Reason this

My excitement over next week’s Reason Rally continues to grow, particularly over the recent news that members of the Westboro Baptist Church will be attending.  As you may not be aware, this is the Christian group famous for picketing the funerals of dearly departed kittens and puppies, usefully informing the world at such events that God hates America, fags, and polyester.

So why am I in such a tizzy? Because other Christian groups besides Westboro plan to attend the rally too.

Curiously, all these Christian visitors have upset some within the atheist/skeptical community.  But where they see only downsides, I see golden opportunity!

You see, Christians disagree with the declaration that atheism is reasonable, and they’re coming to argue it is Christianity that’s reasonable.  I’ve noted before that such a position contradicts their own scriptures, not to mention the teachings of their major theologians.  Nevertheless, I propose we take them at their word and provide them the chance to demonstrate the rationality of their beliefs – demonstrate, that is, to their fellow Christians!

The elephant in the Christian church is its thousands of sects, many of whom hold long-standing, diametrically opposed beliefs which all cannot be true.  Such a situation seems inexplicable for an allegedly reasonable religion like Christianity.  After all, other, far younger enterprises that are based on reason and evidence – science is a good example – for the most part lack this splintering.  So, the Reason Rally is in reality a fantastic opportunity for these Christians to resolve their differences in polite, meaningful, and reasonable exchange.    Does God really hate gays?  Is America irrevocably doomed to damnation?  Will my wearing a cotton shirt, wool shorts, and a silk tie offend the Almighty? I’m sure such contentions questions will be reasonably settled by reasonable Christians who, after all, worship the God of Reason.

The stakes are high.  Christians certainly don’t want to ward off potential converts with contradictory messages.  Besides, does not the Bible warn of other gospels that put us under God’s curse if we were to be misled by them? Dispelling false Christian doctrine once and for all would pay huge dividends in souls saved.  Finally, billions speaking in a unified voice would set Christianity apart from its squabbling cousins and provide powerful evidence of its veracity.

Let the first test of Christianity’s reasonableness be whether it can convince its own adherents to shed incorrect gospels and unite behind a single doctrine.  This achievement seems trivial for a religion that’s truly reasonable, one headed by a deity who is supposedly no author of confusion.

In search of greener grass?

Interrupting my irregularly scheduled apatheism, I bring you the following irony…

A video gone viral recently among the Christian blogosphere argues that religion should be shunned.

A video gone viral recently among the atheist blogosphere argues that religion should be emulated.

Well, perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but you have to appreciate the surprising switcheroo.

If you’re going to watch just one video, I recommend the second.  Its point is that religion provides us –  atheists included – many of the things we need to prosper – things such as a moral framework, and community.  Even as societies abandon religion, the needs it fulfills remain.  The question the video answers is how best to do that, and with what.  Its title is apt: Atheism 2.0.

I found the first video interesting from the perspective of a student of the religious phenomenon.  It explicitly agrees with many of the critiques of religion made by the so-called new atheists, which suggests a significant influence even among believers.  But it takes the bold tact of attempting to divorce Christianity from religion by redefining the former.  Historically and theologically, I find that a daunting and problematic – if not predictable – task.  Christianity 259,761.0.

So what’s this about apatheism?

Increasingly, I feel that arguing over the existence of god is like arguing over the existence of the Tooth Fairy.  The arguments for such a being or beings just seem silly to me, and become more flabbergasting when they involve the claims of particular religions.  If you’re a believer unable to relate, consider your stance vis-à-vis Scientology.  The question of its truth is something you likely find patently absurd, hardly worth sparing a moment of your time for.  This is how I presently feel about the god question.

Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy identifying incoherencies in religious belief.  I’ve lately been thinking about faith; in particular, how a religious believer can justify it for themself, but dismiss it of others.  Hopefully, a blog post with some scattered thoughts will see the light of day soon.

