Interview with Philosopher Randal Rauser

Randal Rauser is a theologian and Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary. He also contributes to the fields of philosophy and apologetics. He is the author of over ten books, numerous academic articles, and he blogs regularly at randalrauser.com

Many thanks to Dr. Rauser for agreeing to participate in this interview!

 

First, to start out on a lighter note: if you could meet any historical figure, and ask them any one question, who would you meet and what would you ask them?

I’d meet Jesus, of course! I’d need to think carefully about what to ask him, however. Hmm, I’d probably want to ask him when he’s going to return, but I suspect he wouldn’t provide a direct answer to that one. So I’d settle for a quick synopsis of the Trinity: I know what the church has said, but it would be great to hear it in Jesus’ own words!

 

What made you want to study philosophy/get into apologetics?

There were a few factors. For starters, I remember my grade 6 teacher told me I’d make a great trial lawyer because I love to argue. In short, I have a natural disposition for formulating arguments and seeking to persuade people, and that internal disposition makes philosophy and apologetics a natural fit.

Second, I was raised in a conservative evangelical church in which evangelism was a big part of the Christian life. (For more on that, you can see my book What’s So Confusing About Grace?) Given my interest in argument, by the time I was in high school I was seeking to evangelize by formulating arguments for Christianity and responding to objections. Back then I was a young earth creationist, and I remember having extended debates with fellow students on the age of the earth, the universal flood, and Darwinian evolution.

Finally, I took my first apologetics course in 1994 at Trinity Western University with the evangelical apologist Paul Chamberlain. William Lane Craig visited our class and not long after that, my friends and I were spending our Friday evenings consuming beer, pizza, and Craig debate videos. And I never looked back!

 

If you could go back to the early days of your philosophy/apologetics career, what is one thing you would do differently?

Interesting question. As It happens, I’m just finishing a book called Tentative Apologetics: A Manifesto which aims to provide a rather extended answer to that question. With that in mind, forgive me if I answer with two things.

First, every apologist is familiar with 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope within, but do so with gentleness and respect.” But it’s one thing to know the verse, and it’s another thing to get its message into your DNA. Like many folk, I have often failed on the gentleness and respect part. Pulled into the heat of debate, tempers have flared, the rhetoric has crackled, and the entire exchange went off the rails. I now know that it is far better to win a friend than an argument, and I do my best to ensure that my exchanges with others present a rigorous case for Christianity while also cultivating friendships, or at least mutual respect. As I recently put it in a tweet, the apologist should be the kind of person that other people want to agree with.

Second, I would want to give my earlier self a more nuanced and generous conception of Christianity. For example, as I said above, I was a young earth creationist in high school and I exerted a lot of effort in trying to persuade others that the earth was 6 thousand years old and that there was a global flood. I now view those efforts as misguided, not only because I think those views are incorrect, but also because I don’t think they are that important to Christianity even if they are correct. I think apologists should focus for the most part on defending essential Christian beliefs. Too often we end up majoring on peripheral issues.

 

Who are some of your greatest heroes in philosophy/apologetics?

I’m an iconoclast by nature, so I am resistant to recognizing heroes or even mentors. No doubt, that is indicative of my own individualism and insecurity, such as it is! I can say, however, that Alvin Plantinga had the biggest impact on my intellectual formation. I took a course with Plantinga in 1998 and later focused on engaging his work in my doctoral dissertation. (A later version of that work was published in 2009 as Theology in Search of Foundations with Oxford University Press.) His defensive approach to apologetics which focuses on removing defeaters to Christian belief and defending the rationality, justification, and knowledge status of Christian belief apart from argument shapes my own approach.

I was also deeply impacted by my doktorvater, the theologian Colin Gunton (d. 2003). What most impacted me about Colin’s approach to theology was that as a British theologian he was free of the binary opposition between evangelicals and liberals that shapes theology in North America. I wouldn’t call Colin an evangelical by North American standards but he surely wasn’t a liberal. And that freed me to pursue theology outside of the limiting categories and expectations of my North American context.

 

What is one significant critique you have against contemporary apologetics?

I’m going to give two.

