I'm less than convinced


My line of work affords me the opportunity to convince a variety of people to do various actions. I am acutely aware of motivating factors, and how they impact situations. We realize that we must interact with these motivations, because ignoring them will only bring doom.

It is fascinating to me, communicating with so many different people on so many different levels, as to what one person finds extremely significant, another finds completely irrelevant.

As deconversion stories abound, we see people, due to the variety available in humanity, question their long-held belief for various reasons. This should not surprise us, given the make-up of humanity.

I find it even more intriguing how others will criticize the deconvert for doing it “incorrectly.” As if there is only one proper way in which one can deconvert!

So what is that proper way? What steps must I follow to deconvert? Why is it that the way in which you are convinced; I must be convinced?


This is a deviation from my normal blog entry. No Bible verses. Only little cry for methodology. No hermeneutics. Never fear—I will be back in full form and function.

As I said, I am actively involved in convincing other people.

I convince clients. Perhaps they want to pursue a course of action that is not beneficial to their case. Perhaps they do not fully understand the implication or costs involved in a certain action. Perhaps they believe the practice of law is similar to what is on TV.

And in our discussion, we talk about motives. One of the first questions asked in a new divorce matter is whether there is a new love interest on the part of a spouse. Such a factor will have a huge motivating force. (Those with love interests tend to want to resolve the divorce quickly, even to the point of financial detriment.) Mothers tend to be motivated by maternal instincts; Fathers by finance. The most common tactic in the book is the man fighting for custody to scare the mother, and the female fighting for higher child support to scare the father.

I have seen clients motivated by greed, jealousy, revenge, money, principle, fear, anger, business direction, spouses, friends, parents, children and just about every facet in-between. And each must be deal with at their motivating factor. If a person is motivated by principle, there is no sense convincing them of the unnecessary cost of a matter.

I convince judges. Here’s a great feeling—going into court prepared to the hilt to argue a legal issue. And hear the Judge say, “I don’t find that very important. What I would like to see is some argument on this other legal issue.” One that frankly my position is not nearly as strong. What can I do? Argue with the judge as to what is more important? Or convince him that I will prevail on both the weaker issue, and then attempt to persuade him that the legal issue I originally wanted to argue is clearly the crux of the matter.

And each judge is different. Some follow the letter of the law, some the spirit. Some want the case to go away, regardless of how it is done. Some favor oral argument, some despise it. As we practice, we learn what the judge desires, and what persuades him or her.

I convince jurors. At times, the most difficult of all. We are presented with a mixed cross-section of the community, and are given only a morning to question them. Within that morning, we attempt to learn what they will find important, and what they will ignore. Then, with that little information, we spend the next few days using that data in the hopes to gain or prevent millions of dollars, or decades in prison.

Talking to jurors after a trial is always enlightening. Very often they will say, “You spent way too much time on this point” or “We were surprised you did not talk about this point.”

We think to ourselves, “I have been a trial lawyer for 15 years. My opponent has as well. We have each done 100’s of trials. The Judge has seen 100’s more. Clearly we thought these points were important, or those were not based upon our experience. Had we anticipated the jury would think completely differently, obviously we would have focused our attention otherwise.”

See, at that moment, with those few people, what all our experience(s) informed us was meaningless. To them certain items were persuasive and others were irrelevant. Because each jury has a different make-up; a different motivation.

If each of us look in our lives, we use different methods, different words to persuade different people—based upon our relationship, or their personality, or what they are interested in at that moment.

Why should deconversion be any different?

I read deconversion stories. I read them as a Christian (upon learning such a thing existed!) wondering what would make a person want to stop believing in something as obvious as a God. I read them while deconverting, to attempt to understand what I was going through, what to expect and what to avoid. I read them now because I find the story of the human race continues to enthrall me.

One concept that sticks out, almost universally, is the desire to investigate alternative forms of information. Either we were always reading Christian books, and discovered scholars in fields other than our particular form of Christianity, or creationists discovering scientific fields or historians reading secular history. Does this always lead to deconversion? Of course not! But I cannot think of a single deconvert that does not mention graduated levels of study of a broader spectrum during the process.

But what led a person to investigate originally? Perhaps for some, it was an incident or a tragedy that made them begin to question how God works. Or, for others, a personal struggle that brought them to the point of looking for answers. Perhaps a purely academic endeavor or an interest in debating the topic.

In every other aspect of our lives, humanity’s motivations are too varied to contain in a limited number of boxes—so, too, with deconversion.

Which brings me to the odd question: What makes a deconversion legitimate? Is a deconvert more justified in her action because she decided to engage in a study of the origin of Christianity, as compared to a homosexual that decided to investigate why God made him that way? Or is a scientist that discovers the viability of evolution a more suitable deconvert than a questioning parent who loses a child to disease?

