In this episode, Kurt interviews Jonathan Tindell, host of Secular Stories, about atheism. They cover a number of objections that Jonthan has to the existence of God and even more specifically to Christianity. Kurt also receives a call from David (Dallas – Ft. Worth) where they talk about the grounding of morality.
Listen to “Episode 30: Atheism, Worldview Series” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill. Today we are starting our worldview series where we will seek to talk about a different worldview. Our goal is once a month so our goal is the first week of every month we’re going to be devoting that episode to a worldview and today, we are going to be starting with atheism. Before we jump into our interview, we’re going to be announcing the winner of the giveaway that we’ve been having over the last couple of episodes and for those of you that perhaps have missed out on that opportunity, what was at stake was Good Faith by David Kinneman and Gabe Lyons, Reasons To Believe: Thoughtful Responses To Life’s Tough Questions and Origins Today which is a DVD by Dr. John Walton. The winner for that giveaway, in order to enter you had to text the word VERACITY to 555-888, so the winner is 3401, so if your phone number ends in 3401, you are the winner and we will be in touch with you through our texting system so thank you to all that participated over the last couple of weeks. 3401. If those are your last four digits, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only person that has those specific last four digits, otherwise we’d be in trouble. We’d have two winners then. That would be something else.
Chris: That would be.
Kurt: We’ll get in touch with you about that. For the show today, if you want to have your voice heard, if you’ve got some questions for us, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. And again, if you want to join our texting plan, that’s totally free, we’re going to be sending some updates from time to time. I’m actually going to be during this episode, I’m going to be texting out a link to an interview between Ricky Geravis and Stephen Colbert because this last week they had a brief segments on Colbert’s late late show on atheism, so for those of you who don’t know, Stephen Colbert is a comedian. He is a devout Catholic. He teaches Sunday School at his church. A lot of people didn’t know that. He’s also a massive Lord of the Rings fan so that’s pretty cool too. Of course, he is a believer. Ricky Geravis is one of those very strong atheists out there so they have an interaction with some questions so if you follow Veracity Hill through our texting plan, I’ll send you that link so you can watch that so it’s a good sort of thing to give to people that subscribe to the list and it fits with today’s episode, but I figured we might not have time to play that clip today. Cool. Alright. With that we’ve got atheism today, Chris. Next week, I’m trying to set up to get some perspectives on immigration, and even if I can’t get a guest I imagine I’ve got enough to talk about, perhaps my own thoughts.
Chris: That’s a hot topic right now.
Kurt: It is. It is. And in a couple of weeks, we’re going to be having on Keith Giles. He is the author of Jesus Untangled: Crucifying our Politics To Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb so he’s the author of this book and then a couple of weeks after that, we’re going to be having on Adam Harwood to talk about the spiritual condition of infants. We’re going to be talking about the doctrine of original sin, so we’ve got the show lined up here for a number of weeks with some good guests, interesting topics. Again if you’ve got questions about atheism, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. And if you’ve followed me on Facebook, we’ve also got the Facebook livestream up and running after a few weeks, because the Mevo app had some bugs in it and things are finally working again, so those of you following us on livestream there, thank you so much, and if you’ve got comments too, I’ll try my best to engage with those throughout the show today. So with that, let’s jump into today’s topic of atheism. Again this is the start of our worldview series and so I figured, for a lot of people they often think of these terms, Christianity or atheism, one or the other. The issue’s more tricky than that because there are alternative worldviews. That just seems to be the popular one in our society today, but fear not, we would be looking at other worldviews as the year goes along, so each month we’ll have one specific worldview that we’ll be focusing on. Alright, so today I’m pleased to have on the show Jonathan Tindell. He is the host of an atheist podcast called Secular Stories and we’ll get a chance to hear from him shortly here and Jonathan isn’t a philosopher or an academic by any means. He’s sort of just your average guy who’s interested in worldviews and interested in, I wouldn’t so much say philosophy properly speaking, but thinking about why people believe what they believe. It’s my pleasure to be joined now by Jonathan. Jonathan. Thanks so much for joining me on the show today. It’s good that you’re here with us and we’ve been talking about bringing you on the show and I’m glad that we can finally do it and so I’m very much looking forward to talking with you about atheism, but first, if you could, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and I’m sure they would like to hear about your podcast Secular Stories, so tell us a little bit about yourself and then your podcast.
Jonathan: Sure. Just so the listeners no. Yes. I am from the South even though I don’t live from the South which you can probably hear from my voice. I do have a southern accent. I grew up in Florida. I was in the Marines, I spent eight years in Marines. Now I’m actually working in the oil field of all things. I live in Pennsylvania. We kind of love it up here. We plan on spending as much time as we possibly can. As for Secular Stories how is the best way to explain this? Secular Stories is a thought that I had about just bringing everyone. Yes, it says secular in the title of it, but it’s more about the stories. It’s just a place where I can bring guests on, really interesting people, people that have something they want to say, whether they’re religious and not religious, and have a normal conversation and that’s the way that I try to conduct all of the stories for the podcast. It’s just, it’s as if we’re sitting down having a glass of iced tea or a beer or whatever is your particular drink of choice and just hanging out and getting to know each other a little better, to foster that, a sense of comradery and decency between everybody.
Kurt: And mutual understanding perhaps. You and I have messaged. We have a nice relationship going here. We’ve messaged about things. That’s one of the things we both like about each other’s podcast is that we want to show people how to have civil dialogue with people that we most likely may not agree with, at least on some controversial subject, so that’s something that both of our shows aspire to.
