Greetings.

Another new member for the blog!

My name is Darrin Rasberry, and I am a student at Iowa State University and a personal friend of John's. I am a nontheist and a former Christian, and I hope I can get to know all the rest of you (on both sides of the debate) much better as people and as deep thinkers about important ideas. Other than theology and philosophy, I study mathematics, a subject in which I currently hold a Master's and which I teach to college level students; I additionally am a storm chaser (my primary hobby) and lover of literature and fantasy/sci-fi games. I just crossed the big 3-0, but I don't feel a hair over 18, and likely never will.

Unlike many other nontheists, my loss of faith happened literally overnight in an emotional fit. I deconverted to Deism and then Agnosticism when I was 18, having been convinced that the Bible preached that Calvinism "stuff" which, being from Wichita Falls, Texas originally, I thought died out close to the last time the Puritans were mentioned in my pre-1865 American History class. Convinced I was being fed lies, I left the fold, vowed to declare to God that I denied the "evils of Calvinism" for Him. Imagine all you hold dear being swept from you in one night - that's what happened that evening. The pain was worse than losing any relative who has died; worse than losing those friends and family who did not appreciate my heretical move; worse than anything I've experienced so far in life. Like the few "Calvinist deconverts" I've met, my values stuck for a while, but I could never see any way out of what I saw when I actually read the Bible completely on my own for the first time.

Many Arminian holders to the P in TULIP will likely doubt all of this, which is fine, but for a moment I'd ask you to let go of your control beliefs and think about the anguish you'd feel if somehow someone were to show you something that would undermine all that you believed in just a few hours. Yes, I received Christ and was baptized at the age of seven; I prayed, believed, told others, lived as much of the regenerated life as I could. But my heart couldn't hold Calvinism, and even though my arguments have expanded well beyond that subject (arguments which may - or may not! - have caused me to deconvert later), that emotional response ended everything. I am not hiding from my sins - being grounded in morals from a philosophical basis, I know I've done them, and if I owe to God for them then I will accept my just desserts (or if Methodism is right, say "phew!"). But I have a mind for truth, not conditionality, and like John, I have not seen sufficient responses to the non-Christian position, on many different grounds far outside of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.