First, Christian apologists are often guilty of straw-manning their opponents. To avoid that danger, make it a practice of steel-manning the views of others. That involves presenting their views in the strongest and most charitable form possible. Knocking over strawmen constitutes a pyrrhic victory which undermines the credibility of the apologist in the long term. One way to get into the habit of steel-manning is by doing devil’s advocate debates in which you commit to defending a view you do not in fact hold. I did this a couple years ago on the British radio show Unbelievable when I defended atheism while atheist Michael Ruse defended Christian theism. Now that’s a great way to get to know the other side!

Second, there are too many amateur apologists who have never read any theology, biblical studies, or hermeneutics. It’s important, however, to expose oneself to a broad and sophisticated set of Christian ideas so that one appreciates the richness and complexity of the worldview they are aiming to defend. So read widely to ensure you are not making elementary mistakes or you could end up expending your apologetic efforts in propping up an errant provincial fundamentalism rather than the Christianity you profess to believe in.

 

What do you see the purpose of apologetics as being?

Apologetics is a defense of one’s beliefs and we do it both to strengthen the faith of those who hold Christian belief and to persuade non-Christians of the truth of Christian belief. I like to call it discipleship for the Christian mind and evangelism for the non-Christian mind.

 

In your view, what should the role of philosophy be in the life of the Church?

That’s a huge question. Let me narrow it to analytic philosophy, an approach to philosophy that is concerned with concise definitions and clearly articulated arguments. Analytic philosophy can be very helpful as a handmaiden to theology by providing tools to define theological terms clearly and concisely, identifying logical tensions between beliefs, and seeking means to resolve those tensions.

 

What is the most convincing argument for theism to you?

Moral arguments from moral obligation and moral knowledge. In short, I believe that we recognize that we have moral obligations to act and the best explanation of those obligations is that they are issued from an appropriate authority, namely God. And I also believe that human beings are equipped with an innate ability to intuit or perceive basic moral value and obligation. But how would a blind evolutionary process equip us with such an extraordinary cognitive capacity? I believe the best explanation for this ability is that there is a God who equipped us with moral perceptual faculties because he wants us to gain moral knowledge and live in accord with it.

I provide my own case along these lines in my book An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar authored with atheist apologist Justin Schieber.

 

What is the most convincing argument for atheism?

Some version of the problem of evil, I suspect. It isn’t hard to see how God could have morally sufficient reasons to allow some degree of evil. But the amount, distribution and intensity of evil seems to be excessive or gratuitous, beyond that which would be required to achieve any commensurate good. Consider, for example, the topic of natural evil, in particular the evidence of predation, carnivory, parasitism, mass extinction, and the unimaginable agony of countless billions of animals long before human beings ever appeared on the scene. What morally sufficient reason could God have for creating and sustaining this kind of world?

 

If you weren’t a philosopher, what would you want to be?

Well, technically my day job is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Canada. Should I ever leave the academy, I’d bring my philosophical passions with me. And where might I end up? Perhaps working in a used bookstore or maybe a Walmart greeter!

 

If you could only recommend one book for studying philosophy or apologetics, what would it be?

I’d be inclined to recommend a good history of philosophy because that’s a great way to inoculate oneself against provincialism and to introduce the big ideas and perennial questions that drive the philosophical pursuit. With that in mind, I’m going to suggest Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. At first blush, that might seem like a surprising recommendation: after all, Russell was an atheist who had a clear prejudice against Christianity. For example, he dismisses Thomas Aquinas as not a real philosopher and that’s crazy. Having said that, Russell was undoubtedly a great writer and as one of the progenitors of analytic philosophy, he also strived to write with clarity and concision. His book is justly recognized as a modern classic and you can find it in many used bookstores. (It’s still in print too, of course.) Finally, his own prejudices are generally not hard to spot, and that can make him a valuable interlocutor. It’s always valuable to become acquainted with the way other people see things: as iron sharpens iron, right?

 

What advice would you give to students who have aspirations in the fields of philosophy or apologetics?

Do it because you love it, not because you hope ever to draw a salary from it: teaching and research positions in the field are harder to come by than a bucket of fried chicken at a vegan rally. And always keep in mind that your ultimate goal should be not simply the defense of your personal beliefs, but the pursuit and defense of truth, whatever that may be.

 

Thanks again to Dr. Rauser for his time and for all the work he does!

