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The Devilish Mr. Derbyshire

I’m sure by now most of the readers of this blog have heard of the controversy that engulfed Mr. Derbyshire this summer when he wrote about an important issue concerning the fate of Western civilization. Indeed, Christians who are passionate about their faith should be particularly concerned with Mr. Derbyshire's views.

I’m talking about, of course, his piece on heaven written for the June 2012 issue of The American Spectator. The piece purports to be a review of a book by Peter Kreeft on the subject of heaven, but is really no more than one long ignorant sneer. I have read “the Derb” for many years now and I generally find his writing to be full of wit and erudition. But when it comes to the subject of religion, he turns into one of the shallowest of the so-called “New Atheists”.

So I was particularly interested to read the letter section of the next issue of The American Spectator which contained the following letter from the conservative lawyer Roger Clegg. I should note, with some satisfaction, lawyers have a long and distinguished history of writing apologetics both here and in England and Mr. Clegg’s pithy response to Derbyshire’s awful piece carries on in this proud tradition:

MR. DERBYSHIRE DEMANDS "evidence" of God and Heaven ("Heavens to Betsy," TAS, June 2012), but since there is plenty of evidence what he really seems to want is proof. Well, proof he will not get, but of course he can offer no proof either. And, as I say, there is plenty of evidence.

Consider, to give just the most obvious example, the Gospels, not to mention the rest of the New Testament and the Old. Now, you can attack their veracity, just as a lawyer in court can attack the veracity of some document, but you cannot say that it is not evidence. And their veracity actually holds up rather well, by the way.

Mr. Derbyshire also attacks C.S. Lewis, but offers little besides name-calling, and with that limited to Lewis's mythic and poetic children's stories, not his more forthright apologetics. Of these, Mr. Derbyshire apparently started to read, but never finished, only one.

And of the latter, Mr. Derbyshire says only—in response to Lewis's famous liar-lunatic-lord trilemma—that perhaps Jesus was just "mistaken." Now here again, Lewis did not purport to offer proof, but only a way of evaluating the evidence. And it is, pace Mr. Derbyshire, quite persuasive. To think (mistakenly) that one is God is not like thinking (mistakenly) that it is Tuesday instead of Wednesday-it is the kind of mistake that only lunatics make.

Mr. Derbyshire, poor soul, is trying very hard not to believe. So as Mr. Lewis said, he risks God concluding for him, "Very well—THY will be done," and thus to Hell rather than to Heaven with him. Why run such a risk? Why not follow his fellow mathematician Blaise Pascal, and choose instead to cultivate one's faith rather than try so hard not to? There is much more to win than to lose.

- Roger Clegg, Fairfax, Virginia

Unfortunately, rather than maintaining a dignified silence, in recognition of the fact that Clegg got the better of him, Derbyshire doubles down with the infamous New Atheist ploy known as the “one god further objection”:

John Derbyshire replies:

I AM OBLIGED to Mr. Clegg for his attention to my piece. I should like to offer him some satisfaction, but alas, in between submitting that article and seeing Mr. Clegg's response, I was directed by a friend to the book Mere Odinism by Cnut Snorri Leifsson. I found C.S. Leifsson's arguments entirely convincing, and am now a devoted worshipper of the Æsir and Vanir.

I urge Mr. Clegg to abandon the false, womanish, and oriental religion of Yahweh and embrace the true European faith of Odinism. I hope he will do so; I hope, after our earthly dissolution, we shall meet together in Freyja's fields, and quaff many a jug of mead together with the heroes of Valhalla, as scop and gleeman regale us with heroic ballads of our ancestors. Now THAT'S a heaven!

I ought to tell him further that I have changed my name in honor of my new confession and should henceforth be known as Johan Bloodaxe.

To a teenage atheist who thinks he knows it all, this kind of thing sounds convincing; but our former colleague, the brilliant philosopher Ed Feser explains why it is nonsense in great detail in this classic blog post over at his own wonderful blog. I would add, in addition to what Ed said, that it is curious Mr. Derbyshire continues to ignore the challenge that C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft and Roger Clegg put before him – the clear evidence that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” [1 Corinthians 15:3-8]. If he finds this Biblical evidence lacking or unconvincing, why not tell us how and why? He claims to be in love with empirical data and cold, hard facts and yet when confronted by smart Christian apologetics, he retreats to jokes about Norse gods. Surely Mr. Derbyshire can do better than this.

Comments (67)

"One god further" plus "the Courtier's Reply" are all that New Atheists think they need. The genius(?) of their position is that it gives intellectual justification for bashing straw men.

It always makes me shake my head that atheists should seem to think they can know a priori that there can be no more evidence for belief in any one deity than in any other. It never seems to occur to them to wonder: Suppose that there were only one true God and that he did want mankind to know him? Would we not expect to find that there was good evidence for his existence and not for the existence of other gods? Why, then, am I entitled to assume that Lewis or any of these other apologists must be talking nonsense and cannot possibly be bringing up good evidence for the existence of a particular God?

More pithily, here is the reductio response to the "one god further" nonsense from Esteemed Husband:

Modern historians who believe that Abraham Lincoln was President might acknowledge that, when it comes to their office mates Bob and George, Tom and William, Peter and Arthur, Mary and Amanda, they don’t believe that any of these people is or ever was President. We are all President-disbelievers about most people. Some of us just go one President further.”

