The Wrap Up – Part 2

My last post was five months ago.  You know, the one that I called “Part 1” and promised a “Part 2” follow-up post?

So, Seth, what gives?

Well… ever feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?  Or that you have so much to say about something, but don’t want to publish a novel on your blog since no one would probably read it?  Yeah, I know the feeling.

So, check this out:  I make a promise to my readers to compile and discuss (in a single post, mind you) all the evidences that I believe exist for the Christian faith.  Yeah yeah, I hear you skeptics chuckling out there — I can hear you thinking, “Well, that should be a short article!”  Go ahead, have your moment… I’ll give you a minute or two to enjoy your cleverness….

It has also turned out to be a huge undertaking — not for the effort of tracking down evidence, but because whenever I “finished” a draft of this post, I always had the feeling that there was more that could be added.  I didn’t want to leave anything out that contributed to my sense of confidence that my faith in Christ was based in reality, and this kept me in a bit of a limbo state where I always left it saying, “It could still be better.”

As I mentioned, my intention was to compile as much evidence as I could into a single post, illustrating the various evidences that I believe support Christianity and that all have, in one way or another, contributed to my assurance that my Christian worldview is a reasonable reflection of reality.  For brevity, I wanted to provide a two- or three-sentence commentary for each point to demonstrate the strength of Christianity’s explanatory power as compared to naturalism/materialism (which I feel are the worldviews in opposition to Christianity that are the most likely to be true if Christianity is false).

Trouble was, even with care to keep the individual points brief, the post was becoming a bit cumbersome in its length.  Plus, I was loath to “gloss over” so many meaty points and leave the detailed discussion of these topics to be buried in the comments section.  This would be counterproductive to my purpose, I think.

So, instead of compiling a long list of evidences that I feel support Christianity and presenting them in a sort of “table of contents” format, I decided it would be better to give the evidences piecemeal, to allow each one to be challenged and vetted on its own.  This would be a far better way to encourage discussion and collaboration, and to give everyone the chance to make their opinions heard.

However, as it turns out, having a kid changes everything.

I feel almost like a completely different person, having become a father.  (My son is now nine months old — “As much time out as in,” I say when people ask about his age, which is my attempt to practice my dad-humor.)  As much as I used to love blogging, I find myself now having little impetus to write in the online forum.  I may someday return to blogging, but in this season I find that my attention and energy are naturally focusing elsewhere in my life.

Nevertheless, my unfulfilled promise to you, my readers, has somewhat loomed over me these past months, and in spite of my better judgment I have decided to reverse my decision to give it piecemeal in favor of just getting something out there.  It’s not ideal, and if I had any certainty concerning the amount of time and energy I would have to devote to this blog going forward I would probably do it differently; however, given my time constraints lately I have decided that fulfilling my promise, even in a way that grates at my sense of perfectionism, is better than nothing.  Please forgive me.

That being said, a brief disclaimer, and then (gulp) I will actually post the draft that’s been sitting on WordPress’ servers for the past five months.


So, here’s the disclaimer:  This list, as published here, has two functions: 1) to initiate discussion, and 2) to answer the common claim, “There is no evidence for Christianity.”

To the former:  I know that the case for Christianity does not begin or end with this list.  I am but a layman, and even if I put everything down on this list in an exhaustive form, there would still be details left out.  Plus, there are doubtless other evidences that others with more experiences and study could add to this list (and I encourage them to in the discussion that will likely follow).  Thus, if there ever could be a comprehensive case for Christianity… it would have to come from someone more learned and more intelligent than I.  Given the format (and my own ignorance), there are necessary omissions, both intended and overlooked.

To the latter:  In all my experience discussing Christianity with skeptics, the one phrase that I would do away with completely if I could is the one quoted above.  Saying that there is “no evidence” for Christianity is not only false, it is also unhelpful; it’s a statement that communicates nothing more than ignorance and a lack of interest in overcoming ignorance through discussion.  I think a much more helpful way of getting the same point across would be to say that one fails to find the arguments for Christianity convincing.  I see no reason why one would feel the need to take this sentiment a step further to make such a dubious and unproductive claim: dubious because it’s impossible to prove, and unproductive because the speaker has already proven himself immune to rational discussion on the matter, having made up his mind unequivocally.

Put another way:  As can be said for any case in support of a given worldview, the argument is not airtight, and I don’t pretend it to be.  I’m just putting down the evidence as I (an imperfect and relatively uneducated individual) see it.

That being said, here’s the best I can do:

Cosmology

  1. There is something rather than nothing.
    This is a significant problem for the naturalist, for nothing in natural law gives us any empirical reason to believe that universes can just pop up out of nowhere.  It was a less significant problem when everyone believed the universe had always existed (which was pretty much the case before the 1920s or so — Christians being a notable exception) — but now, scientific discovery seems to tell a different story (i.e. that the universe had a beginning), so the problem becomes more serious to someone who insists that it’s turtles all the way down.  On the other hand, if a Creator exists (Aristotle’s “unmoved mover”), the mystery is somewhat mitigated — it is, in fact, the only logical conclusion one could draw from the fact that stuff happens today.  Many naturalists insist that this is a mystery that will someday be solved by science — I’m not so sure.
  2. The universe seems remarkably fine-tuned to support life.
    The most common response I’ve encountered from naturalists on this score has been largely hand-waving it away by relegating it to fallacy — by calling it “God of the gaps” or “personal incredulity” or something like that.  While it is technically true that we can’t know what the universe could have been like otherwise than what it is (or even if it could have been different), I find it interesting how much popularity the shamelessly non-empirical multiverse theory has garnered among serious scientists — an invention to deal, exclusively, with this very problem.  If this fine-tuning observation was, as some atheists claim, the same as “no evidence” for God, then I don’t see something as purely speculative as the multiverse gaining so much traction as it seems to get among scientists.  Food for thought.