There are two items that strike me as particularly humorous in this regard. First, for a religion that prides itself on faith, it certainly has a fascination and worshipful awe for intellectualism. “Thinking” one’s way out of Christianity is demanded, but “believing” one’s way into it is required. Second, since all deconverts have an equal degree of heathenicity, does it really matter by what method we started or traveled this path? “You were never saved in the first place” is equally tattooed to the homosexual deconvert, the scholarly deconvert, the scientific deconvert, or the {fill in the blank} convert.

So…you tell me. What is the “proper” way in which one becomes a deconvert?

What is disappointing about this discussion is how small the Christian God becomes. Even as humans we figured out that people are different. That their needs, wants and desires are different. Consequently, and certainly not surprisingly, what persuades them is different. To some, a series of books that is complied over the course of few centuries which contain amazing stories is enough. For others, in observing the world about them, they need more.

We are often told “Who are you to ask ‘Why?’ of God?” (“Often.” Heh heh. There’s an understatement!) Who am I? I am a person with different motives than you. I am a person that cannot sleep with “ultimate purpose” as a response to the Problem of Evil. I am a person that is not convinced a series of books with possible, not plausible, resolutions to contradictions qualifies as spectacular. I, like numerous other humans, am looking for more evidence that convinces me.

You, as a human, can figure it out. If you were selling me a car, or trying to date me, or persuade me to not see a Movie, you would understand that you must first learn what motives me. What persuades me. What is convincing to me. And your God cannot figure that out?

So many times we are told, “THIS is what God claims must convince you. THIS is what is persuasive.” And yet it turns out the “THIS” is exactly what persuades the person making the claim. Can’t God do better? Can’t God actually persuade someone else with evidence that convinces them and does NOT convince you?

Because we see that happen in life all the time.

If my deconversion does not meet your standard, if it was deficient and ineffective in some way, please; I ask you. Provide me with the “proper” way in which one can be a legitimate deconvert.

21 comments:

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi DagoodS,

I think this was a superb post from the standpoint of analysis of human psychology. I enjoyed the insight in it very much.

To answer your question briefly: obviously for one who is a Christian, there is no good or sufficient reason to reject Christianity, with the facts as we believe them to actually be.

This is, of course, a completely unremarkable and uncontroversial statement, given that you atheists do the same thing in reverse: for you there is no good and sufficient reason to become a Christian. Your "requirements" are such things as God personally appearing to every person in a concrete tangible way or performing massive miracles such that there is no evil at all left in the world. But these are irrational, unreasonable, unrealistic demands.

There are theoretical things that could create doubt as to the truth of Christianity (I've always maintained this), such as archaeological evidences, somehow producing the bones of Jesus, etc. It's certainly thinkable that Christianity could be falsified. But we think it has not happened in fact.

I made a comment somewhat along these lines on my blog, in response to a post by a fellow Catholic somewhat along the lines of yours. See his post:

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/davearmstrong/116345349476759066/?a=49500#119646

I replied:

I think this is a good point, and one I accept. I made it very clear in the paper above [my analysis of Theresa's deconversion] that I don't discount the emotional factors on a human level. I certainly don't discount various non-rational (not necessarily irrational) elements in conversion odysseys: such as emotion, experience, intuition, mysticism, etc. They are part of my own two conversions: to evangelicalism and Catholicism.

I think you are overlooking, however, the great difference between a conversion and giving reasons why one has adopted a new belief-system, and deconversion, which is devoted not so much to a positive rationale for atheism, as it is to a trashing and "debunking" of Christianity.

One is a fundamentally positive approach, and the other negative and condemnatory. That is a huge difference. It's the effort to run down Christianity and to make unwarranted statements about it that must be replied to.

E.g., in Theresa's story, she makes statements such as the following:

"I discovered the history of man-made religion and I became disgruntled, felt like I had been sold a bill of goods. It was all man-made, a way to keep control over the masses, to lock people into a way of thinking to make their job easier. If you teach people how to think you can make them give you money."

"I don't want to hear the old fables [of the Bible]."

". . . the GOD of before, the GOD of rules and regulations, the nosy one, the all involved one, the one who makes men weak."

". . . free from the guilt and burdens of Christianity."

These are not strictly emotional: they are statements of purported fact concerning how Christians and Christianity are. They must be (can only be) replied to, therefore, on a rational level. And these deconversion stories are filled with similar sentiments. They run down the Bible (as in the example of the post above this one). That's another concrete issue that has to be approached rationally, not with simply emotion or intuition.

