steve davis

Aaaaand…. we’re back with round four of our interview with Dr. Steven Davis, former theology and apologetics professor, current skeptical atheist.  Davis’ journey out of the Christian faith is a fascinating one, peppered along the way with a number of critical thinking-points that any conscientious thinker should take time to ponder.  Be sure to check out parts onetwo, and three of this series to learn more about his de-conversion.

I am particularly excited about today’s installment in our series, and I am hopeful for some meaningful conversation from you, the readers.  Please try to keep you comments respectful and on-point, and consult the disagreement pyramid if you need help with this.

If you would like to be able to dialogue with Davis directly, I highly recommend that you contact him via Facebook or Twitter.  You can also email me with any questions or comments that you might have.

Happy thinking, friends!


Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. I know that this decision has been the result of considering a huge amalgamation of things, both for and against the Christian faith. But I (and my readers) would love to hear some specifics. What are two or three arguments or evidences that have been pivotal in moving you away from Christianity and toward atheism?

Interesting question, but it’s the lack of evidence for a god or gods that led me to the baseline position I now hold. As I stated in part one of this blog interview: “I prefer to call myself a Rational-Empiricist. Rational-Empiricism is the epistemological position and methodological approach of modern science. Rational-Empiricists hold that the best way humanity has for discovering, understanding, and anticipating facts about our world is when reason and experience (empirical data) work together.” In part three of this blog interview I clearly demonstrated that a rational-empiricist approach to acquiring knowledge about the world is vastly superior (although not perfect) to any other epistemological methodology. In fact, the majority of people agree with this until they’re required to apply it to their religious beliefs.

After many years of intensive study concerning the relevant issues, I came to the conclusion that there’s not enough evidence to believe in any god or gods. That’s it! I also do not think that there’s enough evidence to believe that unicorns or leprechauns exist. I’m under no obligation to explain why I don’t think that unicorns or leprechauns exist. In the same way, I’m under no obligation to explain why I don’t think that a god or gods exist.1 If someone makes the extraordinary claim that unicorns exist, then they are obligated to provide proper evidence that supports belief in unicorns. If someone makes the astonishing claim that leprechauns exist, then they are obligated to provide proper evidence that supports belief in leprechauns. If someone makes the monumental claim that a god or gods exist then they must provide appropriate evidence to demonstrate that a god or gods exist.

Let’s do get into the nitty gritty! Show me the evidence.2 I’m a nonresistant nonbeliever.3 I would have no problem changing my mind about the existence of a god or gods if someone could provide me with the proper kind of evidence that supports the case.4 So, I’m challenging your readers to provide the proper kinds of qualitative and quantitative evidence that supports belief in their god or gods. They’ve had their opportunity to criticize, chastise, mock, and damn me. No doubt some of your readers are upset with me, but that doesn’t make their case. I’m pretty sure that some of your readers think that I’m arrogant, uninformed, mean, and/or insane.5 Well, guess what? Even if true, that doesn’t make their case either. Nothing they can say about me and the starting point6 of my position makes the case for a god or gods.7 Now it’s their turn. It should be easy to do, since the existence of a god or gods is so clear and your commenters are so astute. I’m calling them out! Put up, or shut up!

shifting burden

But, guess what? I don’t think they can do it. They’ll probably come up with all sorts of rationalizations for why they can’t or why they won’t. Or, they’ll go back to criticizing me. Whoops, still haven’t made your case. Make a substantive case or quit pretending that you have one!

At this point, I’m speaking specifically to those who claim to be Christians. Nothing that I say should dissuade you from providing evidence for your claim. Why? Because it has nothing to do with me (see footnote 4), but it has everything to do with you obeying the teaching of the book you refer to as “God’s Word.” In fact, you should be ready, willing, and able to do so!