Biology

  1. Life exists.
    Abiogenesis is another serious problem for the naturalist, for there’s scant empirical evidence for such an event to have happened in our world or on any other.  Everyone’s working on it, of course, and most naturalists maintain a cheery outlook about the potential for scientific discovery in this arena (indeed, they have no other choice, because of their worldview) — however, some experts, looking at the ratio of progress in this field to the effort being put into it, aren’t so optimistic, and such points of view can be summed up something like this:  If abiogenesis, theoretically, involves a multi-step process from A to Z, it seems the best we have been able to muster from 60+ years of fervent experimentation is, perhaps, G to H and K to L.  The optimism might very well be unwarranted — and in any case, such optimism is markedly non-empirical.
  2. Life appears to be designed.
    This is the admission of none other than Richard Dawkins, who has no love for creationism (understatement of the year).  Call me crazy, but I think that if something appears to be designed, then this should be taken as evidence for a designer — perhaps even compelling evidence.  There are lots of other speculations, of course, to try to skirt around this obvious inference — nevertheless, until a good, evidential case can be made that’s at least as compelling as the prima facie inference that’s staring everyone in the face (and to date there isn’t anything close), I’m going to put this confidently in the “evidence for a Creator” pile.
  3. DNA contains information.
    To be clear, this is not merely a reference to the order found in nature (like snowflakes and all that) — this is specifically about information, which is at least an order of magnitude higher (probably several) when it comes to complexity.  If, in the case of biology, information did indeed arise without intelligence, it would literally be the only example of this happening in the observable universe.  Every other instance where we see information and semiotics — from scratches on the wall of a cave to words on a menu to prime numbers being pumped through space — we instantly infer upwards to intelligence.  DNA is definitely evidence for an intelligent designer, and this evidence must be addressed if one wishes to make an alternative case.

Anthropology

  1. Human beings are predisposed to belief in the Divine.
    This does not prove anything, of course — it could be true, as most naturalists claim, that human beings evolved a “God-sense” as a survival mechanic.  However, it’s also exactly how one would expect us to be if we were created by a God who wished for us to find our way to Him.  Not the strongest evidence posted here, mind you, but evidence nonetheless.
  2. Eyewitness miracle accounts still abound, and don’t seem to be going away.
    There are scores of examples of first-hand accounts (both ancient and contemporary) of miracles and supernatural activity.  Everyone has their own opinion as to where these claims originate — the popular naturalist explanation being something along the line of our brains, through some combination of confirmation bias and something like the predisposition discussed in the point above, are enough to account for these “miracles”.
  3. There is evidence that near-death experiences are something more than psychological phenomena.
    As much as I would love to go into this in more detail (for I feel it is one of the biggest sources of tangible evidence against materialism), I will defer instead to the work of Gary Habermas, which I’ve referenced a couple times here.  In summary, many people who report having near-death experiences (aside from stories of white lights, angels, dead relatives, and other things that cannot be verified) report facts that intersect with our physical world, facts that cannot reasonably have been known by the individual through any natural means and that can be (and have been) independently verified.  These evidences were enough to convince Anthony Flew to reject his outspoken atheism in favor of deism, in any case.
  4. Religious people vehemently insist that their religious experiences are interactions with a deity.
    In my experience, naturalists habitually insist that personal experience with the divine are all products of the brain, much like hallucinations and the like.  And I concede that this is possible.  However, I have two main responses:  1) As much as naturalists would like this to be true, they cannot provide sufficient evidence that their assessment in every case is more feasible than the prima facie conclusion that people actually are experiencing God, and 2) having had such experiences myself, I imagine I am well within reason to trust my experiences over the postulation of one who hasn’t had them.  It is up to me to be skeptical about what these experiences could mean, and I’d like to think that I’ve been reasonable in weighing all possible options and explanations — yet, having done so, I still find the conclusion that these experiences are largely supernatural to hold the most water.

History

  1. There are widely-accepted historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth that support the claims of the Gospels.
    As I mentioned before, my two go-to guys for New Testament history are Gary Habermas (on the Christian side) and Bart Ehrman (on the skeptical side).  I figure, if these two historians can agree on something, it’s probably safe to accept it as historical fact.  I’ve spoken before about Habermas’ “minimal facts argument” for the resurrection of Christ, which makes an empirical case for the resurrection of Christ only from these sorts of accepted historical facts.  This is as close to direct evidence for Christianity that one can get — it’s certainly not “no evidence”, in any case.  For those more interested in this subject, J. Warnor Wallace gives a rundown of the popular counter-theories postulated by skeptical historians in order to account for just this relatively short list of facts, and the difficulties inherent in each one.  Personally, I’ve never encountered an alternate explanation of the facts that is more feasible than the traditional Christian account.
  2. The formation of the Christian church is difficult to explain if Jesus of Nazareth had not risen from the dead.
    Again, something I wish I could go into more detail on, but for now I’ll just briefly posit that the series of events surrounding the formation of the early Christian church, like the facts surrounding the resurrection, seem to find their most coherent and elegant explanation in the conclusion that Christ has, indeed, risen from the dead.  Any alternate explanations and speculations I’ve heard seem to either ignore evidence, contradict evidence, or speculate wildly beyond the evidence.
  3. The works of prophesy in the Old Testament are verified to predate Christ.
    The popular answer (in my experience) to claims of Old Testament prophesy being miraculously fulfilled is to downplay the applicability of specific prophetic statements to the historical events that are supposed to fulfill them — whether by providing alternative interpretations of the authors’ intent or casting doubt regarding the existence of sufficient historical evidence for said events.  However (and I wish I could remember where I read this so that I could cite the source), I find it interesting to note that the former, at least, is a relatively new approach — quite the change in tactic, in fact, for skeptics used to have no problem acknowledging the correlation between prophesy and their historic fulfillment and argued, rather, that such “ancient” prophesies were clearly written after Christ, seeing as how closely and uncannily they accounted for known historical facts, specifically regarding Jesus of Nazareth.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, though, was the nail in the coffin to this argument — and since then, it has been more common for skeptics instead to downplay the clarity of these prophesies with respect to Christ.  Seems like backpedaling to me — in any case, I think the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy belongs squarely in the evidence category.

