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Reasonable Faith Revisited

By Jake Rhodes ~

Battle of Joshua with Amalekites by Nicolas Poussin
I am perpetually amazed at the vast digital sea of information raging about in the gargantuan abyss of the internet. Somehow its sweeping currents wield a formidable capacity to drag me off into the most unexpected reading. With that thought in mind, I want to share one such incident. Much to my (almost) pleasant surprise, I recently stumbled upon a rebuttal to one of my articles published on this site. Apparently an apologist by the name of Sello Rasephei surmounted the task of refuting the claims made in my article “Reasonable Faith?!... The Logical Fallacies within Dogma”. My article can be read here. Sello’s rebuttal is available here. Never one to back down from a debate, and almost never one rendered incapable of doing so in a civil manner, I thought it worth my time and effort to scrutinize Sello’s refutation and produce a response to his counter arguments.

A few points worth noting are apparent at the beginning of Sello’s article; they are of minor significance to his refutation so I will be succinct in addressing them. First, he prefaces his article with a generic complaint about ExChristian.net. He asserts, “As it is the case with websites that publish misleading information, they censor everybody who post comments that refute their claims. I have unfortunately been one of those censored.” (grammar original, emphasis mine). Personally, I have no direct experience of Sello’s interaction with this site. However, I have been informed that Sello was banned for reasons of inappropriate and/or rude comments. Whether or not Sello actually exhibited behavior that merited expulsion is of minimal concern to me. I am more concerned with his dubious claim. Note that he posits that all who refute the claims made against the veracity of Christianity are censored. This simply is not true. My experience with this site has not been thoroughly exhaustive, but I have seen several Christians that were allowed to present their beliefs and opinions through both comments and occasional featured articles. Only when such characters descend into incessant rudeness are they banned. This site’s disclaimer makes it clear that this is really not the proper venue for Christians to seek debate (due to its central focus of encouraging apostates and those presently in pain due to eroding faith), although cordial discourse is tolerated. At best, Sello’s claim is a hyperbole; at worst it is an outright lie.

I also found it quite curious that Sello did not provide a link to my article. Debate etiquette generally leads critics to provide links to the material at which they level their criticisms. Sello’s neglect to include a link to my article stirs questions about his motives for doing so. I suspect he chose not to link it because he insufficiently addressed my arguments, but let me refrain from getting ahead of myself. I will deal more with this later. Perhaps it was simply negligence. There is one more small matter I want to comment on before getting on to the theology. If I can take a moment to be just ever so slightly petty and pedantic, is it really so much to ask that he at least get my name correct? He refers to me as “Jakes” throughout his entire refutation. Such error admittedly has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but it betrays a lack of prudence on his part and is of course mildly irritating. Oh well, let us move on to the relevant points of debate.

Sello attempted to refute my claims in the order that I originally presented them, so I will continue in that same format. First, we arrive at the paradox of Christ’s simultaneous fully divine and fully human nature. Sello’s starts his argument with what amounts to either a willful sleight of hand trick, or a direct misunderstanding of my argument. He states “According to Jakes, being fully human and incapable of sin are two things that are mutually exclusive, meaning a person can’t be both fully human and sinless.” Ah, did anyone catch it? Notice that Sello’s clever equivocation confuses the inherent capability to sin with the state of being sinless by abstaining from it, a distinction I was careful to make perfectly clear in my original article. Living a sinless life is not the same as fundamentally lacking the capacity to sin. Seemingly aware of this error, Sello does concede that being sinless does not necessarily prove the inability to sin in his next paragraph. After stating that Jesus was in fact incapable of sin, he claims “So we can say with all confidence that being incapable of sin and being fully human are two things that are mutually inclusive, because Adam and Eve have proved that it’s possible to be sinless, while Jesus has proved that it’s possible to be incapable of sin.” However, Sello has not given a sufficient explanation as to why the inability to sin would not preclude full humanity; he has only asserted that Adam and Eve were temporarily sinless before the fall, but admittedly capable of sinning. My argument stands unanswered.

