers to near death experiences as proof of the after-life. He rejects the "dying brain theory" that scientists have proposed because he says that if the person's brain were dying, how would you explain the fact that the person is functioning normally now.

I can't believe that Dinesh does not see his own contradiction here. If the person's brain were dead (as Dinesh claims), and not just dying (as science claims), then its even more incredible that the person is functioning now. Not only was his dead brain brought back to life but it was healed of any damage.

Furthermore, even if the NDE's are true, they don't prove the existence of a God, much less, the Christian God.


Dinesh argues that Christianity is the only religion that accepts another religion as being entirely true, namely, Judaism.

How this is supposed to prove that the Christian God exists is beyond me.

Dinesh says that Catholics and Protestants disagree mainly on just one doctrine, the nature of the eucharist. He says they agree on 99% of core doctrines.

That is blatantly false. Protestants disagree with Rome on the authority of the Pope, the sufficiency of the Bible, the plan of salvation, and a host of other matters. Either Dinesh is ignorant or he is intentionally being deceptive.

Dinesh argues that John's point that the disagreement among religons cancels them all out is not valid.

I agree with Dinesh here. John's point has some merit but would need to be stated in a different way.

Dinesh argues that Jesus' moral teachings is what makes him great. His teachings if followed would make everyone's life better. He says this is a big problem for the atheists to answer and it always disarms them. He goes on to say that Jesus never hurt another person and is a good role model.

Some of the teachings reportedly said by Jesus are in fact good, practical principles for living. Others are completely impractical and would lead to utter disaster if practiced. As far as Jesus never hurting anyone, that may be true of his first advent but Christians claim he is coming back again and then he will hurt a lot of people.

Dinesh argues that the existence of hell is sufficient refutation of the idea that the after-life is a result of "wish fulfillment." He says that if the afte-life were simply the invention of those who want a pleasant existence after death, then the idea of hell would never have developed.

First, as stated above, even if there is an after-life, it does not prove the existence of a God much less the Christian God. Second, hell is easily explained under the idea of "wish fulfillment." Those who want a pleasant existence in eternity want their enemies and oppressors to experience the opposite, thus the invention of hell. Virtually everyone who believes in an after-life believes he or she will be going to heaven. Its only their enemies who will be going to hell.

My Conclusion

After careful reflection on the specific arguments presented by Dinesh, I did not fine a single one with any merit. He basically has no argument at all. John did have some good arguments but they were not always stated clearly and emphatically. John would have been better served to select his three or four top arguments and keep restating them against any rebuttal offered by Dinesh.

In conclusion, let me say that I am not claiming that I would have done a better job against Dinesh. Its easy to sit back as a Monday morning quarterback and point out others mistakes and shortcomings. I applaud John for his efforts and I think that on the matter of substance, he won the debate.

46 comments:

  1. Thanks Ken, for this fair-minded review. I appreciate the time you took to do this and to further argue against Dinesh. Debates are entertaining and educational. Dinesh was entertaining, that's for sure. The education comes out of further reflection on the substance of the debate itself. Yes, I agree with you. There was nothing Dinesh said that was worth any merit at all. Dinesh has mastered the art of debating, that's for sure. I learned from it. That too is sure. It motivates me to be better at it, and I will.

    Post a link to this review of yours on my Blog. Another review of it was posted right here where Dr. Howell said the winners were the students who attended.

    One thing I think is important about the debate is that since Dinesh is so well known people will be interested in why he was asked to debate me who is relatively unknown. I said the real debate takes place in our books. It will cause some people to read our books, and when they do I don't think there is any comparison between them at all.

    Cheers.

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  2. I have said before that one way for Dinesh to win a is to hog up as much time as possible so your opponent doesn't get a chance to speak unless he's rude. Do you know how many times I wanted to jump in? He had already interrupted me earlier so it would be a tit for tat exchange if I had. I had answers to every single argument of his. Since he interrupted me early on and repeatedly insulted me, this frustrated me and made me second guess what I was saying while I was saying it.

    Since I lost in terms of style and tactics then there's something else. They may want to have a repeat performance since they'll expect him to win on these matters again. We'll see. I can't say for sure but he has debated others repeatedly so why not me? You can watch him debate as I have done in preparation but there is nothing quite like being there in a debate with him.