My Personal Experience

  1. I am a Christian, and not a yogi.
    If you’re interested in reading about this chapter of my story, I discuss it here and a briefly here.  In short, if everything that naturalists claim about religious belief and experiences being little more than confirmation bias and predicated wholly on one’s desire to believe in God, then for all intents and purposes there’s no way I would be a Christian today.
  2. My emotional wounds were healed only after my being baptized into the Christian faith.
    This one (like anything dealing with direct, personal experience) is a little sticky.  For one, it’s hard (even for me) to define exactly what I mean when I say that my emotional wounds were healed — I know something significant happened, even if I can’t necessarily put quantifying language to it.  It’s also difficult to unequivocally attribute the timing of this healing to the Christian God in particular.  It’s, admittedly, circumstantial evidence at best — yet, still evidence nonetheless; and, as with many of the previous points, I find postulated counter-theories to be wildly speculative and unconvincing.
  3. God really does seem to answer my prayers.
    Again, sticky.  But just because something cannot, on its own, bring one from A to Z doesn’t mean it doesn’t count as evidence.  When I think of answered prayer, I always remember back to a story from when I was a teenager, and had just recently become a Christian:  I listened to Christian radio a lot in those days, and there was a song that I always seems only to hear the tail end of that I thought was really neat — and, to my chagrin, the DJ never gave the name and artist for that particular song, so I had no idea what song it was or who sang it.  One day, as I was getting into my car to drive home from dance class, I received a strong prompting to pray specifically for two things: 1) that the song I mentioned would play on the station I was listening to, and 2) that the DJ would give the title and artist at the end.  Now, whatever you’re thinking right now, I was also thinking at the time — I was very apprehensive about everything from the trivial nature of the prayer to the dubiousness of my own ability to hear from God to “what if I pray for it and it doesn’t happen?  Does that translate to a problem with the quality of my faith, or the realism of my belief in God?”  Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God really wanted me to pray this silly prayer.  And so I did — and I believed, against my better judgment, that it would happen just as I prayed.  It was about a 35-minute drive home, and when I was about four minutes away from home a song ended, prompting me to think, “Well, this is it — there’s only time for one more song.  It’s now or never.”  Well, what do you know, it was the song.  I had a faith conniption fit in my car for those four minutes as I sang along at the top of my lungs.  And the moment — literally the moment — I pulled into my driveway, the DJ said, “That was Switchfoot with ‘Something More.'”  Yes, it’s sort of a silly story, and I can hear Christopher Hitchens’ diatribe about the pettiness of a God (and solipsism of an individual who believes in Him) who would answer such a meaningless and frivolous prayer when children are starving to death and being wiped out by terrible diseases throughout the world.  However, two things: 1) As much as I might want to agree largely with many points in this objection, it doesn’t affect the unshakable feeling I have that God really did, in that specific moment, answer a very specific and falsifiable prayer (and this isn’t the only time this sort of thing has happened to me); and 2) it wasn’t really trivial to me, because it showed me in a tangible way that God cared enough about me to illustrate to me both the reality of His existence and the magnitude of His care for me, individually and specifically.  Call it arrogance of solipsism if you would like — to me, that’s just an attempt to sidestep the issue.

Oh, so much more I could add!  How I hate to publish this post, knowing it to be incomplete and imperfect, knowing that with a little more time I could make it better!  However, for better or for worse… [Publish]

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23 comments

  1. Pretty impressive … and obviously time-consuming. I can understand why this was done before the little one came along.

    Of course, from the “naturalist’s” perspective, there are holes galore in your reasoning. But one has to admit you gave it the old “college try.” 😉

    Some of this has already been discussed ad nauseam in a recent post on Nate’s (findingtruth.info) blog. Perhaps when the little one is napping. you might want to take a look-see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nan 🙂 I’ve read some of Nate’s stuff before, and most everything else that skeptics have pointed me towards to read for that matter. The way I see it, I agree with you — there are holes in the Christian argument, and when opponents attempt to fill those holes with their own perspective, there are holes in those too. Holes, holes everywhere — it seems our race is full of ’em. If we’re waiting for a philosophic worldview to come along that’s hole-free, then we will wait forever, it seems — if one exists, I imagine it would have shown up by now and there would be no serious competitive worldviews.

      Thus, the presence of holes in my argument neither surprises nor troubles me much. The way I approach it, though, is this: When looking for something that will hold water, and all you’re being offered is colanders, choose the one with the smallest holes 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think an opportunity was missed to clearly establish where important evidence exists… or recognize it’s absence. And the reason is because too few people understand what evidence means, what constitutes ‘evidence’.

    Evidence is what LINKS a claimed cause to a selected effect. This link must be independent and verifiable to be meet the criteria of what evidence is. This should be easy to do… if this evidence can be extracted from reality as claimed.

    When I go down your list, I find myself searching for evidence. But I’m disappointed. There isn’t any. All that work to tabulate… assumptions, attributions, ascribing, confirmation bias… but no evidence. Even the ‘historical’ record is not any better than Harry Potter’s London indicating Harry Potter as a historical figure.

    I think you think this list indicates that there really is evidence from reality for substantiating the central and fundamental claims made by the Christian faith, and that compiling this list you have achieved what you set out to do. Alas, the sad news isn’t that you’ve tried and failed; the sad news is that you don’t recognize the absence of evidence and so can be motivated to re-think your assumptions, attributions, ascribing, and recognize the major confirmation bias upon which your faith-based beliefs continue to use as its foundation.

    What this lack of evidence from reality means is that you believe in your belief but assume you believe in evidence that reality supports. This is sad because until you recognize the root problem – believing in belief IMPOSED on reality misrepresented to be belief adduced FROM reality – you will continue to fool yourself. An important first step is to understand why all of this is not evidence from reality but a projection upon it. And that starts with understanding what evidence means.

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  3. Seth,
    Glad to see you back, even if it is in a limited capacity. I can relate.

    Given the name of your blog and the theme of this post, I wonder if you have somewhere defined what you mean when you say that something is evidence for a proposition? Are you assuming something like a Bayes factor? It’s hard for anybody to argue about whether something counts as evidence without agreeing on what ‘evidence’ is.