13 thoughts on “Interview with Philosopher Randal Rauser

  1. I agree with Randal concerning the geological problem of suffering and death raising painful questions for classical views of God — the vast pre-human cycles of suffering and death were God’s means? But there is the added question of human mortality rates in general, of the vast majority of humans perishing at such young ages over the past couple million years, or even the vast numbers of children wiped out by childhood epidemics or simple colds and other infections, or changes in weather, throughout history, and hence having no time or very little time for “soul building.” If you include zygotes as humans, and if you believe they go right to heaven, then the vast majority of heaven’s occupants recall little to nothing of their time on earth. In fact even large Christian families like the Duggars most probably lost more zygotes than the number of children they were able to raise.

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      1. Evidence, part two.

        Aggression, predation, suffering, death and even extinction were around long before the first successful species of upright large-brained primate. Some Christian accommodationists at BIOLOGOS propose that such primates slowly evolved to a point where they began to consciously recognize how awful such things were, including negative internalized reactions to them like guilt or shame (due to nakedness). Thus guilt was born. But in such an accommodationist scenario one is stuck with the fact that God made aggressive impulses, predation, suffering, death and extinction, even felt they were necessary in order to squeeze out upright primates in the end. So it looks more like a rise over time than a ‘fall.’ Maybe God was the one slowly evolving a moral compass over time, and the one who should feel most guilty?”

        Below is further data and examples from the book, Evolving Out Of Eden: Christian Responses To Evolution

        Humanity’s evolutionary and prehistoric ancestors survived in a world that was filled with competing groups, pain, fear, anxiety, starvation, sickness, death and extinction events. What we inherited from our biological ancestors seems to have been the very traits that allowed them to produce more of their kind in such an atmosphere. Consider the “anger reaction,” aggressive outbursts that we all lapse into from time to time. Those are to be expected evolutionarily speaking, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isnʼt much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce, or a fellow primate is coming at us to keep us away from his food, or his mate, or even his harem in case of Pan chimpanzees (though Bonobos are different in not having harems, and having sex freely). Is having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response our “sinful” fault; or is it part of the way our brains evolved to function?

        Christian apologists object that such a biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As even the anatomist and Christian apologist Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that performed them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domningʼs “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologistsʼ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

        Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animalʼs lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

        Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals.”

        Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends. Does such a view make much sense? Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on rock walls? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

        Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Maryʼs? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. Thatʼs because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Maryʼs zygote. So letʼs say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Maryʼs chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. Weʼve already gone over that.

        A related question is, “What are ‘sins?’” Where do sins exist apart from being past acts? As humans we experience memories of being hurt, but donʼt experience “sins” as distinct entities. Are “sins” the “bad” memories of God? Do such memories “soil” Godʼs mind? And he has to dispose of them? And He canʼt forget/forgive them without blood being shed? What exactly is the connection between shedding blood and Godʼs memories no longer being a bother to him or us? I donʼt get how these things connect. When I forgive someone I simply forgive them, no need to shed blood. Nor can God be harmed by mere humans, but he requires blood being shed before He can truly forgive anyone anything? Is the death of Godʼs son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? How so, since killing Godʼs son has got to be among the numero uno of “sins” humans could commit?

        Humans share so many traits with our evolutionary ancestors what great need is there to introduce concepts like ‘sin’ or some ideal human couple or group who fell from some alleged state of moral neutrality during earlier stages of their evolution, and instead admit that humans have simply retained some of the same aggressive and cohesive/friendly instincts and desires as their ancestors (instincts and desires as seen in non-human mammals with large complex nervous systems such as elephants, dolphins, and great apes). In other words, do we need Christian theology to explain matters that science has already tied to physiological and behavioral studies of primate evolution, ethology, cognitive science, etc.? And if God employed evolutionary means and methods over billions of years of birth and death, suffering and joy, evolution and extinction, doesnʼt that seem like God left things to sort themselves out over lengthy geological ages? So why is it necessary to introduce such theological concepts as ‘sin’ and ‘fall?’

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      2. Evidence, part one.