I like The Derb but he has a large and gross blind spot when it comes to matters of the heart and soul.

It is always tempting for me to want to paraphrase the Jon Lovitz SNL character in talking to careless atheists like Derbyshire -- "Get to know Him!"

Hardly any Christians know Him so it's little surprise that Derb and his ilk don't. If you have no need for God, why bother? It is in dire and helpless extremity that people fall on their knees and beg for divine help, for divine encounter. And even then, the cry is often done so selfishly or tantrum-like that it goes unresponded to.

Most healthy, untrammeled people are essentially happy to sit in Plato's Cave watching the shadow play and are entertained and satisfied.

Derb's own derision of introspection as a means to knowledge (or fear of God) pretty much sums up his invincible ignorance on this score.

I urge Mr. Clegg to abandon the false, womanish, and oriental religion of Yahweh and embrace the true European faith of Odinism


this foul generation has gotten all the "proofs" of God it will get, already more than it deserves

it is mr derbyshire's beloved demoncrapic, western nations -- with america forefront -- that are the epitome of womanish, to extent that they are already full-on matriarchies covered over by "front-men" like himself, and worse

odinism, like all pagan idolatries, always devolves to woman-worship, and woman-service; it is manly only in outward aspect, and in its equivalence of violence as summa of masculinity

for a servant of queen babylon like derbyshire to call yahweh "womanish" is the height of arrogance and acquiescence to satan

let them fall to their fates together, then

While we're on the subject, free copies of my most recent novel published on Amazon to any one who'll review it. Contact me at johnmark@surewest.net

My Inferiors

Jeremiah Bliss is ticked off. He’s angry at literary agents and publishers, and has little patience for dullards, but he writes beautifully about his bete noires, his wife and son, and his career in politics and teaching. Having lost his adult son to madness, his beloved wife to cancer, and then even his dog to old age, he looks back with love, regret, and sorrow over the course of his life, recounting the highs and lows, including his astonishing claim at having directly encountered God three different times. My Inferiors is a masterpiece; a character driven exploration of life filled with remarkable insight and wisdom, coldly incisive and intensely sanguine. There is nothing else like this in American letters; sort of a cross between Diary of a Country Priest and King Lear; sublime, beautiful, terrifying in its own way, yet filled with tenderness and love. Intelligent, witty, and honest.

Lydia recently recommended a spiritual novel. I think she and others will find this one, perhaps, even more profound. The Addendum to the novel delivers a crushing blow to the issue of Theodicy. (IMHO)

I forgot to add -- for anyone interested, my author page at Amazon is http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B000APN0UM

You'll find a Derbyshire hating Lewis-like Four Tales of Heaven and Hell also needing reviews with copies to those who will do so, along with:

Charlie For Awhile, a comic novel in which the protagonist, among other things, hopes to use celibacy (as he understands it from reading St. Loquacious) to improve and save his marriage, also a paean to America.

And if you love dogs and want to hold onto to your hard earned gold, A Man with Great German Shepherds . . . and 1000 troy ounces of goldis a great romp and Catholic novel. A dog saves a priest's life, for St. Peter's sake!

Contact me for review copies: johnmark@surewest.net

You accept teh NT as evdience. Ok. here is Acts 1:9, describing Jesus taking his final leave of the apostles:

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.


According to this, heaven is a pale you can get to by flying up into the air. We ought to bale to see it then. Where is it? Or do you reject this evidence?

Malkhos,

Judging by your name and a couple of misspelled words, I'm guessing English is not your first language. So to be charitable, I will assume the first time you are not a troll and answer you politely. Taking the literal meaning of that passage from Acts seems to me to suggest that Jesus was lifted into the air on a cloud and then vanished out of their sight. Where did he go? The only way to figure that out is from other clues in the Bible about Heaven, which tell us that it is a place that does NOT exist in the material world but in the spiritual plane. Obviously, the idea that such a spiritual plane might exist would also have to be argued for and evidence adduced, but you get the idea.

I endorse what John Derbyshire has to say about C S Lewis. I was never able to get anything out of Mere Christianity and I don't like the underlying 'hearty' tone of it either. Though I seldom get rid of books I've bought, I did not keep this book after reading it.

It may be true that American Christians admire the religious writings of Lewis a lot more than is the case in Britain. Since British society is almost completely secularized now, the market for any justification of Christian principles is very tiny.

At the moment I'm reading The Reasonableness of Christianity by John Locke. His 'minimalist' outline of the very few and simple essentials of the Christian faith which anyone can discover for themselves in the Scriptures, appeals to someone of my sceptical disposition.

One problem with the New Atheists is that they know very little about what they're attacking. They regularly and consistently get Christian thought wrong in all sorts of ways. Their hubris comes from the fact that they think they know what it teaches, when in actuality they are often clueless.

"I'm reading The Reasonableness of Christianity by John Locke. His 'minimalist' outline of the very few and simple essentials of the Christian faith which anyone can discover for themselves in the Scriptures, appeals to someone of my sceptical disposition."