Jonathan: It’s just a good way to have a nice conversation in my opinion.
Kurt: That’s right. Maybe I guess I should ask first with this question since we haven’t dealt with this topic on the show before. Could you describe for me how you understand atheism and then after you do that tell us a little bit about your journey.
Jonathan: Well, atheism is, the way I look at it is literally the definition of it. The way that it’s defined is the lack of the belief in God or a god of any sort. That’s pretty much the gist of it. I don’t define myself by my atheism. It’s just a part of who I am. As to how I came to it, I grew up down south in Southern Baptist…
Kurt: Everyone goes to church in the South.
Jonathan: Whether you want to or not.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s really a big cultural thing. Yeah.
Jonathan: Yes it is. But again, it just wasn’t something that defined me, going to church, but me really not going to church also didn’t define me. It’s just weird. And if anybody can actually give an aha moment as to when they said, “Ah. I’m an atheist.” It was just hard to find like that, I’d like to speak to that person how that happened.
Kurt: So for you it was really more of a long drawn our process. Is that right?
Jonathan: Yeah. Classically I guess you could have considered me as what we now call the nones back in the day and that’s, yes, not the nuns.
Jonathan: Yeah. Classically, you could call me that. I had a good understanding of what church was. I had a good understanding of what the belief system was because that was certainly given to me due to be there to understand. I read the Bible many times, and it was just a gradual dawning, a realization, hey, this is just not something I, it’s not that I just don’t believe it. It’s just, I don’t feel it, and I know that’s probably, like whenever I ask you, what does it feel like whenever you think of God or Jesus or whatever, you probably get what are nice good comfortable warm feeling inside I’m sure. Right? Or something to that effect?
Kurt: Sure. Can be, otherwise for me, my faith tends to be more intellectual than say some other Christians you might know so maybe those other Christians are more in touch with their feelings than I am.
Jonathan: You see, where I’m coming from is emotionally it’s just not there and it’s not that I would, we’ll put it this way. I’ll go ahead and say, yes, I would love to be able to believe that there’s something out there. I would love that so much. It would make the voices in my head calm down so much quieter whenever I wake up at 3 in the morning and I’m staring at a dark ceiling. It would make my life a heck of a lot better.
Kurt: Sure, but for you, you just haven’t found that the evidence really leads in that direction. Is that right?
Jonathan: If we get into the intellectual stuff, no. If we’re going to get away from the emotional and more into the intellectual stuff, there’s just so many questions now that I’ve come out as an atheist, as the more I get into the topic of theism or atheism, whichever way you want to look at it, there’s not a lot of evidence there for me. You and I have gone over that many times.
Kurt: Yeah. So you think the evidence might be lacking for theism in general and from our discussions online of course, you would probably also say maybe you’ve got questions or maybe you’d use a stronger word like objections to what you see in the Bible. Is that right?
Jonathan: It’s not just the Bible. Just about every structured religion, including the ones that you think would be considered or considered to be more peaceful like Buddhism, even that can be taken to the extreme and that’s what I’m speaking to more is the extremes.
Jonathan: That sometimes organized religion can be taken to, and I’m trying to be very respectful when I say that.
Kurt: Sure. We’ve got to be able to phrase our concerns or our objections in the right way and so someone like yourself and someone like myself are having the conversation.
Jonathan: Yeah. There’s a whole bunch of back and forth that you and I have had that the listeners don’t, so I would say something to you, you knew here I was coming from, but like I said, we’ve got to explain to the listeners.
Kurt: That’s right. If I may, If I can pick your brain a little bit and again for our listeners, regarding the objections to theism in general, what would you think of arguments from natural theology, so the cosmological argument or the argument from design, the moral argument, how do you understand a number of these arguments?
Jonathan: Pick one of those.
Kurt: Sure. Let’s take maybe the origin of the universe.
Jonathan: There are, and I’ll put this in a way that, and in a very polite way. There are hypotheses on both sides.
Jonathan: Whether you’re a naturalist or an atheist or however you want to go about it, there are hypotheses that explain how the universe could have come across or come about without having to have a creator. You have a hypothesis yourself that a particular creator deity or God or however you want to explain it, that’s your hypothesis too. Now the bad thing about it is neither of these can be proven in a substantive way on either side.
Kurt: So at least for cosmological types of arguments then, and again just for these types of arguments, would you then classify yourself more as agnostic, sort of like we just can’t know what’s beyond the universe?
Jonathan: Yes, and we’re getting to the semantics of agnostic vs. atheist and that kind of stuff. I don’t like to be painted in the corner but in the sense that you’re saying, in this exact sense, you’re saying yes, I have to claim agnosticism just like everybody does. Nobody knows and I do have to hold you to that standard then. In a sense, you have to admit that you are an agnostic cause you can’t know. You can’t know just because if it were true that there is a creator God, there’s no way to test that so you cannot know for a fact 100% true that there is, just like I can’t say that my side is 100% as a fact. Can’t prove it because you can’t prove it. Neither of us can.
Kurt: That’s interesting to see and have that drawn our more from where your position and your understanding, I mean, of course, I would differ a little bit there and say that I think there is enough evidence to think the hypothesis is probable, but at any rate, we don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty.
Jonathan: When we come to evidence and that kind of stuff you know we could quibble about that all night long.