Apologetic Mandate:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15 8

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” – Jude 3

Be Nice:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-26

God Desires All to Be Saved:

“[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:4

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

God Makes His Case Through You:

“[God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19b-20a

No Need to Fear:

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.” – Philippians 1:27-28

God Lives In You:

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4

Unambiguous Case Guaranteed:

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

I’m looking forward to the responses.

1: I certainly could, but explaining it in this format is a waste of my time (Matthew 7:6 also comes to mind). I thought about briefly mentioning the negative evidence here, but I knew that someone might be unduly focused on it rather than state their positive case. This part of my blog interview was several thousand words long before I decided to take the approach above. It wasn’t all for naught, since it helped me clarify some things I hope to cover in an upcoming book. But, frankly, I’m tired of trying to explain things to people that aren’t listening in the first place. If you want to have an honest dialogue with me, I’m easy to reach at nosacredcows01@gmail.com.

2: No doubt someone will argue that I have the burden of proof. Well, if you claim that, you’re wrong. I’m tired of responding to people that don’t know what they’re talking about. Look it up.

3: Look it up. If you do not agree that there are nonresistant nonbelievers it does not make your case for god.

4: I can already imagine someone thinking, “He’s not really going to listen, so I’m not going to do it.” I will listen to real evidence. But, even if I didn’t, you’re obligated to state your case. Your god may use your defense of him/her/it/them to reach someone other than me.

5: As I was typing this post, I received an email informing me that I was both arrogant and an idiot. That may be true, but it still doesn’t make the case for god.

6: See part three for my 3 foundational assumptions.

7: Even if you don’t agree with my starting point, that doesn’t make your case for god.

8: All passages are from the New International Version (NIV).

| Science | Scripture | 15 comments so far

Ready for another article?

Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at almostheresy@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

14 Comments

  1. Benjamin Hitzfeld, December 9, 2015 at 5:18 pm:

    I am saddened to hear people respond in un-Christ-like ways. I am not shocked, just saddened. It doesn’t accomplish anything to send accusatory and self-righteous responses. I mean, Dr. Davis, even quoted the scripture from 1 Peter that tells us as Christians to have a reasoned belief for the hope within us and to do it with gentleness and respect.

    So here is what I have as far as a reasoned defense of my faith. And I am not claiming this as proof of God or a god’s existence. Simply a clue (at least to me).

    In his book, “The Reason for God”, Timothy Keller says, “Though there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God, many people have found strong clues for his reality – divine fingerprints – in many places.” (p. 127)

    The first clue that he offers is The Big Bang itself. Keller cites Stephen Hawking, when he says, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe , and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.”

    About this beginning, in his book, Francis Collins writes, “We have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginable bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that before that, there was nothing. I can’t imagine how nature , in this case the universe, could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.” (Keller, The Reason for God)

    The big bang leads us to the question of why is there something instead of nothing? Is there anything in our physical universe that exists because it came into being all by itself without a first cause? Keller goes on to say, “Everything we know in this world is ‘contingent,’ has a cause outside of itself.” (p. 129)

    Going a bit further, I think the anthropic principle is compelling especially if we think about something causing or beginning the big bang. It wouldn’t then be a stretch to say that yes a creator made it so that there would be favorable conditions for life on earth.

    As I said before, I am not claiming these as proofs of God or a god, only clues (and there are others) that to me, make the most sense of the world that we live in.

    As I write all of this, I know these things aren’t new revelations and Dr. Davis I am sure is well versed in anything Keller or most any other Christian apologist would write.

    The only thing I would add to this conversation that I am again not claiming as proof of God, is a personal experience. I tried the agnostic route. I grew up in a very strict Pentecostal tradition. After High School, my worldview was opened up to other ideas and to be honest I was just tired of all of the self-righteous rhetoric that I said, “I am done. If God exists, great, but what does that have to do with me? Why should I be so arrogant that if God exists he would in any way want to interact with me personally?”

    Well, he did. I would love to share the story with anyone, just shoot me an email at blhitzy@gmail.com. This personal experience with God is ultimately what led me to MCC where Dr. Davis was such a formative part of my theological training.