Locke puts far too much faith in his own lights in determining "the essentials." Who died and made him the filter? CSL at least trusts the tradition. In reading apologetics one should avoid works that appeal too much to one's own disposition. You should want to be challenged, not comforted.


I endorse what John Derbyshire has to say about C S Lewis. I was never able to get anything out of Mere Christianity and I don't like the underlying 'hearty' tone of it either. Though I seldom get rid of books I've bought, I did not keep this book after reading it.

Guys like Derbyshire (and indeed most intellectuals) don't often like being forced to confine themselves intellectually to the kind of options that Lewis presented like the Liar, Lunatic or Lord Question. They would much rather hem and haw about how it's nuanced and how we can take this part and throw away that part. Simplicity is the kryptonite of the intellectual.

Even if most of the book were garbage, that question alone would do wonders for intellectual honesty about Jesus. If He lied, then He's just another manipulative cult leader and should be unequivocally condemned as simply a nicer, ancient version of David Koresh. If He were a lunatic, nothing He said should have any authority whatsoever unless it can be rationally shown to be true. Since most of the teachings of Jesus were counter-intuitive to most people (and liberals only find many of them intuitive because they grew up in the remnants of a Christian society), they ought to be regarded as irrational until shown otherwise. In fact, from this perspective, the teachings of LaVey are more rational. If option three, well...

Alex, I think you're mistaking your dislike of style for Derbyshire's dismissal of substance. Believe me, the atheism of men like Derbyshire is a million times more shallow than the Christianity of men like Lewis. The fact that the former writes (as it were) with a British accent and has an air of knowing nihilism and that the latter writes with a hearty tone that grates on you really tells one nothing about the quality of their arguments.

And ignore Nice Marmot and go on reading Locke on this subject. Indeed, Locke's and Lewis's empirical approaches are not far different. That Locke wanted for political reasons to call Socinians and Quakers "Christians" and that Lewis would not do so makes very little difference to their apologetics.

Also, Alex, please feel free to look up labels such as "evidentialism" on this site if you haven't already done so. There are various interviews, lectures, and the like, which I hope will appeal to one of skeptical disposition *with* honesty.

With the ascendency of Biblical higher criticism Lewis's trilemma has lost a fair amount of power, because a 4th option presents itself: the NT writers were wrong about Jesus. The response to this generally lies in efforts to demonstrate the NT's reliability. It appears somewhat backwards, however, to attempt to prove theism by appeals to the Resurrection. Such an approach seems to dispense with metaphysics, something a more traditional apologetic never did, and which plays into the hands of our adversaries.

You should want to be challenged, not comforted.

Challenged by what? I wasn't aware that Locke's little treatise is particularly comforting, but his emphasis on the fundamental proposition in the teaching of Jesus - i.e. that he was the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah long foretold, which amount to the same thing - is something I can respond to when there's so much ingenious adiaphora of Christian doctrine that I have difficulty in believing.

"ignore Nice Marmot and go on reading Locke on this subject"

Fascinating. I've been reading theology and apologetics for over 30 yrs., and you're the first person I've ever heard recommend Locke to an inquirer. Jefferson's Testament is next, I take it?

NM, have you ever read "The Reasonableness of Christianity"? I'm guessing not. If you can find anything by Jefferson in which Jefferson makes an apologetic case for a similar set of propositions, you let me know.

It appears somewhat backwards, however, to attempt to prove theism by appeals to the Resurrection.

It is rather awkward for people who are uncomfortable with this approach (which, full disclosure, is an approach I strongly endorse, minus the confusing word "prove") that as a matter of fact the Resurrection *is strongly positively relevant* to the existence of the God Jesus claimed to be speaking for. Probabilistic relations are no respecters of theological fashion.

If you are a Christian, NM, which I assume you are, you shouldn't quarrel with your apologetic allies. A good argument is a good argument. Be glad of it where you find it.

And, yes, higher criticism is bogus argumentatively and evidentially and has not made an _actual_ dent in the trilemma. It is highly implausible that the NT writers simply made up or were somehow "mistaken" (how would that have happened?) about Jesus' unequivocal claims to deity.

To be fair, it's been many years (at least 20) and I don't recall if I read all of it. It struck me at the time as being okay as far as it goes (as an anti-Deist work) but since then it's become apparent to me that there's not much benefit in replacing Deism with an idiosyncratic individualist Christianity. That's why I said that CSL at least trusts the tradition.

I don't understand why the Norse mythology line gets Derbyshire anywhere. It's not as if, after all, there's a more rational basis for Norse paganism than there is for Christianity. I say we congratulate Derb on his willingness to embrace the life of faith and pray for his acceptance of the true Faith. There's plenty of precedent for pagans being baptized, after all.

Of course I realize that Lewis's style isn't to everyone's taste, but that's another issue. I'm that way about Chesterton -- I agree with much of what he says but I seldom read him, as I find his style rather rich.

"Probabilistic relations are no respecters of theological fashion... A good argument is a good argument. Be glad of it where you find it."

I've got no quarrel with the argument per se. But it seems that one must do a lot of heavy lifting vis a vis the NT documents' reliability before one can even get to it as an argument. Probabilistic arguments can take one only so far -- they don't really touch metaphysics, which I find problematic in that an eschewing of metaphysics gives way too much towards an Enlightenment rationalistic direction.