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  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have received Dr. Jason Long's books and have started reading Biblical Nonsense. I was able to see, argumentum ad populum with respect to Dinesh saying that the vast majority of people in the world believe in God. Reading books like Biblical Nonsense help me examine what the Hebrew bible and the Christian bible are offering and it helps me look at what I believe or don't believe and how I came to believe it.

    I think of myself as a student and John Loftus is correct when he quotes Dr. Howell who said the winners were the students who attended. As a student I like to argue my theories and then learn where I am right and I am wrong. Doesn't it say somewhere that the teacher learns the most from his students?

    Ken said, "Virtually everyone who believes in an after-life believes he or she will be going to heaven. Its only their enemies who will be going to hell." This statement seems close to argumentum ad populum. Judaism for one, does not believe in the concept of hell as the Christians do. There is no burning in "hell" for eternity. There is a concept of Gehinnom, although the word does not appear in the Torah. The origin of the word comes from a place listed in the writings and the prophets and is most often associated with certain types of burning that took place there such as this verse 2 Kings 23:10 - He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech.

    According to Judaism, Gehinnom is time limited to 11 or 12 months after a person dies. It is a benefit instead of a punishment. I've heard it compared to spiritual drycleaning and it is part of the atonement process.

    Growing up going to Catholic schools I was taught that this place was Purgatory. You went there if you had venial sins but if you had mortal sins you went to hell. Forever. I was taught that non-Catholics, yes even Protestants went to hell. The problem was my mother was Catholic but my father practiced no religion. And that is what started me on the road of questions. If my parents had both been Catholic I might not have questioned the validity of Catholicism. I agree that you are influenced by your parents, teachers and the community where you live.

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  4. Ken--

    Nice work on the review. Of the several I've read so far, yours is probably the most even-handed and addresses both the substantive content and the non-substantive stylistic apsects. I think you've nailed it in both respects and I have no disagreement with your conclusions or specifics.

    John --

    You have a better factual basis and methodological foundation for your arguments. I concur with Ken in noticing where the opportunities would be for certain of the more powerful / irrefutable points to be emphasized and repeated as often as possible and for certain of those to be developed more thoroughly, perhaps at the expense of less time on lesser points or even omitting a few of the less powerful points altogether (though perhaps I'd side with just less emphasis on those before dropping them entirely).

    As for his style, it is annoying to see Dinesh so comfortable with insult lobbing as I've seen him do in previous debates. He clearly has a disregard for atheists as people, and I'm doubtful that he would be comfortable breaking bread with an atheist or calling one "friend". Too bad, because many other of his colleagues are able to deal with our arguments without treating us with such personal contempt. To me, this speaks rather poorly of his character, which to see such a high profile Christian impugning his own character so wantonly is the height of irony, given the emphasis that is placed on good character in the belief system that is Christianity. As much as I disagree with Dr. Craig in each and every of his debates, with each and every point made in those debates, the occasional remarks that I've seen him make that could be construed as insulting were more of a humorous and not so contemptuous nature that for whatever reason I didn't find those remarks so objectionable as I did with D'Souza.

    Furthermore, I would wholly agree that his rudeness in questioning out of turn and monopolizing the clock is a difficult problem and I'm afraid I have no idea how this would best be handled. I'll have to leave that up to those who have some experience in live debating to make recommendations, and my advice would be to actively solicit this advice from some of those who are well equipped to give it.

    Finally, while I find the notion of style over substance utterly distasteful and certainly DO NOT hand D'Souza the victory simply because of his unfortunate skill in playing rhetoric up to the fullest, the obvious point would be to go back and do what you probably have already done and study a bunch of his and Craig's debates, and this time rather than focusing on substance while reviewing those (yes, that sounds ridiculous to me as well), examine the rhetorical aspects and make note of what specific things each of these guys have done in those debates to make a connection with the audiences and to (dare I say) bamboozle the audiences into sympathizing with their otherwise vacuous arguments. While your arguments will continue to have actual substance, blatantly ripping off a few of their favorite techniques may be effective as a tool for getting a bit more mileage and audience connectivity to your arguments.

    By all means, see this debate as schooling for your next debate and not as a final excursion. Your book was fantastic, your arguments are rock solid, and you have a much more careful view of the relevant issues with an eye toward anticipating the likely objections and heading those off. This is quite a toolkit to have at your disposal and what a shame it would be not to leverage it and even fine-tune it further for live debate. Looking forward to your next debate, whether it's a rematch with D'Souza or a shot at a new opponent entirely.

