My Deconversion Story--Criticized

Dave Armstrong criticized my deconversion experience here. Please note my comment afterward. Does anyone understand why I don't bother to respond in detail to such drivel? He wants to fault me. So why bother dialoguing with him about it? No matter what I say, I'll be wasting my time. Oh, but I wish rather than fault-finding some Christian would seek to understand. But they cannot try, even though on any other issue of disagreement intelligent people will try. It's called respecting people as people, and Dave's Christianity does not do that with people who don't agree with him.

20 comments:

Daniel said...

I tried to post this at Dave's site, but Haloscan cuts off the comment length at 250 words.

Dave's words are in italics:

generally this indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching

So him being in trouble is worse than you losing faith? Seems odd to claim, esp given some Biblical characters, whose troubles were always overcome by faith, rather than vice versa.

Even that won't suffice to prevent apostasy if there are other deficiencies because the mind is only one aspect of a well-rounded faith.

Do you think that belief is not a completely mental affair?

Much philosophy can make one go astray as well, if too much skeptical and fallacious philosophy takes hold on one's brain. But in the end it comes down to God's grace and whether we accept it and continue to live by it, or reject it.

I can honestly say that this is why I no longer believe -- atheological and philosophical arguments.

It seems you have an interesting change-up in views -- before you are emphasizing the integral issue of apologia, now you are cautioning those who may want to build defenses not to allow "much philosophy" to "take hold"...how can a Christian interested in answering doubts and such know which philosophical ideas will "take hold", and does this "taking hold" indicate that the philosophical arguments are actually strong?

Your answer seems to waver here as you indicate God's grace, something that always seems difficult to flesh out from free will. Do you think God's grace may be lessened or withdrawn if someone is reading "bad" philosophical ideas? Do you liken such reading to going into a strip club and expecting God to protect you from it? The philosophical arguments are as "seductive"? Is it perhaps because they are sound and difficult to reply to?

There is a reason many Christians lose their faith in college.

I wrote a post on this phenomenon. Do you think it possible that it is because many Christians are insulated from the most serious objections to faith, and evidence that damages their conception thereof? I certainly do. I think this is a huge reason for it -- the whole reason for going to college is to enlarge your borders/perspectives/knowledge, but this is dangerous to any religion. All religions work via identifying "us/them" and most have a protective effect (purge "them" if they infiltrate "us").

lest we get duped by truly stupid, utterly unnecessary dichotomies such as this "dogma vs. philosophy" or "faith vs. reason" claptrap

Responding to this adequately would take a lot of time, so I would just quote Aquinas and Gregory the Great:
Aquinas said, "“If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections--if he has any--against faith.” He admits this directly after quoting Gregory the Great, “faith has no merit in those things of which human reason brings its own experience.”

Surely you will admit that a careful handling of dogma, philosophy, faith and reason does lead to some dichotomies? Esp the problem of revelation v reason?

in the end, belief-systems must be analyzed of their own accord.

I agree, but we must keep in mind that Xianity has a particular truth claim to evaluate and analyze that involves the indwelling, sanctification, etc., of the believer. One of the few truth claims that we can evaluate just from observation.

The fact that my wife or child may die or that my reputation is ruined, or that I go bankrupt or get a fatal disease, or become handicapped due to an assault has nothing to do with, that I can see, of whether the truth claims of Christianity are acceptable or not.

It certainly depends upon your interpretation of Xianity, doesn't it? Some going through such tragedies would point to the covenant nature of Xianity, and question if God was involved in another "bet" with the devil. Some would question the idea that God speaks to them at all, if they spend hours each day "communing" yet had no warning whatsoever that their child had an advanced stage of cancer and that no one knew until it was too late...etc., etc. Surely you can see how the question of the relationship of the believer to God falls under this category? There are many teachings about the "covenant", and so I would think you could see some falsification potential here.

People know that's not possible on merely human power alone. It contradicts everything we know about ourselves.

Ah, so you believe in Allah now?

He shows poor hermeneutical skills here.

And this is what Steve Hays would say to you. (Steve is a YEC) And AiG, and ICR, and etc., they all have their "experts" who would disagree with your interpretation of Genesis and its exegesis.

That's the view of many of us Christians, and we're not all losing faith like John. Quite the contrary. I've been doing Christian apologetics for 25 years now, and I've never been caused to doubt my faith as a result of further study (and I've done tons of that). I've always had my faith strengthened, in defending the faith, seeing how solid it is on rational grounds, and observing the weakness of attacks upon it.

Up above, you cautioned those who would delve into "much philosophy". Do you see how one could read your words before, and these words, and see a bit of a contradiction? Either you can admit that there are rational grounds for rejecting Christianity or not, but you seem to admit there is some sort of grounds that people do, upon having "too much [secular] education"...

No, but they could explain how a person would be more open to thoughts of a contrary nature to Christianity, if one is going through a period when he wonders about why God might do thus-and-so, or not do this or that, and if Christians are not being particularly consoling or understanding of his crisis. We don't develop in a vacuum.

Ah, now we're back to the catch-all factor: God's grace...

There is no question that this happens, and that intellectual rationales are only the merest facade for the real or far more important reasons.