This is exactly why I deal with these stories. If they were solely emotional, I wouldn't bother at all, because there would be no objective, rational basis from which to do so. It would be like attempting a serious argument as to the superiority of chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

You write:

The trouble is that you are not engaging these folks in the domain in which they have engaged the public, and by inclusion have engaged you.

The strong emotional responses you are seeing seem to be coming from the fact that you are engaging emotional arguments at a rational level, which leads to your interlocutor feeling unvalued as a human being.


Per the above explanation, I think, for the most part (if not totally; I'd have to look again to see), I have actually not done that. I have engaged the statements they make which are only approachable on a rational, factual basis, and have shown that they are prejudicial and irrational, and based on fallacies.

I've pointed out real fallacies where they occur. Hence, my contention that these stories form no basis whatever for anyone else to be dissuaded of Christianity. If they are only subjective, why should anyone share them in the first place? It would only apply to them, and would have as much relevance for deciding for or against theism or atheism as reading Homer's Odyssey.

Thanks for the great point and the opportunity to clarify myself with regard to it. I think this is very helpful.

--------------------

DagoodS said...

Thank you, Dave Armstrong for your comment.

I would agree that deconversion from Christianity (or even Protestantism) would be termed as losing a belief, whereas conversion, say to secularism (or even Catholicism) would be a gain of belief. Perhaps “negative” or “positive” is in the eye of the beholder, eh? Your point, though, is well-stated that they are different processes, and not uniformly comparable.

Three items to comment upon:

Dave Armstrong: …somehow producing the bones of Jesus…

Out of curiosity, even if we could, how in the Blue Blazes do you propose we test that? It is not like we have DNA to compare!

Seriously,

More: Your "requirements" are such things as God personally appearing to every person in a concrete tangible way or performing massive miracles such that there is no evil at all left in the world. But these are irrational, unreasonable, unrealistic demands.

Why is that? Can you flesh out why it is “irrational, unreasonable” and “unrealistic” that God provide evidence that is persuasive to each person?

I would think (hope) you would agree it is within the Christian God’s capability. It is not too large of a project for a God. I would further think (hope) you would agree the Christian God is motivated to do so. That God has the desire for each person to be convinced He exists.

It would appear to me Christians present a God with the physical capability and the desire—yet it does not happen. Obviously this comports with my conclusion no God exists.

But if such a God exists, there must be some concept, some item that is impinging on either his ability or his desire. What is that concept? What is it about that concept that is more rational, more reasonable and more realistic than the simpler idea that no such God exists?

More: …for you there is no good and sufficient reason to become a Christian.

Not at all. Just as people have differing motives to deconvert, others have different motives to become Christians. The word “sufficient” is a loose term, quantifying an amount. What is “sufficient” for me, may not be “sufficient” for you. Four cups of coffee in the morning is “sufficient” for me—must I demand you drink an equal amount?

As near as I can tell there ARE both good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian. You become a part of a community. At the moment, you are the prevalent religion in the United States. You obtain an avenue to provide charity. You gain a sense of hope to meet loved ones after death.

There are concepts in the universe that are perplexing, and by believing in a God, you can satisfy an itch for answers. You can utilize Christianity as a basis for morality.

No, Dave Armstrong, there are plenty of good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian. However, I have two strong caveats. First, those are not sufficient reasons for me. I am a person that is used to dealing with the truth—whether it is pretty or ugly. I would prefer the true belief of no life after death, rather than the false hope of a heaven.

For me, for my motivation, truth is more important than feeling good, no matter how great that feeling is. How many others have similar motivations?

Secondly, despite the good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian, it is too often accompanied with a vicious use of power, control and exclusion that has no mercy for its own, let alone non-believers. Christianity has become a religion of weaponry, designed to divide and then conquer.

If Christians truly lived the life their Bible states—“Love your neighbor” I would be off Debunking Christianity in a heartbeat. Not what I see, though. Not by a long shot.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Dag,

I painstakingly replied (sort of at your friendly request) to your paper about the supposed contradictions in King David's census (15 alleged) alluded to in the post above, in my latest paper:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/on-alleged-contradictions-of-2-samuel.html

Enjoy! A fun project, but extremely tedious, as with all logically-tortured atheist biblical escapades. You guys just won't give it up, will ya? LOL

I hope you don't, actually, as it makes my job as an apologist very fun indeed. Who, I ask, could have had more fun than I had today, answering that and showing (indeed, proving, I think, in many of the instances) that [some of] the dreaded "inerrantists" are not the only ones who suffer from severe logical deficiencies?

Dave Armstrong said...

ME …somehow producing the bones of Jesus…

Out of curiosity, even if we could, how in the Blue Blazes do you propose we test that? It is not like we have DNA to compare!