    Chris Jones

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  5. Thanks, my friends. I'm told the video will be made available by Wednesday at the latest, maybe tomorrow. But I'm a quick learner. I hope to show what I've learned when I debate David Wood on March 13th.

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  6. Hi Emet. One thing you may want to ask the orthodox rabbis with whom you study is if that stuff about a temporary Genennah (the spiritual drycleaning)applies only to Jews. If my memory is correct, Hillel and Shammai discuss that in the context of the claim that "all Israel has a place in the World to Come." I realize that prominent strands of rabbinic Judaism thought that righteous Gentiles who observe the Noachide commandments have a place in the World to Come, but what happens to the unrighteous Gentiles, or the Gentiles who aren't fully righteous?

    Have you discussed that with the rabbi, or come across anything about it in your reading?

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  7. Emet,

    Thanks for your comments and I encourage you to keep questioning. Socrates said: "the unexamined life is not worth living" and to "follow the evidence wherever it leads." I would add, "Don't be afraid of the truth."


    You said that my statement, "Virtually everyone who believes in an after-life believes he or she will be going to heaven. Its only their enemies who will be going to hell," seems close to argumentum ad populum.

    Let me explain. Dinesh was arguing that the idea of an afterlife could not be an invention due to "wish fulfillment" because if it were, only heaven would have been invented not hell. My point was that his argument is not true because I maintain that those who invented the idea of an afterlife and those who believe in one today all thought they were going to heaven. They invented hell for their ehemies.

    Now while Judaism did not have a hell in the sense of eternal lake of fire like the Book of Revelation, nevertheless, Israel's enemies and the unrighteous in general were not going to heaven but to a place of darkness (i.e., Sheol). So my point still holds even with regard to Judaism.

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  8. Yeah, but Christianity is the only religion that fully embraces Judaism, Ken! If that doesn't sway you, then what can?! :D

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  9. Ken,

    Could you define the term hell as you learned it and taught it? There is so little written about hell in the Hebrew writings, and also very little in the Christian writings that I always wonder how we know so much about it.

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  10. I know Ken's comment was tongue in cheek, but there is a historical answer to why Christians have strong ideas about the nature of hell.

    Simply put: Dante and Milton.

    These poets notions of hell were the popular reading of the day for religious people, and their ideas fed into early Pastorals (Sermons), and gave Christians something to imagine whereas, as Ken rightly pointed out, the Bible is mum.

    So now people, who often don't read the Bible, think they know everything about what it doesn't say! Yippy!

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  11. James,

    Actually your question was one of the first things I asked the rabbi. The short answer is that Gehinnom applies to every soul.

    He said you must first understand that the Jewish people are “chosen” for added responsibility. This does not mean that they are chosen for “heaven” to the exclusion of everyone else. It is one of the reasons that Jewish people do not proselytize. One doesn’t have to be Jewish to go to “heaven”. At the inauguration of the first temple King Solomon says, I Kings 8: 41 - “Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for your Name’s sake - for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm - and will come and pray toward this Temple - may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know your Name...

    Universal knowledge of the Almighty is one of the goals to be achieved by the messianic era.

    The harder question to discuss is what is meant by righteous. You and I are coming at it from a completely different mindset than what Judaism means by righteous. There isn’t a human condition to be achieved such as “fully righteous”. One is always striving to move up the ladder, one rung at a time. The rabbi was intrigued by my questions about who makes it into heaven and it took awhile for us to realize that we were using the same words but with very different meanings. I like the Jewish idea that the Almighty gives each soul the right family, and the right country to live in, at just the right time in history, for the soul’s benefit.

    Also, the Talmud or oral tradition is taught from teacher to student. It is a long process and one would have to be completely knowledgeable in all areas of Judaism before one could understand what Hillel and Shammai mean when they say “all Israel has a place in the World to Come.” Deuteronomy 29:15-20 speaks about Children of Israel who will not be forgiven and who’s name will be erased from the book of life. That seems to directly contradict Hillel and Shammai. In the little that I have learned, there cannot be a contradiction but there can be a paradox. How do you understand it when Paul says “All Israel will be saved” in Romans 11. I hope my tone doesn’t seem too harsh.

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  12. He says that no religion but the Christian religion solves the problem "from the top down."