Sometimes it does, just as many people merely believe out of tradition, fear or hope, and not serious rational analysis.

One thing to keep in mind though is that freedom does not necessitate atheism. Rejecting Christianity is just that, and it leaves one with quite a number of options for "freedom" if that is all they want -- from Buddhism to Krishna to any other Eastern philosophy, then to a sort of open/loose theism or deism, then agnosticism...etc.

Everyone wants others to think that they made these big changes in opinion based on complete rationality and objectivity.

I agree -- we all want to at least THINK that we're rational, and appear that way to others.

But any look at ourselves quickly disabuses us of that notion: at least in any pure sense.

That's a difficult claim to back up. First, looking inward is subjective, definitionally. Now, we all act irrationally at times, and often in retrospect we can even see it and admit it. But to say what you've said, bereft of argument, is...well...just another assertion.

I wonder if he still does, and if not, why atheism would change a respect for the rights of the most defenseless and innocent of human beings? It seems to me that the pro-life position is almost self-evidently right and moral, without the necessity of any theological basis.

I will admit you will find some sympatheis with me, esp regarding late-terms. However, in the end, it comes down to a question of value -- what makes human what they are, what gives them rights, and what rights does one have over their own body?

I choose to place someone's legal right to decide whether they will abort a 2-3 month old fetus above any presumed "rights" of something which can rightly be described as less complex, less value-laden in the biological and psychological sense, than a mouse. I think the difficulty in separating this from theology lies in the concept of value -- Xians believe the soul itself is an embuement of value.

It did? Not if it doesn't exist!

He certainly should've stated this (and the next statement) otherwise here. The only way to make sense of it, in light of his perspective now, is to inject, "What I thought of as..."

But Christianity (rightly understood) is the remedy of that, not its cause.

Hardly. Christianity creates guilt for normal and biological urges and behaviors. It is a source of much guilt where there is no moral argument contrariwise, especially with respect to doubt, sex, self-interest-first behavior...etc.

Yeah, me neither. Very good question.

Want a speculation? I'll bet it's because there are far fewer "true Christians" than you'd want to believe, and most just go through the motions out of tradition, to keep up appearances, and because of family. Just a speculation...

Does John give far less to charity than he used to, because he is free from guilt?

Speaking for me only, I now see the huge waste in tithing that could be going to real charities -- places that use >90% of their resources to actually help people, rather than provide infrastructure and etc. for their organizations. Here's what I did this past weekend (Amber is my wife and I took that picture).

I see. So the more we can sin, the less guilt we feel? That couldn't be more opposite of the truth than it is.

Perhaps the better way to see this is, "Why adopt ridiculous notions of perfection that don't comport with reality, which induces guilt, rather than building an ethical system that actually comes into contact with real life, and living by it, so that you don't have to deal with guilt?"

I'd lay my "sins" on the table next to anyone else's, any time. I'm a quite transparent kind of guy. People know when I feel bad, and I am a terrible liar.

That's how I (admittedly, probably cynically) read this. So he has simply gone from overscrupulosity (one extreme, and a distortion of Christianity and discipleship), to another (a marvelously "guilt-free" existence: so he says, anyway). But I don't believe it. I believe guilt is there, down deep, and knowledge of God is there too (buried and suppressed).

You believe that...and maybe you're right, although you have no evidence, but you also should consider that people are the products of their environment, and John was a minister for a very very long time. You don't "shake off" deep-seated convictions overnight, nor the guilt response you've held since you were 18. [assuming you're right]

Two considerations:
1) Do we justify Jesus' words that it is the same to hate someone as to murder? Was this merely a metaphor to point out that bad thoughts are bad? Ditto with adultery/lust?
2) His point is that overscrupulosity can be avoided by saying, "How silly is it to think that we can control our thoughts!"

But I have never doubted the fact that God loves me and that He is merciful and all-loving.

Never doubted that, eh? I guess some of us can believe easier than others. I always had doubts, and fears of going to hell, ESP as a devout Christian.

Nor do we see even a trace in this in someone like the Apostle Paul, who has a confident, almost boasting faith.

The least of the apostles? The guy who appealed to people he knew in order to make his case that he was authoritative in knowing what God wanted?

The guy who said he was "a Pharisee of the Pharisees" and killed Christians earlier in his life?

Perhaps he just wasn't as well-endowed (conscience-wise) as some of us, huh?

So this becomes a major factor. Personal elements that made John feel this excessive guilt and inability to accept God's mercy and forgiveness, are neither Christianity's nor God's fault.

I'll agree with you on this -- guilt and community should have very little to do with our analysis of Christianity.

Personal elements aren't determined or caused by God? So the density of one's conscience (a cultural and mental phenomenon) has nothing to do with God? How sovereign is your God?

Daniel said...

PS: Back to the charity aspect of things, we had a post about it a while back.

here

Don't want to sidetrack the thread, tho.

John W. Loftus said...