LOL Obviously, it would have to be evidence associated with the bones that would suggest they are from Jesus. E.g., we believe we have found Peter's bones under (appropriately enough) St. Peter's in Rome. And that is because there was an old inscription: "here lies Peter's bones" or some such. So it is possible to have firm evidence of that sort. We know on other grounds (historical accounts) that he was martyred in Rome.

ME: More: Your "requirements" are such things as God personally appearing to every person in a concrete tangible way or performing massive miracles such that there is no evil at all left in the world. But these are irrational, unreasonable, unrealistic demands.

Why is that? Can you flesh out why it is “irrational, unreasonable” and “unrealistic” that God provide evidence that is persuasive to each person?

Well, first of all because it is internally inconsistent with atheists' other intellectual commitments, as I have argued in some papers on the problem of evil. Atheists, e.g., reject miracles out of hand, unless and until some HUGE unquestionable event like the Second Coming occurs, that even an atheist, in all his wisdom, would not be able to withstand or disbelieve.

No amount of legal-type testimony, eyewitness evidence of miraculous occurrences are ever sufficient for the atheist. There is plenty of that out there. Many miracles at Lourdes and Fatima, e.g., have been documented by scientists and doctors. There are saints whose bodies haven't corrupted. These are real things.

When it comes to science, the atheist (materialist) will argue that any event not in accord with natural laws cannot occur, almost (if not literally) by definition. They tend to think that even if there is a God at all, He is only minimally involved in His creation (more or less a deist conception). It's not just opposition to the Bible or a Christian worldview that causes, e.g., such vehement opposition to any form of creationism or even intelligent design. It is also the prior assumption that science and natural laws MUST be completely natural and not influenced at all by God.

So you have that mentality in the first place, but then on the other hand you have this idea that one will not believe in God unless a massive miraculous proof is presented right in front of his face. The two don't exactly go together. If God is excluded from science because miracles are supposedly impossible (which cannot itself be proven, much less by science itself, which is unable to, by definition), then why is it made a requirement that there must be miracles galore to believe in Him at all?

Therefore, it's an unreasonable double standard. The atheist thinks one way over here and another over here, according to what suits his fancy. But requiring all these miracles that the atheist knows pretty well won't ever happen, is a convenient way of excluding God altogether by mere unreasonable theory and demands. It's a way for the atheist to rationalize his own disbelief. Just make a requirement to believe thaty you know will never ever happen, even within a Christian paradigm, so you can pretend that God doesn't exist because He hasn't done what YOU require Him to do before you will believe in Him.

Secondly, the Christian faith is not solely about rational demonstration. There is also faith required. There are reasons and bases for belief in things other than empiricism. Logic is not an empirical thing. Spiritual experience is not, etc. If there is such a thing as a soul or a spirit, that ain't empirical. God the Father Himself is not. The Holy Spirit isn't. Only Jesus has a physical body.

I would think (hope) you would agree it is within the Christian God’s capability. It is not too large of a project for a God.

Of course,. But that is far different from thinking that God is obliged to do such a thing i order for a person to claim that he has enough evidence to believe in God. I reject that as an intellectual cop-out and evasion, so that the serious issues in the debate can be avoided.

I would further think (hope) you would agree the Christian God is motivated to do so. That God has the desire for each person to be convinced He exists.

We believe that there is more than sufficient evidence, just from creation itself (teleological argument) and how human beings feel themselves to be; the presence of virtual universals in morality, the facts of Jesus' life and death, etc. There are plenty of miracles already well-established, if only one is open-minded enough to allow their possibility. But if you rule them out beforehand by your system, then of course no proof is sufficient.

It would appear to me Christians present a God with the physical capability and the desire - yet it does not happen. Obviously this comports with my conclusion no God exists.

I don't accept this line of reasoning at all. It is completely arbitrary; it starts with you and what yo think God should or shouldn't do. But on what basis do you do that? Yourself? Why should I think that is any compelling reason or basis for thinking that God should do this or that? Why would I not, rather, go to a figure like Jesus, Who (even if one denied He was God incarnate) was certainly at the least an extraordinary person and one who seems to understand spiritual matters and to be able to speak authoritatively on them. He presents a different God than you do.

Should I rely on the collective of atheists and all your vaunted intellectual firepower? Again, on what basis? You're a small minority in the world now and in world history. Why should I think you have a lock on truth about the question of God's existence or anything else? Many of the greatest thinkers in philosophy and other fields were theists or Christians. Atheists don't have a monopoly on reasdon. But I am supposed to listen to you when you say, "{well, it is clear that God OUGHT to do thus-and-so in order to be adequately proven to exist."