    An extremely narrow view, displaying total ignorance of the religions of Asia. I'm sure he knows little to nothing of "Hinduism" (a term I rather dislike but use anyway for convenience), and probably nothing at all about Buddhism. He got hit with a Jesuit stick very early on, and it knocked out of him completely what little sense with which he might have been born.

    Dinesh was arguing that the idea of an afterlife could not be an invention due to "wish fulfillment" because if it were, only heaven would have been invented not hell. My point was that his argument is not true because I maintain that those who invented the idea of an afterlife and those who believe in one today all thought they were going to heaven. They invented hell for their ehemies.

    Not necessarily. In the beginning, I think it was developed as a societal control device. Later, it was emphasized as a result of people's abysmally low self-esteem. Christian theology has been shaped by some of the most profoundly self-loathing individuals in history. Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin - it goes on and on.

    I have said before that one way for Dinesh to win a is to hog up as much time as possible so your opponent doesn't get a chance to speak unless he's rude. Do you know how many times I wanted to jump in? He had already interrupted me earlier so it would be a tit for tat exchange if I had. I had answers to every single argument of his. Since he interrupted me early on and repeatedly insulted me, this frustrated me and made me second guess what I was saying while I was saying it.

    John, this is why debating them is pointless. Debate isn't about discerning objective reality; it's a form of performance art. Christians, as you know, for all of their blathering about TRUTH, aren't really interested in it at all; their only goal is to continue to believe, and they'll tap dance all around you while you're trying carefully to assemble your remarks. In the end, the people who came to cheer them on walk away convinced their belief system has been validated. You can't win.

    Frankly, I feel that engaging them at all is an utter waste of time; you'll never convince them that they're wrong. I'm told by former Christians that the act of challenging them helped to bring them out of that world, but almost invariably, I've found that they also say they were never quite comfortable with it, never as sure as were their coreligionists, always had a problem with the notion of hell, etc. (of course, this allows people like ZDenny to claim they were never really Christians in the first place).

    In any case - criticize their beliefs, engage them on blogs or on panels if you must, but never debate them. It's a no-win situation.

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  13. Cipher, thanks for your comment but I'd have to disagree with you. Atheists always win in debates, and for that reason I'll continue doing them.

    Cheers.

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  14. Again (and I should have been clearer) - the people who can be changed will find their way out on their own. There is a wealth of material available today, including your book. Engaging them personally, especially in the venue of debate, doesn't, in my opinion, do anything but validate the true believers.

    From your blog: the very fact that the question of God's existence is debatable means it's not obvious that he exists.

    The don't see it that way. They think it's perfectly obvious, and they think themselves infinitely kind to even bother arguing with you, in order to bring you and your poor, benighted followers to salvation. Of course, they really do it to reinforce their own beliefs. It's an orgy of mutual validation.

    You may be right, John, but, obviously, I don't think so, and I think validating them in any form is dangerous; it's a large part of how we got to where we are as a society - and, as we continue to go down, we'll be taking the rest of the world with us. They've proven to be absolutely toxic.

    (BTW, I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that Breckmin character is unreachable!)

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  15. No, your tone is not harsh at all, Emet. I was thinking of similar things after I made my comment. There are rabbinic passages that suggest that certain people won't have a place in the World to Come: the wilderness generation, apostates. I'm not sure what happens to them---if they're destroyed, or what. Plus, maybe there are exceptions to the "all Israel has a place in the world to come" concept. I'll have to look at the passage. I need more Hebrew texts for my rabbinic comp, and I was thinking of looking at that one in the Mishnah and Tosefta about all Israel having a place in the world to come.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Good Day Mr. Pullian,

    Just a quick point, reference a side issue, but one that I see is already being discussed in the comments section.

    You said:

    “Second, hell is easily explained under the idea of "wish fulfillment." Those who want a pleasant existence in eternity want their enemies and oppressors to experience the opposite, thus the invention of hell. Virtually everyone who believes in an after-life believes he or she will be going to heaven. Its only their enemies who will be going to hell.”

    Your statement here is either disingenuous or ignorant. I will assume the latter. The reason I say this is because as Dinesh is a Catholic and made his argument about hell from a Catholic perspective, then it is the Catholic perspective that should be argued against. And once that particular perspective is understood, than your presented explanation of hell as “wish fulfillment” for the believer fails.