Someone should turn this around on The Derb. I forget where but I once read Derbyshire explain why he believed in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. He said (in the form of a question to the Darwinian skeptics on the forum) something to the effect that since we know when a species in a particular geographical region mate over generations certain physical adaptations can appear, then if so, say a single species group is separated into two by geography and mate in different environments over generations what is to stop the adaptation process from eventually resulting in a new species? (QED, supposedly)

Isn't that the mother of all extrapolations? Does that count as good science? Derbyshire apparently didn't require much proof to become a believer in Darwin.

Lydia writes: ....

.ignore Nice Marmot and go on reading Locke on this subject. Indeed, Locke's and Lewis's empirical approaches are not far different. That Locke wanted for political reasons to call Socinians and Quakers "Christians" and that Lewis would not do so makes very little difference to their apologetics.

Against my inclination toward a 'primitive' model of Christianity, Eric Voegelin observes: "Christian doctrine as it has grown in the tradition of the church is not an arbitrary addition to the Gospel. It is the labor of generations in the attempt to find an adequate expression to the substance of faith in the historically changing economic, political, moral, and intellectual environment of Mediterranean and Western civilization." I understand the force of this explanation for the necessary complexity of Christian dogma, but I can't will myself to believe in, for instance, the real presence or transubstantiation for which I can find no warrant in Scripture.

Locke says that Christianity is reasonable because its fundamental doctrines are accessible and perspicuous to almost everyone willing to study or hear the word, and not because it is in every particular a rational testament. I've latched on to this minimalist position for the time being.

not because it is in every particular a rational testament

I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I hold to the position which is both Lockean and, in a sense, Thomistic: Christianity can never be *contrary* to reason, but there are crucial aspects of Christian doctrine that could not be found out "by pure reason," where the latter means, "sitting in one's armchair." This is not because there is something arational about faith but more simply because Christianity is so particular. For example, that Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived in a particular time and place, was God and died and rose again for our sins is obviously not something we will figure out from pondering first principles or the cosmological argument. It is, inter alia, an historical proposition. Our acceptance of it will depend on our evaluation of historical evidence. As Locke says somewhere or other, we use our reason to discover whether or not someone is a messenger from God. At that point, the content of his message may well be something that we could not otherwise have figured out for ourselves, and we accept that content having examined the credentials of the messenger.

Probabilistic arguments can take one only so far

NM, metaphysical arguments can only take one so far. Christianity is *essentially* an historical religion, based on the testimony of the apostles. Just ask the apostles themselves. They'll tell you the same. :-) You aren't going to be able to get away from dealing with that and with the (often extremely poor) pseudo-scholarly arguments that seek to discredit the NT documents.

Nice,

You say, in relation to Lydia's comment about "probabliistic relations":

I've got no quarrel with the argument per se. But it seems that one must do a lot of heavy lifting vis a vis the NT documents' reliability before one can even get to it as an argument. Probabilistic arguments can take one only so far -- they don't really touch metaphysics, which I find problematic in that an eschewing of metaphysics gives way too much towards an Enlightenment rationalistic direction.

I would argue that the problem with metaphysics is that while it can lead you to the God of the philosophers, it cannot lead you to the God of revelation, i.e. the God of the Old and New Testaments. That's why I like looking at the evidence so much (and why God decided to enter into a relationship with His creation here on Earth).

Alex,

For what it's worth, I actually found Lewis' style unconvincing when I read him at first. My issue was I thought he assumed too much (I had picked up just enough higher criticism from our secular culture that Nice mentions in his comment and sort of just assumed that the Bible was unreliable somehow). Then I talked to scholars who knew something about the Bible and they set me straight and suddenly I read the Gospels and Acts with open eyes and felt myself believing again (I had turned away from the Catholicism of my youth). Praise God for smart defenders of the faith -- they can literally save your soul!

One problem with the New Atheists is that they know very little about what they're attacking. They regularly and consistently get Christian thought wrong in all sorts of ways. Their hubris comes from the fact that they think they know what it teaches, when in actuality they are often clueless.

Hence the Courtier's Reply. According to them, they don't HAVE to know what you're saying since it's probably stupid anyway.

I do find the apologetics discussion interesting. I tend to agree with Lydia, seeing that I contributed a chapter to a work of popular apologetics on the reliability on the NT. Still, I have encountered people for whom historical arguments have zero persuasive power and are more likely to be convinced by metaphysical arguments or personal experience. There are various points of entry, and some work better than others, depending on the person.

"I would argue that the problem with metaphysics is that while it can lead you to the God of the philosophers, it cannot lead you to the God of revelation"

Well, of course, but are we attempting to 'prove' theism or Christianity? It seems odd to me to argue for theism on the basis of Christianity being true. Seems to me that the New Atheists need to be shown that theism is rational before they will accept the idea that Xianity is.

In answer to Lydia: By a 'rational testament in every particular' I mean a set of propositions none of which could be doubted without destroying the entire inducement to believe.

I believe that God exists and accept the divinity of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer; and I further believe that genuine repentance and submission to the law of Our Saviour are enough for salvation. Isn't that all that is necessary and sufficient to call oneself a Christian?