Kurt: That’s right. We’d be here for hours. Cool. Then one of the things that I like to talk about is if I can move to another type of argument is sort of morality so from your understanding, how is it that humans, I mean maybe to use the language of create or discover morality so sort of what model do you think there is for why it is that we should follow laws for instance or why we should do things even if a law doesn’t talk about it? Where does that sense of morality come from?
Jonathan: Just like to start this out by saying I am not a philosopher. I’m just a normal guy so if I, and I know that’s something that you are particularly good at, so if I say something that doesn’t, I know you’d correct me to shreds on just about anything when it comes to philosophy and I admit that, but the way that I look at is morality, and the difference between ethics and morality, that I’m pretty sure we can agree on, but the way I look at it is morality is just a successful way to become a civilization. It has, and I’m not saying this, I’ll just say, it has evolved. It’s changed. Morality has had every type of experiment thrown at it in my opinion to fine-tune it to where we’re at today. That’s not to say that what we do nowadays is the best way to do everything.
Kurt: We’re still evolving then on that view.
Jonathan: Yes. When it comes to what’s moral, and I realize that that sets me up for the morals in the Bible are evolving too. I admit that. It’s hard to look at the Bible or any other text, I don’t mean to just talk about just the Christian version of religion, but it’s just the one I’m familiar with. It’s hard to look at it through the filter we have today vs. the filter they had back then.
Kurt: I would agree and listeners of the show know I would agree with that sentiment for sure, that we are so far culturally from that time that sometimes we have a hard time understanding what something in the text means so that’s right and so in that sense, there’s definitely, I’m sympathetic to maybe a call for caution in how we read the Bible because I think it can be confusing for some people so that provides a nice segue because I then wanted to sort of talk about your reasons from generic theism to your reasons for having caution or objection to Christianity.
Jonathan: It’s the basic things. Whenever you read through the Bible, you look at how many, two different Genesis stories, the entire book of Leviticus I can pretty much take that and read through it and everybody will take what they will.
Kurt: There seem to be laws there that seem to be ones that you think are immoral. Right?
Kurt: To put it politely maybe from your perspective?
Jonathan: Yes. Yes. Yes. Very much so, but again, like you were saying, taking it to the extremes, that’s where I have, where I think that we need to have pause is again, if you take that the Bible is the literal and only way to live your lives in our context today that would really present some very problematic issues and I would say you would agree with that, that if you were to live your life as the Bible exactly says to live your life today, that would, well it’d get you thrown in jail if not sent to the electric chair.
Kurt: Yeah. And it seems oddly enough that a Christian an atheist would agree here then, even though maybe we still have different conclusions about the text itself, but we would agree that those laws were written to and for a certain culture long ago, I mean thousands of years ago, and they do seem to go against some of our sensibilities, but in being cautious we need to recognize their cultural situation was also different. One thing that comes to mind to me is there weren’t any prisons back all the way then so how does an agrarian society come up with a justice system and yeah, that can be tricky and it goes against our sensibilities because here we are in the 21st century and of course, we’re more sophisticated, we’ve got better technology, we’ve got a deeper understanding of law and justice so, yeah.
Jonathan: But there’s so many of these sentences for disobeying the laws kind of surrounded around you die. I’m assuming you mean specifically within the area that the Bible was written that you meant there was no prisons because that’s not true of other societies.
Kurt: Yeah. Specifically I have in mind the Levitical laws, but yeah, you’re right. There are concerns about maybe they use capital punishment too much like that, but there were also laws about cleanliness for example. It’s tricky. We don’t consider laws about cleanliness like, literally if a person was clean or what we would do if they had a disease. Right? They didn’t have hospitals.
Jonathan: What did they even mean by cleanliness, because some of the things to be clean wasn’t necessarily physical cleanliness. When it comes to that kind of stuff and again we’re putting this in the context of back then, not now, what was it like when a woman starts menstruation, the laws about that, whether she just had a male child vs a female child, and again, I know we always have to put in the culture aspect which we don’t understand. All that kind of stuff, it’s just a little bit off-putting, very for my sensibilities.
Kurt: Yeah. Well let’s move a little bit on from early Old Testament to say the Gospels. So, we’ve got this Jesus figure and the Gospels talk about how He does miracles. How does someone like yourself, I mean you of course would I’m assuming you reject here the concept of miracles, how do you understand, are those Gospel authors just making it up or what’s your take on that?
Jonathan: How would I say this? I’ll just give it this much. At least, at the very least, I think it’s hyperbole or embellishment about situations. Wasn’t there. Don’t know, but that’s the way I would look at it. Like I said, it’s either hyperbole, embellishment on something that might have happened.
Kurt: Good for the reader but didn’t actually happen.
Jonathan: Sort of. Yeah. But am I being painted into a corner? Yeah. I would say that.
Kurt: In your view, I’ll ask this very broad question. First, let me start with this. Do you think that Jesus was a historical figure?
Jonathan: Don’t know. I’ve seen very persuasive arguments on both sides.
Kurt: Let me then put this next question as a hypothetical. If Jesus actually existed, who do you think He was?
Jonathan: If He existed, I’m going to frame this as just being a person, I think He was a very well-meaning person that wanted to see people reach their fullest potential, who might have had if not delusions of grandeur, maybe delusions, and I don’t mean that to say disparaging because I know how touchy some of the listeners might get about that, but I’m speaking as if without the supernatural aspect this is the person that Jesus would have been. He would have been quite very well-meaning, wanting to see people reach their fullest potential, but without being there and seeing Him do a miracle that’s a delusional mindset, but again, putting Him in the frame of being actually a human. As to Him being the Son of God, everything He said makes perfect sense, and there you go. He’s Jesus as in the Jesus that we all know and love.