    First, the Catholic does not believe in “once saved, always saved,” so the Catholic could sin in a manner that would send him to hell at anytime. His eternal salvation is in question till the end of his life. Second, the Catholic does not claim to know God’s will as to who would go to heaven and who to hell. In fact, the Catholic is in a position that he may go to hell and his enemy to heaven. He makes no certain statement about where his enemies would go and thus, cannot get a “wish fulfillment” from it. Third, it is a sin for the Catholic to wish for anyone to go to hell, and by sinning in such a manner, the Catholic risks his own salvation! This does not seem like wish fulfillment. Forth, the Catholic, in order to get to heaven, must suffer for all his sins whether in this life or the next in purgatory, so getting to heaven is not necessarily an enjoyable experience. Fifth, and linked to the last point, the Church teaches that the main pain of heaven is the separation from God, which the hell-bound individual desires anyway, so there already exists a morbid desire that is fulfilled for the hell-bound in this manner.

    Now if you wish to discuss atheism as the “wish fulfillment” of avoiding eternal judgement—denial (atheism) is always easier than raging against it (anti-theism)—that would be a great topic.

    Thank you for the debate review, although having not yet listened to it thoroughly, I am loath to currently state whether your review is objective or not.

    God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  17. Good Day cipher,

    You said: "Of course, they really do it to reinforce their own beliefs. It's an orgy of mutual validation."

    I was just wondering if you were speaking of Christians or atheists!

    Because based on this blog, John Loftus' blog and many other atheist and Christian blogs, debates, articles, books, etc., I would say that both groups are guilty of this problem. It is human nature after all.

    God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. Miksa, your next-to-last post is one of the most ridiculous pieces of "reasoning" I've come across lately.

    Now if you wish to discuss atheism as the “wish fulfillment” of avoiding eternal judgement—denial (atheism) is always easier than raging against it (anti-theism)—that would be a great topic.

    You're awfully smug and condescending for someone who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

    That's it for me; I'm getting to be too old and tired for this nonsense. Ken, I appreciate what you're doing here, but you're far too tolerant of these cretins for my taste.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Good Day cipher,

    Is such rationality, reason and civility always one of your trademarks? Interesting...

    And, though not wishing to engage in an internet "fight", may I suggest that you review your own comments if you wish to see "smug and condescending."

    Furthermore, if you would have the time, could you please explain how I have behaved as a cretin rather than just making a rather rude asssertion?

    Thank you. Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  20. RD Miksa,

    It would be interesting to time travel back to my Catholic school days. I would enjoy listening to you and our priests discuss your idea of Catholicism. Maybe the Catholic church teaches things differently today. I thought my confession allowed me forgiveness. What was all the suffering of JC for then? Your description of the Catholic, suffering for all his sins in this life or the next in purgatory, definitely doesn't sound like an enjoyable experience. No wonder the Catholic church is losing adherents. The recruiting message is really offputting.

    If I hadn't already rejected Catholicism, your version is even worse than what I was taught.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Mr. Miksa,

    1. Please note carefully the spelling of my name. You have misspelled it here and on your blog.

    2. Please try to avoid comments that can be taken as personal insults. I don't think this does anything to advance civil discourse.

    3. Regarding my being "disingenuous or ignorant," as you claim, because I am not focusing exclusively on RCC doctrine, is misguided. Yes, I know D'Souza is a Catholic but he was arguing that atheists are wrong to think that the idea of an afterlife was simply an invention of wish-fulfillment. He and John were debating the origin of the idea of an afterlife, not what the RCC says about it today or during the middle ages or whenever.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Good Day Emet L.,

    You said:

    "Maybe the Catholic church teaches things differently today. I thought my confession allowed me forgiveness. What was all the suffering of JC for then? Your description of the Catholic, suffering for all his sins in this life or the next in purgatory, definitely doesn't sound like an enjoyable experience."

    Jesus Christ's siffering was to permit us the grace that would allow entry into heaven, not for the removal of punishment for our sins.


    "No wonder the Catholic church is losing adherents. The recruiting message is really offputting."

    Actually, the Church is growing ever so slowly. I understand that viewed through the North American lens, the Church seems to be losing, but globally, it is growing.


    "If I hadn't already rejected Catholicism, your version is even worse than what I was taught."