Sello’s next paragraph beautifully illustrates what I wanted to cast into light with my original article. After three paragraphs of running in circles and conceding most of my original points, he seems to realize that he has used reason to paint himself into a corner. He concedes “Let me agree with Jakes’ assessment that “The notion of being fully human and fully divine is a paradox”, but not for the reason that Jakes provided.” In what way does he escape the spot in which he has cornered himself? Sello drops the paint roller of reason, hoists himself up by his bootstraps, and unabashedly floats out of the room on clouds of faith. With an appeal to faith he says “So perhaps it’s not a paradox, but merely that our minds can’t fathom what it must be like to be fully human and fully God at the same time.” I cannot help but be reminded of Carl Sagan’s dragon in the garage (see his wonderful book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark). When an argument proposes logical contradictions or seems disproved through reason, conveniently remove it from the reach of reason and appeal to some esoteric understanding or even assert that it is simply not understandable. Believe in such a manner if you so choose, but understand that such is the dividing line between faith and reason.

Now we move on to my challenge concerning the eternal destination of those ignorant of the gospel. He argues “Unfortunately the church is to blame for Jakes’ lack of understanding of the reasons that God provides for sending people to hell” (sigh, the “s” tacked on the end of my name does get somewhat bothersome). He trudges on to assert that it is not lack of knowledge of the gospel that sends people to hell, but rather their own sins, for which each person bears individual responsibility. He even defers to the words of another apologist “Ray Comfort answered this question brilliantly by saying ‘No one will go to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus Christ. The heathen will go to hell for murder, rape, adultery, lust, theft, lying, etc…’” Yes you read that correctly, ladies and gentlemen. He did indeed quote Ray Comfort. Please, kindly force the bananas and crocoducks out of your minds and stay with me here. What is worth noting is that Sello does not directly answer my question as to whether or not it is capable for one who has not heard of Jesus to enter Heaven based on the merit of their own works, or if they are damned. However, I would infer from his reasoning that he implies that those ignorant of the gospel are indeed sent to Hell, but on the basis of their sin (since all of humanity sins) rather than simply their ignorance. Sello appears to me to either ignore or rationalize the injustice of the option of repentance and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice having been withheld from some. I leave it to the reader to determine if his position can in fact be held with reason, while I will personally choose to hold it in contempt.

The third issue of debate is the existence of objective morality and its relationship to/dependence on the Christian God. In my article, I did not really aim to prove or disprove the existence of objective moral values, but simply aimed to call attention to the Euthyphro dilemma. Oddly, Sello seemingly admits that God has in fact given immoral commands. He says “Of course we know from the bible that God commanded Israel as a nation to attack and kill people, including women and children. Was that moral from a human point of view? No, it wasn’t moral, yet God still commanded it.” I am not sure what Sello means by “moral from a human point of view”, but I suspect he is once again appealing to some esoteric understanding, or rather misunderstanding, or morality. When worded in such a way, the word “morality” is rendered entirely meaningless and the whole debate becomes a moot point. Notice too that Sello did not answer the question I posed in my original article. I asked if someone would commit a murder at God’s behest. In the case of a believer concocting a response to the tune of “God would not command such”, I propose the hypothetical case that they were one of the Israelite soldiers commanded to slaughter Amalekite woman, children, and infants. I still await an answer.