I know there are a few Christians who visit here regularly who knew me when I was a Christian. They could easily dispell the false assumptions and distortions Dave writes about. Why? Because they know/knew me. But to do so they would have to reveal their names, since an anynomous poster would be dismissed out of hand. And they have reasons for not doing so. Suffice it to say that I was every bit the Christian that Dave now claims to be, except that I was a much better apologist than he. He can dispute this all he wants to, since he doesn't know me. Fine. I can say no more.

Matthew said...

John,

While the tone of Dave's critique is a bit pleasant and not really nasty, I am reminded of when Frank Walton wrote a very short critique my deconversion story, pretty much attacking me as being weak-minded. He believes that I would still be a Christian today if I only had a more indepth Christian education as far as apologetics goes.

He couldn't be more wrong. I wouldn't be a Christian today if being a Christian meant spending "eternity" with him. At least Dave Armstrong seems a likeable kind of a guy, whereas I consider Walton to be a first class slimeball trailing closely behind Robert "Head-Up-the-Ass" Turkel.

Matthew

John W. Loftus said...

Matthew, you're right. I'm just tired of pompous asses on the internet who go around claiming they are superior to me in terms of intelligence and faith. Such arrogance makes me vomit. I'm an easy target, because they simply didn't know me. People like Dave would've looked up to me back then, but he has the audacity to go around claiming he is superior to me in both intelligence and with a deeper faith. I seriously doubt that he is, given what I've read from him. I was a much better apologist than he is now. And there probably are people smarter and with a deeper faith than I had too, so that doesn't bother me. It the self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I. The fact is they do not know this! I'll say it again. They do not know this!

Daniel said...

All,

The only person I delete every comment left by is FW. Let's not even mention his name, as it improves his ego and hit count.

whizler said...

John,

I don’t believe Dave Armstrong’s response was directed at you personally. Why?

It’s my belief that apologetics is aimed not so much at the non-believer, as the believer. The role of the apologist, in my experience, is to provide some kind of response to attacks on the citadel of belief. The content and veracity of the response is of secondary importance to the fact that a response was made, because it allows a believer to remain comforted in his/her belief knowing that the charge was answered. The average Christian can say, “John Loftus? The ex-Christian? That Dave guy showed John’s de-conversion was simply a matter of incorrect understanding. I need not concern myself with his story.” As you know, apostates are extremely embarrassing for a faith. An attempt—any attempt—to show that some Fatal Flaw in their character was the cause of their apostasy will be readily grasped at. Apologists are simply fulfilling the demand.

This role is readily evident in Mormon apologetics, where attempts to buttress the Book of Mormon’s all-but-evaporated credibility has reached comic proportions. Since I’ve been reading Earl Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle,” I see many of the same dynamics at work in apologetic reviews of this book.

My advice: don’t take it personally. While you may be the putative target, it’s a different audience Dave is speaking to.

Dave Armstrong said...

So, lessee. First, according to John, I was ignorant (about the whole problem of evil issue). Oh, before that John claimed that I denied that it was even an issue at all (which is grossly untrue). Then he went on to claim that I am particularly "cocksure."

Then after my critique it was that I thought I was a better person than he is and thought he was dishonest. Now I am a "joke" and he was a much better apologist than I am and had more faith to boot, back in his Christian days (that's obvious, isn't it: he now being an atheist?).

I don't respect people as people, or folks who disagree with me. I supposedly think I am smarter than him. Now I am a "pompous ass" and "self-assured arrogant idiot."

Sounds real rational to me . . .

Finally, someone has a lick of sense in the comments and recognized that the wild charges of "personal attack" are unfounded (though with a strong atheist / agnostic / skeptical bias nonetheless). My replies are in brackets, interspersed:

At 6:03 PM, October 16, 2006, whizler said...

John,

I don’t believe Dave Armstrong’s response was directed at you personally. Why?

It’s my belief that apologetics is aimed not so much at the non-believer, as the believer. The role of the apologist, in my experience, is to provide some kind of response to attacks on the citadel of belief. The content and veracity of the response is of secondary importance to the fact that a response was made


[the last sentence is untrue. If an apologetic is based on falsehood, it is worthless, even if effective. If I didn't believe Christianity was true, I wouldn't devote my life to defending it.]

, because it allows a believer to remain comforted in his/her belief knowing that the charge was answered.

[of course I would say it really was answered, not only pretended to be answered to supposedly comfort the ignorant and deluded]

The average Christian can say, “John Loftus? The ex-Christian? That Dave guy showed John’s de-conversion was simply a matter of incorrect understanding. I need not concern myself with his story.”

[hey; no one is dealing with my actual reasoning except for Daniel Morgan, in part. That is supposed to show us Christians that atheists have a better case?]

As you know, apostates are extremely embarrassing for a faith.

[I don't see how. Every belief-system has people who forsake it for something else. Why should that be embarrassing?]

An attempt—any attempt—to show that some Fatal Flaw in their character was the cause of their apostasy

[I don't regard faulty premsies and thinking as necessarily a character flaw: only if it was deliberate, and I didn't claim that John's errors were that]

will be readily grasped at. Apologists are simply fulfilling the demand.

. . . My advice: don’t take it personally. While you may be the putative target, it’s a different audience Dave is speaking to.