    This is an interesting, and I am not speaking of you specifically but in general, that on the one hand, many atheists say Christianity is just wish fulfillment as it is a way to get to heaven without punishment and then when it is shown that punishment can and does occur, they complain that that is horrible as well.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  23. Mr. Miska (sic)

    Unless you want to deny the papal encyclicals of the pre-Vatican II Popes, Innocent III, Boniface VIII, or Eugene IV then you can't claim Catholics view non-Catholics as eligible for Heaven. Additionally, according to the Lumen Gentium and Chapter 1 on the "Mystery of the Church", you most hold that I am going to Hell. You may not wish me to Hell but by the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium" you most assuredly know I am going to Hell, because I am an atheist.

    So, you don't know the tradition nor the dogma of your church.

    Pre-vatican II, all Catholics were certain non-Catholics were going to hell (e.g. Wish fulfillment to ensure status) and post-Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that all non-religious people are going to Hell (e.g. Wish fulfillment to ensure status).

    I'll assume you are ignorant of papal encyclicals and the current dogma of the religion you practice.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Good Day Mr. K. Pulliam,

    Ref. 1: I apologize greatly. And I am not being facetious as people misspell my name constantly and it is frustrating. I will immediately change it wherever I can. (Note: I have made the changes on my blog and issued an apology their as well. I apologize that I cannot change it here in the commentary.)

    Ref. 2: Agreed and noted. But what certain people take as insults and what the intention of the author actually was are two different things.

    Ref. 3: Even in general terms, the argument still stands. Eastern religions do not rejoice in the punishment of their enemies in the afterlife, rather they feel compassion for their enemies due to their being in "ignorance" and thus hoping that they will reincarnate in a better position in their next life. The Jews believed that even their enemies could be granted some form of afterlife if they followed God's minimal laws for Gentiles to the best of their ability. Muslims admit that Allah's omnipotence trumps all and thus he may, at a whim, decide to save their enemies, so they cannot rejoice in their enemies certain destruction. And the Catholic position has been the position of the Church since the doctrine was clearly articulated.

    My whole point here is that the claim that hell is "wish fulfillment" due to the potential to see one's enemies punished is arguable at best and wholly false at worst.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. Good Day Mr. O'Connor:

    Actually--and I hope I am not being insulting here--perhaps you should actually read the very documents you quote. Because from Lumen Gentium 16:

    "But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life."

    Furthermore, this is affirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church 846-848.

    And concerning atheism, the Catechism (2125) writes:

    "Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virute of the intentions and the circumstances [meaning that atheism could be a venial rather than mortal sin, and thus not lead to damnation]. 'Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or preent its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.'"

    Now combine this element about atheism with the passage concerning those that "through no fault of their own" do not know God, and atheists can be saved. It is not a certainty, but it is a possibility.

    If you have any further questions, let me know.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  26. RD,

    I doubt you really know the history of the faith you defend when you say this, "And the Catholic position has been the position of the Church since the doctrine was clearly articulated."

    Ummm Vatican II anyone?

    The Catholic Position changed regarding Heaven and who is eligible.

    Wish fulfillment does not need to imply YOU wish for a person be in Hell but it can mean that you imagine you will be there because you practice a certain set of rituals that are superior to another religion's set.

    Again, you assume via the dogma of your church that your rituals make you eligible to enjoy an eternity with the most powerful split personality in the universe while I will be suffering an eternity of unbearable heat or cold (depending on what myth you subscribe to).

    That, by example is wish fulfillment. And, prior to Vatican II, no person not baptized in the Holy Roman Catholic Church and an adherent to the sacraments therein would go to Heaven. Your popes said so.

    ReplyDelete
  27. But RD,

    I do know of god via both the Roman Catholic Church and both the Lutheran and Baptist branches of Protestantism yet reject the reality of all those myths.

    You will say by your doctrine that I am going to Hell.

    See my definition of wish-fullfillment above.

    Now, do you fully understand the dogma of your church?

    And you need to address the pre-Vatican II encyclicals and both how you deal with them while maintaining the status of the Holy See.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Good Day Mr. O'Connor,

    "Ummm Vatican II anyone?"

    Yes, and...

    "The Catholic Position changed regarding Heaven and who is eligible."

    A bold assertion without a single bit of evidence. For those actually interested in the falsehood of the above statement, a good and quick introduction is: http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=48 and http://www.mark-shea.com/VII.html.

    "Wish fulfillment does not need to imply YOU wish for a person be in Hell but it can mean that you imagine you will be there because you practice a certain set of rituals that are superior to another religion's set."