But if such a God exists, there must be some concept, some item that is impinging on either his ability or his desire. What is that concept? What is it about that concept that is more rational, more reasonable and more realistic than the simpler idea that no such God exists?

That's too difficult for me to answer briefly. I believe in God and Christianity based on a cumulative argument of many different lines of reasoning and evidences.

ME: …for you there is no good and sufficient reason to become a Christian.

Not at all. Just as people have differing motives to deconvert, others have different motives to become Christians. The word “sufficient” is a loose term, quantifying an amount. What is “sufficient” for me, may not be “sufficient” for you. Four cups of coffee in the morning is “sufficient” for me—must I demand you drink an equal amount?

As near as I can tell there ARE both good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian. You become a part of a community. At the moment, you are the prevalent religion in the United States. You obtain an avenue to provide charity. You gain a sense of hope to meet loved ones after death.


I don't need Christianity for any of that; nor are these my own reasons at all (though they are for many, without a doubt). I could just as well be in YOUR community or in a band or pack of hippies in a commune or something. I can give on my own. I can pretend, as many atheists do, that it is irrelevant whether there is life after death or not.

There are concepts in the universe that are perplexing, and by believing in a God, you can satisfy an itch for answers. You can utilize Christianity as a basis for morality.

But I'm not talking about what people do in fact; rather, I wanted to know what an atheist thinks is an intellectually compelling reason to become a Christian? And then we're back exactly to where we were, as I said:
massive, utterly undeniable miracles; which I have argued is an unreasonable demand.

No, Dave Armstrong, there are plenty of good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian.

The above don't qualify for what I was referring to. I could say the same about atheists: it makes you feel smart; you can look down on dumb Christians and feel superior or whatever. You can maintain the pretense that you have a lock on rational thinking and so-called "free" thinking (I'm only using things I have actually observed here and elsewhere). There could be any number of sociological reasons. But I'm completely uninterested in those, because they have little or no relation to truth claims.

However, I have two strong caveats. First, those are not sufficient reasons for me.

Exactly. That's what I'm getting at. You're the more or less typical, hard-headed skeptical atheist.

I am a person that is used to dealing with the truth—whether it is pretty or ugly. I would prefer the true belief of no life after death, rather than the false hope of a heaven.

Yep, and I would prefer the true belief of heaven to the false belief of annihilationism.

For me, for my motivation, truth is more important than feeling good, no matter how great that feeling is. How many others have similar motivations?

You're interacting with one. And that is one thing we have in common.

Secondly, despite the good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian, it is too often accompanied with a vicious use of power, control and exclusion that has no mercy for its own, let alone non-believers. Christianity has become a religion of weaponry, designed to divide and then conquer.

More sociological analysis . . . if you say we're sinners; guilty as charged!

If Christians truly lived the life their Bible states—“Love your neighbor” I would be off Debunking Christianity in a heartbeat. Not what I see, though. Not by a long shot.

Why don't you read the stories off the saints, then, if that impresses you? We never said that lots and lots of Christians would live up to the almost impossibly high and sublime ideals. But some do. And that is why the saints are so important to study. That's what God CAN do in a human being, if they will only let Him.

If you want to talk about loving your neighbor, though, you should see that Christians lead in charitable efforts. It's always been that way. Historically, e.g., it was the Catholic Church that started hospitals and so forth. Christians were in the forefront of the abolitionist and civil rights movements (Martin Luther King being a Baptist pastor). There was even significant Christian influence in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (including, of course, Pope John Paul II).

That's love in action. And we Christians can be very proud of all that, despite the numerous counter-examples you atheists are always pointing out.

Dave Armstrong said...

Testing my new photo.

Dave Armstrong said...

guess it didn't work. LOL

DagoodS said...

Dave Armstrong,

How curious. I ask about God providing “evidence” and you only talk about “miracles.” When did I EVER limit it to just Miracles?

You keep intoning that it is miracles that atheists require as evidence for God. Never said that. I thought the point of my blog entry was quite clear that, due to the make-up of different humans, our basis for proof is equally different.

I heartily agree that some atheists require miracles. Some do not! In fact, inherent in our variety is that some atheists do NOT require miracles.

But on that note, let’s think about it. What exactly constitutes an event moving from the “natural” realm to the “miracle” realm? At what point is something so common that we no longer consider it a variation from the norm, but the norm itself?

Does a quicker cure for the common cold qualify as a miracle? Or just natural happenstance. When we discuss God, often the Christian paints a God that occasionally pokes His finger through the atmosphere and varies the “normal” course of existence. But, the Christian also paints a deistic side of this God that lets nature take its course. The Christian is not claiming that every time I catch a row of stop lights in appropriate synchronization that this is some type of miracle! (Yet they pray to reach the airport on time.)