Lastly, Sello addressed my challenge regarding the bible’s nature and authority. He asserts that biblical prophecy is a strong influencing factor for his certainty of biblical veracity. Sello seems incapable of understanding that prophecies’ vague and muddled wording leads to such spurious interpretations that practically anything can be seen as “prophecy fulfillment” when there exists a desire to believe. Next he claims “Secondly, the bible makes outrageous claims which could be proven by applying them. The biblical claim that you can know God through Jesus is the most outrageous claim in the world (see John 17:3), yet I have found the bible to be true.” There’s that esoterically poisoned subjectivity once again. Substitute the nouns in that sentence and you will have produced an equally valid argument for any religion you like. His third claim is that history and archeology have repeatedly confirmed the contents of the bible. Curiously, this never seems to coincide with the opinions of historians or archeologists. Mainly, I suspect this distinction is due to confusing scholars and scientists with apologists. I will leave it to the readers to research this topic on their own, but one easy example comes to mind. No historical evidence whatsoever has been found to support Herod’s slaughter of the innocents depicted in Matthew. This is quite puzzling because the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, devotes considerable attention to Herod, but makes no mention of such a travesty. The obvious explanation of his silence is that the whole account is mythical. The evangelist who authored Matthew was simply repackaging the story of Moses’ infancy. That is simply one instance off of the top of my head. Since Sello provided no references to back his claims of archeological and independent historical confirmation of the bible, I will be satisfied with my single example.

His fourth reason for justifying his belief in the bible’s divine authorship deserves a paragraph all to itself. Although not technically a “scientist”, my degree is in a scientific field, so I am at least somewhat qualified to comment on matters of science. Sello now moves on to the topic of science. He asserts “Fourthly, the bible has made outrageous scientific claims that have been proven to be true.” I will readily agree that the bible has made outrageous scientific claims, but I definitely would not agree that they are true. I posit that Sello should probably read more scientific works by men like Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, and Richard Dawkins and less by Ray Comfort. Biology, genetics, paleontology, geology, astronomy, and cosmology with unanimous agreement simply rule out the literal truth and scientific claims of Genesis. Period. This simply is not even up for debate anymore. The evidence for an ancient earth (and universe as a whole) and the common ancestry of all living organisms is so overwhelming that all but a small fraction of the most fundamental and charismatic sects of Christianity have reformed their theology and adopted a more allegorical reading of Genesis. I am reminded of Galileo’s quote about the bible giving directions for how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go (I am paraphrasing). For anyone curious, and even for Sello, I recommend the series “What Genesis got Wrong” available on YouTube. Let’s briefly mention a few of the bible’s big science blunders. It plainly teaches a flat earth and a geocentric solar system (see Gen 11:1-9, Daniel 4:10-11, Joshua 10:13 just to mention a few). The bible taught us that mental illness was the result of demonic possession, and not of neurological/psychological (material) causes (Mark 9:14-29). Not to mention, if Jesus had spoken differently about washing hands (Mark 7:1-8) many lives might have been saved. It is quite strange that the omniscient creator of the universe could not have advised his disciples to clean their hands, but for different reasons than what the Pharisees had given. He needed only to caution them about the sanitary necessity, since he clearly must have been aware of microorganisms. To mention another issue, how should we take the magic potion for discerning your wife’s fidelity (Numbers 5:11-31)? This could go on and on for days, and indeed has been explored by many far more qualified and erudite than myself, but I am tired of typing. The notion that the bible is scientifically accurate is simply incorrect on so many levels.

Sello concludes his article with one last stab at apostates. After making the absurd claim that he finds it impossible that “anybody can be a Christian without applying logic and reason first to the merits of Jesus and the inerrancy of the bible”, he goes on to poison the well. All of us who left the faith did so because we had no intellectual basis for it to begin with. He says “Of course there are people who didn’t scrutinize these matters first in their minds, and they went on to become ex-Christians” (spelling unaltered). This issue has been argued to such extent that I think it is basically pointless to keep up the banter.

Inevitably, the discourse ends with the “never a TRUE Christian” accusation. But truth be told, I simply do not care what another believes is true about my life when I was a Christian. I know with certainty that I believed wholeheartedly. Reason often guides a few of us out of the fold. I think Sello would do well to read the stories of Dan Barker, Daniel Everett, Robert Price, Bart Ehrman, and Charles Templeton, just to name a few. At any rate, this portion of the Christian/non-believer debate gets quite stale because it is the most subjective (and thereby difficult to subject to meaningful objective discussion). He ends by claiming “But the suggestion that Christianity is mutually exclusive with reason and logic is an intellectual embarrassment.” The irony literally stings.


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