    But the point that I was arguing against was the statement that hell was created as a wish fulfillment tool because it promised the punishment of one's enemies, which I have argued is mistaken and which your point does not contest.

    "Again, you assume via the dogma of your church that your rituals make you eligible to enjoy an eternity..."

    While at the same time telling me that I can fall at any time and will earn greater punishment for doing so due to my already existent knowledge of the truth. As I hopefully have 60 years left and could fail at any time, this is not very wish fulfulling.

    "That, by example is wish fulfillment. And, prior to Vatican II, no person not baptized in the Holy Roman Catholic Church and an adherent to the sacraments therein would go to Heaven."

    Except ummm, that since earliest times and to argue your specific point about baptism, the Church has taught that people can be saved through a Baptism of Desire or a Baptism of Blood. The Feast of the Holy Martyrs attests to this.

    "Your popes said so."

    Popes can and have been wrong. No Catholic denies this.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  29. RD,

    Again I will simply assume you are ignorant of your faith.

    The statements below were doctrine for centuries in the RCC delivered by god's anointed "Holy See"

    Pope Innocent III (circa 1160 - 1216 CE) is considered "one of the greatest popes of the Middle Ages..." At the Fourth Lateran Council (a.k.a. the General Council of Lateran, and the Great Council) he wrote:
    "There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved."

    Pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303 CE) promulgated a Papal Bull in 1302 CE titled Unam Sanctam (One Holy). He wrote, in part:
    "Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins...In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Ephesians 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed....Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

    The last sentence in the original Latin reads: "Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, definimus, et pronuntiamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis."

    Pope Eugene IV, (1388-1447 CE) wrote a Papal bull in 1441 CE titled Cantate Domino. One paragraph reads:
    "It [the Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart 'into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels' [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."

    The words of the men who built your superstition discredit your confidence in your interpretation of it.

    ReplyDelete
  30. But Mr. O'Connor,

    "I do know of god via both the Roman Catholic Church and both the Lutheran and Baptist branches of Protestantism yet reject the reality of all those myths. You will say by your doctrine that I am going to Hell."

    Actually, as I have already quoted above, by the very doctrines and teachings of the Church, what I will say is that as I am not (and never can be) aware of the full, total and specific intentions and circumstances of your rejection of the Faith, I have no idea if you are in mortal or venial sin. Only God knows. And thus I do not know if you are saved or damned, although I can express an opinion about it.


    "See my definition of wish-fullfillment above."

    See my definition of not wish fullfillment, seeing as I both know nothing with certainty and gained nothing.


    "Now, do you fully understand the dogma of your church?"

    Indeed I do, and I hope that I have now educated you in them as well.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  31. Does anyone remember how John was bragging for weeks about how he was going to beat DD?

    At least we won't have to listen to his bragging for a while! LOL!

    But as to insults, gimme a break! John started right off in his opening calling believers "Brainwashed". DD responed, if he hadn't you would have been calling him out on that.

    Who ya kiddin?

    ReplyDelete
  32. Dear Mr. O'Connor,

    The next time you quote verbatim from the religioustolerance.org website (http://www.religioustolerance.org/rcc_salv.htm), I suggest that you provide attribution to it, lest you be accused of a cheap, easy and lazy plagarism.

    In this case, I will assume that from here comes the sum of your knowledge concerning Catholicism, seeing as you could not even add one extra word of substance to the exact quote from the website.

    Regardless, I will answer your points momentarily...

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. RD,

    You don't have to educate me in the dogma of your church but, I would suggest you understand the psychological designation of delusions and how your behavior fits within that definition, often commonly referred to as "wish fulfillment" or "magical thinking".

    Don't speak outside of the scope of your faith's contradictory history and inefficacious doctrine (as evidenced by your clergy's behavior) and assume such a superior tone.

    I consider your perspective on life as valid as you might a Scientologist's or a Wiccan's.

    Ancient superstitions have little veridical meaning in a scientific age.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Mr. Miska,

    I quoted a quote from a web-page.

    Do you deny the quotes?

    My inability to follow the dictates of library science are not at question here and your willingness to change the subject is a weak attempt at dismissing the evidence against the contradictory history you assert as immutable.

    That would be called a red herring.