What if God appeared to each person on earth, say on their Tenth birthday, and presented evidence of his existence. If we all had that occur, does it become the norm? No longer a miracle?

Worse, you are talking to deconverts. You state, “…you have that [naturalism] mentality in the first place…” Uh…no we didn’t. Let you in on a little secret:

Deconverts from Christianity believed in Miracles.

In fact, quite contrary to what you state, our “mentality” in the “first place” was that miracles DID occur, and ARE feasible and CAN happen! You have it literally 100% backward.

As you aptly noted previously, deconversion and conversion are different actions. To “deconvert” we lost the ability to believe in miracles.

Your entire argument about miracles may be relevant to someone who was a life-long naturalist, but it has no depth or force to us.

However, your focus on miracles does become revealing. Apparently, as to the question of what a “proper” way to deconvert, you believe attention must be given to miracles. That in order for us to fit the qualification of a legitimate deconvert, we must first be proficient in the study of miracles.

This can be problematic. Which miracles should we accept and which should we reject? Do you accept every one of these miracles?

As you are aware, the Protestants would have me reject the miracles at Lourdes and Fatima. The Hindus would have me reject the Christian claims. The Muslims reject the Catholic Claims. The Jews reject the Native American claims.

Is there a single Miracle that every theist says, “Yep—that is a miracle and unexplainable by natural causes?” (‘Cept maybe the universe itself.)

For me, it was not that I rejected Miracles. Far from it. I accepted miracles. It is when I attempted to argue for their plausibility that I realized how thin the evidence is, upon which they are based. When I tried to develop a methodology by which I could determine which miracles are legitimate, and which are answered naturally, it became a quagmire of claims with no real proof. Any method including Christian miracles would include other religion’s miracles. Any method to exclude other religion’s miracles would exclude Christian miracles.

We are not just talking about Miracles.

There are so many other ways in which to believe a God exists. A Book that was definitely non-human would be a good starting place. Or a book that provided insight unavailable to the writers of the time. A Universe that conforms to a particular deity. God living in Topeka, Kansas.

No, Dave Armstrong—it is not something we demand—it is something that fails to conform with the concept of the God you provide.

Let’s re-visit this claim that our request (for evidence) of such a God is “irrational, unreasonable and unrealistic.”

We apparently both agree that the Christian God has the ability and desire to reveal himself to humans. We both agree (I think) that despite that ability and desire, there are certain people that are not persuaded that the Christian God exists.

Yet when asked why that is, you reply: “That’s too difficult for me to answer briefly.”

Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Because I am not persuaded by “that’s too difficult for me to answer briefly” my lack of persuasion is “irrational, unreasonable and unrealistic”? How can that be?

Am I supposed to accept every claim a person makes, but is too difficult to answer briefly--otherwise I am being completely irrational?

You ought to do better than this! The reality of your claim is this—Your God can and desires every person to believe in him, but they do not. There is some reason, some idea, some concept within this God that prevents him for doing that which he is both capable and desirous.

Since Christians conveniently place God out of observation, we cannot know what that idea, reason or concept is. The Christian is left with “I don’t know.”

And the fact that I am not convinced by “I don’t know” is somehow irrational, unreasonable and unrealistic.

Can you stay consistent in this methodology? I do not know how abiogenesis occurred naturally. But if “I don’t know” is persuasive, then you must have just been convinced that abiogenesis occurred naturally. Otherwise, you, too, are “irrational, unreasonable and unrealistic.”

Dave Armstrong, while you may now view me as a “typical, hard-headed skeptical atheist” the continual problem that I see is that is not where I started. I was a typical, hard-headed Christian. (Not so sure I would qualify myself as being quite as skeptical, maybe.)

When you make these broad, sweeping claims about what atheists are like, or where they start from, it is completely unpersuasive to me. Because that is not where I started, nor was that what I was like. To tell me what I was like, when I know me better, discredits your position.

I did not mean to imply the reasons that YOU became a Christian were those listed. I was just listing off the top of my head.

I have read stories of saints. I have read stories of Hindus. I have read stories of Buddhists. I have read stories of non-believers. I agree there are great Saints that practiced “love your neighbor.” There are great Native Americans that did as well. (And frankly, as a whole, the Native American society did better.)

As humans, some are better at loving one’s neighbor. The religion, or lack thereof, underneath does not make a difference.

Dave Armstrong said...

Dunno where to go with this. It's a highly subjective discussion by its very nature. You are different from other atheists in some respects. Of course. Generalizations recognize that, so your anomaly is no disproof of my generalities.

The desire for a spectacular miracle is made all the time. E.g., atheist philosopher Ted Drange said (in dialogue with me) that if God wanted everyone to believe, all He would have to do is "write John 3:16 in the stars." That is an unbelievably complex miracle.