[it's true that the apologist's main audience is the Christian, because they are the ones I am trying to equip to have a rational, defensible, plausible, cogent faith. I don't expect to persuade any atheist. If it happens, it's an extra "bonus." My job is to defeat the "defeaters," as Alvin Plantinga would say.

If John Loftus must take that personally, when it has nothing to do with that at all, and must do so in every conceivable universe, so be it. His hyper-sensitivity and ultra-thin skin are beyond my control, and I think at least two people here can see that (for which I thank them).

If we want to talk "personal", just count up all the name-calling, epithets and rank insults John has made towards me. All I've done is basically protest against those and called for calm, rational discussion minus those silly distractions.

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong said...

It occurred to me that if John Loftus is SO much sharper than I am, and SO much of a better apologist for the faith he later abandoned, then why is it he fundamentally misunderstands the role of the Christian apologist and who it is they primarily write for?

* * *

Also, here are some comments I made on my blog that should be considered (at least by still-rationally-functioning minds that haven't gone off into the stratosphere tilting at windmills).

The following words are all my own, posted on my blog under my critique:

1) Quite the contrary; we're all sinners. No one is any better, at bottom, than anyone else. Whatever good is in us is because of God's grace, not our inherent superiority to someone else.

2) I simply disagree with your positions and your denigration of Christianity. Your position is not you. If you write about such things publicly, then do you not expect that Christians will respond to them? You actually encouraged me to respond to your deconversion, so I did.

3) I never remotely implied such a thing; nor do I believe it. Your problem (at least insofar as this version of your story suggests) is intellectual, not a matter of dishonesty. Bad premises lead to bad conclusions. I didn't see anything that would bring any Christian doctrine into question at all. Sorry, that's my honest opinion. Or am I dishonest?

4) Well, I know one thing: you are extremely sensitive to Christian critiques, even when done respectfully and not attacking you as a person or immoral scoundrel, etc. I can understand that, but it has the effect of alienating those (such as myself) who simply don't have the attitudes you are attributing to them.

5) I understand that many Christians have treated you rottenly. I've seen some recent things that shocked me and were terrible witnesses to Christianity. That's contemptible. But I am not among them. I don't share their attitudes. I never said you were especially evil (more than any other sinner, of whom I am foremost) or damned, etc. Catholics (to their credit, and we have many faults, believe me) generally don't do that. We leave those judgments up to God.

6) You think I've attacked your person? Good grief. You should see the amazing things that are written about me. And the worst comes from fellow Christians (some of them even Catholics).

7) Now get this straight, John (in big capital letters):

I *****DO***** CONSIDER YOU TO BE A SINCERE AND HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL PERSON.

Got that? Now if you say I am lying, then obviously all discourse is over. But it wasn't because of me. God is my witness for that, and also (since you think He doesn't exist) all who have read our exchanges.

8) Is that why I spent a good 3-4 hours last night, answering to the best of my ability? If I didn't take you seriously, I would simply ignore you, just like I do (almost always) the anti-Catholics, liberal Catholics, "traditionalist" Catholics, flat-earthers, etc. You have it exactly backwards, and it is amazing how often you do that.

9) I was simply resplying to the reasoning you gave. Sorry you don't like that, but this is how intellectual exchange works. It's astonishing to me that you have such a thin skin, especially since you have an academic past. Are you truly this unable to withstand any critique? If so, then I suggest to you that you don't encourage a person to analyze your deconversion, if this is how you're gonna react. It'll keep your blood pressure down to an acceptable level.

10) If I failed to give you sufficient benefit of the doubt, I apologize. I thought I had done so, but maybe not. One can always be more charitable, no doubt.

11) What did I prescribe? Faith in God? Imagine that! An apologist suggesting that faith in God and God's grace might do someone some good. LOL

12) It has little to do with how "smart" or "stupid" one is. Rather, all Christians must be equipped to deal with objections or they will be in trouble. I'm writing this paper mostly for the benefit of Christians, so I can help them avoid your sad fate.

13) It's partly intellectual and partly a loss of faith. No Christian can believe apart from God's grace and his own faith. This is what we believe. I'm sorry if it offends you to state it.

14) Of course there are hundreds of particulars I don't know about. I'd have to see those to comment.

15) But if your brief deconversion is so woefully inadequate, why put it on your blog at all? Of what good is it if it doesn't explain 1/100th of your journey? Why don't you take it down? It will actually mislead people, if it is so bad and utterly incomplete. . . . take the Reader's Digest version down since no one can understand you without reading your book. I find that strange. I don't require someone to read any of my books before they would have the slightest inkling of the cause of my conversion. They can learn that in about 15 pages. Anyone who has a head on his shoulders should be able to summarize complex reasons into an abridged version. This is the heart of what it means to be a good teacher. In my upcoming book I had to take major Christian doctrines and distill the defense of them into two pages each. This was very difficult! I think you could do similarly with your deconversion: certainly in 20-30 pages folks could get the main reasons for it.