    Regarding this particular post, here’s my take, for what it’s worth:
    Cosmology – I agree that theism is complimentary to fine-tuning and the “something rather than nothing” question, but I don’t see that naturalistic views are all that comparatively deficient. Your statement that “scientific discovery seems to tell … that the universe had a beginning” is only the extrapolation of general relativity, and we’re pretty sure that isn’t the right model for those circumstances. There are also many models that are consistent with both the big bang and an eternal universe. It’s also unfair to suggest that multiverse theory exists exclusively to deal with fine-tuning. There are multiple motivations for multiverse theories and, by most accounts, fine-tuning isn’t even primary (inflation, string theory and many-worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics all seem to be stronger influences).

    Biology – Abiogenesis may be a rare event, but we know enough about life to know that there’s nothing supernatural required to go from non-reproducing chemicals to reproducing chemicals (for more, see my comment on one of your posts last year). As for the appearance of design – yes, life seems to fit its environments, but that’s also exactly what’s expected from selection, so I guess it’s just a matter of opinion that a good, evidential case hasn’t been made that’s at least as compelling as the prima facie inference. As for DNA, I’ll just point back to last year’s exchange again, where it seemed that we had uncovered that information wasn’t really at the heart of the matter, but rather an inference to teleology.

    Anthropology – As I see it, your argument basically boils down to giving people the benefit of the doubt about their reports. The psychology and neuroscience material that I’ve consumed over the last few years has given me a strong appreciation of just how vulnerable we are, and so it just makes a lot more sense to me to posit the fallibility of these experiences than to accept the violation of physical regularity.

    History – To me, the whole resurrection topic is essentially the same as the anthropology claims above, so not much else to say there. As for prophecy, my investigations look very different from what you report here. There might be a few moderately compelling cases, but there is nothing that specifically and clearly points to Jesus, unless your definition of specific and clear is very different from mine. I’m also quite doubtful of the characterization given about the change in the way skeptics have responded to prophecy claims over time. If you can locate the citation, that would be interesting.

    Personal Experience – I don’t blame you. If I had compelling experiences then I’d probably still be a Christian, but from the outside it looks a lot like the anthropology topic above.

    My two pennies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Travis! Always a pleasure, sir, thanks for commenting.

      I’m not formally familiar with Bayesian statistics (though I think I have heard Eric mention the methodology a few times in discussions on this forum), so I’m hesitant to answer definitively one way or the other. From what I gather from a cursory, layman reading of it, I think it’s not a bad model for what I’m going after — especially when used as a comparative model across competing worldviews. The answer, from my perspective, isn’t “Which worldview gets us from A to B without any holes, without the need to resort to any leaps of faith?” for if that’s the standard then all useful worldviews fail — but, rather, it’s “Which worldview is more likely to be true, given the way things appear to be?” I understand not everyone shares this approach (wink to tildeb), but in my opinion life is too short to wait for the perfect worldview to come along. I’m throwing my chips on the table while the bets are still open.

      COSMOLOGY
      The approach I take to the cosmological argument actually doesn’t rely at all on the postulation that the universe had a beginning, so I feel absolutely comfortable ceding your point that the latter may not be the case — I believe my argument stands regardless. Really, the central mechanic that my cosmological argument rests upon is the cause-and-effect reality of our universe; in other words, I prefer to approach the argument not from the premise “things exist” (which is how I’ve seen it most often formulated), but rather from the premise “things happen, and they happen for a reason.” The fact that things can be observed to be happening is really the only bit of evidence that, I believe, is needed to make a good case for theism (or, at least, deism, which is a start). In this regard, I do believe the naturalistic framework to be, comparatively, sorely lacking.

      BIOLOGY
      To your first counterpoint — I find the statement that “there’s nothing supernatural required,” even if true, to fall short — for, as I mentioned in the beginning of this comment, I’m more concerned with relative feasibility between competing worldviews. Thus, naturalism (at least, ontological naturalism) should not be granted a priori preference, only to be discarded so long as all possible or imaginable naturalistic explanations are exhausted. That’s a bar theism could never surmount, even if it were true — which is enough to make it a skewed criterion, in my mind. If I find cave writings on a desert island, it’s not required that I resort to the conclusion that mankind made them — it is possible that some natural process of erosion or something like that caused them, and that they just happened to appear in a particular way that made them appear to be cave writings. However, I maintain that postulating creative agency, even if it isn’t strictly necessary, is still the most likely theory with the most explanatory power.

      To your second point — I could not help but notice a shift in subject: I spoke about design, yet in responding you restated the issue as “life seems to fit its environments.” I may be wrong, but these two concepts are not at all synonymous. A puddle fits its environment — a watch is something else entirely. A rock fits its environment — human beings supersede and shape it. I would hate for us to miscommunicate with one another over such a disparity of ideas over what exactly is being discussed.

      ANTHROPOLOGY
      We shall probably just have to agree to disagree on our respective conclusions based on the evidence. Though I will point out, as a parting point, that the observation of the human psyche’s vulnerability in general does not grant one the power to pick and choose which of the psyche’s faculties are therefore not to be regarded as trustworthy. If religious experiences and miracles are to be deemed untrustworthy out of hand because they violate regularity (something that, incidentally, has to exist as a framework in order for miracles to be possible in the first place), then why should your own ability to reason out your conclusion be any less suspect?

      The scales, for me at least, are significantly tilted the other way since I have the luxury of having shared many of the types of the experiences reported by others, and thus can analyze such experiences from both the first and the third person.

      HISTORY
      Again, largely because of my ignorance I shall leave you to hold whatever views you wish about history — though it seems apparent to me that the distrust you (and I) have regarding the imperfection of an individual’s evaluation of his own experiences (as well as the scruples of the individual when it comes to faithfully setting down such experiences) is a topic with which historians seem well familiar, and have developed somewhat of a science around mitigating. Again, I am discussing the relative likelihood of conflicting accounts — we are not just taking reports at face value, necessarily. There are myriads of evidences of many types that lead many historians to believe that the Christian account is the one that, among other counter-theories, best accounts for the facts. Simply pointing out that the eyewitnesses to the resurrection were mistaken, for instance, leaves more questions unanswered than it seeks to address. (I refer you again to J. Warnor Wallace’s excellent analysis of the conflicting conclusions.)

      PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
      I hope you don’t mind if I pray that you, too, would have such experiences 🙂 It is, in fact, the only hope I have that anyone with whom I interact would be saved — I certainly don’t have that capacity.

      Cheers, mate! Thanks as always for the stirring discussion.

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      1. The answer, from my perspective, isn’t “Which worldview gets us from A to B without any holes, without the need to resort to any leaps of faith?” for if that’s the standard then all useful worldviews fail — but, rather, it’s “Which worldview is more likely to be true, given the way things appear to be?”

        The Bayesian approach is all about likelihood – a moving point on a spectrum of confidence depending on what’s called ‘abduction’. In this context abduction means inference to the best explanation.

        So let’s look at these methods for a moment so we have our terms laid out.

        With deduction, we assume certain axioms are unquestionably true and the derive (or deduce) necessary conclusions from these. This is used for most religious belief where the battle is over the truth value of the premises.

        With induction, we start with some observations and examples we know about and generalize to a larger or wider context and have some reason to think the generalization is then also correct.

        With abduction, we’re looking for what best accounts for all the facts we have. This is the modeling approach, and this is what today’s science uses.

        Unless we understand which method of reasoning we’re using, we often talk past one another. That’s why it’s worthwhile to understand first which method the commentator is using.

        So your use of the term ‘worldview’ rather than ‘method’ is problematic to figuring out what ontology is being produced by which kind of epistemology. Bayes’s Theorem is the quantitative version of the method of inference we call ‘abduction’. And the test for its value is science today: a method that produces useful applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. Those practical, reliable, and consistent expressions demonstrate why this method is NOT a worldview but a productive means to come to knowledge.

        In contrast, religious belief that utilizes deduction and induction produces nothing comparable, nothing equivalent. Religious belief does not produce a single application, not a single therapy, not a single technology that is equivalent to the knowledge produced by abduction. It is a means to producing Just So stories that only look to the uninitiated, uncritical, and credulous like real explanations. They’re not. They produce pseudo-explanations hollow of any knowledge value.

        So when people attempt to justify their religious beliefs as if these ideas were independent of the personal beliefs imported by the religious person, as if the religious person gathered compelling reasons from examining reality and then arrived at their religious belief, we know this is false. Reality as an independent arbiter does not produce 100,000 different, competing, and often contrary religious justifications; each justification is imposed on reality by the religious believer who then typically uses the deductive method after assigning certain premises to be true.

        This is what you’ve done.

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        1. Hello again tildeb. I hear you, I really do. I just don’t think your criteria fully apply in every situation, and I’ve seen little to no concession or acknowledgment from you on this objection that we cannot reasonably expect every discipline of study to be able to provide “applications, therapies, and technologies”. To my mind, only the fields of natural science can do all of these — what, then, of history? What of philosophy? What of ethics? What of literature? What of music? And, indeed, what of theology? They cannot produce technologies — are they, therefore, irrelevant altogether? Or are there, perhaps, ways to apply abduction in such cases that don’t necessarily satisfy your three-prong test?

          If anything worth knowing and having an opinion about must necessarily have the ability to provide “applications, therapies, and technologies”, then a vast portion of what I would consider useful and beneficial human knowledge would have to be thrown out alongside theology. Until you and I can come to some sort of acknowledgement on this subject, our discussion simply cannot continue.

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        2. This is a shallow criticism, meaning you’re throwing in some subjects like music and literature that do not make claims about how reality operates what causal agencies it contains. If they did that – as theology does – then they should be able to adduce evidence independent from belief. Such claims about reality must allow reality to arbitrate them. This is what we find in the soft science in subjects like history and archaeology, psychology and languages.

          The subject of philosophy is highly problematic for just this reason. Although I find it rich in material considering reason and what constitutes different methods of thinking, rich in considerations about ethics and morality, I do not find philosophy per se making knowledge claims about how reality operates and what it contains. If it does, then it has to back up these claims with independent evidence adduced from reality. So my point isn’t that all subjects must produce applications, therapies and technologies to be considered valuable, but they must have some means to demonstrate knowledge if they claim to describe reality.

          Theology is described as a subject without an object. It does make all kinds of causal claims about reality and yet disallows reality to arbitrate them. It cannot produce knowledge about reality if it doesn’t allow reality to adjudicate these claims.

          Unlike all other subjects, only theology claims faith-based rather than evidence-adduced beliefs to be a virtue. In all other subjects, such a means is a vice and negates all knowledge value by its inclusion. Once you allow for faith-based beliefs to have merit by fiat, by assumption, by privilege, then you are no longer trying to gain knowledge about reality but are simply articulating opinions and beliefs disconnected from the very reality they purport to describe.

          By all means we can have all kinds of faith-based beliefs about all sorts of topics. The problem arises, however, when the private domain in which such beliefs can flourish is abandoned and the intrusion of such beliefs are introduced into the public domain by its supporters as if worthy of serious consideration, worthy of equivalency, worthy of public privilege, to evidence-adduced beliefs. This is a widespread pernicious effect that is both real and ongoing and this is what I think requires loud and sustained criticism.

          I know this sounds harsh but the claims about reality you make based on your faith have no knowledge merit. You think they do. This is the important discussion.

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        3. Oh, I’m not taking it to be harsh at all. Perhaps repetition has desensitized me 😉

          Soft science! What a great term, I like it! Please clarify a couple things for me:

          1) What differentiates a soft science from a “hard” science?

          2) Applications, therapies and technologies — which one(s) can we expect to glean as a result of such sciences?

          3) How do we know when we’ve successfully established a solid, reality-based case when dealing with a soft science? How are causal links made in such fields?

          Thank you!

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        4. Sure:

          1) here’s a useful description.