    Now, do you want to continue to defend your position in light of evidence that says you are wrong or, will you concede that you are wrong?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Winston,

    Believers are "brain-washed". Did you come to an intuitive knowledge of your doctrine or, did someone inculcate you. Are you willing to allow new evidence to falsify your most fervently held beliefs? If not, then you are brain-washed.

    ReplyDelete
  36. RD,

    We are talking past each other. I respect your right to worship the way you wish but, it is pretentious of you to assert Roman Catholics don't practice wishful thinking concerning the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Your church history is evidence against that and the lack of logic posited by your theological argument further confirms it. You argue that Catholics don't practice wishful thinking regarding the doctrine of Hell because their magical thinking rooted in exclusive sacramental practice by which they earn Heaven is evidence of the fact. Wish fulfillment is rooted in the type of magical thinking wrought by your superstitions. It does not mean that you wish for people to go to Hell but you consider that contingency applicable to misbehaving people. Just because you potentially place yourself in Hell does not mean that you believe you are going there.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hello All,

    Again, if anyone is interested in learning about the issue that Mr. O'Connor and I are discussing, please see:

    http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/debate9.htm

    and

    http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=48

    and

    http://www.mark-shea.com/VII.html

    These will suffice for an introduction. For a detailed study or if someone wishes more information, I can be reached at radosmiksa (at) gmail (dot) com.

    Now, to address Mr. O'Connor..

    ReplyDelete
  38. RD,

    I will check out the posts.

    Good luck to you.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Good Day Mr. O'Connor,

    You are quite right that we are talking past each other, but this has as much to do with your misunderstanding of my original point as it does with me. This point was that Mr. Pulliam's claim that hell is wish fulfillment because it allows one to know one's enemies will be punished is false, because as explained, for the Catholic, he cannot know if this punishment will certainly take place.

    If you wish to argue this further, feel free to contact me via the e-mail I provided.

    Take care and God bless,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  40. Gentlemen:

    This blog is designed to argue against Evangelical Christianity. While I certainly don't agree with RCC, its not my focus.

    Concerning "wish-fufillment", one of the desires that every human being has is for good to be rewarded and for evil to be punished. Since this does not always happen in this life, people have invented ways that it might happen after this life. In the West, this means heaven and hell. In the East, it means reincarnation to either a better condition (for those who are good) or a worse condition (for those who are evil).

    ReplyDelete
  41. "I will check out the posts."

    Great. Hopefully they will provide you with a good intial explanation of the point I am making.

    As stated, if you want to discuss this further--as I love a good debate--please feel free to e-mail me and we can go from there.

    Take care and good luck to you as well. And thank you for the sentiment,

    RD Miksa

    ReplyDelete
  42. Hell Again Mr. Pulliam,

    My apologies. I should have referred anyone interested in the Catholic aspect to my e-mail address much sooner than I did. I will not post on the Catholic specific topic any further.

    However, you said:

    "Concerning "wish-fufillment", one of the desires that every human being has is for good to be rewarded and for evil to be punished."

    Now you have moved the goal-posts--as in my few and limited interactions with you I have found that you are at times prone to do--because your original point was that Believers created hell not for the punishment of evil as an abstract, but because they wished to see "their enemies and oppressors to experience the opposite [of the bliss and joy of heaven], thus the invention of hell." The original post stated that I, as a believer, would create hell because I want my enemies to be in pain, while this new point states that I did so because I wish to see evil punished, yet the two are not the same. I can simultaneously have my wish fulfilled that evil will be punished while still wishing that all people can be saved, because as a Christian, we are all evil and deserve punishment, but are freely saved from it.

    All this to say that your original point about hell as a wish fulfillment was already weak and is now shifted by your new statement, rendered it arguably pointless unless rephrased and reformulated into a tighter argument.

    Thank you and take care,

    RD Miksa
    radosmiksa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  43. Dear Dr. Pulliam,

    Although the above comments seem contentious, your post about wish fulfillment in the west and reincarnation in the east clarified your point. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Point taken Dr.

    I implied your clarified meaning from your original comment.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Mr. Miksa,

    I dont see that I have moved the goalposts. In order to show that my two statments are the same, I will ask you this: "how do you punish evil in the abstract"? You don't. You punish evil by punishing those who committed the evil. Of course evil is going to be defined differently by various people.

    I think we have beat this horse enough. Lets move on.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Although I would be happy to show the distinction, it is your blog and thus your call. So, moving on...

    RD Miksa

    ReplyDelete