    I understand my personal experience is just that. It is personal and if I am honest, the only thing that could cause me not to believe in Jesus as the creator of the logos and the savior of humanity is if his body was discovered undeniably in a tomb. I remember Dr. Davis always said, “If today they proved that they had found the body of Jesus of Nazareth, I would be the first one off the Christian boat.” That was a shocking statement to me at the time, but that is exactly where I am at. Paul the Apostle says as much in 1 Corinthians.

    Dr. Davis, if you are reading this, I wish you well and your current state of belief would not deter me from enjoying a cup of coffee or beer with you next time I am in the Manhattan area, if you are up for it.

    Grace & Peace,
    Ben

    • Andrew, December 9, 2015 at 7:35 pm:

      ” “We have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginable bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that before that, there was nothing.””

      This is perhaps a fair description for a popular audience, but it’s an unfair description of the physics if you’re trying to use it as an argument for your god. Collins isn’t a cosmologist though, so I suppose I can excuse him.

      The actual picture is a bit more nuanced.
      “13.8 billion years ago, the observable universe was very small”. Much more than that, and you get into lots of speculation.

      The ‘big bang’/singularity is what’s predicted/expected if you take GR to be true at scales where you should strongly doubt it’s true. It’s why physicists want a theory of quantum gravity, so they could talk about those types of energy scales.

      Lower energy scales physicists have a model, called the ‘standard model’, which is quite good at predicting nearly all matter-interactions ever observed. (In some ways, too accurate). This model is great for telling us what happens at things like the ‘electro-weak epoch’, but does nothing to solve bigger questions like ‘what’s with the matter/antimatter asymmetry?’

      So then what happened before the electro-weak, of which we have models of physics that can describe interactions at that scale?

      Well, we *think*, and have good reason to suspect, that prior to the electroweak was the inflationary epoch. The universe grew very very rapidly in a very short amount of time.

      Prior to that is the GUT and Planck epochs. The GUT we only have a minor idea of what types of interactions go on, and we can’t begin to approach those types of energy scales in particle collider experiments at all. It’s ‘targeted speculation’.

      But the Planck. The Planck epoch is when you’re pretty much guaranteed to have all known laws of physics break down. We know the standard model would be incoherent at that energy scale, predicting answers with probabilities >1, a pretty big clue that ‘something went terribly wrong’.

      The answers for ‘what happened prior to the big bang’ have no context without a picture of quantum gravity. String theory is so often talked about specifically *because* it doesn’t return nonsense answers like probabilities greater than one for scattering amplitudes at Planckian energies. Is it physical? We don’t know, but the solutions to what was the universe like at the big bang, or before, are going to have to come from solutions to equations and beyond standard model physics. I don’t know how to insert a god into that, nor do I think most cosmologists would, so while it’s easy for Collins to talk about a god and the ‘moment of the big bang when everything was infinitesimally small’, the real story is much more bounded. Although imo, just as awesome.

      *Even Lawrence Krauss or Stephan Hawking would admit that they’ve got no clue what happened during the Planck epoch, for all their speculation. We do not have the toolkit without at minimum figuring out the problems of quantum gravity.

      For some really cool and honest quantum gravity speculative talk, my favorite is Nima Arkani-Hamed. Some of his lectures you can follow along with only minimal knowledge of what he’s saying… although some others are way above where I’m close to following along.

      Sean Carroll has some easier to digest talks on the problems cosmologists have with ‘god’ as a solution to questions about the big bang, but I feel Nima gives a greater intuitive sense of exactly what problems need solving, and exactly what form those solutions will take.

  2. Jack, December 10, 2015 at 12:27 am:

    In order to duel with Dr. Davis, the Christian’s only hope is to address the possible problems and potential inconsistencies with such a militant rational empirical epistemological approach. Outside of this, there is no argument.