Kurt: Okay Jonathan. We’ve got to take a short break here, but when we return I’ve got some other questions for you so stick with us for this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: I’m back here with Jonathan Tindell and today we’re talking about atheism, but before we get back into that, it’s time for a segment of the show that we like to call Rapid Questions and this is the segment of the show where we ask short light-hearted questions and we’re looking for fast responses so Jonathan. Are you ready?
Jonathan: Go ahead, fire when ready.
Kurt: Alright. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Jonathan: KFC definitely.
Kurt: What song is playing on your radio these guys?
Jonathan: Mostly podcasts.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Kurt: What is your favorite sport?
Jonathan: Don’t watch sports.
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: If you don’t watch sports, what’s your most hated sports franchise?
Jonathan: The Cowboys I guess.
Kurt: Alright. What’s your favorite movie?
Kurt: Have you ever planked?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Jonathan: Despise it.
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road.
Jonathan: Yes, I have.
Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were on a stranded island?
Jonathan: An IPod full of books and podcasts.
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Jonathan: Macarena. Come on.
Kurt: What is your inner shake flavor?
Kurt: Alright. Nice. Thank you for playing Rapid Questions. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re not a fan of Dr. Pepper.
Jonathan: I was just about to say….The only reason why I say is Cowboys is because I lived in Texas near Fort Worth for awhile.
Kurt: Everyone’s a Cowboys fan.
Jonathan: I know like three football teams. I don’t know.
Kurt: Cowboys yes. For some people, for some people, they’re like the Yankees of football. They’ve got tons of fans they’re one of those franchises that you just don’t seem to like.
Jonathan: I know who my favorite sports franchise is. It’s the Cubs.
Kurt: That’s a great answer. Excellent.
Jonathan: Yes. I had to think about that for a little bit.
Kurt: I’ll give you five bonus points and this is like Whose Line Is That Anyway? Where the points don’t matter.
Jonathan: That came to me in posts shall we say.
Kurt: Funny. Alright. For those that have stuck with us thus far, in the first half of the show, Jonathan and I were talking about atheism. He described it a little bit, provided some of his reasons, and we went over some objections that he might have to generic theism, but then he also talked a little bit about Christianity and the Bible. Now Jonathan I want to ask you and pick your brain about what in my understanding from reading the various literature seems to be the biggest objection and that seems to be the problem of evil. Have you considered how, and I can’t remember if we’ve talked much about this even in our messaging from time to time. How does that problem, say the existence of evil, how does it play into your concerns against Christianity? Does it play a big part for you or not and if it has, tell us a little bit more about that.
Jonathan: To me personally, it doesn’t contribute a lot to my worldview. The problem of evil is, well it’s multi-faceted on that side too, but when it comes to me thinking about what a Christian thinks about it or any religious person thinks about it, I tend to put myself in that mindset to even attempt to try to explain it. In the Bible itself, God says that He created the light and the dark and He created good and evil so I don’t, I know you probably know which passage that is right off the top of your head, but that’s pretty telling, at least whenever I would put myself into a Christian’s point of view. Whenever you read that passage what do you think of that? This is sometime really, I’m going to have to ask you. I know this is one of your specialties.
Kurt: In Genesis accounts, it talks about how God’s creation was good and of course the standard model is that, well then man came along and screwed things up. What I take that you have in mind comes from Isaiah 45, I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. Is that what you’re talking about?
Jonathan: Yes. That part I was thinking about.
Kurt: Yeah. At least the way I understand it and some translations have calamity there, I think what God is talking about is divine justice so if a nation is really evil, God will orchestrate worldly affairs such that that nation will ultimately be destroyed and most of how I interpret the Old Testament is based off of sort of the law of consequences right. So if a nation is righteous, it will succeed. If it’s not, then it won’t succeed, and so one fine example I like to talk about is American debt. I think we’re being irresponsible and if you’re so irresponsible with your finances at a national level, that’s going to lead you to a massive problem down the line and so one day the debt collector’s going to come a knocking and so some of it could just be peoples’ interpretation of how that calamity is brought about, but I don’t think that God is, from my Christian view, I don’t think God’s being unfair there, but I think what also may be concerning some atheists is the stuff that really appears unfair, so even things that don’t seem to touch upon any concept of divine justice like, well one famous example in this literature is if a deer dies in a forest fire, why did the deer have to die? That seems to be a big objection and that’s, in academic literature this is called the evidential problem of evil, so that seems to be concerning and could present problems, but look at me, helping out your side there.
Jonathan: No. I’m taking it at face value as you put it. Now my question was why does anything actually have to die?
Jonathan: Why is there death anyways? I know then we’re going to get into the argument of free-will and all that kind of stuff, but still I would much rather just believe. If God is omnipotent, why isn’t there for me to still have, omnipotent meaning what exactly what it’s supposed to say, why isn’t there a way that I can still have free-will and still know the love of God? He could do this. There is a way that He could do it. We might not be able to explain it, but He could do it.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. Maybe again there’s debate over what omnipotence means.
Jonathan: Taking it at face value exactly what it says.
Kurt: Omnipotence is all-powerful. The question is what does all mean? Is all a meticulous all or is all a general all?
Jonathan: I don’t think I’m being too overgenerous with what God can and can’t do if I say He can do everything.