Poor arguments against atheism, no. 928

Recent increases in the numbers of those who reject traditional theism have spawned a vast army of god-defenders, the quality of whose work, in my estimation, has varied widely.  It seems many of these new apologetic theists, being unused to the role, are not well-versed in the practice of crafting sound, coherent arguments.  Consequently, you often come across some humorous, even silly attempts to “debunk” atheism.  These are actually worthwhile to engage because untangling the intellectual morass can be an interesting challenge.  Besides that, you just might get lucky and get a comment so funny or bizarre, it’s worthy of submission to the Fundies Say the Darndest Things website.

But once in a while, you’ll get someone who is simply not interested in defending their arguments.  You’re response just goes down a black hole, or is rejected for inconsequential reasons.  The latter was the fate of a response to a post titled The Problem of Morality by one Carson Weitnauer, part of his “The Problems with Atheism Series” on his blog Simple Apologetics.  Carson didn’t like the “tone” of my response, though, as you’ll see, I believe it was appropriate for his arguments.  Besides, it was directly only at them, and not at Carson personally.  Because the problem of the disappearing rebuttal is hardly new, I keep a copy for posting on this blog (to his credit, Carson emailed me a copy of my reply as well).  Additionally, while I argue (and I think show) that Carson’s case is ludicrous at best, his bogus claims are not uncommon, and serve only to spread popular myths that deserve debunking wherever they appear.

I recommend you read Carson’s original article first to get the full context of my rebuttal.  Portions of his article that I specifically respond to are in italics.


Upon reading this post, it’s clear to me it contains a number of errors and misunderstandings which fatally undermine your case.  I’d like to spell out why in further detail and look forward to a response.

First, your theistic bias is clearly evident, particularly in the unstated premise that good and evil, as well as moral truths, can only exist if the theistic god exists.  Your arguments make sense only in light of this premise.

Second, the alleged problem you describe is not particularly an atheistic problem, but more properly identified as a problem for non-theists, because your arguments, at least in part, apply to deists and pantheists as well.  They too do not believe in a theistic god.

Third, the following assertions are false:

“atheism…denies that there exist any moral rules”

“atheism affirms that all that exists is matter, energy, and space-time”

“these elements are not enough to support the existence of morality”

Atheism – the lack of belief in god(s) – neither affirms nor denies anything about moral rules.  This is an irrelevant question to atheism.  Does it make sense to say a-unicornists deny the existence of any moral rules?  Absolutely not, unless you believe moral rules come only from unicorns.

In any case, individual atheists do believe in the existence of moral rules; clearly they do because they practice them each day.  What they deny, along with deists and pantheists, is the existence of divine commands.  They obtain these rules from reason, experience, and evolutionary programming.

You confuse atheism with the theory of materialism.  There are atheists, such as animists, who certainly do not think reality can be reduced to the material.

I got a good laugh at your caricature of how non-theists view morality.  Do you really believe we think of it as some kind of physical substance composed of matter, energy or space-time, as you suggested in your thought experiment?  What a ludicrous straw man!  Are you going to charge us with denying, say, philosophy because we also cannot arrange the molecules or “put the pieces together” to re-create it in a lab?

What you have to notice is that all of this “moral discourse” would just be in their heads! There is nothing really wrong with murder or really right about promise-keeping. Instead, it just happens to be the case that those behaviors are viewed as bad or good, respectively, by their humanoid society.

You just described the utilitarian, welfare-promoting aspects of keeping promises and not murdering, and then dismiss them as merely a view?  As if the consequences of those things were wholly absent or irrelevant?

Let’s imagine that, one day, bored in the laboratory, you set up the humanoid society so that murderers find themselves with an extra 10,000 laboratory dollars in their bank accounts. (Imagine a sick version of The Truman Show). This turns out to be enough money to pay for bodyguards, eliminate other genes from the population, and get their own genes passed down in a higher proportion to the next generation far in excess of other humanoids. On it goes for a few generations, and before long, you have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder, and violently opposes anyone who tries to keep murderers from their deserved wealth and social status.