        The evidence of the frequency of extinctions (including five mass extinction events) and the evidence that most offspring die before they reach the age of sexual reproduction (or leave behind far fewer offspring than others of their species), and the evidence that each evolutionary bush of species that blossoms forth gets countless branches snipped off, might all suggest that God was a tinkerer. And based on those things we do know, what questions might one even ask concerning the ability of such a tinkerer to create vast numbers of cosmoses before arriving at this one, leaving the rest to simply go extinct? Such a God might even employ mass extinction events of multitudes of cosmoses at various times. Admittedly I am extrapolating from what is known about nature concerning the deaths of countless sperm and eggs to produce a single individual, and the deaths of countless species for each one that thrives (including all the extinct ancestors of our own species of which we are the last upright hominoids left standing), and mass extinction events. But can one say based on such evidence that we are not dealing with a God that tinkers around? And lastly, how different would a tinkering God be from say, a mysterious evolutionary cosmos?

        But letʼs not speak merely in generalities, letʼs look more carefully at the evidence…

        Letʼs start small with the question of how you in particular came to be born and became the person you are today. A study of nature tell us that men produce enough sperm on a daily basis to repopulate the earth in six months. However, many of those sperm are deformed, many have two heads, or two tails, or squiggly tails, or heads that are too large or two small, etc. Was that part of some design or fine-tuned plan to make you? And in the average human ejaculate there are two hundred million sperm. If God wanted specifically to make ‘you’ then only one sperm would have been required. Two to decide between a specific boy or girl. But two hundred million? Talk about a roll of the biological dice that made ‘you.’

        Sperm are also subjected to physical stresses during ejaculation and contractions of the female tract, and may sustain oxidative damage, or even encounter the defenses of the female immune system meant for infectious organisms.

        Also, in a 5 year study of 11 female volunteers Baker and Bellis (1993) examined the characteristics of sperm loss from the vagina following coitus (also called ‘flowback’). They found that flowback occurred in 94% of copulations with the median time to the emergence of ‘flowback’ of 30 min (range 5—120 min). Furthermore they estimated that a median of 35% of spermatozoa were lost through flowback but that in 12% of copulations almost 100% of the sperm inseminated were eliminated. Does the high flowback ratio sound like efficient design? This suggests that less than 1% of sperm might be retained in the female reproductive tract and this supports the notion that only a minority of sperm actually enter cervical mucus and ascend higher into the female reproductive tract.

        Even being the first sperm to reach the egg assures nothing, since the eggʼs wall is too thick at that point and has to be weakened first by a couple thousand sperm attempting to breach it. And on occasion two or more sperm enter the egg before it begins to reharden, in which case the fertilized egg divides a few times then stops, or it may grow to the point of early implantation, implant on the uterine wall and then result in a miscarriage. Sometimes after the sperm enters the egg it triggers a second set of female chromosomes to be produced, and the fertilized egg dies. Sometimes the sperm enters the egg but does not go on to form a pronucleus, leaving only the eggʼs chromosomes functional, and again the process of development shuts down.

        In short, your genetic compliment appears to be the result of trivial differences between hundreds of millions of dead sperm, i.e., purely statistical odds. SEE INFOGRAPHIC, “THE ODDS OF YOU BECOMING YOU”.

        Now letʼs talk about eggs. During childhood a girlʼs ovaries absorb almost half of the million immature eggs with which she was born. Of the four hundred thousand eggs present during her first menstrual period, only 300 to 500 of them will develop into mature eggs across her reproductive life span. Her body reabsorbs the rest before they complete development. Again, does that sound like efficient design, or a case of the roll of the dice?

        Even the circumstances by which oneʼs parents meet, and the time of year or day they make love, and the position they are in during coitus, along with a host of other circumstance, can affect which sperm reaches which egg. So it appears like a crap shoot. Also, what lessons can one be sure that God is teaching us when a baby dies in the womb, or dies during birth, or is born with defects? Up to the mid 1700s half of all children who were born died before reaching the age of eight (according to Buffonʼs estimate). So if we canʼt be sure of what God may be teaching us when lightning strikes one tree or power line rather than another, then what can one say with certainty concerning why one particular egg happened to become fertilized by one particular sperm, or why spontaneous abortions or birth defects occur?