Kurt: Let me pose a question to you this way then. If God were to exist on your view, and He were to be omnipotent, how you understand omnipotence, could He create a world where humans have free choices to do good or evil? Could God be so powerful that He creates that?
Jonathan: Yeah. God could do that.
Kurt: Okay. Now in my view, I think that’s what has happened. I think God in His omnipotence and in His foreknowledge and omnibenevolence, He creates a world where creatures do have a free choice and the creatures, and again since I’m a Christian I’m going to say both spiritual creatures or supernatural creatures, like angelic beings or demonic forces, but in addition to also humans, we have free choice and a number of us misuse this and so at least for some cases, not all cases, for some cases we can explain how it is that some people die because humans kill other humans and it’s a sad thing and it’s not the way God wanted it and so we’re in that sense misusing our freewill.
Jonathan: Then why aren’t we doing it? I know you gave Him the existing free choices, but the only way to really, if you would give that to God, the only way that you could interpret that really in my opinion would have to be the Calvinist choice because He could have chosen….
Kurt: Sure. My objections to Calvinism, and those listeners who follow me on this, I’m concerned that Calvinism does not secure human free-will and they define freedom or free-will differently so I think freedom entails at least in some cases the ability to do otherwise whereas Calvinists would say you just have the ability to do as your will is, so I think that’s a bit concerning to me because they think that the human will is only evil. Moving back here to the topic, so I think my concerns on the Calvinist conception of God is that they don’t secure human freedom and of course the Calvinist thinks on my view that I don’t secure divine omnipotence.
Jonathan: Again, I’m putting myself in your position. I really am whenever I’m doing this, is in the end, I care, but I don’t really care because the only reason I care is that I’m having a good conversation with you. That’s the only thing I really care about.
Kurt: What you’re doing since you’re an atheist, you are looking at the internal coherency of a worldview. You’re saying here’s Christianity and Christianity talks about how God is loving and yet here we have this world full of evil so how can Christianity be coherent if we have those things, so in that sense you’re presenting a valid concern insofar as you want the worldview to be coherent and your conclusion is that, at least your present conclusion is that it’s not, so I understand what you’re doing there when you take on the other perspective and that’s a valid methodology.
Jonathan: And in the end, I’m just trying to be a good friend. I honestly am whenever I’m having these conversations. I want to get to know you better and this is, and I know this is way to know you better is to have these conversations with you.
Jonathan: Yeah. It’s just I like these conversations. They’re fun.
Kurt: Cool. Well let’s move along a little bit.
Kurt: My next question is and maybe this will be a fun one for you because I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, so I hope it doesn’t catch you too much off guard. What would it take, so this will be a two-part question, what would it take for you to become a theist and then the second question would be, what would it take for you to become a Christian? Take the first one first. What would it take for you to affirm that God exists and say that He’s interested in the affairs of humans?
Jonathan: I have two answers for this. One is the Matt Dillahunty route. God knows what it takes to make me believe. Again, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt.
Kurt: Yeah. You’re saying if God were to exist, then He would give you enough evidence, but…
Jonathan: Not evidence. He would be able to express Himself to me in a way that I could believe.
Jonathan: Not evidence. Evidence is an entirely different semantic word. I’m talking about believing. He could present Himself to me in a way that I could believe. I don’t mean believe like in I believe the Earth is rotating the sun, I mean believe in the sense with the big B, a capital B.
Kurt: Maybe draw that out for our listeners a little bit. How do you understand belief there and what relationship does that play to evidence which for you is maybe something distinct?
Jonathan: Evidence is being able to prove something and I mean prove it as in a scientific matter of providing evidence, that’s what the word means to me. Now when it comes to belief is that internal, whether it’s an emotional or an intellectual manner, believing with a capital B like inside of your mind, inside of us, you would call it your soul, knowing that this is the truth.
Kurt: I see.
Jonathan: There is a way that God could do that.
Kurt: So if I may, it seems like what you might be, and while there are Christians that are like that, but isn’t that maybe similar to the sort of Mormon view of faith and belief, that it’s just this kind of internal thing?
Jonathan: The burning in your bosom.
Kurt: But for someone like myself you should know that’s not how I understand belief.
Jonathan: I know that and that’s the reason why I put the caveat in there of belief like in the emotional way of feeling it and intellectually being able to understand my belief in a God. I know you do get the feeling that way occasionally but the intellectual belief, to be able to wrap it all inside and my mind and really believe, belief with the big B. There is a way that He could do that. I honestly believe that. That’s not something, I’m being open-minded when I say I honestly believe that.
Kurt: Yeah. But at the same time God doesn’t want to sort of trick people.
Jonathan: I don’t want to be tricked. I want to know. I want to believe like you believe. I want that. That would be great.
Kurt: In terms of the evidence because I know you kind of distinguished that from belief, what would you say then, what type of evidence would there have to be for you to know that God exists?
Jonathan: Now that’s actually more open. Believe it or not that’s more of a tricky question than what it would take me to believe.
Kurt: Sure. Okay.
Jonathan: Because to be able to define and study God, that’s kind of antithetical to what God is so I don’t really know how to explain the way that I’m coming across as being evidence, I mean, really and truly I know if I were you, I would say it was, I’m gesturing with my hands and looking around the room, I know that’s what you’re doing, I know that’s what you would do, but that’s not, this universe isn’t what God is. I don’t think it would be. God’s something separate and away from the universe.