    • Rocky Munoz, December 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm:

      By George, I think he’s got it! He’s found the golden ticket. :)

      • Jack Mitchell, December 10, 2015 at 6:39 pm:

        The church and Christians have tried to argue within a rational empirical framework for the existence of God for centuries, all to no avail. The best bet is to step out of Davis’ epistemology and try to focus on the issues with this specific epistemology. Also, why should Christians engage with someone like Davis? There are literally millions and billions who do not share this epistemology who Christians would be better off engaging with.

        • Matthew Simpson, December 14, 2015 at 8:33 pm:

          Why do we engage in conversations: to convert, or to learn? Why do we engage (or not engage) people who disagree with us: are we afraid to be challenged? Is our purpose solely to win them over? If we know we can’t win, do we just give up the conversation?

          I think it is important to engage in these discussions for one because we may learn something (?!). I think it gets us to think and to question, and that is never a bad thing. I think also it provides us with knowledge to provide pastoral care to those who are questioning. If our response is “shutdown” to any intellectual inquiry people would be right to leave the church (and they will!). We lose as a body when people of different minds leave the faith.

          Also, I think many areas of Christianity are in denial that they are known for being anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge, anti-cooperation, anti-science; that many forms of conservative Christianity is associated with a complete denial of reality. Some Christians are so obsessed with being identified as “Conservative” they lose their faith-identity as being peacemakers and reconcilers, which does require dialogue and respect of other views. There are certain denominations trying to undo that bad reputation, others however, just cannot accept any challenge to their worldview…their faith (I can only assume) is that fragile.

          Living on the east coast in an urban area dismissing the scientific method when discussing faith and truth is not an option. Being able to have these conversations are vital as Christians and as human beings. Why do I engage people like Davis? Because that is my neighbor, my friends, my teacher, and my co-workers (well my co-workers are mainly Jewish). Nonetheless, I advocate for the engagement.

          • Jack Mitchell, December 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm:

            Hi Matt,

            I hate to break this to you, but Davis (maybe your fancy east-coast urbanite neighbors will learn from you if they do not have the same worldview that Davismis perpetuating in these posts) and those like him will not learn from you, because they have nothing to learn from you regarding the validity of your faith, especially if you are going to try and “prove” the existence of God within Davis’ epistemology (much less the physical resurrection of a Jesus figure). I am sorry I was misunderstood, I didn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat someone with Davis’ worldview with respect. What I meant was, perhaps Christians ought to spend time going after other sheep with which they will have more success selling a less rationalistic, more experiential worldview to.

            Best,

            J

    • Benjamin Hitzfeld, December 11, 2015 at 8:52 am:

      Hello Jack,
      I would love to hear your take on the possible problems and potential inconsistencies with said mindset. Thanks in advance.

      • Jack Mitchell, December 14, 2015 at 10:02 pm:

        I agree with Matt’s take below for proving the existence of God… He makes some good points, and I think this coupled with some more reasoned critiques can situate a believer in a decent place.

        The problem with what Matt says below is that his god is claimed to have entered into the physical realm, and was claimed the be see and experienced with the same human senses that we all have.

        Imagining our senses failing to understand the vast complexities of how the cosmos was created and continues to be maintained is understandable. The issue is, the Gospels present a very real, very human Jesus perceived in the present physical realm. Any metaphysical, arguments cease here. As Davis mentioned, the burden of proof is on the believer to prove the validity of the Gospel account that a human being (how it is presented) was raised from the dead. This extraordinary narrative requires extraordinary proof, beyond lofty metaphysical possibilities.

        To answer more properly, I believe Christians should continue to pursue and argue for the historical accuracy of the gospel narrative (even this has been unfruitful, with the massive lack of evidence on historical grounds).

        • Matthew Simpson, December 17, 2015 at 8:13 pm:

          I think there is a slight error in how my perspective is taken, but I didn’t explain myself well. We know now that there are many waves of light we cannot see. Before, we discovered that, from what we knew from our senses, there was only visible light. Through discovery we discovered something more. Likewise with every scientific discovery: before the discovery there is no proof using senses, yet that does not mean that something does not exist.