In fact, I debated Drange and one of his (very sharp) students, Steve Conifer, on his whole argument from non-belief ("ANB"):

http://web.archive.org/web/20030604150844/http://ic.net/%7Eerasmus/RAZ104.HTM

So I've been all through this business of what it would take to cause the atheist to believe. The causes of unbelief (and belief) are many, complex, and varied. So it is difficult to even generalize. I'm only citing one commonly-heard objection of the atheist: "God hasn't done enough to justify my believing in Him." This often entails miracles, but not always; I agree.

This sort of discussion is intriguing and fun, but it only goes so far, because it is so subjective. The things you bring up go in a million directions, and I don't have the energy to tackle all that. Perhaps in due course.

At the moment I am transferring hundreds of my papers to my blog after a change of ISP, and also am looking for a new part-time job.

I've already put a ton of work into your "Bible contradictions" paper, and want to reply to your responses on that, so that will take up my time today (however much I have).

I do enjoy dialoguing with you and I hope we can continue indefinitely. Sometimes I may not wish to pursue particular arguments at a given time. That's not due to either my inability or the unworthiness of your argument, but usually because of time-management considerations, or having dealt with a line of argument before (which ties into the first).

Some will claim because of this that "I can't answer." That's fine. It's expected. It's as predictable as the sun coming up. But it won't divert me from the course that I determine is best in terms of use of my valuable time.

JustinOther said...

I have to say you both have some great points. Mostly, however, I wanted to say that it is very good to read this dialogue that is not full of insults and anger. The fact that you both can argue a point without resorting to that type of behavior is refreshing, as we've all seen how that turns out.

Thanks for being level-headed and making me think...again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me about something. When I was an atheist, my believer friends did not attack me or try to dissuade me. They stuck by me and loved me - they let me be me. Y'know, Jesus Himself, scolded the disciples whenever they would try to defend Him. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for my half of that compliment. I am very happy too that this is possible. How sad that acrimony so often seems to be the norm. That is true all across the spectrum of belief-systems.

I immensely enjoy talking about issues with someone who is articulate and challenging and insightful, as DagoodS is.

DagoodS said...

Thank you, JustinOther,

I can think of no higher compliment than to hear that what I wrote caused someone to pause and consider something.


Anonymous,

Your comment puzzled me. I know my Christian former friends do not try and dissuade me because they are extremely cognizant I know far more about the topic than they care to. Simply put—I scare ‘em

Anonymous said...

Let me understand.....scaring people away equals victory???

No wonder people hate God! It really just makes a whole lot of sense!

JustinOther said...

Anonymous, I think the point is that his knowledge of the subject "scares them" away from debating it. That is neither victory nor defeat. Just a statement.

Have you never avoided a conversation or debate because you were not familiar with the subject? I know I have.

Anonymous said...

JustinOther, I think your comments are consistantly commendable. You are an easy-to-love person.

But, in the end, it's not who knows more, it's who loves more. Listen, I love people who know more than me - the world NEEDS people who know more than me! I am an expert witness at pride and how it can kidnap friendships into power struggles. I think it a sad witness that someone would feel the need to assert superiority over those who ought to know that is not an issue. I hope that a person who plans on being "a former Christian friend" would have the common courtesy of admitting their lack of faith before cutting loose (even if it is them that are rejected). Sometimes, all that motivates a person to express themselves is a great meal of green eggs and ham. But obviously, they should not be shoved down others' throats. Mr. DaGoods, I am wondering if you or any other bible experts have ever stepped aside from poking and prodding and scrutinizing the scriptures long enough to notice that people in that book were aware of string theory (one of His days is worth a thousand of our years)? Or how about cloning with a twist (rib tissue used to create a new gender)? (God puts Satan in a timeout?). Or popular parenting skills (God puts Satan in a timeout?). I think I'm getting the hang of persecution here. Thanks for that. Since I'm practicing loving everyone, I am willing to love you as a friend or as an enemy - your choice.

DagoodS said...

Anonymous,

Ah. Your previous comment is becoming clearer.

“Victory.”

What a curious word. I have no intention of “battling” my friends or former friends. Understand these are people that had discussed everything spiritual imaginable with me previously, and we remained tight friends. It is partly that history that concerns them. They realize I tend to be well-informed.

What have I said that would lead you to conclude I intended to gain any “victory” over them?

I had no intention to assert any “superiority” over any of them. Remember, how I act and debate here is only one very minute picture of who I am. Here I actively debate Christians that come here and engage. In life—I am different.