No, before long, you wouldn’t have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder; you’d have no society at all.  Leaving aside the comical question why 10,000 “lab dollars” induces people to kill others, you’ve assumed that the murderers would not murder fellow murderers, or even their own bodyguards.  However, this assumption makes no sense in light of the condition that I emphasized above.  Your theoretical exercise is so illogical and incoherent, you should blush that you even suggested it could ever apply to the real world.

If you want to be a consistent atheist, then every time you go from “here are the facts” to “here is the proper moral rule for evaluating these facts” you should stop yourself. Then remind yourself: these rules are just a social illusion.

You’ve failed to demonstrate how moral rules are “just a social illusion”.  Your case, so far, is built on risible straw men that in no way approximate reality or the way morality is understood.

What this means is that there is no way to call evil “evil.”

Certainly there is, if you subscribe to certain moral tenets which dictate that it’s evil, say, to inflict involuntary suffering on others, with only limited exceptions.  Because someone else may hold to a contrary moral tenet in no way impinges on this ability.  It is irrelevant.

To summarize: under atheism, there are no such things or categories as good or evil. And second, any perception to the contrary is completely illusory and is merely a byproduct of non-moral, socio-biological forces.

Your claims are based on nothing more than caricatures which rely on theistic assumptions.  One could just as easily build a similar case why under theism there are no such things or categories as good or evil because it denies the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

Now that’s chutzpah!

Over at the Huffington Post’s Religion section – which rivals Fundies Say the Darndest Things! as the most consistent stream of ROFL-inducing religious babble on the whole internet – one Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of Rabbis for Human Rights North America, posted a piece entitled “Building Bridges of Freedom: The Interfaith Movement to End Slavery”.

After describing her organization’s efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking – without question a noble and laudable endeavor – she proclaims its impetus:

Jewish values demand that we protect the most vulnerable members of our society. We’re just past Passover, when we celebrate the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and the Jewish experience of having been slaves becomes the basis for the Jewish moral code. Because we were slaves, we are expected to protect the stranger in our midst — to know their heart.  So important is the commandment to protect the stranger that the Torah mentions it more than the laws of keeping kosher or observing Shabbat. Victims of human trafficking are today’s stranger.

Oy vey! Didn’t I tell you this is some funny stuff?

If the Jewish experience is the basis for anything (assuming, for the sake of argument, that there really was an Exodus, which most archaeologists and anthropologists strenuously doubt), it’s the notion that it’s better to own slaves than to be one, particularly if you can nab them from foreign nations:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim as a source of your crusade against slavery and human trafficking the very tradition that so obviously and explicitly condones them.  It’s as if the Rabbi is completely ignorant of her own scriptures—or hopes the rest of us are.

16:9-20 & 666 – numbers that debunk the Bible

Dr. Richard Carrier recently published a comprehensive article on Mark 16:9-20.  If you’re not aware, these final verses in Mark are unquestionably a later interpolation, i.e., falsification or forgery.  This is a pretty devastating verdict on the Bible’s own claim of divine inspiration.

Some Christians, no doubt, will reject this verdict, so allow me to present an even more devastating proof.  If you tally up the number of verses in Mark, less the interpolation, what do you get? 666!  That number, of course, is the Mark of the Beast (no pun intended), aka, Satan!  Satan has provided an unmistakable sign of his influence on the New Testament!  Muslims were right all along; the Bible is corrupted, and not just be its authors, but by the Lord of the Underworld himself.

This second “proof” is made completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, but there are many Christians who take great stock in biblical numbers.  Christian end-times prophecy is particularly indebted to creative numerological exegesis, yet Mark’s verse count is certainly as clear-cut, if not more so, than anything they’ve come up with.  Will they thus renounce the Bible?  Don’t hold your breath.

