Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another Paine-in-the-Neck Anti-Christian Meme?

"Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man. No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it." – Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794.

Here are four objections to Paine’s argument.

1. Paine’s Comments Have Nothing to Do With Christianity’s Truth

It is a useful thing to ask what damage would be done to Christianity under some sort of “worst-case” scenario. How Paine-ful is it, really?

Readers will hopefully notice immediately that Paine says nothing that casts any doubt upon the truth of Christianity. His position is curious. To see how curious, consider that Paine grants the following, for argument’s sake. Firstly, he grants that God would be able to reveal truths to humankind. Secondly, he seems prepared to grant even that such a revelation has occurred.

Paine merely complains that, on his narrow definition of “revelation,” persons downstream from God’s direct revelatory actions would be under no “obligation” to believe what had been revealed.

Stop and ponder this. We are to envision a situation in which (the Christian) God actually exists and in which He has actually revealed things to various human beings.

Despite these things, Paine thinks that those of us whose knowledge of these actual revelations is posterior to the initial, divine communications, are under no obligation to believe them. On this reading, Paine seems to display an extraordinary level of bad faith – in the colloquial sense.

To be more specific, Paine basically says that even if God exists and even if God has communicated to human beings, he refuses to acknowledge it. It seems to me that all one has to have in order to be repulsed by this notion is a simple curiosity about the way the world actually is. Does God actually exist? Is there actual revelation? It’s a perverse – in fact, incoherent – conception of “reason” that says, “Well, yes, okay. God exists and He has revealed things to various individuals. But I don’t believe it.”

Someone might object: “Paine is simply granting, hypothetically and provisionally, that God and revelation exist. He may not believe that either or both actually do.”

Notice, though, that Paine has given no argument against the existence of God or against the possibility of revelation. Even if there were no non-“hearsay” (in Paine’s sense) instances of alleged divine communications, it would follow neither that God does not exist nor that Christianity is false.

2. Even Without Revelation, Christianity Is Still Supported by Reason and History

Number one, it is plausible that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason alone. Numerous arguments have been advanced along this line, for example, various cosmological,[1] moral,[2] ontological,[3] and teleological[4] arguments (among others). Thus, even if there were no (warranted) examples of bona fide propositional revelation, neither atheism nor even agnosticism would, ipso facto, be justified.

Number two, it is reasonable to think that the New Testament documents (or documents relevantly similar to them) could be approached and analyzed according to the canons of historical science. As Protestant philosopher William Lane Craig is fond of saying, this approach is sufficient to yield three historically supported points – that there was an empty tomb, that there were post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and that Christianity sprang into existence among religious Jews who were tenaciously exclusivistic (that is, they were not inclined towards syncretism).

It is not irrational to believe that there is no convincing, naturalistic explanation for these three points. One may then infer that the only satisfying account is that offered by Christianity. But if this historical approach is sound (and Paine here gives no reason to think that it is not), then even if there were no such thing as (warranted) revelation, even explicitly Christian versions of theism would remain justified.

To again quote Professor Craig: “According to New Testament critic D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object …on historical grounds; those who deny [points like the empty tomb] do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”[5]

And all of this is the worst-case scenario. One would have to buy Paine’s restrictive definition of “revelation” and his criticism of it as “hearsay.” But what does he have in mind?

3. Paine’s Model Leads to (Unwarranted) Radical Skepticism

Paine seems to be advancing an extreme empiricism. It verges on the sort that counsels disbelief in anything that is not immediately evident to one’s senses. In any case, it takes a radically skeptical line on the epistemic value of testimony.

Think about the repercussions of this. If we can only trust direct testimony – that is, testimony communicated to us without any intermediary – then we could place no confidence in books of any sort or on any topic.

For instance, this would do violence to the discipline of history. How do I know that was any such person as “George Washington,” for instance? Or for that matter, why should I believe that the text on the picture owes to “Thomas Paine”? After all, my beliefs about both come to me secondhand, third-hand, fourth-hand, and so on.

My beliefs about various scientific discoveries would likewise be destroyed by this skeptical hammer. I may hear an astronaut report, for example, that he or she observed the earth to be spheroidal. By Paine’s criteria, perhaps, for him or her, then, it is spheroidal. Such astronauts had direct perceptual experiences to that effect. But what “obligation” would I have to believe such things? For me, they are simply secondhand reports. I wasn’t “there,” after all.

Of course, some might say that in the case of scientific reports, what is reported is in principle verifiable. But, though this may be conceded, it does not resolve the issue of unwarranted testimony.

Suppose that “hearsay” comes down to “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate.” And suppose that scientific reports are, in principle, susceptible to substantiation. It seems that, on Paine’s model, we would have to undertake and complete the substantiation before we would be justified in our beliefs.