16) I would be happy to read it [John's book] and reply, provided I get it in html or Word or some computer format, for free. I also would need to see some semblance of open-mindedness and good-natured spirit of dialogue from you before I would even consider spending that much time. I spent four hours last night. To answer your book with another million objections to Christianity would take possibly an entire week or more (if I were to devote myself to a thorough dismantling of the atheology therein). But if all you intend to do is call me a "joke" and spew a bunch of paranoid nonsense, as here, forget it. My time is too valuable for that sort of silliness.

17) [John] And your confidence is utterly amazing.

It is, isn't it? Praise God for that (Philippians 4:7). It don't come from me, that's for sure.

18) I just think it's very sad that an intelligent person like you can offer nothing but mockery and name-calling when someone gives you a (I think) thoughtful critique of your deconversion. You should welcome the opportunity as a chance to disprove Christianty by disposing of the critique. Instead you take the fool's way out of epithets and irrational dismissal and false attribution of any number of mythical characteristics to your dialectical opponent.

No one is impressed by that. I don't think even your fellow atheists (at least the more rational, less emotional ones) would be all that heartened by this pathetic performance (if not downright embarrassed).

I think you can do a whole lot better than this. A WHOLE lot. You have three Master's degrees, for heaven's sake. If you can't even respond rationally and calmly to a critique of this nature then all that does is confirm in our minds all the more that the basis of your conversion was not so much rational as it was emotional and non-rational (or that you are so insecure in your atheism that perhaps your conscience is being troubled by criticism of it and you are on your way back to Christianity). You know the old saying: "the drowning man fights the hardest right before he succumbs."

Is that the impression you wanna give? "Come to atheism, for all the wrong reasons or none at all, or just because of sheer emotionalism! If anyone questions my 'reasons' I'll pretend he thinks I am a dishonest, rascally idiot, call him a 'joke' (three times) and dare him to read to read my book so I can ignore his critique and mock him again!"

If atheism is true, my friend, it ain't gonna be because of THIS kind of reaction. Nor will these melodramatic histrionics convince anyone.

19) I did no psychology. I did no attempted mind-reading. It'd be awful nice if you pointed out where you thought I did this. But something I did is obviously extremely threatening to you. A guy as educated as you becoming literally unhinged over a simple Christian response to your deconversion? Something's going on. I have no clue what but I am experienced [enough] to identify an extremely irrational reply when I see one. I realize others are personally attacking you at the present time, but it doesn't follow that this was my motivation or intention. It was not at all.

20) I responded to the words you wrote. Apparently that is a novelty to you. I think it is rather humdrum and ho-hum: one guy responding to another, after being asked to do so.

21) [John] To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don't know me.

Where did I do that, pray tell? For the life of me I don't remember doing so.

22) So let me get this straight. You claim I think I am "better" than you, when I don't at all. Then you take the false premise and build a castle of sand atop it: now it is supposedly a defensive mechanism I use. And this after you have been bitching about me supposedly doing inappropriate psychoanalysis of you. That's precious.

23) I can't comment on something you write? I didn't exceed any proper bounds. I simply replied to what was there. There is always some speculation with conversion stories. I don't think they have to necessarily be outrageously presumptuous, as you seem to think.

24) [John] No freebie book for you either (Are you in the habit of asking for handouts? Then take up a collection).

No skin off my back. I'd be glad to give you any of my 11 e-books for free. I wouldn't even consider it a handout. I would consider it part of my duty as an apologist.

25) For that matter, don't reviewers of books get them for free? Think of all the free advertising on a Catholic site John could get. What a golden opportunity! But are reviewers' copies considered "handouts"?

26) If I ever see John's book for a quarter at an AAUW book sale, I'll pick it up. But my budget is too limited to buy atheist books: especially from those currently with an axe to grind against me.

27) Frank [Walton], I don't agree with insults calling people "stupid" on my blog. So I have deleted your post (esp. in light of John's current over-sensitivity for no cause, and your post was certainly a real cause). Thanks for understanding.

* * *

Dave Armstrong (the "arrogant idiot," "joke" etc.)

Dave Armstrong said...

To Daniel Morgan,

I see that you made a longer reply than was on my blog (blasted Haloscan!). I already made a post of our earlier (I thought, enjoyable) exchange. Now I'll add the rest you have here and reply.

Thanks for keeping calm and rational.

Dave Armstrong

Anonymous said...

It's funny you say this stuff John and yet you insult the beliefs of other people on a daily basis. Here is one example:

"I'm not debating an arrogant Calvinist with the self-assured confidence of a Muslim suicide bomber."

You toot your own horn so much it is hard to take your comments seriously to be honest with you.

btw, I post anonymously because I don't have a blog. My web site (which has been under contruction for quite some time) is www.reformedapologetics.org and my new discussion boards are located at:

http://www.reformedapologetics.org/dc/dcboard.php

While I do not have the time for a formal debate, I do have time to have an informal discussion. You are welcome to post an argument on my boards and if I will reply to the best of my (limited) ability. Any other readers are welcome to post as well. As you can tell, I am a Christian presuppositionalist so I am not sure what the problem is with debating a Calvinist on the problem of evil. Thanks for your time and your blog.

Hallq said...