Nonetheless, whether it’s damning evidence or evidence of damnation, many Christians will shrug their shoulders and ask, “So what?”  Inerrancy is of no great concern to them, and I gotta say, that confuses me a lot.  If the creator of the universe’s main way of getting you to know him was through a book – which by itself is fraught with problems – you’d think he’d take great care to ensure its integrity.  That he didn’t is a huge gimme point for Bible skepticism.  It opens the door to legitimate doubt about any Biblical claim.  Or, as one apologist website put it even more starkly:

The issue is not simply “Does the Bible have a mistake?” but “Can God make a mistake?” If the Bible contains factual errors, then God is not omniscient and is capable of making errors Himself. If the Bible contains misinformation, then God is not truthful but is instead a liar. If the Bible contains contradictions, then God is the author of confusion. In other words, if biblical inerrancy is not true, then God is not God.

Any Christian who denies inerrancy care to refute such logic? (Bonus question: What is your method for delineating between errant and inerrant scripture?)

When the natural law condemns the lawgiver

Professor Matt McCormick provides an excellent exposition on the dilemma facing theists regarding the morality of God’s actions – and inactions.  He asks, “If a human did what God is allegedly doing right now, would we consider that a morally good action?”  He briefly touches on one implication of his argument for the “natural law” – an implication I would like to delve into further.

The “natural law”, in case you’re not aware, is the term used by some theists to describe an alleged objective moral standard instilled in our hearts by God.  We all appeal to this standard, they say, when judging the goodness of others’ actions or our own.  But a problem arises when God’s own behavior violates the natural law.  Genocide – whether committed or ignored by God – is perhaps the example that comes most readily to mind.

What are we to make of these divine violations that transgress our moral sense?  Believers rationalize them away by claiming there must be a higher moral good behind them, but what this higher moral good is, they cannot say, for God never provides or demonstrates one.  Prima facie, they are moral violations, and should be considered such until we’re given compelling reasons to believe otherwise.  When someone commits murder, we don’t let them go scot free when their lawyer proclaims, “There was a higher moral purpose behind my client’s actions, and you’ll just have to trust him on that.”  Even those who say God told them to murder are still locked up (one way or another).

Even if we grant the proposition that God is a morally perfect being who can never commit a moral transgression, it still leaves us with what to make of the sense of moral violation.  Why do we still have it?  The natural law is seemingly producing false positives.  Essentially, theists tell us to ignore our sense of moral outrage whenever divine action seems to violate the law, but what about divine inactions, which can just as strongly trigger moral outrage?  Are we to ignore those too?  But that would entail ignoring our moral sense altogether, since we never know – absent being provided a compelling rationale – whether any moral transgression served some higher moral good.

For instance, returning to the example of genocide, how do we know the Holocaust wasn’t a critical piece in God’s overall plan?  Wouldn’t moral condemnation of the Holocaust be at best premature and at worse mistaken?  Given the theistic supposition that God chooses to intervene or not intervene in human affairs – invisibly, unpredictably, inscrutably – there is literally no event in which God’s involvement positively can be ruled in or out, and thus no moral outrage we can be confident of.  The natural law thus becomes neutered as a moral guide.

Some theists might argue that “sin” affects our ability to discern the natural law.  Since we’re said to all be living under it, the question becomes, to what extent does “sin” impact discernment?  They never say.  And if “sin” is muddying the waters, so to speak, how can we really even trust our moral sense as an intuitive guide?  An objective law capable of divergent interpretations is little different than no law at all.

When it comes down to it, the choices are pretty stark for the theist: abandon divine moral goodness, or abandon the natural law.  Both cannot existence concurrently, unless the latter doesn’t derive from the former, in which case theism itself must be abandoned.

Will the real god please stand up?