Maybe the true reason I go to church fairly regularly is for the aesthetic pleasure of listening to sacred music and pondering the beautiful words in The Book of Common Prayer.

Seems to me that the New Atheists need to be shown that theism is rational before they will accept the idea that Xianity is.

No, not necessarily. I have nothing _against_ metaphysical arguments for mere theism. Some of them have a lot to be said for them. I'm particularly inclined to think the argument from mind and some kalam-style cosmological argument have force.

However, God is a person. We do not *in general* require that people have it shown to them that the existence of some person is probable in a purely metaphysical fashion before bringing in the specific and concrete evidence of that person's existence via his acts in the world. In fact, we usually know that persons exist *entirely* by our evidence for their existence from their real actions and revelations of themselves. That is the case for each and every one of us in this thread vis a vis each and every other one of us. I didn't have to come to believe that "generic Nice-Marmot-ism" was rational by pondering on metaphysical concepts before I would be capable of accepting your existence by reading your comments.

In the same way, it is actually false to say that the evidence for a miracle of God (such as the resurrection) cannot be good evidence for God's existence unless we first believe in generic theism on purely metaphysical grounds.

Psychologically, whether some atheists need to be "softened up" first with metaphysical arguments is, of course, a different and more subjective question. Presumably some do and some don't.

I believe that God exists and accept the divinity of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer; and I further believe that genuine repentance and submission to the law of Our Saviour are enough for salvation. Isn't that all that is necessary and sufficient to call oneself a Christian?

Alex, you're certainly not answerable to me, so it's not up to me to quiz you. As for whether that is "all that is necessary to call oneself a Christian," I would probably want to talk a bit more about Jesus' actually being God. "Divinity" is one of those words that can go in a lot of different directions and doesn't necessarily mean "Jesus is God." I would also want to add some things about Jesus' being incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, being crucified for our sins under Pontius Pilate, and rising again from the dead. Here, as you can see, I'm adding a few things from the Nicene and Apostles' creeds without necessarily quoting every word or using highly metaphysical terms like "substance."

However, someone who believes what you have listed is on the right track, far more so than someone like, say, Derbyshire. Scripture makes it clear that God wants all men to know him as the only true God and Christ Jesus whom he has sent. God says that we shall find him if we truly seek him with all our hearts. I would therefore urge any inquirer to continue to seek to know the truth about God and to search the Scriptures.

If Mr. Derbyshire were a smart, empirical type he wouldn't rely on discredited, unfounded racism to make decisions in his daily life.

but I can't will myself to believe in, for instance, the real presence or transubstantiation for which I can find no warrant in Scripture.

This is my body.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood...

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Why does everybody keeps talking of Mere Christianity as if CS Lewis never wrote anything else.
I found Pilgrim's Regress superb for deep survey of rival philosophies, The Problem of Pain, The Miracles, Preface to Paradise Lose is great for exact discussion of what an epic is, The Discard Image is wonderful. His theological ideas are scattered everywhere.

This is my body.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood...

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Jesus usually taught in figurative language. When Our Lord said I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5): I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he shall saved. (John 10:9); we understand these sayings as figurative lessons. It would be unthinkable to place a literal interpretation on them. I understand This is my body in the same way, and think it implies no more than a command to commemorate the Last Supper.

It is said that when Queen Elizabeth was questioned about her belief concerning the words Hoc est corpus meum, she replied:

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and brake it;
And what His words did make it
That I believe and take it.

I wish to leave it there. I've hijacked this thread enough already.

"but I can't will myself to believe in, for instance, the real presence or transubstantiation for which I can find no warrant in Scripture.”

1 Corinthians, Chapter 11. Paul writes “discerning the Lord’s body” not discerning the Lord’s “symbolic presence”, “spiritual presence”, etc.

Transubstantiation/Real Presence is the perfect antidote to Derbyshirian materialism/empiricism.


“When Our Lord said I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5): I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he shall saved. (John 10:9); we understand these sayings as figurative lessons.”

The disciples reaction (“this is a hard saying…..”) to Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist, particularly when contrasted with their reaction to his figurative lessons, indicates that they understood him literally. Jesus then affirmed this understanding.

There’s little to gain from arguing with atheists like Derbyshire. They’ll say that there’s no more reason to believe that Jesus existed, even as a historical person, than there is to believe that Achilles existed as a real, historical person. How can you argue with someone who thinks that way?

As is typical, the Derb mistakes two related but distinct concepts - evidence and credibility. There is plenty of evidence for Christ as the Son of God - there are witness accounts of His resurrection (evidence), and people don't rise from the dead all that often. Whether the Derb finds that credible or not is another question. But it is evidence just as an eyewitness to a murder is evidence.