Take the reports of a spheroidal earth. Of course, if I traveled into outer space, presumably, I could see what the astronauts saw, and thus “substantiate” it for myself. Or perhaps I could perform some mathematical calculations here on earth. These are possible. But do Paine’s principles require that I do one or more of these things before I would be warranted in believing the astronauts’ reports? After all, from my vantage point, they are simply reporting something that they saw. I didn’t see it. Why does what they saw place any “obligation” upon me? Who thinks that this is rational?

Interestingly, revelation is also verifiable, at least in principle. Surely, if God could tell such-and-such to so-and-so, then He could tell me also. And it’s not impossible that he would.

But what if one worries that I have no clear-cut method for verification in the case of revelation. Think again about George Washington and Thomas Paine. Why should I think that George Washington was the “first president” or that Thomas Paine wrote the words herein attributed to him? I wasn’t there. I didn’t personally see Washington get inaugurated and Paine didn’t tell those things to me. How could I even begin to “substantiate” any historical claims at all? History depends upon testimony.

Perhaps I could become an archaeologist and see what artifacts and historical traces I could find. But, notice that, on Paine-ian principles, I would have to do this myself. It would avail me nothing to read about the alleged findings of others! Is this reasonable?

I think not.

Likely, someone is thinking: But these are “scientific” matters; Paine is speaking about “religion.” What of it? What we would need, firstly, is some serviceable definitions of “religion” and “science,” followed immediately by some argument that testimony about “religion” should have more restrictive parameters than testimony about “science” when it comes to believability.

I would be interested to inspect such an argument. But, alas, none is to be found in Paine.

What we find, instead, is a sort of anti-supernatural bias. And many people today relate to that. But then, in the first place, short of an argument for atheism, it may have been more appropriate for Paine to have titled his book The Age of Anti-Supernaturalism. As things stand, he appears to have simply co-opted the word “Reason” as a euphemism for his prejudices.

Why think that the only people who are “reasonable” are those who adopt an anti-supernatural orientation? Paine gives no reason.

4. Paine’s Definition of “Revelation” is Questionable

Up to this point I have simply been assuming Paine’s definition of “revelation.” It is worth noting that the Catholic Church draws a distinction between “public” and “private” revelation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) relates: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith.”[6]

As Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin states: “Because they do not require divine and Catholic faith, private revelations do not impose an obligation of belief…”.[7]

However, as I mentioned, private revelation is contrasted with public revelation. “The term ‘public Revelation’ refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments.”[8]

In “[t]he Christian economy, …no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[9]

When it comes to private revelation, Catholics agree with Paine! If “something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only.” The only one bound to believe a private revelation is the one to whom the revelation is given.

But Paine arguably gets the core of Christian revelation wrong. The Bible is not considered “private revelation.” It’s public revelation.[10]

How could Paine object? He began by admitting:

“No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases.”

Doesn’t this plausibly apply both to private and to public revelation? Shall we think that the omnipotent, omnipresent God of the Bible would be unable to communicate to us publicly?

It seems not.

But then, though it may be agreed that, if “something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only,” it is not the case that this exhausts the revelatory options.

For God could also reveal something to more than one person. Or, to put it differently, it seems that could effect public revelation. In fact, this is what Christians hold that God has, in fact, done.

Thus, after all, Paine either owes us an argument that denies the possibility of public revelation, or he owes us an admission that the considerations that he does advance apply only to private revelation. However, as I have indicated, many Christians (especially Catholics) happily concede this.


Even if Paine’s argument succeeds, Christianity is not shown to be false. At best, Christian revelation is shown to be not “obligatory” to believe. However, in order for Paine to establish this much, he would need to sell us on a radical skepticism that would nearly totally undermine disciplines like history and science. Managing to salvage history (and other disciplines) would provide Christianity with the possibility of non-revelation-dependent supporting evidence. For it is arguable that reason and history (either alone or jointly applied) go a considerable distance toward establishing many Christian-friendly conclusions – and certainly toward establishing bare theism – entirely apart from revelation. Finally, Paine ignores, or was ignorant of, the Catholic distinction between public and private revelation. In the face of this distinction, Paine’s argument collapses entirely.

All in all, Paine either shows that virtually any historical proposition is entirely unjustified, or he merely gives voice to his own pet variety of anti-supernaturalism. Either way, I don’t see much for the Christian to worry about.

[1] E.g., G. Leibniz’s argument for a Sufficient Reason of the cosmos (universe). 1. Everything that exists has a sufficient reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 2. The universe exists. 3. Therefore, has a sufficient reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 4. But the universe is not necessary. 5. Therefore, the sufficient reason for the universe lies in an external cause.