        Now letʼs take our discussion to a highest level. If the conception of each individual seems like a crap shoot or toss of the genetic dice due to a plethora of circumstances that do not seem personally planned, then what about the evolution of a species? What if God lets evolution be evolution just as He lets sperm be sperm and eggs be eggs, and lightning strikes be lightning strikes? The human species constitutes one of a small number of extremely large-brained species of mammals on earth, including cetacea (whales, dolphins), elephants, early apes and upright hominids. All with larger brains than average. However many species of cetacea, elephants, early apes, and upright hominids, became extinct, rather like the aforementioned hundreds of millions of eggs and sperm with different compliments of genes that naturally perish during coitus leaving either nothing behind or a single fertilized zygote.

        Is our species the apex of creation, or a passing phase? Will future humans look back at our species like we look back at Australopithecines or Homo habilis?

        Paleontologists have discovered that before the earliest upright hominids arose, the world was covered with diverse ape species, the majority of which went extinct. The same was true in the case of other large-brained mammal species, like dolphins and whales, their ancestors also went extinct. And they appear to have passed through a tinkering period where their rear legs had yet to disappear and their blowholes moved from the nostrils at the ends of their noses to the middle of their noses before reaching their current position atop their heads. Same with the ancestors of birds that have gone extinct. They went through a tinkering period when their bones were still solid and heavy, their skulls still triangle shaped and thick-boned like reptiles, with teeth, and long bony tails that create drag, and a small keel bone in their chests that could not have anchored wide and thick muscles for great wing flap power, so their flapping would have been much less powerful. Modern birds have light bones, smooth thin helmet shaped skulls, no teeth, a mere stub of a bony tail that does not create drag, and a keel bone in their chests so wide and large it extends the entire length of their torso to which large and wide wing flap muscles are attached. I guess God spent some time tinkering dolphins, whales, and birds, etc. into existence, leaving behind loads of extinct cousin species.

        And what of the future? Even if we suppose that God’s fine-tuning ended with the present day species of homo, that does not mean humanity has plans for its own evolution to end. Humans have learned ways to fiddle with genes, and augment their brains with machines, and it now seems within the realm of possibility that we could produce hybrid species of animals raised to human or greater levels of consciousness. In fact, a human embryonic brain cells were implanted in a rat embryo and thrived inside the ratʼs brain as it grew, showing electrical integration with the rest of the rat’s brain, but only a small number of human cells were inserted in that experiment. We donʼt know what might happen if the majority of an embryonic ratʼs brain cells were replaced with human cells. Or what would happen if we performed a similar experiment on a dolphin or elephant embryo whose brains naturally grow far larger than a ratʼs.

        Or we might create quantum computers with artificial intelligence that wind up superseding humanity. In such a case a learning program might learn to upgrade itself faster than humans can upgrade it so it surpasses humanity—in that case carbon-based life forms will have been superseded by something we gave birth to, and humanity will simply have been a stepping stone in the process toward new entities. Will such new entities then claim the cosmos was fine-tuned so that they would be the premier product?

        On the other hand if our species becomes extinct or civilization collapses and we devolve into less brainy animals, will it then be said that God fine-tuned or designed the cosmos such that things would turn out that way?

        On the third hand, letʼs say humanity reaches livable planets throughout the cosmos and evolves in different directions on each of them with some or all of the results mentioned above occurring on different planets. Our species might also raise up animal consciousness on some, raising up artificial intelligences on others, and blending some discoveries with human evolution, and such diversification might also be followed by extinction events on some or all of those planets, again we would see a whittling process of trial and error, of probabilities. Who knows what future version of humanity (or humanityʼs creations) will be the last one standing?

        Need I add that the cosmos still has billions of years ahead of it. New stars are still being churned out in stellar nurseries, the maximum number of stars and planets has yet to be reached per articles I have read, and the stars that already exist have enough fuel to continue burning for billions of years via nuclear fusion. It takes even longer for black holes to dissipate, around 100 billion years to release their energy via Hawking Radiation. So it is easy to conceive of this cosmos outliving our species and outcome that seems likely given all the objects and energies careening throughout the cosmos, and energies beneath the earth, all of which pose dangers for our speciesʼ continued existence. Itʼs only a matter of time before any of the hundreds of objects already known to cross earthʼs orbit collide with our planet—as evidence of past collisions demonstrates. And long before our sun grows old and expands to envelop our planet in flame, our moon’s orbit will decay and it will fall into the earth.