Humorously, I was not given the chance, mostly. Here are two examples:

1) I had a friend that stood in my wedding, and I in his. Again, we had spent countless late nights debating spiritual things. Attended church, Sunday School, Small groups, etc. together. There reached a day when I informed him I was no longer a Christian. He looked me in the eye and said, “We will never discuss this again. Period.” And never have. (Course we never see each other, so that goes without saying.)

2) Another friend. He and I had helped each other move a few times, painted houses, roofed buildings, attended social functions galore, dated sisters, etc. Upon learning of my atheism, flatly stated he will never enter my house again. Period.

I understand why they do. They simply are not prepared to face a former friend who is an atheist, and the easiest thing to do with something we do not understand is avoid it.

Now, as to your three points:

1) Thousand Years is a day to God and a day to God is a thousand years. 2 Peter 3:8 You do know how late 2 Peter was written, and this is not designed to be a scientific fact, but rather is an explanation for why it is taking Jesus so long to come back, correct? (Read the following verses.) Further, the Bible is horribly scientifically inaccurate. (Stopping the sun for a day? Order of Creation?)

2) Cloning presents a genetic duplicate. A Bible that claims cloning can produce a clone with a different sex is demonstration of how WRONG it is, not how “right with a twist.” (And by the by, I do not hold that Genesis 1-3 is claiming cloning by any stretch. I am merely responding to Anonymous.)

3) Popular parenting skills? Actually the Bible condones spanking which is not popular. (Prov. 13:24) Further, it claims that being disobedient to parents is worthy of a punishment of death. (Rom. 1:30-32)

Yes, we have considered such things. We just look at the whole picture, rather than pick out certain verses and attempt to force them into saying what they do not.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dagoods, You are definitely an easy-to-love enemy (what is it with you guys??!!) - that is Exhibit A, evident in your last post. I am no debater, but I am often provoked by pride to wrongly defend God. That is pretty silly, isn't it and a bit confused!!! I'm okay with scriptural diversity - I know love when I see it. Yours and others writings have inspired me to try and go back and reconcile with more than a few former Christian friends (some of "Jerry's kids)- I am hopeful they will soften their hearts towards me. What do you think my odds are? Wish me luck and by the way, I am honored that you even responded to my comment. Thank you - you are more than a worthy adversary (and well regarded here).

John W. Loftus said...

Just for the record here. Anyone who converts is in the same boat as those of us who deconvert. Most all of the time the reasons for the conversion (or deconversion) are not entirely rational. Most people on both sides of the conversion process do so for emotional reasons.

Take for example most any dramatic conversion story to Christianity that I've heard. They were down on their luck and they reached out for the God they were taught in Sunday School class. Then they felt like they had made contact with God. That's "felt." But ask them what reasons they have for turning to God and I could pick every single one of them apart as inadequate.

The question for theists is why we as human beings are constituted in such a way that we can be led by our emotional responses to the experiences in life. The question for the theist is why people overwhelmingly choose their religion based upon when and where they were born.

This is not a problem for atheists like me. This is what human beings do. The only question for me is to justify why I believe. You must not only do that, but you must also explain why people change their minds back and forth so easily, if this is your claim, given the fact that your God desires everyone to believe.

Anonymous said...

They went out from us; because they were never of us.

Anonymous said...

They went out from us; because they were never of us.

Anonymous said...

John, you mention regional influence upon a person's beliefs. God acknowledges this as well - He addresses the letters to the 7 churches according to geographical location and speaks of the relational trends in each. Despite cultural/religious influences, I know that there are those who acknowledge that caste systems can be cruel and oppressive, or that there can be hope amidst circumstances to the contrary. There are those who know, inspite of religious traditions that honor deities that are vengeful, bloodthirsty or punishing, that there is a god who is loving and has a rescuing nature. Creation is diverse and dramatic - I am not as threatened by life as I once was because I believe and perceive differently about life and death as a whole. God is not a fascist - nor am I. I can desire the affection of another, but I cannot force it. I think as a believer, it is as important how I treat those who mistreat me as it is those who agree with me. I know that the way I act in my everyday life towards others is more authentic - I was moral and responsible as a non-believer, but my emotions caused me to harbor condescenstion and hatred inwardly, so in a way, my emotions governed me into the realm of pretense. I have read your story of deconversion - I would not interfere with your newfound happiness and freedom from guilt. So much of religious practices condemn and stigmatize those things that are innocent - I had to be decontaminated of those heavy emotional burdens - that was not the "good" news. My emotions are more functionally expressed and govern my life less now- I don't idolize people or let mockers govern me as much either. With God, I have freedom and grace to change my mind if I need, freedom and grace to process what life is about, without fear of reproach - most people are not secure enough to grant that kind of freedom to others. Thanks!