Or the Kalam Cosmological argument. 6. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 7. The universe began to exist. 8. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

In both cases, one then reasons that the relevant cause has various properties. For one thing, the cause must be non-physical, space-less, and timeless (since, by “universe,” we mean all physical things that exist in space and time); extremely powerful (in order to bring a universe into being); extremely intelligent (ditto); and even personal (because if it were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then either the universe should be eternal – which, according to modern cosmologists, it is not – or else the external cause would need its own external cause – and we’d be off-and-running on a vicious infinite regress).

[2] 9. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. 10. But objective moral values do exist. 11. Therefore, God exists.

[3] 12. It’s possible that a maximal being (i.e., a being with all “great-making” qualities or “perfections”) exists. 13. If it’s possible that a maximal being exists, then there is some possible world in which a maximal being exists. 14. But one of the perfections is necessary existence. 15. Therefore, if a maximal being exists in some possible world, then a maximal being exists in all possible worlds. 16. The actual world (i.e., our world) is part of the set of all possible worlds. 17. Therefore, if a maximal being exists in all possible worlds, then a maximal being exists in the actual world.

[4] 18. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance, design, or necessity. 19. It’s not due to chance or necessity. 20. Therefore, it’s due to design.

[5] William Lane Craig, debate with Michael Tooley, Univ. of Colo. [Boulder, Colo.], Nov. 1994, <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-tooley-debate>; citing David Hendrick Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection, London: Collins, 1972, p, 41.

[6] CCC 67; <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_PH.HTM>.

[7] Jimmy Akin, “Revelation: Public and Private,” Catholic Answers Magazine, n.d., <http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/revelation-public-and-private>.

[8] Ibid.; quoting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Message of Fatima.

[9] CCC 66; loc. cit.

[10] Very roughly, the idea is that the Old Testament traces God’s activity amongst and with the people of Israel. In the New Testament, God’s public activities involve Jesus’s life and Passion as well as the institution and beginnings of the Church.


  1. Paine Overlooked Full Literary/Philosophic Significance/Appreciation Of Dear Christianity

    Christianity (New Test.) ought best be understood as rationalist literary dialectic to preceding Pharisaic anti-thesis, esp. regarding "midrash" and "Oral Law Tradition" subjectivism, hence satanism. Thus New Test. and Christ restates and clarifies Old Test.

    So Christianity, in New Test., presented a perfectly rational philosophy embedded within the story-line text which Paine failed to entirely grasp, but probably most accurately understood was mis-represented by so many false Christians to being merely a sort/version of the same old Pharisaic MYSTICISM/subjectivism.

    So Paine was quite justified to denouncing mysticism, including the Christian-styled sort. And his argument is quite good, far as it goes.

    For in reason and logic, one cannot prove a universal negative, that there is no God.

    Hence the great achievement of Christianity, beginning w. the literature (New Test.) is (a) it demonstrates the Godly quality of TRUTH (Gosp. JOHN 14:6), worthy of worship, the greatest value and virtue, this (b) against satanism and lies, in general (JOHN 8:44), and (c) specifically singling out and identifying Jews ("Jew" defined as followers of Pharisees/Talmud, distinct fm Judean, an error made by the author of this article) as foremost satanists, demonstrated by history and reality. (d) Dear Christianity further demonstrates a rational, practical, understandable ETHIC, following in perfect reason, by which to live and conduct one's life, far superior to the perpetual warfare and enmity of humanity of Pharisaism.

    So in his striving to be rational and properly respectful of TRUTH, Paine actually follows Christian ideal and ethic; Paine just doesn't fully understand the Christian literary and philosophic dialectic as regarding Pharisaism, satanism, and objective nature of reality.


  2. Paine Was Inspired By Holy Spirit, Surely

    Regarding the blog-author's summary, we observe it begins: "[e]ven if Paine’s argument succeeds, Christianity is not shown to be false." And the summary ends, far too condescendingly and smugly: "...I don’t see much for the Christian to worry about." For a true Christian, truly possessed of Holy Spirit, doesn't "worry."

    For there's quite a bit to be concerned about, however, as we see establishment Christianity is thoroughly corrupt and literally OWNED by satanists, using Christianity for purpose, ultimately, of genocide in accord w. Agenda-21 pop. reduction. Just listen to the present Pope of Rome, for example.

    Is Christianity "false"?--well, it merely depends upon which basic premise, in accord w. "first philosophy" one chooses (remember first premises can't be "proven"). If one chooses Aristotelian objectivity, our dear Christianity makes excellent sense.

    But if one chooses non-objectivity, say subjectivism or full-out mysticism (Platonist "good," for example), then Christianity might be understandably (under the circumstances) rejected as false. And we remind the readers of people who are brought-up in the mentality of satanism and, for example, Judaism.