Same for heaven (or at least some sort of afterlife) - saw a documentary on near death experiences, and witnesses relating their experience of leaving their body and coming back. Some of the scientists interviewed talked about some brain activation that give the illusion of such experience as you are dying, but others (usually surgeons) talked with their patients who were clinically dead, but came back and described in detail the operation they underwent (including who was doing what and when) - while they were under general anesthesia. As the surgeon interviewed said, how do the skeptical scientists explain that one?

http://everything.explained.at/%5C/John_Derbyshire/

Derbyshire and his wife, a Chinese woman from the People's Republic of China, have two children. During a debate with Jared Taylor at the Robert A. Taft club in August 2006 Derbyshire joked that the only reason he was not an open white nationalist was because "it would get me in trouble at home." During the question and answer session Derbyshire jokingly described his two children, Danny and Nellie, as "Danny-mud and Nellie-mud."[5]

How witty and erudite, calling his own children mud people.

Re: Near death experiences. I would guess that such experiences involve more primitive neural systems than the usual cognitive pathways, so the brain could still be storing external information even though they aren't able to process it until their higher brain functions return. There is a less dramatic effect when people get a major fright and everything seems to be happening in slow motion, which is caused only by adrenalin pumping through the body. When the body is on the verge of death, I would expect the glands to unleash everything they have in them.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7563220/Near-death-experiences-trick-of-the-mind-caused-by-high-levels-of-CO2-in-the-blood.html

It would be unthinkable to place a literal interpretation on them.

Well that's your interpretation, delivered infallibly, I presume. But in reality it is thinkable since a lot of people think it. But all you asked for was scriptural warrant, so I gave it to you. If you what you demand is proof, good luck.

Step2, in a 2007 post I quoted Derbyshire: "the experience of raising two kids - mine are now 13 and 11 - was one I found de-spiritualizing." He explains his deconversion here: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZDBmYzcyZTgzNzNkYWM0MzY3YjE1ZThhZGJiMDRiZWE

Re near death, a glandular overflow or "trick of the mind" cannot explain the accuracy of the accounts to which c matt refers.

Re near death, a glandular overflow or "trick of the mind" cannot explain the accuracy of the accounts to which c matt refers.

They can explain it because cardiac arrest doesn't immediately stop all electro-chemical activity in the nervous system, and some of the time those glandular overflows are strong enough to reduce the effects of general anesthesia. In mechanical terms, the audio recording is turned back on, it is the playback function that is unavailable. It is also a known phenomenon that human brains are able to build a detailed environment from simple sound perceptions, and in this case the perceptual recording is processed at the same time higher brain function is restored, creating a time-illusion of them being fully conscious during their "death".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_echolocation

Surely Mr. Derbyshire can do better than this.
What evidence have you for that belief?

As is typical, the Derb mistakes two related but distinct concepts - evidence and credibility. There is plenty of evidence for Christ as the Son of God - there are witness accounts of His resurrection (evidence), and people don't rise from the dead all that often. Whether the Derb finds that credible or not is another question. But it is evidence just as an eyewitness to a murder is evidence.

People will believe whatever they want to believe. In college, I knew a girl who messed around with demons and got possessed. My best friend had no idea that I knew her, and described how she started shrieking in church in a bass tone that should have been physically impossible for a woman to use and started physically attacking men built like a brick #$%^house and hurting them well beyond what her muscles could physically project; it took 5-6 grown men to pin her to the ground and exorcise her. I knew her well before this incident when she was trying to "exorcise" a demon summoned by someone attempting Egyptian magick. She told me all about her attempts to work with the guy who was messing around with this stuff.

It sounds incredible to most people, even though my friend is a straight up, honest guy who could easily stand up in court under cross examination.

The problem with analysis like what Step2 provided is the assumption that the physical and spiritual are at odds with one another. That somehow physical factors suddenly explain away and disprove any spiritual aspect. It would stand to reason that if supernatural elements exist and can interact with the physical that the human body would react to certain types of contact with them. I believe there is actually a book on this subject written by a doctor who studied people who were possessed at one point. The punch line was that there seem in most cases to be signs of physical damage to the nervous system commensurate with it being put under unusually high stress for long periods of time. That would be something to expect if another entity could interact with the human body and control it; it would need to put its own chemical-electrical imprint on the nervous system at the same time as the human mind.

They can explain it because cardiac arrest doesn't immediately stop all electro-chemical activity in the nervous system, and some of the time those glandular overflows are strong enough to reduce the effects of general anesthesia. In mechanical terms, the audio recording is turned back on, it is the playback function that is unavailable. It is also a known phenomenon that human brains are able to build a detailed environment from simple sound perceptions, and in this case the perceptual recording is processed at the same time higher brain function is restored, creating a time-illusion of them being fully conscious during their "death".

Very well, then how do you explain cases like one where a little boy (~3-5 years old) who had never heard of his mother's miscarriages came back and asked his mother why she never told him about his sisters (including correctly telling her the precise number of miscarriages)? Other than by saying that he heard references to them and just didn't put 2 and 2 together until his near death experience when suddenly he knew the exact number and genders?

Right, Mike, and that link to echolocation enabling us "to build a detailed environment from simple sound perceptions" doesn't even begin to explain how some of these people can give a perfectly rendered auditory and visual recounting of what happened, like a videotaped replay. When the supernatural explanation begins to sound less desperate than the scientific, I'll go with the inference that seems more likely. Besides, most of these people seem to know the difference between waking and dreaming, hallucination and reality.