I got about halfway through Armstrong's discussion, and then realized it pretty much boils down to "unbelievers go to hell, so he must have done something wrong to become one." The most a committed orthodox Christian can ever get out of a story like yours, John, is "Oh, I didn't know doing those things put me at risk of hellfire." A few nicer ones will try to look at it as "here's where the church is failing," but that would mean people are going to hell because of the failings of others rather than their own failing.

Dave Armstrong said...

I responded to a comment by Joe Holman on my blog:

Hi Joe,

What truly baffles me about all this hysterical response is: how do you atheists expect a Christian apologist to respond to a deconversion story? I defend Christianity (I myself happen to be a professional apologist, in fact).

This sort of story starts with the assumption that it gives a rational basis for the rejection of Christianity. Obviously, then, my task is to show how the reasons given fail in their purpose. What do you expect? That I'll say, "well, reasons 4, 12, and 23 are compelling against Christianity. Therefore, I resign my vocation as an apologist immediately and reject Christianity" ?

How ridiculous will this become? OF COURSE I will disagree with the reasons offered, as long as I remain a Chrstian and an apologist. If I didn't, I would be in the wrong line of work. This is some terrible, unspeakable crime, that an apologist is an apologist, and a Christian a Christian (hence reasons like one)?

What is so scandalous and outrageous about an apologist for position x showing how the reasons person y (former adherent of x) gives for rejecting x are groundless or insufficient as a basis for rejecting x?

What did you expect? I gave my reasons as to why I thought they were insufficient. Atheists do this to Christians all the time. Actually, you do a great deal of non-rational stuff, whereas my reply was strictly within the bounds of reasoned analysis.

You subject us to endless mockery, assume that we are ignoramuses, make fun of our worship and most deeply-held beliefs, call us "insane" (I've seen that more than once at DC), cut down the God we believe in, belittle Jesus by saying He didn't even exist, attempt to rip the Bible to shreds, make out that Christian biblical ethics are utterly abominable (John did that this very day at Triablogue), and on and on and on. There is no end to it. And don't try to deny it. Proof is abundant and easily obtained.

Yet if we dare turn the tables and simply disagree with your ideas, then all hell breaks loose. It's Chicken Little. I don't buy it. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. You can't take your own medicine. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

How does it help your case to shamelessly lie about opponents? Whether I am an arrogant SOB or not is for others to judge. I say I am confident. Admittedly it is a fine line sometimes between that and arrogance.

But for John and others to say that I have hatred or think he is an evil person or damned and all this rotgut that I supposedly think, is completely groundless, unethical and uncalled-for.

As I've found in other such conflicts (the bane of the apologist's life - and often sadly coming from fellow Christians), once the irrational anger sets in, then even conciliatory explanations are disregarded and themselves mocked and assumed to be insincere.

I've stated repeatedly that I bear no ill will against John, that it isn't personal, that I don't think he is an especially "bad" person (since we Christians think all men are fallen sinners). I've tried to explain how Catholics don't judge a person (even an atheist or former Christian) as damned. We don't have the Calvinist view that someone who rejected faith necessarily could never have had it. So I don't have to deny this in John's case.

So am I to be believed or not? Why do you want to make something a rotten ugly thing when it is simply an honest disagreement?

Even "whizler": an atheist on DC, understands that it was not personal at all:

"I don’t believe Dave Armstrong’s response was directed at you personally. Why? It’s my belief that apologetics is aimed not so much at the non-believer, as the believer. The role of the apologist, in my experience, is to provide some kind of response to attacks on the citadel of belief."

He gets it. What is so difficult about this to understand? I wrote about your own deconversion story and you didn't hit the roof and immediately vomit up gallons of personal attacks and knee-jerk reactions against me. You did nothing. How preferable and dignified compared to John's hyper-sensitive, hysterical "reply"!!!

I note once again that John asked me to respond to his deconversion after he saw that I did so with you.

Man, next time I'll think twice before fulfilling an atheist's request to critique some writing of theirs . . . I don't suffer the folly of groundless attack in place of reasonable discussion very well at all. Only my enjoyment of the absurd, ironic humor of it all saves me from lots of potential sins in reacting to this hogwash . . .

Dave Armstrong

P.S. I leave town for five days starting tomorrow, away from my computer.

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openlyatheist said...

At the risk of losing my atheist decoder ring, I will tentatively defend Frank Walton. (!?)

Twice on DC I have seen Walton post links to genuine “rebuttals” housed on his own blog that were deleted even though they contained little that I found inflammatory. I mean: real writing, not just cussing at atheists. Sure, I thought his posts were b.s. too, but at least he was dropping the b.s. on his own lawn.

I think posting links to your own territory (which every poster has the opportunity to do at the end of each post!) is less offensive than the run-on comments splattered on threads like this. I can order that bologna on ChristianForums.com.

So what if someone like Walton is distasteful in other places? If apologists post babble or profanity I am all for deleting it, but there is no better tool for creating atheists than links to good, “honest” Christian apologetics.

Daniel said...

At the risk of losing my atheist decoder ring, I will tentatively defend [the name that cannot be uttered]. (!?)

Oh, your ring is, like, sooooo gone! ;)

Let me ask this -- do you realize that he posts links to his own blog in nearly every comment, in an attempt to raise traffic to his site, rather than posting whatever substantive [muffles laughter] comments he has here on our site?