Kurt: Okay. So at least in one sense He’s away or different from the universe, so if I may push you a little bit on there, so you talked about how God is sort of antithetical to, and I’m going to try and mesh your words here, to scientific evidence, so does that mean that science is limited in its scope for what it can try and prove?
Jonathan: Yes it is. It very much is.
Jonathan: And then I have to revert back to the first answer that I give, that there is a way for me to believe and God could do that without tricking me like what you were saying. I don’t want to be tricked. I want to know the way that you know. I want to know as that emotional Christian knows that they know. I want to know that way. I don’t want to just, okay, I believe. Okay. That’s, now I can’t remember what the name of the guy was, wager, I can’t remember.
Kurt: Pascal’s wager.
Jonathan: Pascal’s wager. That’s so dishonest to me. I think I’d get sent to hell quicker doing that, not really believing, you know what I mean?
Kurt: That’s funny.
Jonathan: That’s lying about believing.
Kurt: Yeah. And even for those that actually go and read Pascal, a lot of people don’t know this, he actually responds to that concern and he says for those that have a hard time believing, like if you just feel like you’re tricking yourself, he tells people to just go and do church basically, I’m totally paraphrasing using 21st century language.
Jonathan: Fake it till you make it essentially.
Kurt: That’s kind of right. That’s actually a very good way of putting it because he thinks for those people who would spend time, say, fellowshipping with other Christians and such, eventually the truth will be made manifest to them. They’ll really know it in that deep sense.
Jonathan: But I surround myself with people like you. I have friends that honestly really believe. You know how I am. I’m not dishonest. I don’t try to separate myself from what Christians believe or Muslims believe or Jews believe. I immerse myself in this stuff because for one thing I find it really interesting. I find it interesting just because, but I like being able to understand where you’re coming from. That makes me feel better is to know where you’re coming from. Sorry. I got a little emotional there. I apologize.
Kurt. No. That’s right. That’s good. You’ve talked about how you would like to believe, but for you it’s just the evidence isn’t there, so I’m wondering if then maybe what it takes isn’t so much looking for that emotional aspect to it, but it’s looking into the evidence and maybe the evidence isn’t always scientific because as we’ve talked about, science can be limited in its scope, but maybe the evidence is historical or philosophical and it leads us to understand science in a different light. Of course, I’m not saying here that we should doubt science. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is we recognize the natural world and observe it and we approach it from a different mindset. We view machines as designed, intelligently designed, there’s the ID reference.
Kurt: Maybe that’s where the discussion has to go then for someone like yourself who might be thinking that they would like to believe, but the evidence just doesn’t seem to be there, so very fascinating. Well, Jonathan, we’re running short on time then. I’m curious. I know you asked me a little bit about the problem of evil. Are there any questions then that you might have for me? I know maybe you weren’t prepared for that.
Kurt: You’re like, where do I start.
Jonathan: Saul on the Damascus Road, why couldn’t Jesus take everybody’s cataracts?
Kurt: Interesting. Boy. I wasn’t expecting that. I would say that in the Damascus Road experience that God had a specific purpose in mind for Saul, later Paul, for what He…
Jonathan: That’s exactly what I was thinking.
Kurt: For what He wanted him to do. I think that’s why He singled him out. First of all, I think because Paul was using these men to kill Christians so he was the leader, so not only calling him out for the injustices, but then turning Saul’s life around by Jesus revealing Himself to Saul, Saul’s worldview became shattered because he did not believe that people could be resurrected from the dead until the final judgment day and so I think in that case, God’s purpose was to turn Saul’s life around, and now let me also say this, God doesn’t always, there’s not a Damascus Road experience for everyone. We don’t all have that burning bush experience. We don’t all have an angel come and tell us to lead God’s army so for those here that aren’t too familiar with the Old Testament references, that’s the example with Moses and then with Gideon, so when we read about these supernatural events I think that it’s because these men and even women sometimes had special purposes and we don’t all have those special divine purposes. We do have a common divine purpose I’ll say which is that we should love God and walk with Him and do justice, so yeah, I don’t know. Maybe that answers your question a little bit but you’re welcome to follow up with me if I didn’t answer sufficiently there.
Jonathan: Oh, no. That’s perfectly fine and one of the reasons I used that is that’s something that’s been rattling around in my head for the last few days. I don’t know why. I think something Seth Andrews said or something about Paul or Saul on Damascus, anyways, and the reason I wanted to reference that is because far too often other atheists other than myself rely too heavily on the Old Testament about going to Leviticus and all that stuff.
Kurt: I see. I see. Yeah.
Jonathan: That’s really easy so I was trying to bring it back into the New Testament and I could bring more examples up of that.
Kurt: Sure. Right.
Jonathan: But yeah, just trying to switch things up a little bit, but thanks for having me on man.
Kurt: Yeah. Jonathan. Thank you so much for joining us and glad we could talk about atheism and understand it a bit better coming from you and for our listeners, I’ll go ahead and provide a link on our website to Jonathan’s podcast. You can check out some of his episodes as well at Secular Stories.
Jonathan: And we’re also on Facebook if you guys want to get in touch with me more directly, you’re free to message me on Facebook or even comment on the page. I’m fairly approachable, at least I think I am, and if you guys want more one to one conversations by all means, I’m welcome to all conversations.
Kurt: Great. Awesome. Thank you so much Jonathan for being on the show today.
Jonathan: Thank you for having me on.