Step2, are there similar (and similarly frequent) accounts of people who undergo surgery under anesthesia and then can tell all about what happened during surgery? If not, why not? And is that sheer guesswork, or actually substantiated? And do these accounts include people acquiring information that is not available to their senses during their death?

so the brain could still be storing external information even though they aren't able to process it until their higher brain functions return

ought to happen sometimes without death occurring, like regular surgery. Also, some of the death-and-return accounts are of a death that happens during sleep and other non-conscious states, no particular reason to assume the glands are going to "give it everything they've got."

The only way to figure that out is from other clues in the Bible about Heaven, which tell us that it is a place that does NOT exist in the material world but in the spiritual plane.

Jeff S., while the principal activity of heaven is a purely spiritual enjoyment of God's own being, direct and unmediated, it is ALSO the case that Christ and his body are united even now. Since Christ is "in heaven", that implies that there is some condition in which his body is at a where that is also "in heaven". That condition may not have an identifiable direction from Earth, for example, maybe in some different universe or plane of dimensions, or whatever, but still bodily and still real. Whatever is the case, heaven extends to dealing with Christ's body.

I don't have the option -- unless I want to call my parents liars -- to pretent that 'naturalism' is a true account of reality.

Well that's your interpretation, delivered infallibly, I presume. But in reality it is thinkable since a lot of people think it. But all you asked for was scriptural warrant, so I gave it to you. If you what you demand is proof, good luck.

Okay, it's unthinkable, in my opinion, that Jesus wanted us to believe that he was literally a vine or a door.

I'll pass on your infallible interpretation of the words, "This is my body".

"Okay, it's unthinkable, in my opinion..."

Thanks for repeating that it's your interpretation.

"...that Jesus wanted us to believe that he was literally a vine or a door."

Nice try but I was responding to your assertion that there was no scriptural warrant for believing in the Real Presence or transubstantiation.

"I'll pass on your infallible interpretation of the words, 'This is my body'."

I gave you no interpretation, just scriptural warrant.

Regarding the scriptural warrant, can 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 be taken as a sola scriptura argument for theocracy?

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

---------------------------------------------
So if the Christian is not to go the Court against a Christian, what happens in a Christian society?. The Church becomes a Court of Justice too. It is like an argument given by Ivan Karamazov: the Church taking over State.

Nice try but I was responding to your assertion that there was no scriptural warrant for believing in the Real Presence or transubstantiation.

What's the matter with you? Is there no room in your world for anyone who has a religious opinion that's different from yours? I won't thank people for sharing my opinions, but I don't consider that different opinions from mine are tamperings with the truth. I'm not trying to proselytize.

What you claim as a Scriptural warrant is, as far as I'm concerned, the received opinion of the Catholic church. And I respect that view though I don't agree with it.

If you read my comment properly, I merely disclosed that I have difficulty believing that the words "This is my body" are to be understood literally. I'm not certain what they mean - which is why I quoted the reply attributed to Queen Elizabeth. She was unsure too, and, (mustn't forget) in my opinion, she gave a wise answer to the question of what they mean.

Besides, most of these people seem to know the difference between waking and dreaming, hallucination and reality.

And if they aren't, they're just one acid drop away from knowing the difference...

In all seriousness, if you've ever hallucinated, you know it unless your sanity has broken down to the point of losing connection with reality. In high school, I was once so sleep deprived that I literally woke up and "saw" my ceiling fan morph into a spider the same size and walk on the ceiling. Hallucinations are usually so bizarre that if you have any grasp of reality you know what happened.

Is there no room in your world for anyone who has a religious opinion that's different from yours?

This has nothing to do with anything. You claimed you could not find scriptural warrant for those doctrines. I gave it to you, to show that you were, you know, wrong. You're wrong, even if you don't subscribe to the doctrines. What's the matter with you?

Other than by saying that he heard references to them and just didn't put 2 and 2 together until his near death experience when suddenly he knew the exact number and genders?

Or, he noticed that his mom would become depressed whenever she saw a certain number of baby girls together. Or, she would act strangely in another way that hinted at something tragic in her past involving baby girls. Just because he didn't make the connection right away doesn't mean that he had didn't have enough information to do so, and near death experiences are easily capable of revisiting parental memories.

Besides, most of these people seem to know the difference between waking and dreaming, hallucination and reality.

That is because our conscious experience is highly integrated. When things in the brain start to disintegrate, those lines become very blurry. For the most part the accounts have a dream-like quality to them, they are floating, they are unaware of any physical discomfort, etc.

Also, some of the death-and-return accounts are of a death that happens during sleep and other non-conscious states, no particular reason to assume the glands are going to "give it everything they've got."

I can't think of any way the biological response to cardiac arrest could discriminate between a surgery and normal sleep. Keep in mind I've been talking about the visceral nervous system's response to total loss of heart rhythm, its most basic function. So yeah, everything they've got.

I merely disclosed that I have difficulty believing that the words "This is my body" are to be understood literally.

Wine as a god's essence was part of pagan mystery rituals, so it has a precedent.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysian_Mysteries#Role_of_wine

Tony,

Your comments about Christ and heaven are interesting. Of course, we also know from scripture that Angels would visit Earth to influence events here, so I do understand the idea that heavenly creatures can and do interact with the Earthly realm.

