So Greg Koukl and Randal Rauser have been going at it over the culpability of atheism. Koukl seems to be taking a rather strong line, nearly unheard of nowadays, that atheists are culpable in their unbelief - that their unbelief is itself a bad thing, something they should reject, fight against, and will ultimately be made to answer for. Rauser is taking the opposite view.
Ed Feser decided to weigh in on this one, and frankly, it's a bit like having a skirmish between the Somalian navy and some pirates interrupted by the arrival of the Russian navy - everyone rushes to get their story straight because they know if they don't, one of them is about to get blasted into debris.
Rauser made the typical rhetorical move of trying to suggest that Ed was really on /his/ side, and that Koukl is really the target here:
Fair enough. Except I agree with your critique of Koukl and I don't find your purported disagreement with me to be substantive. (In other words, you should say that Koukl's wrong and I'm right!)Smooth, Randal.
Ed responds by saying, well, Koukl only gave a short video here, and more can be said by him - indeed, he seems able to sidestep your objections. Randal's response to this is silence, at least until Koukl follows up with a larger explanation of his thoughts.
Koukl himself says he's in some agreement with Feser, but otherwise sticks to his guns: he sees Paul's condemnation of the atheist as both clear and severe. The atheist is culpable, on his reading of Paul. It's not a commendable act of honesty, or being-true-to-oneself - it is condemnable, even if sincere.
At this point, Rauser goes all-in against Koukl, and he makes an interesting move: he argues that if Koukl condemns the atheist for his unbelief, then the Christian should be condemned insofar as -they- lack belief too:
The dilemma for Koukl is clear: if atheists are morally culpable for suppressing God's revelation, the doubting Christian is as well. So if Koukl wants to retain this reading, then he can do so. But if he wants to be consistent, shouldn't he start condemning Christians who doubt for willfully suppressing God's revelation to them?Rauser has more to say, but I think this is the only real interesting point he brings up. And he invests heavily in it too. What's telling here is that Rauser immediately jumps to a pretty weird extrapolation of Koukl's views, and then calls Koukl out for not condemning Christians along with atheists. Why does Rauser care about that? Well, because he's playing a rhetorical game. This isn't about the argument anymore, it's about instinct and emotion, particularly what instinct and emotions can be provoked in onlookers.
Rauser immediately has support from the world's most boring and unsuccessful evangelical atheist, Edward T. Babinski - basically John Loftus, but somehow more dull. Probably not the best way to start out this encounter. (Let's face it; when you get low-ranking clerics of the Cult of Gnu on your side, it's generally evidence that you're doing something wrong.)
At this point, I should probably note that my opinion of Rauser has dived over the years. Koukl, meanwhile, I've only heard of indirectly. And Feser, of course, I'm a fan of.
Meanwhile, someone makes the point that a Christian 'willfully suppressing' their belief in God would not be a Christian, and Rauser tries to fire one from the hip to discourage this line of thought:
You're free to take the position that a self-described Christian who doubts is willfully supressing God's revelation and thereby is, in fact, not really a Christian. I don't agree with you, but at least you're consistent.This passes for a bit, until Brandon of Siris shows up (I'll be calling him that more, because it picks him out amongst other Brandons, and also makes him sound like a Lord of the Rings character.) Brandon being a sharp guy who I've snapped at before. Tenacious. Brandon's not buying Rauser's interpretation of the line:
I read JohnD's point in a different way, namely, that taking the doubting Christian to be "suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation: if the doubting Christian were actually "suppressing God's revelation" in the way an atheist does, he would stop being a Christian, for the same reasons atheists aren't Christians. And, indeed, this is a genuine problem with this entire line of argument: since there are relevant differences in mindset between a doubting Christian and an atheist, which are precisely what allow one to classify the one as a doubting Christian and the other as an atheist, it follows that it is entirely possible on Koukl's supposition to take the moral situation of the other to be different from the moral situation of the other.Sensible. But, Rauser's playing a game here: he reasons that knocking atheists for their unbelief is one thing, but no one's going to side with Koukl if ANYone with ANY doubt is a sinner too. Especially if they're considered to be /just as bad as atheists/.
There's just one problem, and Brandon's noticed it: this is a bullshit line that's not going to work. You certainly can't argue that a Christian experiencing doubt yet nevertheless believing is on the same plane as an atheist - the Christian believes and is actively committing to belief. The atheist, especially the admitted and avowed atheist, has given in entirely. Randal's move won't work - and it's a move meant for rhetorical sting more than anything. At best, he may be able to argue that unbelief in Christian is a -failing-, but not on par with out and out atheism. But that's diluted to the point of being uncontroversial; the controversy would lie back with the 'atheism as sin' claim.
Randal's having none of it. In part because it's his best shot at Koukl - if this goes down, his whole argument gets a whole lot harder to sell.
Brandon, you write that for "the doubting Christian to be 'suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation'".To me? This doesn't pass the smell test. Rauser's claiming what must follow given Koukl's view, but it's a sloppy extrapolation at best - not the sort of thing he should be confidently claiming, especially in light of the fact that he can't present any quote of Koukl taking this same line about Christians. And Brandon's having none of it in turn:
But that is not correct. On Koukl's view, anybody who fails to recognize the "plain and clear" evidence of God's existence and nature is culpable, whether that person identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist.
This seems to make the obvious error of conflating first-order and second-order recognition of plain evidence as if they were the same thing, which they are not. The distinction is an easily recognizable one in everyday life. To accept plain evidence is not the same as recognizing the plainness of the evidence in one's reasoning; the former requires no reflection, but the latter does.A word of wise to someone who argues with Brandon: don't try to pull a fast one on him. He's not going to bite, and he actually seems to really enjoy nailing hides to the wall of people who try to do so. He's relentless when he smells bullshit.
To put the same point from a different direction, your claim merely propagates the problem: "fails to recognize" in what way? Quite clearly the doubting Christian cannot "fail to recognize" things that point to the existence and goodness of God in the same way that an atheist "fails to recognize" things that show the existence and goodness of God, because ex hypothesi he is a doubting presently Christian, not a formerly Christian atheist. You have literally done nothing to show that the failure to recognize in each case is the same kind rather than different kinds of mindset that happen to be able to be described, if one is loose and vague, in broadly similar terms.
This goes on, and my prediction is that it's going to go on for a while, until Rauser likely flees the field, or tries to claw his way to a face-saving truce. He doesn't have the winning argument here, and he got too aggressive in trying to deploy a rhetorical move against Koukl.
As for my own view on the matter? I'm far more sympathetic to Koukl than Rauser. Biblically, I think it's clear that faith and belief is not just this thing that you either have or you don't. It's a clear and certain good to have, it's an evil to lack it, and one is meant to embrace it and heighten it in their lives. Rauser wants to sidestep this, and basically treat religious faith as this thing that, if you have it, hey wonderful - but if you don't, that's maybe unfortunate from one perspective but doggone it at least you're true to yourself and he still respects you, it's not a mark against you in any way.
I no longer think the latter is correct.