Kurt: Well we’re going to take a call here from David from Dallas. David. I’ve got a question for you and thanks for calling into the show. Do you think that there is objective morality?
David: Hi, Kurt. No. I appreciate the question. The short answer is no, I don’t. I don’t see a lot of evidence for objective morality, but let me expound on that if I can. Can we agree that there’s really only two places objective morality could come from. That being either from nature or from outside of nature, is that a fair statement?
Kurt: Um. Yeah. Perhaps. My own view is that it comes from outside of nature, but we might find it in nature, but not what ultimately grounds it, but continue.
David: Sure. Some people would assert that they can derive it from nature. There’s atheists like Sam Harris possibly, probably others.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. Eric
David: The point would just be, yeah, absolutely. I guess my point just then is for me to say that there is objective morals, you would have to show me that one of two things. Either how it comes from nature and where, or, while it’s easy for you to see how it comes from God let’s say, you would first have to show me that God exists so unless I see evidence for one of those two things, which I don’t, I would probably just have to conclude that morality is more subjective or relativistic if you will.
Kurt: So tell me then a little bit about that. What do you think grounds our sense of morality?
David: I think, there’s a couple of assumptions I think that you’re making in that question. So when you say, #1, our morality, that assumes that we have a shared morality and it also kind of makes the assumption that there is something that grounds our shared morality then that something is objective I think. I don’t know if I buy the premise on that. You see what I’m saying there. I think if you’re asking me what grounds someone else’s morality. I can tell you more about what grounds my morality or how I come to moral conclusions.
*Kurt and David talk over each other*
David: that there is objective morality, I don’t know how I can answer the question asked.
Kurt: I see. So morality is sort of up to the individual, but we as a society just come together and try to make laws based on, here we’re in a democratic republic so we vote on what we want the people we want to represent us and they make the laws. Is that right?
David: Well yeah. I think that people have their own moral conclusions. Everyone has different ones in some cases. I do think that some moral conclusions are more ubiquitous than others. We can probably think of examples on those lines, but then when society comes into play I think we’re talking about laws, behavior, and things of that nature, but that’s different across different societies. Right?
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. Good. So if different societies and different countries have different laws, who are we to judge another country, so for example, of course this is gonna, I’m gonna commit Godwin’s Law here. Doesn’t that mean that we can’t critique Nazi Germany for what they did because they were just doing what was right in their eyes? Is that right or would you say we can critique Nazi Germany?
David: Well when you say critique, critique in what sense? Obviously we can say that we think they were wrong or we think we would not do some of the things that they did, but again to go back to your original questions on objective moral values, I don’t know that we can say that Nazi Germany was objectively morally wrong. I think that we would have to, I think it’s almost an appeal to emotion or appeal to desire, it seems that we want to say that Nazi Germany was objectively morally wrong, but I don’t think wanting to say that makes it necessarily true. Does that make sense?
Kurt: I see. So that you then think the Nazis weren’t objectively wrong, but just from our subjective vantage point if you will, we think they were wrong.
David: Obviously we think they were wrong, but I think they were also a wrong if you look at morality in the sense of trying to accomplish goals in society, there can be right or wrong actions taken in pursuit of that so it’s very easy to say for example since you brought up the Nazis, one of the goals of the Nazis was creating the thousand year Reich, I would argue that the actions they took, you would say they were objectively morally wrong. I would say they were wrong according to my subjective morality, but I think we could say they were wrong actions in pursuit of the goal the Nazis themselves set. You say they’re wrong, I say they’re wrong, and I think we can agree that their actions were wrong at achieving the goal they set themselves. The outcome’s the same either way. Right? In other words I’m saying I don’t know, I’m sorry. I was just saying that I don’t know that it’s necessary to have a philosophically objective way to ground something like that in order for us to come to agreement on the rightness or wrongness of action.
Kurt: But we might disagree on how or why they were wrong so they for you they were wrong because maybe they had the wrong goal. Is that right? They were trying to create a society which was unsustainable? Am I understanding you correctly there?
David: I certainly think they were creating an unsustainable society. They were also creating a society that I certainly wouldn’t want to live in, the majority of humans wouldn’t want to live in. That’s part of the reasoning they had in…society. They tried to create an empire that was hostile to everybody within it and without it for the most part, but I would say they were wrong because coming back to how I look at my morality, which is a product from my culture, my environment, different things, my experience, they were creating an environment that was not conducive to things like individual liberty and doing minimal harm to other people, different things like that. I don’t know for certain that those are objective morals that everyone would probably value, but I certainly do as a product of my culture as an American of the 21st century.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. Your past experiences and such. Okay. So I’ve got a question for you then. Part of my intuitions are that I don’t want to have another Nazi Germany occur and because I do interpret what happened as objectively wrong, so then what on your worldview would prevent a second Nazi Germany from occurring, if there is anything on your worldview?
David: Sure. I struggle with that question in the sense that you mean it from a philosophical standpoint or a practical standpoint?
Kurt: I guess both.
David: Certainly from a philosophical standpoint I suppose it could be easy to construct a world in which a second Nazi Germany would arise. I’m not convinced that practically it would be this world given the fact that we have the experience of Nazi Germany. We have a much interconnected world economy now. We have weapons of mass destruction. We have I guess what I would call the institutional memory of humanity having gone through that, so a Nazi Germany analog they should say would be very hard for me to…that position even if we could conceive something in theory, I don’t know if it would be anywhere likely.
Kurt: So on your worldview you’re saying it’s logically possible, but it just seems impractical.