Twice on DC I have seen [the name that cannot be uttered] post links to genuine “rebuttals” housed on his own blog that were deleted even though they contained little that I found inflammatory. I mean: real writing, not just cussing at atheists. Sure, I thought his posts were b.s. too, but at least he was dropping the b.s. on his own lawn.

If he wants to post here, he can do so anonymously, or using another username, but anything he posts that he uses his Blogger profile for will be deleted by me. If anyone here doesn't like it, and is an admin, they can email me and we can chat about it. If you aren't a contributor, tough cookies.

So long as his comments are anon or using his name in the "Other" category, without a link to his site, then I will leave them, if they are not pure rhetoric and flame-baiting.

So...that's my policy, in a nutshell. If you had been around a few months back (or if you were?), perhaps you'd understand a bit more. It is a well-known fact that this fellow contributes precious little food for thought, and instead spends practically all of his time tipping flame-baiting poison [poisoning the well] into the food for thought that everyone is chewing on. It has often been speculated (and I especially wonder) if he is just a parody, a sock puppet, not even a real person -- created by either a theist or an atheist for humor value, as he is just soooooo over the top.

If he really has something worth saying that he wants to say, the anonymous function works fine...I won't hold my breath waiting, though.

Daniel said...

Dave,

I have no difficulty in having rational conversation with people who treat me with respect, and I find it easy to reciprocate.

whizler said...

DA: [the last sentence is untrue. If an apologetic is based on falsehood, it is worthless, even if effective. If I didn't believe Christianity was true, I wouldn't devote my life to defending it.]

Oh, I don’t accuse Christian apologists of deliberate falsehood. Instead, their falsehood grows from the dubious, unlikely and unproven premises they accept as true. At some level, I’m sure you’re aware that argument based on them is not really convincing to the putative non-Christian target, because they don’t accept your premises, yet they nonetheless serve as the foundation of your argument. If you really wanted to attempt an effective critique, you’d completely remove it of its Christian epistemological baggage. But since your actual target is the Christian, this is not something you’ll likely do.

DA: [of course I would say it really was answered, not only pretended to be answered to supposedly comfort the ignorant and deluded]

Understood, but from the non-Christian standpoint, a lot of Christian apologetics consists of weak argument, ad hoc rationalizations, and inconsistent methodology. The modus operandi is “any explanation will do,” no matter how far-fetched or strained. A lot of this was evident in your critique of Loftus’s deconversion story. Your discussion of his objections to the Genesis account is a good example. (One wonders, what other Biblical accounts are really “metaphorical narrations,” to use Stek’s words.)

It seems apologists are completely in the dark as to how unconvincing and weak their arguments appear to the non-Christian. Perhaps you can appreciate it by reading Mormon, Islamic, etc. apologetics. In fact, this is an exercise I heartily recommend to you, because you might begin to see the parallels between your work and theirs that are very obvious to the rest of us.

I wrote: An attempt—any attempt—to show that some Fatal Flaw in their character was the cause of their apostasy

DA: [I don't regard faulty premsies and thinking as necessarily a character flaw: only if it was deliberate, and I didn't claim that John's errors were that]

“Fatal flaw” was not the best choice of words. By the phrase, I meant some kind of unrequited desire to live in sin. You suggest this was part of John’s deconversion. It is a common tact among apologists when dealing with apostates.

DA: [If John Loftus must take that personally, when it has nothing to do with that at all, and must do so in every conceivable universe, so be it. His hyper-sensitivity and ultra-thin skin are beyond my control, and I think at least two people here can see that (for which I thank them).]

I think the tone of your critique was dismissive and failed in large part to answer his objections. Perhaps caricatured his objections is a better description. Much of your critique can be summed up thusly: “You were never a true Christian and you just didn’t properly understand Christianity, John.” I don’t think that’s a fair charge, but it does help keep the sheep in the fold. :)

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks whizler, for all that you've said to both Dave and I. Yours is a voice of reason.

I. Shawn McElhinney said...

Hello Whizler:

I don't accuse Christian apologists of deliberate falsehood. Instead, their falsehood grows from the dubious, unlikely and unproven premises they accept as true.

These are not problems unique to theists. The very act of reasoning itself presupposes certain unproven assumptions which are required for even being able to exercise rational thought. So the question is not one of the theist having "faith" and the atheist relying only on reason. Reasoning abilities themselves in order to be recognized require a faith of their own. If all sides recognized this from the get-go, it would make discussions a lot more civil generally speaking.

At some level, I'm sure you're aware that argument based on them is not really convincing to the putative non-Christian target, because they don't accept your premises, yet they nonetheless serve as the foundation of your argument.

See my previous comments.

Understood, but from the non-Christian standpoint, a lot of Christian apologetics consists of weak argument, ad hoc rationalizations, and inconsistent methodology. The modus operandi is "any explanation will do," no matter how far-fetched or strained.

As a Catholic Christian, I will probably shock you by noting that I actually agree with this observation Whizler but with a caveat: this is prevalent with people of any outlook -be it atheist, theist, or whatever. The lions share of arguments for any side are less-than-solid and all of them argue from certain foundational presuppositions. The idea of a tabula rasa is as much a myth as de Leon's fountain of youth.