Bill L. (and Alex),

The subject of transubstantiation is OT, but since you have been going back and forth with Alex a bit I thought I should weigh in on this debate. Of course as a Catholic I think you are right on the substance and doctrine, but I have to admit I don't think you have treated Alex fairly or charitably. In particular, your August 2, 5:10 PM comment was obtuse -- it was obvious Alex was making the point in his August 2, 3:11 AM comment that sometimes Jesus used figurative language (unless you seriously want to dispute this) and that therefore perhaps the passages describing the Eucharist can be read in this manner. Again, I don't think this argument is correct, but Alex made a reasonable comment and actually provided us all with a lovely quote from Queen Elizabeth that was on point and very respectful of the Catholic position. In these kinds of debates I think it is useful to keep in mind that sometimes you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

On the subject of evidence for the afterlife, Dinesh D'Souza recently wrote this book:

http://www.dineshdsouza.com/books/life-after-death-the-evidence/

Normally I would be suspicious of a book endorsed by Deepak Chopra, but it is also endorsed by Stephen Barr who is generally very sensible (although he has a bee in his bonnet about ID), so YMMV.

This has nothing to do with anything. You claimed you could not find scriptural warrant for those doctrines. I gave it to you, to show that you were, you know, wrong. You're wrong, even if you don't subscribe to the doctrines. What's the matter with you?

So you say. That's not a good reason for me to change my mind about what I believe Holy Scripture means in the case we're talking about.

Mr Luse, I have noticed your patronizing attitude at times. Though not completely ignorant, I don't pretend to be a scholar of Holy Writ - so there's no victory in ticking me off as an impertinent advocate of nonconformist exegesis.

Must everyone else's opinions always correspond with yours in the airing of religious questions at this blog? If your answer is "Yes", I guess that's because you claim to know the truth and all the dissenters are 'in error'. Correct?

One of the advantages of operating at the bovine level of a 'layman' such as myself, is that the temptation to intellectual vanity isn't experienced much, if ever.

I must thank Jeff S. very much for his fair and accurate summary of my allegation that Our Lord's words at the Last Supper ("This is My body" etc.) do not give a warrant for understanding them in a literal sense.

that Our Lord's words at the Last Supper ("This is My body" etc.) do not give a warrant for understanding them in a literal sense.

No, that's not what you said. I was responding precisely (Jeff S. take note) to this: "but I can't will myself to believe in, for instance, the real presence or transubstantiation for which I can find no warrant in Scripture."

You said there's no warrant for the doctrine. So I gave you warrant by quoting scripture. All you mean is that you wish to interpret it according to Alex. Fine. I don't give a damn whether you change your mind or not.

Thanks for the homespun cliche, Jeff. "More flies with honey than vinegar." I feel so much better equipped now.

Mr Luse.

I said that I can find no warrant for the literal interpretation which, it turns out, you prefer. That's not the same as saying there is no warrant for whatever it is you may wish to believe. I was referring to my own difficulties in believing the doctrine of the Real Presence, not anyone else's.

And I don't give a damn whether you think, by your supercilious assertions, you've given me such a warrant or not.

Although in common parlance warrant is synonymous with justified (making Bill's assertion that the doctrine has a Scriptural basis a legitimate point), its definition usually hinges on a guarantee of certainty (which makes Alex's doubts about the interpretation legitimate).

Okay party people, rock on.

I've been converted, Step2. I've decided that all mention of heaven and hell is figurative. Primitive threats of reward and punishment to induce behavior typical of nice people.

Step2 writes:

Although in common parlance warrant is synonymous with justified (making Bill's assertion that the doctrine has a Scriptural basis a legitimate point), its definition usually hinges on a guarantee of certainty (which makes Alex's doubts about the interpretation legitimate)

Mr Luse affects a seriousness when there is none. His design is only to carp and (if he can) expose my doubts to sarcasm.

He could have spared himself the trouble of quoting Scripture. I know what the words say, I've read the relevant texts for myself. The question in dispute isn't the existence of verses which I haven't studied, but what the words mean. Opinions about these words differ on denominational lines, and, unlike Mr Luse, I would hesitate to call someone out on them.

I nowhere categorically denied there is a warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of transubstantiation, I merely said that I did not believe there is such a warrant. This obviously leaves open the possibility that my interpretation is singular - though as a matter of fact it is not.

I've decided that all mention of heaven and hell is figurative.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUa8mbgKex8

Primitive threats of reward and punishment to induce behavior typical of nice people.

There is a Talmudic story of a rabbi meeting with Elijah the prophet, who would answer questions for him about the "world to come." The rabbi was in the marketplace when he came upon Elijah. He asked the prophet whether there were any in the marketplace who merited a place in the world to come. Perhaps the rabbi was hoping that Elijah would assure him that his piety and wisdom would earn him that reward.

Instead, Elijah pointed to two men and said, "Yes, those two." The rabbi approached the two men and asked them who they were and what they did. They replied, "We are jesters. We make sad people laugh. And when we see two people arguing, we make peace between them."

Between Heaven and Mirth by Father James Martin

I did find Derbyshire very rude in using the simile of organ-grinder's monkey for Peter Kreeft. I am sure he would not have described any neuroscience author this way, were he to quote ever so extensively from another author.

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