David: Yeah, but you know, it’s largely possible for you to construct that scenario. I just don’t think it’s anywhere practical in the real world.
Kurt: Let’s talk then about the feasibility of Nazi Germany. What do you think were their shortcomings? Let’s sort of do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that Germany were to succeed. I think there’s an Amazon Prime show, I forget the name of it right now, an Amazon Prime show that talks about.
David: Man of the High Castle.
Kurt: Maybe that’s it. Man of the High Castle. That rings a bell. So if we could think of things that would have allowed them to not have lost the war, what do you think some of those things would be?
David: I don’t think that there is one. What the Nazis did if you really want to boil it down is they went to war with the world’s largest empire, Great Britain, the world’s largest country, Russia, Soviet Union, the world’s greatest economy, the United States, at the same time, while simultaneously subjugating or brutally killing off in many cases or replacing the population of continental Europe. This from a nation of less than 80,000,000 people that did not have the intrinsic capability any one of the three powers it took on, so I would not see any scenario in which they could have won World War II except if you were construct a scenario that would lead to them not being Nazis any more but in that case the question doesn’t make sense.
Kurt: Right. I guess what I have in mind here is something like let’s suppose that they don’t attack Russia. Let’s suppose that they don’t attack Great Britain, but they increase their borders on the continent some more, you know the Western Europe and they sort of leave it at that.
David: Remember they didn’t attack Great Britain. They attacked Poland and Great Britain declared war with them along with France as a result of that. They tried more than once to get them to end the war prior to invading Russia. Britain wanted to do that because Britain, this goes back to the unfeasibility of the Nazi system, by that point Britain had learned that you just couldn’t trust them. There was no reason to suspect that they would keep any treaty. There was no reason for Britain to…the war so like I say, you can construct a more trustworthy Nazi regime or you construct a less drastic Nazi regime or you construct a Nazi regime that for example tried to liberate…and what have you and be more of a liberating army….
Those are all things that certainly would help them, but that wouldn’t if they were accidents or ideologies which would make them something other than Nazis and that would be, I don’t know if that’s the claim we could really make. How could Nazis win the war? By not being Nazis. Right?
Kurt: Sorry. Say that again. You’re a little soft there.
David: I apologize. I was saying ultimately the answer to, if there were a conceivable way for the Nazis to win the war, it would be to act in a matter in which they wouldn’t have been the Nazis that they historically were and even then if they make a decision to take on three or even two nations simultaneously neither one of which they were superior to on their own, they just don’t have a way to win.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. That might be the case, but I suppose then that the thought experiment that I’m thinking, we would have a different formula, different scenario that could play out in which case there is some society that performed the same, what I think are objective evils and the rest of the world leaves them alone and that’s a big concern to me.
David: Is what you’re getting at the might makes right endpoint? Is that kind of where you’re going with that?
Kurt: Not necessarily. Not that might makes right.
David: Is that accredited….
Kurt: The might very well could be and historically we do see is the enforcer of morality, but might doesn’t make the right. The right is right…
David: I’m not saying that you were asserting that. I’m asking if that was your criticism, the point of you…
Kurt: That would be one of the concerns. Yes. That’s right. So on an atheistic naturalistic worldview does might only make right and that’s concerning to me as someone that holds to objective morality?
David: I agree with that. I think that the first thing I might say to that though is on certainly the Christian theistic worldview, might also makes right at the end of the day. You can say that good or morality is rooted in God’s nature, but if I say I disagree with that, assuming that Christianity is true, who’s going to win that debate? Me or God?
Kurt: Yeah. I understand, and for the Christian they would say that God is the necessary being and so morality is grounded in Him so it’s not in the sense that might makes right because He’s powerful, but just because He is God. At any rate David we’re running short on time here. I want to thank you for your call. Thanks so much for calling into the show today.
David: Absolutely. I enjoyed it. I appreciate the conversation.
Kurt: Thanks so much. Alright. We’ve just got a couple of minutes here. I want to make a remark here about some of the thoughts I had about Jonathan, but I guess before I briefly get to that, one of the things I appreciated from that caller was the consistency that he had there because he doesn’t think there’s evidence for objective morality and so he says there are no philosophical grounds for why he can critique or say that there wouldn’t be another Nazi Germany. It’s just unfeasible so it’s sort of an impractical thing, so I appreciate the consistency there. With Jonathan, I had some thoughts about, I had some concerns over his use of some terms like evidence and belief and such and so one of the commenters here on speaker where the show is hosted here, he writes, here it is, you want to believe like Kurt does so do it. Believe. Augustine said I believe that I might understand. Many require understanding before they believe, but this is the issue for you Jonathan. Believe. Start. If you can’t, or if you say you can’t. Why. Why can’t you? That’s the core. Let’s start there.
That’s an interesting thing. What are the reasons why Jonathan can’t find himself coming to believe and so I think maybe there’s something else going on there with the evidence because I don’t hold that same perspective as Jonathan about the relationship between belief and evidence. For him he admitted belief was kind of like that burning in the bosom theory which is not the way I understand faith and belief. We’ve gone long over our time today. I want to thank you that have made some comments here on the livestream, thanks for your participation there, Seth and Travis and others there, John, thanks for tuning in today. That does it for our show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple bucks a month to help us run, and for the partnerships of our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, the Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Traffic Buffet. Thank you to the tech team, Chris, and thank you to our guest today, Jonathan Tindell. Thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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