          2) This question seems backwards to me. We don’t ‘expect’ to glean anything specific from science; we sometimes find ways to utilize what is modeled. By applying a modeled idea successfully and producing something that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time is a point I have raised to indicate WHY we should shift our Bayesian confidence significantly in the model’s favour (grant the explanation used for the model with a higher degree of confidence… because it seems to work to affect). After all, if the model was fundamentally incorrect, the chances of some application derived from or based on it then requires some other explanation why the application works. This is the task creationists and Intelligent Design proponents spectacularly fail to do regarding their criticisms of evolution. If evolution were a failed explanatory model, then why does every avenue of inquiry fit it seamlessly, every apllication base on it work consistently and reliably? If the modeled explanation was fundamentally incorrect, then why does it work for everyone everywhere all the time as used in everything from medicine to mining, from genetics to geology? Coming up with a coherent model based on some version of Poof!ism simply isn’t science and leads further inquiry exactly nowhere.

          3) This goes back to the Bayesian approach leaving such words as ‘certainty’ behind and using a different language of degrees of likelihood and confidence. Remember, evidence is what LINKS claims to selected effects. When dealing with the soft sciences, we try to utilize empirical evidence where possible but keep in mind that our interpretations of what it describes in reality has to do with the ontology we’re using. Most importantly, the ontology we select has to be compatible with the underlying ontology.

          For example, there are different ways to talk about, say,a hunk of real estate. We can talk about it in many, many ways. We can talk about its chemical composition, its geology, its geography and land uses, nutrients, its residue archaeology, its minerals, topography, weathering, its life forms part and current, it sequestration, water table and permeability, it’s real estate value, its historical importance for a battle, the place where lovers would meet, and so on. In each case, the language we use matters. It makes no sense using the language of, say curb appeal, to speak of its paleontology. It makes no sense to use the language of soil erosion rates when talking about its romantic setting. What we can’t do is claim something about this land if it is in direct conflict with some other ontology. We can increase our confidence in claims by how well the claim comports to evidence adduced from reality for it. If religious belief asked us to suspend our disbelief like literature does, then we’d talking the appropriate language; the problem is that theology crosses this boundary and makes inappropriate claims about other ontological subjects yet fails to comport to them. for example, your cosmological claim fails to comport with physics because it uses the language of metaphysics to try to describe physics, the teleological language of ancients (direction towards a future goal) rather than as ekinological (meaning start or the sense of departing). This is why it’s so important to recognize and understand that how we come at our understanding something (our selected epistemology) determines what we actually understand (our ontology). Getting the language right matters to its knowledge value.
          .
          This is what religious claims often do to the ontology of various hard and soft sciences; it makes claims using its selected ontology that is incompatible with the ontology of what we know about what it is being described. It makes claims about physics, chemistry, and biology and then demands a special exemption from this ontology not because it’s revealing about the physics, chemistry, and biology of reality but because it uses religious ontology and so somehow expects and deserves exemption from honest and relevant inquiry using the ontology of the hard sciences. That’s why you hear sophisticated theologians use words like ‘love’ when defending a religious claim about some divine causal agency intervening to affect in the physical world.

          Sorry for the length. Yet this is only a very shallow rendering of systemic problem of incompatibility between religious claims about reality and reality’s arbitration of them.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Thank you so much for the information! Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to follow all of it, and I think a real example would serve me better.

          You mentioned history as an example of a soft science, so let’s look at J. Warnor Wallace’s analysis of the events surrounding the alleged resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As near as I can understand it, here’s his methodology:

          1) Collect a number of widely-accepted facts that scholars generally agree are likely to be accurate — e.g., the empty tomb, groups of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Christ, etc.

          2) Come up with as many scenarios as one can think of that attempt to account for these facts.

          3) Evaluate each scenario’s explanatory merit, juxtaposed with the difficulties, assumptions, and inconsistencies inherent within each one.

          4) Determine which scenario best accounts for all the facts while presenting the least number of assumptions and inconsistencies.

          So, as it’s clear that you disagree with the conclusion of this method — and, in fact, disagree with the method itself since you acknowledge absolutely no empirical merit in it — where exactly did Wallace go wrong?

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        6. Oh good grief, not the same J. Warner Wallace who pretends and then sells his religious beliefs to be equivalent to ‘solving’ a cold case?

          Yup. Same guy. Still peddling to effect, I see.

          I thought his approach would be laughed out of Dodge when he made them decades ago because he’s got no subject, no body, no crime, no tomb, no witnesses, no recorded event. Yet he can somehow ‘deduce’ a resurrection! (Let’s pretend physics, chemistry, and biology have no contribution to make towards affecting the confidence levels other people might assign to it) Oh, let’s not deal with all the other zombies raised and walking about as reported in the same account he uses to support the Jesus zombie, but, hey, why let such details bother a fine detective hard at work detecting… and besides, why let any doubt scuttle a perfectly good fiction?

          I deride Wallace because he breaks the fundamental rule of any basic detective work: the chain of evidence. This is what is broken right off the bat and he knows it. He starts with his conclusion (the verdict) and then tries to mask how he starts with this by submitting (at the very least) the weakest possible, if not outright false, evidence and then – after crafting this Just So story – sells the idea that a good detective would come to the same ‘conclusion’. That’s utter rubbish. No detective except the most motivated and no jury except the most credulous would go along with this charade. Why? Because this is the ‘strength’ of his case: third hand testimony.

          This is the equivalent of:

          I once knew a guy who says he once knew a guy who said s/he saw…..

          He has zero evidence other than this… and none that can be independently extracted from reality to support the truth value of the long deceased ‘witnesses’. His ‘case’ relies ENTIRELY in believing that the evidence he wants used did in fact actually exist as reported at some prior time but, for some strange reason, disappeared entirely from reality.Only a story remains.

          Riiight.

          That’s why this would be justifiably laughed out of court. It’s entirely bogus from start to finish. It is equivalent in all ways to a fiction IMPOSED on a so-called ‘cold case’ with incompatible facts ignored and only testimony of the least likely kind elevated to be ‘evidence’. That’s not detective work; that creative writing we call ‘fiction’. Other than his ‘fiction’ he’s got… nothing.

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        7. Alright, forget about Wallace then — Habermas presents pretty much the same thing, so the name attached to it doesn’t really matter. I’m actually surprised you went that direction with your response, since you’re normally so unwavering from your focus on method.