Blogging inspiration hasn’t struck me that often over the last few months, so I’ve been sticking to blog discussions here and there.  Lately, however, I’ve been coming across a theistic error so glaring, it cries for comment.  The curious thing about this error is that it’s being committed by some of the more prominent religious apologists, highly educated theologians you’d least expect to make such an elementary logical blunder – apologists like Oxford University professor John Lennox and Timothy Keller, author of the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God.

In a nutshell, the error these theists make is to take general philosophical god arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument or the argument from design) and cite them as grounds for the existence of their particular god.  Finely-tuned universe, ergo Jesus.  But whether through myopia or intentional smoke-and-mirrors sophistry, what these apologists fail to acknowledge is that the philosophical god arguments apply just as well to other gods that people both believe and don’t believe in.  Apologists for Islam make the same arguments for why you should believe in Allah.  So do Hindus.  As well as the believers of thousands of other religions.  What’s more, the arguments are wholly compatible not just with theism, but with deism and polytheism!  One god, for example, may have been responsible for creating the universe, while another for life on our little spec in it.

So, even if the arguments are persuasive, they don’t get you to Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Thor, or Brahman, or Mazda, or Zeus.  At best, they get you only to…something.  You may call it Aristotle’s “prime mover”, and it could be any one of the aforementioned gods, or none of them.  Until it (or they) actually shows up and demonstrates its existence conclusively and exclusively (meaning, there can be no mistaking it with the billion other imagined deities out there people have worshipped), these arguments are for all intents and purposes useless to the believer.  They need to succeed not just on the merits of the god arguments, which I don’t believe they do, but also prove those arguments apply only to their god(s), and no others, which is something they don’t even attempt.

Do you have a religious litmus test?

Unless you recently awoke from hibernation, if you’re American, you’re probably aware there’s an election coming up pretty soon.  As a result, you’ve likely given at least some thought to whom you’ll vote for and why.  As for myself, I live in a part of the country where the election of a particular candidate is pretty much already a foregone conclusion, but that hasn’t prevented me from indulging the voter impulse and contemplating how I would vote too.

One of the considerations I struggle with is to what extent do I consider a candidate’s religious views – or lack thereof.  As an atheist, I’m inclined to look upon atheist politicians more favorably than those who seemingly wear religion on their sleeves.  Yet, suppose the former holds positions I for the most part disagree with, while the latter expresses policy preferences broadly in alignment with my own?  Whom do I choose?

I, like probably most atheists, would hold my nose while voting for the religious candidate.  The reason is that, on balance, I see the atheist candidate with the disagreeable positions as more likely harmful to my own well-being and that of the country’s.  God-belief isn’t much concerned with pressing issues like the economy, health care, debt, and Social Security, so the candidates’ religious views just don’t rise all that high on the scale of importance.

Where I see the candidates as nearly equal with respect to my own political views, I’m more likely to seriously consider a candidate’s religious views, but it would be among a host of other influences.  For example, I view single party control of the executive and legislative branches as generally something to be avoided, so the candidate of the “party in power” is less likely to get my vote.

In sum, a candidate’s broader economic and political viewpoint trumps religious belief in my book.  I say this as a committed atheist.  What about my opposite, the True Believer?  Would they agree?

The likelihood is that they wouldn’t, according to a 2007 Gallup poll.  A slim majority – but a majority nonetheless – would not vote for a generally well-qualified atheist for president, even if it was their own party’s nominee.  The picture changes when you break it down by political outlook, with only about a third of conservatives voting for an atheist, compared to two-thirds for liberals and about half for moderates.  The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, however.  For instance, 80% of conservatives ended up voting for the candidate who was 72 years of age in the 2008 presidential election (McCain), though only 63% of them reported they would in the poll.

As I noted above, none of this cogitating will produce any practical action since I don’t have the choices in this election others have.  But what about you?  Are religious views important in your decision to vote for a particular candidate?