        Nor can we say with certainty how the cosmos will end, either with a Big Freeze, or Big Rip (if the cosmos continues to expand at the present rate of increasing acceleration then time and space could begin to tear apart at its furthest seams), or, a Big Crunch (if the cosmos eventually slows down and begins to contract), or perhaps our cosmos will give birth to another cosmos or several, spontaneously via internal Big Bangs. Cosmologists donʼt know.

        Now letʼs take the discussion to an even higher level. Was it Godʼs specific intention to bring this particular cosmos into being? Maybe God allows cosmoses to produce other cosmoses in endless cycles of change and experimentation? Maybe God is a tinkerer of cosmoses?

        This cosmos is constantly mixing and swirling, statistically allowing for life to arise in very small regions of the cosmos, and probably only for limited amounts of time due to the explosive swirling nature of the cosmos. And life in this cosmos continues via cycles of reproduction and death. Life does not appear to be a particularly stable phenomena, and single-celled forms have demonstrated better chances of long-term survival than more complex multi-cellular forms.

        So, the design in the above case might be a never ending process of change, including the possibility of extinction at every level of such changes. It looks like randomness or chance plays a role in each individualʼs origins, as well as the origin of each species. If one says it was fine-tuned or designed that way, then fine-tuning or design including trial and error or tinkering.

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  2. Neat interview! Though I find the morality argument inconclusive.

    I have as much natural interest and concern in you not punching me in my nose at your whim, as you do in me not punching yours. We humans are also concerned with protecting ourselves from nature’s destructive whims. Which is why we developed both morality and insurance.

    Hence, what we call morality and laws seems to have arisen as a compromise between the recklessness of selfishness and the benefits of sharing between family members, neighbors, tribes and nations.

    Morality and agreed upon moral laws arose among and between humans, just as language arose, and the whole of human society and culture. It arose as humans Interacted with humans. Does God need laws for his health or safety? Does he need moral laws for his protection? Is God ever in danger of truly losing anything? No, but humans face the possibility of a variety of losses due to other humans or natural events every day, Including over time, loss of vigor, health, memory, and sliding toward decrepitude, death. Hence one could easily argue that the origin of agreements to try and diminish instances of such losses is a human concern, and, morality, as well as moral laws and even laws regarding health and safety and even life insurance all originate first and foremost with humans interacting with humans, since humans are aware that others are aware of such losses, and share the same basic likes, dislikes, and also are mutually aware of the benefits of peace and sharing.

    On the flip side of morality and laws of course lie temptations such as egotism, one person trying to take advantage of all others, as well as tribalism, one tribe trying to take advantage of all other tribes.

    But I think today we realize we can’t avoid seeing what we are doing to each other and to other tribes, along with what we are all doing to the world, the planet as a whole. There are cameras everywhere, like mirrors you can not avoid. There are even satellites taking pictures of what we are doing to the world as a whole.

    We used to be able to project our shadowy fears onto other people, or other tribes, and banish them to some other places on earth (and even imagined banishing them to places beneath the earth). But the world is now known to be round, circling back on itself, and limited, and the population of our species keeps filling the most arable land or putting it to human use to produce more things for our species and leaving behind ever greater quantities of poisonous garbage and other byproducts. On this tiny rock flying through space there is no longer any elsewhere to project or banish our shadow side, or our own literally poisonous substances, and the cameras as I said are everywhere, so we can’t help but come into contact with pictures showing the shadow sides of our own lives and our own religious and political tribes. There are also cameras employed by dramatists and documentarians and their constant revelations via tales that captivate and teach us all far more than ancient Near Eastern tales (just as modern science likewise teaches us far more about the cosmos and even cognitive science, cognitive biases, and human psychology than ancient Near Eastern tales ever did).

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    1. There’s a lot in your several comments, but I can’t see how they bear directly on my question, which was how the specific facts you’d mentioned raise “painful questions” for the classical views of God. At most, all of the data you present might raise a question such as, “If there is a God, why would God choose to X?”, but this hardly poses an argument against theism, unless you add another premise such as, “If there is a God, it is unlikely that God would choose to X.” But that latter premise seems quite difficult to defend.

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      1. According to classical definitions of a loving and just Being that is omnipotent and omniscient, one questions whether the definition and such power and foresight lines up well with the specific observations from nature that I shared. Secondarily, in “Evidence, part two,” one wonders how the added natural observations I shared line up with Christian theology.