          So, really, the methodology (neither the rhetoric nor the individual who employs it) is what’s important, as I’m sure you would agree. I would hate for the discussion to get derailed at this point by such distractions. I ask for a clear criticism of the point-by-point method, frankly, because it’s the easiest way I can understand where you’re coming from — and I really want to understand where you’re coming from. I’m not a “gotcha” kind of guy — I really want to know 🙂 I appreciate your patience with me.

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        8. Method is key. That’s why Wallace fails: he doesn’t stay true to the method employed trying to solve cases, namely, follow the evidence so that it links to the perpetrator. What he does is start with his verdict and work backwards exercising assumption to be equivalent to premises that are necessarily true when they’re not. This is the very heart of the problem with metaphysics and teleology: both mistake assumptions to be premises that accurately describe reality when they do not. It is a methodological failure. If one wishes to describe reality, then one has to allow reality to arbitrate those descriptions and not simply assume them to be the case. In addition, because there are many ways to describe the same reality, one has to keep the ontological language the same and not cross borders into other ontological domains. For example, if one wishes to declare something about geology, then one can’t justify a position by inserting human values. It’s crossing the ontological border. This too is a methodological failure.

          If one wishes to talk about the cosmos as if pursuing knowledge about it like you’ve done right off the top, then one should use the language of understanding we have developed about the cosmos, namely, astrophysics. Does astrophysics produce compelling evidence for a divine origin? Absolutely not. In the framework of astrophysics, the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to both of your beginning claims. Asking why there is something without understanding what the fundamentals of spacetime really are is to borrow an argument that has no link to the cosmos as it is. To then continue blithely on that there is fine tuning is to presume the conclusion; would we even have a universe if the fundamentals.were indeed different? As for life, there is no doubt that the cosmos is incredibly hostile to life as we know it. That’s why we need so much specialized equipment to try to survive very short periods of time beyond our own planet.You select these arguments not because they are compelling, not because they produce knowledge about the cosmos we can use, not because you can link selected effects with these claims, but because you already presume to know why a god would be needed. So you select these archaic arguments and seem satisfied to continue to know next to nothing about modern physics as it relates to understanding and modeling the cosmos..

          So, regarding the claim about some god to be fundamental to the cosmos, too quote LaPlace, we have no need for that hypothesis. It simply adds additional complication thatb is incompatible with modern physics without adding any insight. To then present knowledge claims by using deductive logic in a metaphysical framework crosses the ontological border when we don’t know if the premises used in the philosophical framework are in fact true and representative of the cosmos – and if we have no means to establish if the premises are the case then the claim isn’t about pursuing knowledge about the cosmos.

          That’s why methodology does, in fact, matter a very great deal.

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        9. Oh tildeb! I’m so torn — because you offer some excellent points that I would love to discuss, yet at the same time I don’t feel I’ve received an answer to my question from two responses ago — namely, that you would comment, specifically, on the four-step historical method I put forward, and where exactly you feel this method fails. You may be right about Wallace in that his method is backwards — I can’t answer for him; however, when it comes to the method that I shared, I can’t see how someone can accuse this method of starting with the answer and moving backwards to the evidence. If you see something that I do not, I very much want to know, specifically, what that is.

          Furthermore, as much as I hate to continue this discussion on two fronts, I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to weigh in on your most recent comments about my cosmological argument. You’re absolutely right that I know little of modern astrophysics — however, I believe that the only premise my argument assumes (the law of cause and effect) supersedes the particulars of where modern physics happens to be. It is, in fact, the foundation of all the sciences — for to cede that events could happen without an underlying cause is to throw in the towel on the whole scientific enterprise. What makes this all the more relevant to this discussion is how much emphasis you yourself place on the importance of making cause-effect links anytime one talks about evidence! I can see no way how the law of cause and effect can be incompatible with any science — cause and effect is science.

          So, really, I don’t think my cosmological argument fails for lack of reference to specific astrophysical discoveries — for the only element of our universe that my argument requires is the rule to which all science (including astrophysics) necessarily submits. I don’t see at all how I’ve crossed any ontological boundaries in my approach to this argument.

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        10. The four step method goes wrong with the first step… namely, assuming assertions are facts. They are not. They remain assertions unsupported by any independent evidence we can adduce from reality.Once this is recognized the next three steps because nothing more than a facade of an honest inquiry.

          You say in regards to the cosmology you present that, “I believe that the only premise my argument assumes (the law of cause and effect) supersedes the particulars of where modern physics happens to be. It is, in fact, the foundation of all the sciences — for to cede that events could happen without an underlying cause is to throw in the towel on the whole scientific enterprise.” This is why I say you don’t have a very good grounding in modern physics that is major science for understanding the cosmos because at its fundamental level of particles, it makes no sense to use this kind of language of cause and effect because it presumes a physics works in only direction of time. It doesn’t. It works forwards just as much as it works backwards! And this is a vital understanding of quantum fields… where stuff pops into and out of existence all the time!. Welcome to the wonderful world of quantum mechanics, the science of astrophysics.

          So when we come to understanding the fundamental rules of physics for our cosmology, we realize the language of teleology simply doesn’t apply. I know this is a bit of a brain twist because most people have never been taught how to think about it. Cause and effect works really well in the macro world and is highly useful. But it’s not the way we can come to any understanding about the formation of the cosmos… any more than talking about ‘spirit’ and particle physics. It’s the wrong ontology.

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        11. The four step method goes wrong with the first step… namely, assuming assertions are facts. They are not. They remain assertions unsupported by any independent evidence we can adduce from reality.

          Ah, but tildeb, the starting assertions (such as those used by Habermas in his minimal facts argument) have already gone through the rigors of historical verification — so I think its nether fair nor accurate to call them “assumptions”. They are not so in the least. Taking, for example, the fact that many people (individuals as well as groups) had visions of Christ after His crucifixion — even Bart Ehrman calls the evidence “pretty solid” when it comes to the veracity of such accounts.

          Now, the methodology does not assume that such visions necessarily point toward a resurrection — this is quite apparent from Wallace’s analysis (I hope you’ve read it, it’s quite short). However, that individuals and groups believed they saw Christ after His death — this is a pretty much undisputed historical fact, and a good story as to what actually occurred must account for this fact, as well as the handful of others considered in this analysis.