The Holy Spirit is worse than useless

Something that completely vexes the Christian believer is why non-Christians are not at all convinced by their testimony of the witness of the Holy Spirit, the aspect of God which is said to confirm the truth (1 John 5:6, John 14:17).  The short answer is that this alleged being appears everywhere, “confirming” indisputably contradictory theology.  It visits Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – as well as Catholics, Orthodox, Quakers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists.  And now, it’s making an appearance among preachers of the prosperity gospel too!  Consider the following testimony from a congregant of Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, yes that Eddie Long, the homophobe who was recently accused of sexual dalliances with several young men, and, perhaps less well-known, one of six Christian preachers whose finances were investigated by Congress a few years back.

“I’ve been going [to New Birth] for 10 years, and I’ve never felt God’s presence the way I feel it here,” says Ms. Katrina Maben. “My life has changed since I came here.”

What I’d like to do here is examine the implications of Ms. Maben’s sentiment, and why hers and similar tales fail to impress the skeptic.  Further, the problem I uncover should lead believers to always doubt their own “inner witness”.

Ms. Maben’s claim, assuming she’s sincere, presents us with three scenarios:

1)      Her feeling is authentic and the Christian god really is confirming the truth of the message she’s hearing.

2)      Her feeling derives from some other agency that seeks to fraudulently mislead her.

3)      Her feeling is a self-created delusion.

While most people, including Christians themselves, would probably agree with number 3 (or even perhaps 2), we’re compelled to consider the first scenario.  If it’s objectively true, the implications are pretty devastating for all other Christians, for it means their “inner witness” feeling for the gospel they believe in is either fraudulent or delusional.  But how would these Christians know?

What if scenarios 2 and 3 are objectively true?  Well, as above, how would Ms. Maben know it is she who is being misled or deluded?  She feels what she understands as the Holy Spirit and understandably concludes God endorses the message (not to mention the messenger…).  Some may think they can reason Ms. Maben out of her error by pointing out this or that scripture, but ironically Christian apologists have given her the ammunition to defeat such entreaties:

“the testimony of the Holy Spirit trumps all other evidence.”

“the witness, or testimony, of the Holy Spirit is its own proof; it is unmistakable; it does not need other proofs to back it up; it is self-evident and attests to its own truth.”

In other words, no argument or evidence is superior to what the believer regards as a confirmation by the Holy Spirit; the feeling alone is sufficient to establish the truth.  Absent begging the question, on what grounds can Christians deny the authenticity of Ms. Maben’s witness, or prove their own?  As far as I can see, none whatsoever. 

The central conundrum, inherent in our three scenarios above, is that the feeling of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – as a completely subjective experience, but one held to be authoritative – offers no means for authentication. It is indistinguishable from that of a fraudulent or delusional feeling.  Consequently, even if there is a single Truth, it will constantly be obscured by error, which will compound itself as error begets error begets error ad nauseum.  This partly explains the permanent mutation of the Christian religion (or any religion for that matter which propounds such feelings as evidence of its truth).  Therefore, the method the Christian god is alleged to impart truth among his followers is not simply ineffective but detrimental. 

Further, in the face of sincerely held claims of an inner witness by others with beliefs contradictory to his own, the Christian believer must always have some doubt as to whether her own witness isn’t counterfeit.  In fact, given the thousands of Christian sects in existence, the Christian must regard it very possible, if not probable, such witness is counterfeit.

For the skeptical outsider, it’s all quite simple.  The believer makes the claim that the truth value of their religion is validated by a unique personal feeling (e.g., “inner witness”, “burning bosom”, etc.).  We see, however, that this personal feeling is common among believers who maintain contradictory doctrines.  Therefore, since the claim leads to arbitrary results, the skeptic is within her epistemological rights to reject it.

What the Christian god, if he exists, needs to do is provide the equivalent of a scientific method with which truth can become manifest and all error-filled doctrines become disproved.  An omniscient being who desires unity would have created a superior means to authenticate truth.  The fact that this omnipotent being’s signal is impossible to distinguish from the noise is justifiably regarded as evidence against his existence.