    So Paine's complaints are quite reasonable, esp. in regard to his emphasis upon method and epistemology. Paine merely fails to see to the real substance of the Christian story, the dialectic of Christ vs. the satanists led by Pharisees.

    Thus for over two hundred yrs now Paine's quandary, regarding mysticism, is valid for the capture of establishment Christianity. Luckily the Christians are warned fm Christian New Test. text itself of "false prophets," and further, we know simply fm history of establishment persecution of heroes like Martin Luther. And we see even this history regarding Luther is much mis-represented by the establishment figures of his own Church. Do people begin to realize it's nearly impossible to get a copy of Luther's work, "The Jews and their Lies"?

    So what are the establishment churches good for?--they preserve the actual stories and that precious record of dialectic btwn Christ and the Pharisees--this is what Paine, and so many of humanity still, over-looked, that full record of that basic dialectic btwn truth and lies. For they cannot fail to admit the triumph of Christ (= truth, Gosp. JOHN 14:6), as St. Paul reminds us, the resurrection of truth (= Christ), as truth is God and cannot be killed, no matter how hard the Pharisaics try--because even the Pharisees would admit (though they refuse) they can't kill God's (objective) reality. Hence truth ALWAYS comes-back to bite them.

    So the true Christian shouldn't worry--as that's what is purpose of Holy Spirit (reason, honesty, integrity), to allay any such worry. But problem remains for the (earthly) fate of humanity who are still soooo complacent in face of satanic ferocity threatening w. such horrendous pop. reduction.

    For satanism is real, practical problem, though it isn't complicated, being (a) rejection of objective reality, (b) extreme subjectivism, the subject making himself God, this actually the case of very clever people who make this satanism most practical as in way of collective subjectivism, a difficult thing for gentiles, but much easier, as we see, for Jews, some masons, and surely for a few others too. And even though Paine may overlook the full problem of satanism, yet he makes honest effort for Holy Spirit.


  3. Macro-Analysis Of Paine's Ironic Critique Of Christian Establishment, Dogma

    Considering Paine's critique of Christianity, we see he well upholds the Holy Spirit for reason, honesty, and integrity as he opposes the utterly corrupt, anti-Christ Vatican officialdom and mystic doctrine styled in Christianity, though Paine does make an egregious error as he totally overlooks the actual story-line to Christian literature, esp. for the dialectic of Christ (= truth, Gosp. JOHN 14:6) vs. Pharisaic satanism and lies (JOHN 8:44), Christian truth necessarily founded in Aristotelian objectivity vs. satanic (extreme) subjectivism. Thus Paine fails for the substance of Christian literature, entirely pre-occupied w. method (reason vs. mysticism/superstition).

    Paine failed to see, as Martin Luther did not fail, the Vatican officialdom had become simply another and/or new Pharisaic establishment, mystic, subjectivistic, hence satanic, an enemy of Holy Spirit of reason, honesty, integrity, which reason, Paine upheld so nobly.

    So regarding the full and proper philosophic task and analysis, Paine fell short, seeing only to method (reason vs. mysticism), failing for the basic substance, the metaphysical premise of objective reality vs. Pharisaic (extreme) subjectivism.

    Most interesting then is that present culture and society continues for this complete failure, as of Paine's, for Christian philosophy and substance, so many people imagining that Christianity and Judaism are mere variations/versions of one another rather than ABSOLUTE OPPOSITES and Hegelian-style anti-theses.

    Further, for Paine also the Christian lesson for ethics is lost, so many people believing, evidently, Christianity preaches surrender, passivity, even suicidal defeatism, as for example, Nietzsche--thus the horrific misconception of society which only benefits satanists who now so much control and dominate the society, the central-bankers who want to genocide the people and are quite well on their way to success by the looks of things.

    But the real Christianity is still well capable of resurrection, though it will probably require a back-ground of horrendous tragedy to supply motivation for the people of USA if not inspiration.

    So if we compare the two critics of establishment Christianity, Tom Paine and Martin Luther, we see Paine well upheld the Holy Spirit for Christian rationalist method, though he mistakenly imagined mysticism/subjectivism was part of the real substance. Luther saw further to the substance, how Christianity had become corrupt and Pharisaic. But Luther didn't see all the way for proper Christian substance and analysis, unfortunately.

    Heidegger was yet another who strove for a great macro-analysis of Christianity in philosophic terms, and his failure was instructive, along similar lines to Nietzsche. But Paine surely did the best job, most useful and informative for humanity and society, so outstanding for method yet failing for that basic substance.

    I'm glad I studied Homer who provided the very best comparison for aesthetic literature by which to grasp and assess our dear Christianity. Thus Paine was a failure, everything considered, but instructive and informative nonetheless, much like Luther and Nietzsche, Nietzsche so entertaining.