          Davis is correct, as are the rationalists, one is never called to prove a negative. So in this regard, there is the necessity to concede that it is true there is no proof, and there may never be proof…and yet, we are not omniscient, we continue to discover. In my cosmology there is one reality, therefore all metaphysical entities must integrate without contradiction; “there is not a this world and a that world,” a “this reality and a that reality.” Reality is one and metaphysically non-contradictory. So perhaps we will discover something, perhaps we won’t. But, in retrospect we look at what we didn’t know, and that which we know now, and what we will know in the future; if we can place ourselves in that history, then there will be more discovery and all things are not known.

          In regards as to that being a critique on the rational-empirical view; there was at one point no knowable proof that the world is round…in reality the proof always existed, we just couldn’t comprehend it. At that particular time in place, the rationalist might say “prove it!” Well, at that time the Church said “prove it!” They were able to in time, but at first the idea was ridiculous. And so existentially, as a rationalist there can never be an “assurance” of the non-existence of proof; it may just not be discovered yet. It just is not comprehended at this point in history. All we have now is existential evidence for God, which is not objective. So to the rationalist who wants to believe (and that is key), there is a rational reason to believe without proof-positive evidence.

  3. Matthew Simpson, December 13, 2015 at 9:54 pm:

    Belief in God is primarily existential: “one believe is in God because one chooses to believe in God, one wants there to be a God.” If one chooses to believe in God they will work to find a reason that God exists, if one doesn’t then they will be able to find reasons for God’s non-existence.

    As to the holes in the “rational-empirical” epistemology. First, this philosophy and its incorporation to the field of human thought should be lauded and praised. A product from the Enlightenment every material comfort we have that requires technology is due to this philosophy, so it ought not be demonized, but it must be recognized that it has its limitations in regards to the human experience. If we take a moderated approach from Kant, one hole is the reliance on human sensory data. It should be noted, we are not responsible for anything outside of human sensory data, but with an acknowledgement of that there are serious limitations, the rationalist approach of absolute truth begins to shake. We see a tapeworm in the intestines has no sight or hearing, yet to the tapeworm’s existential experience they are experiencing the totality of existence. We know they are not, and so it is with us; there are things we cannot comprehend, the rational empirical view is realistic in saying we are not responsible for what we cannot perceive…they are right. The error is when, out of hubris it is declared, “what I can’t see does not exist.”

    On the opposite end, the Christian or Theist, must concede that to be sure of something that cannot be seen is an act of faith. And while it can be explained in rational terms, it cannot be defended objectively.

    • Jack Mitchell, December 17, 2015 at 8:29 pm:

      I follow your logic. I guess my point is, you have no historical (in this space, things we can see and witness) proof for the character and details of the life of Jesus. Belief in God is a separate discussion, but again, if one can demonstrate historically that the gospels present historic facts about Jesus, then Davis’ position can be refuted. You have a better chance with this angle than debating metaphysical theorems that will always lead to the same places for the atheist and theist respectively.

  4. Matthew Simpson, December 13, 2015 at 10:23 pm:

    In matters of the human experience as a whole it is lacking. There is no definable teleology in such a philosophy and to come up with one would be a betrayal of its principles. To deny meaning is a harsh step to take for a human being. Again, the philosophy is valuable but does not incorporate the totality of human experience. It is the best tool we have for discovering the material world around us, but there is its limit.

    • Jack Mitchell, December 14, 2015 at 10:06 pm:

      Sounds like some mumbo jumbo. Silly to say that forfeiting belief in god automatically presupposes a life of meaning. Perhaps some pie in the sky ultimate meaning, but again, there is no proof or frankly need for such meaning. Humans are meaning creators, regardless of their metaphysical positions. Belief in religions or god is but one option on the palette of options that humans can derive their meanings from.


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