        I also suggest expanding one’s knowledge of nature and learning more about what kinds of suffering exist, along with the scales of death, and extinctions. And how even basic human behaviors that contribute to suffering are an inheritance we share with our evolutionary ancestors long before any alleged fall.

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      2. So on the one hand, we have the proposition that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, just and loving Being. On the other hand, we have facts about suffering and imperfections in nature. But in order for the latter to pose an actual difficulty for the former, we need another premise, such as “If there is a God, it is unlikely that God would X,” and this premise then needs to be defended. Saying something like “One questions whether the definition and such power and foresight lines up well with the specific observations” does not give us such a premise

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      3. I think one ought to begin by reading about the data I shared from nature. All of it. In other words start thinking about things from the ground up. And keep in mind this is common ground that scientists of all religious beliefs or none have uncovered.

        As for your claim that we need to know what God is likely to say or do, that is a rabbit hole that any and every apologist dives into, from geocentrists to YECs, OECs, theistic evolutionists, to Muslims, Jews, or, inerrantists to moderates, progressives and liberals. They all can respond to those who raise questions concerning their views by asking, “How can you be so sure you know what God is likely to say or do (or, to have said and done)?” Or, there is the closely related response, “How can you know for sure what God intended when He inspired this or that passage or story in Scripture?”

        All I ask is that before discussing what Is likely or unlikely for God to have said or done, read the data I shared, because regardless of how one explains or explains away the data, the data at least should be something we both can agree on. And frankly the data I shared gives me a knot in my stomach just thinking about how life and death are merely in equilibrium in this cosmos, as well as evolution and extinction. And how the cosmos is one big shooting gallery that leads to impacts on earth that have left leaving behind huge craters or even set continents aflame, mass extinction events not to mention nearby novas whose radiation could eradicate life, or if our star passes too near other stars, or enormous solar flares, or magnetospheres diminishing leaving the planet open to increased radiation during magnetic reversals, or even whole galaxies colliding, or even super volcanoes erupting. Not to mention the extremely short length of time that upright primates have been around, including our own species, and how many of our cousins went extinct. How exactly does this square with a creator who supremely cares for life on this little lifeboat in space, since our planet is a rock flying through space whose surface we are restricted to because if we travel just a couple few miles above or below its thin quacking skin, we will stop breathing, freeze or burn. Not to forget the fact that if a loving God designed us such that God wanted us to get along with each other then why the quick aggressive impulsive reactions built into us, including cognitive biases galore? Why the struggle simply to raise and educate each generation, and fight back against high mortality rates, myriads of natural diseases including many that kill or stipple children, and even wholesale catastrophes, and besides all,of that we have to find the one true religion or suffer eternal catastrophes as well? Having read about history including the billions of humans who suffered through prehistoric times for nearly a million years prior to today, I tend to think that anyone getting through this fun house charnel house, putting up with everything from stinky underwear to cancer, from bug bites to Malaria, Zika and fire ants, or who gets through it all with their sanity left relatively intact, deserves a medal, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I also have difficulty imagining damnation for people whose inventions made life more bearable, safer, healthier, cooler (like the inventor of air conditioning), or the strides in medical science made by the secular saints of Johns Hopkins, or Steinmetz who found a way to prevent lightning to not disrupt electricalmcurrent travelling through high wires, or agricultural scientists who increased crop yields to prevent starvation, health and safety engineers, environmentalists, inventors. I find myself thanking such folks and thinking about how we humans are in this together on this little planet, instead of thinking that displaying proper religious devotion, loving the right god or reading the right holy writings is what matters most.

        Which isn’t to say I am an atheist. I am just saying that I feel more of a solidarity with every person on earth and their struggles, I feel we are all deserving of some compassion, we are all going through stuff, and one can easily imagine, perhaps with greater ease and with more rational justification than ever before in human history, many ways in which our species as a whole could become extinct and yet the stars continue to burn from billions of years after our species is gone. In fact new stars continue to arise. What indeed does it all mean?

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      1. Thanks Harrison! Sorry, but some dups of “Evidence part one” or “Evidence post one,” appear above since I tried sending them through multiple times and didn’t always add the qualifying starting sentence, “Evidence, part one.” You can delete the dups when you see that the body of the comment is identical. Some of the dups are simply missing the opening sentence, “Evidence part one.”

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