          So, if you say that the method fails at the first step — well, the first step is choosing those facts that pretty much every historian already agrees upon, facts that have already survived the scrutiny of the highest levels of historical scholarship. If this is truly the crux of your problem, then I suggest you take it up with Ehrman.

          And this is a vital understanding of quantum fields… where stuff pops into and out of existence all the time!

          This is shaky ground, because once you make the assertion that quantum fluctuations can absolutely account for the formation of our four-dimensional universe, then the shoe is on the other foot: Such an assertion must be accompanied by the same sort of causal links that you demand of the theist, i.e. from quantum fluctuations to our present universe. Now, I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much about quantum physics (and even what I do know, I’m not sure I understand) — but from what I gather, the whole thing is still very mysterious. I don’t think we know enough on the subject to be able to make such a case.

          Furthermore, I’m also skeptical that even the top scientists in the field would be as quick as yourself to say that quantum mechanics throws out the law of cause and effect — again, I don’t think we understand enough to be able to make that call (which would be a devastating blow to practical science, whose bread and butter is precisely linking causes with effects). It’s almost like a scientific version of God of the gaps — “We don’t know what causes these particles to wink in and out of existence, therefore nothing is responsible.”

          Cause and effect is so essential to the foundation of science itself that I still feel quite confident using it as the primary framework from which I make decisions about what is true and what is not. It’s certainly more likely to be true, given our knowledge of reality, than any other guiding mechanism that might be put forward.

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        12. Not so fast, Seth. You restate, “the starting assertions (such as those used by Habermas in his minimal facts argument) have already gone through the rigors of historical verification — so I think its nether fair nor accurate to call them “assumptions”.

          None of the starting assertions pass the litmus test for evidence from reality. Again, there is no independent verification for the biblical Jesus… other than outright frauds, revisionist sources, and the scriptures. Historians and recorders of this time period and place make no mention of this guy specifically. But we do have conflicting reports from all the sources used. If you were a detective, and you knew you had to assemble a case beyond reasonable doubt, then just finding this guy is highly problematic. No add no tomb, no first person accounts, no second person accounts, just third person conflicting and contrary accounts, and what do you have left? Facts? No. These assertions are not facts; they are assumptions held to be true and imposed on reality as such.

          Be that as it may, how does the narrative line up with what we do know? How much credence, in other words, should we grant to the various claims? Does it strengthen or weaken our credence to have many histories fail to mention anything that should be widely known? Does it strengthen or weaken our credence that no first hand or even second hand accounts are available? Should it strengthen or weaken our credence that of the third hand witnessing, we find all kinds of glaring and important differences… some of which are contrary to others?

          No jury in deliberation would wave all of this away as if unimportant when it came to establishing some arbitrary line of ‘reasonable doubt’. I think there is plenty of justification to maintain a reasonable doubt about the Jesus narrative. Sure your preferred version may indeed be true. But surely it makes sense given the nature of the evidence being presented to have some level of uncertainty.

          Now add what we do know about, say, cellular death and now try to see how little credence we have to think such might be possible… many thousands of years ago… how little credence we have to support this resurrection but not others similarly endowed by similar evidence, how little credence we have to think the reported sightings were any better informed about a resurrected man than, say, Big Foot sightings. My point here is that if we’re going to grant credence to one claim, then other claims similarly supported by equivalent evidence should also be equivalently believed. Not to do so indicates a level of active bias. Knowing this bias is active should then dramatically affect the credence granted to the original claim.

          What we see in action is a narrative that is to be assumed true, and then we see whatever claims seem to support the narrative brought out, dusted off time after time, regurgitated as is without accounting for all of the inherent problems pointed out time after time, and reused as if they help establish the validity of the original religious claims. In other words, you will probably use the cosmological plank next time someone asks you why you believe as you do. I seriously doubt anything I am saying here affects your level of a priori certainty you have already granted to your religious beliefs. And if you did the same elsewhere in life, you’d be heavily and repeatedly penalized for doing so. Reality does not comport to our beliefs we wish to have about it; it just is… and we try to figure out how it works. Introducing ideas fixed in certainty is not a way to do so.

          My point with QM was to demonstrate that you’re using the wrong ontology – the wrong language – for your cosmological claims. Your comment does not deal with this criticism at all but insists that the law of cause and effect must be maintained. No. It does not. This is the wrong way to come at understanding how the universe actually is and starts to assign to it beliefs you want to hold about it. You do this over and over again, and I’m saying this method will always fail to yield what you want it to yield: knowledge. I’ve already admitted we can use cause and effect in the macro-world to great effect. But that’s not how you’re trying to use it. You’re trying to use it as a teleological basis to establish a First Cause, a Prime Mover… physics right out of Aristotle’s writings. This is not modern science! Modern science doesn’t apply a priori assertions (Aristotle was big on ‘natures’ and humors, and aether… all of which are factually wrong) and pretend conclusions derived from them in logical form are therefore descriptive of reality. They’re not. This method doesn’t work if what we seek is knowledge. This method works only if we wish to camouflage our conclusion as premises so that we can arrive at where we began. This is why you use the cosmological argument.

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        13. None of the starting assertions pass the litmus test for evidence from reality.

          Well, I can’t follow you there, mate. You’ve actually taken quite a load off — if you’re willing to say something about ancient history so contradictory to what someone like Bart Ehrman says on the subject, then I feel quite comfortable agreeing to disagree with you on this one. I simply trust his opinion more than yours, mate — I’m sure you understand 🙂 I’m confident, at least, that your position on the subject cannot inform me any more than I already am — which is probably the chief reason I’m here.

          In fact, this position of yours when it comes to ancient history (i.e. a lack of regard for what experts in the field are actually saying) makes me feel similarly about your opinions on other subjects as well — e.g. quantum mechanics. If you’re so comfortable making statements that are diametrically opposed to an expert like Ehrman, then what confidence can I have that you are a reliable source of information in other subjects? Personally, I would rather trust the experts.

          Thanks for the discussion!

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  4. Welcome back! I enjoy reading your posts, and I applaud your courage in posting this stuff even though you invite ridicule from some. You have a good ministry, and I hope and pray that it will lead some people to Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

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