A lot of this was evident in your critique of Loftus's deconversion story. Your discussion of his objections to the Genesis account is a good example. (One wonders, what other Biblical accounts are really "metaphorical narrations," to use Stek's words.)

I will not comment on the "deconversion story critique" except to note that when it comes to the subject of biblical accounts there is an interesting pattern I see with atheists who deal with them. In all cases I can recall over the years when dialoguing with atheists, when biblical citations come up, the atheist presumes without warrant that they understand the correct context of what they cite without sufficient warrant for doing so.

I am not in saying this making an argument for or against any particular interpretation except to note that the methodology of the atheist is so often one that they never stop to consider. Instead, they presume that they understand things without any indepth study of the intricate factors involved and thus (without realizing it) often take the same approach that fundamentalist Christian sorts do with science.

On the latter, it is downright embarrassing to see the way many fundamentalist sorts treat scientific subjects but they jump in and presume they can handle the subjects without concern for studying the factors of the discipline at hand with greater care. They then juxtapose them with their interpretation of the Bible and never ask if it is possible that they do not understand the Bible they are quoting.

The same is the case with many if not most atheists Whizler: they do not ask themselves if they are misappropriating the Bible themselves in trying to posit "scientific errors" and the like. Instead, they presume that they can understand texts written thousands of years ago in different original languages, in different cultures, different modes of understanding, and different operative presuppositions by merely reading a translated paraphrase in a vernacular text.

We know that even in today's world there is often misunderstandings of key elements of contemporary societies or philosophies that do not get accurately translated from other languages or (at the very least) are potentially not translated in the best possible way.

And even when the translations are perfect, there are often certain underlying factors which we may misunderstand when trying to make sense of the text as translated from other languages and other cultures, etc. But with the Bible, that the additional factors of more ancient languages, societies long past, world views of long ago, etc. on top of the normal hindering factors noted earlier in this posting potentially impacting our understanding of the text is irrelevant: everyone can just open the book and easily understand it and whatever appears questionable must be an "error in the text" rather than a possible error on the part of the one reading the text. Can you not see how ludicrous such a presumption really is Whizler??? I trust you can but perhaps it helps to spell it out a bit because I see it as much of a problem as with scientifically ignorant fundamentalists presuming to tell you and your fellow atheists how to interpret science.

Consider the example of cooking and the Constitution. It would seem strange if I said that I could bake good brownies simply from reading the Constitution of the United States. If you were to respond that the Constitution was not a baking recipe, what would you think if I said you were "just trying to explain away the text" but indeed the Constitution was actually a cooking recipe and I was going to use it to make some brownies. I would not be recognizing the Constitution in the the context it was written and in accordance with the intentions of its writers; namely, as a document outlining the laws and principles of a sovereign nation.

What I note above pertains to both sides in part because a lot of atheists are former fundamentalists and while they have shed the theist affiliation, they have not shed the foundational presuppositions that they had as fundamentalists. Numerous times in dialogue with atheists in years gone by I found this to be the case and the former theists express amazement in considering another way of approaching the issues than their old fundamentalist ways.

In other words, often former theists who were fundamentalists never stop to reassess their foundational presuppositions and if their move from theist to atheist was not because of a flaw in how they approached the evidences to begin with.

This is not an accusation of bad faith on my part so please do not interpret it in that way. It is only a way to point out what a lot of theists would possibly be trying to say if not for a poor choice of words used to do it. And as you noted Whizler in your own posting that you used a poor choice of words (in referring to “Fatal flaw” when speaking to Dave Armstrong), I trust you recognize that we all can occasionally not choose the right words to convey something.

I am not saying that there is lacking some theists who would make the claims you are asserting of course and not due to a poor choice of words on their part, only that things are not always what they may appear to be at first or second glance. (Or sometimes even more glances than that.)

I think the tone of your critique was dismissive and failed in large part to answer his objections. Perhaps caricatured his objections is a better description. Much of your critique can be summed up thusly: “You were never a true Christian and you just didn’t properly understand Christianity, John.”

I trust you recognize that this happens on all sides Whizler. I have heard numerous atheists say the same thing about former atheists -indeed look at how Antony Flew was treated by many of his former positional allies. It should stand to reason that anyone convinced of their position (whether they are convinced on solid ground, shaky ground, or some admixture of the two) will view former allies who later diverge from them as somehow missing a key ingredient or two in the makeup of their former outlook.

After all, that is almost a given be it with the view of John Lofus amonst theists or Antony Flew amongst atheists. This is hardly as one-sided as it appears you are presuming. (Emphasis on "it appears.")

I don’t think that’s a fair charge, but it does help keep the sheep in the fold. :)

Again, this works both ways. I cannot speak for Dave's intentions -and as he and I have had significant disagreements before I am hardly saying this as a cheerleader of his by any means- but as a rule he does not in my experience presume bad faith on the part of anyone. Anyway, the bottom line of this posting is to note that a lot of accusations made by one side against another go both ways. Would that people of good will on all sides recognized this principle but I digress.