Looking at different arguments for God outside of Scripture reference, I eventually came to atheism from my Deist/Agnostic beliefs. With my "examine everything theologically major" neutral point of approach, I must honestly call myself agnostic to other significant theological God(s) (i.e. from some Islam sects I haven't studied, Hinduism, Judaism, theological Buddhism, etc.), so I now call myself "nontheist." I'll regain the "atheist" tag when I examine all the major Gods which have examinable definitions to begin with; any conversion to any religion is not probable by a long shot, but hey, if I go Section 8 and start preaching the word of Brahma or whatever, I'll spare the audience and start my own blog. ;)

~~~

Unlike many in the recent "New Atheist" movement, I am interested in approaching the ideas of many religions from a neutral position (or, if you're Calvinist, from as neutral of a position as possible). After all, if we ask Christians to apply the Outsider Test to their worldview, we ought to be consistent and apply it to ourselves. I traveled to the evangelical conference in Providence with John as a result of this thought, and got to meet and befriend the most respected evidentialist apologists out there - including an opportunity to talk Kalam, the Moral Argument, and Calvinism with Bill Craig and Paul Copan two-on-one for over an hour and a half. I made good friends with them and many others, including Mary Jo and Roger Sharp, whom I hope I convince to share a message board with the idea of holding civil standards of scholarly discussion.

John and I went to one of the top places in the world where we could find people to help us see how nonbelievers are seen from the Fundamentalist Christian "outside," and not only did we survive, but we still "nonbelieved" afterward! I would challenge not only Christians to take John's challenge, but my fellow nontheists as well, so long as the people you find aren't of the "no religious neutrality" types of Calvinists or their "alpha-male" counterparts that roam as an undesirable subset of the Arminian and Catholic camps.

Once you see that the good-hearted and open Christian scholars, although mistaken, are not wholly unreasonable, you'll open yourself to better standards of research and respect and reach a level of thought more in tune with a Quentin Smith, Hector Avalos, or Bart Ehrman rather than a Dawkins or Hitchens. The latter two are, of course, every bit as smart as the former, but the same level of respect and dedication to consistent, philosophical thought and scholarly analysis is quite different, and it shows.

John mentioned I may have trouble with the title of this blog, as my ultimate aim isn't to debunk Christianity, but merely to analyze the ideas Christianity (or any religion) present critically and temper those ideas with the greatest minds the opposition has to offer. The reason I am interested in your religion is that it is both a very important, deep claim, and also it serves as probably the best portrait available of how people both think and feel.

I ultimately decided to join this blog because there is one area where I become quite rabid in regards to fundamentalist Christianity, or at least with some portions of the group: politics. It is unfortunate that some of the best minds in the field of Christian scholarship advocate ideas such as Dominionism and Theonomy; even though they are minority rule, we may be a terrorist attack or two away from those who believe America is a Christian Nation finally getting their way and, say, stoning all of us nonbelievers in a public square (see Dr. Gary North).

Nonetheless, my postings and replies to questions on that particular subject will be scant - their theology is the deeper basis. I do not think I could ever debunk a two thousand year old religion completely out of existence, and I do not wish to "deconvert" a single person (although that won't be a necessarily awful side-effect ...), but if I moved one advocate for theocracy to a more liberal system which caused her to abandon that dangerous notion, I'd have accomplished one of my goals. Other than that, my posts should be considered "discussing Christianity," in accordance to the approach I wish to take.

I differ with John on quite a few points, but John is still the atheist who holds my point of view as close as I've personally found. To introduce a bit of controversy to some of the nonbelieving crowd here to clarify why I feel a bit isolated as the kind of atheist unwilling to walk with the "brights," here are some controversial points in my own worldview (i.e. "control beliefs!"):

*A belief in a knowable reality and groundable morality;

*A belief in human free will not described either by the common notions of "compatible" or "libertarian";

*A belief that Christ was a historical person, based mainly on the explosion of the early Church and the inability of the gigantic genetic fallacies inherent in the Christ Myth hypothesis to explain the historical Christ away, although with the belief that the historical Christ was distorted by legend;

*A belief that Paul authored a few of the letters attributed to his name, including I Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc., and perhaps served as the primary theological influence for the Book of John;

*A belief that engaging less informed, more preachy believers (see: Ray Comfort) in a nice but decisive manner about nonbelief is necessary, given their word - not the scholar's word - is what is being preached to the "masses" who have the power to gang up on us at he polling station.

My writings may appear critical, even harsh; however, I intend to attack no person unless first attacked (I will even try to withhold on this point unless good people I know, like John or Hector, are unfairly personally attacked).

As long as nothing is forced on anyone via law, I take Dr. Will Provine's point of view in that recent Creationist documentary which probably saw more time in the cutting room than all its theatre airtime combined, "Expelled":

"I don't care what they end up as being. I don't care if they end up being religious Young-Earth Creationists if they have thought their way through the issues to get there. I'm all for them."

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Thanks for enduring this (rather long) post. I leave the floor to you now. You may ask any question you like, so long as it is civil; as long as John approves, all marks of overriding arrogance and personal attack beyond an occasional hiccup of temper or attitude for obvious nonserious show from either side will be removed by me from any of the blog posts I make. I'm here for the facts - not the fights. I hope you will be, too, and I'm interested in the discussion of the evidences and arguments from both sides.

-Darrin Rasberry


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P.S. Some may realize I am unafraid to post my real name (yes, "Rasberry" is my real name, take a look at the Iowa State Mathematics grad student page!) and that any potential job, unlike, say, a self-employed writer like John's, would carry the risk of being rejected based on a quick search of my name from any potential employer. This is especially "risky" given that I'm looking in the storm-rich area of the Midwest for teaching, so I can drive my car into tornadoes on stormy afternoons right after work. If an employer rejected me for having an approach to religion that their top scholars respected, though, it would come out sooner or later - and better sooner, because I would not work for someone willing to decide an unrelated job position on religion in the first place. I am unafraid of where I stand in regards to religion, and having my name as-is here displays that IMO. Speaking openly also helps me remember to hold my tongue and continue my pledge to treat everyone fairly. I would invite as many nonbelievers as are reasonably able to introduce themselves with their real names as well, if they have not done so already ...

21 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Darrin, let me be the first to welcome you here, for your friendship and for the hours of conversations we had on long drive to and from "Rogue's Island." I found us in great agreement about many things.

People will be interested, as I am, in a later post where you'll describe your experiences at the Apologetics 2008 Conference, especially your discussions with Drs. Craig, Copan and Sinclair. That was basically three on one and you held your own!

Happy Thanksgiving "Storm Trooper."

Steven Carr said...

I'm glad you think Bart Ehrman and Hector Avalos are more sophisticated thinkers than Dawkins or Hitchens.

Does this mean that Ehrman and Avalos will not be abused and insulted by Christians, in the way that Dawkins and Hitchens are?

Steven Carr said...

Was it 'scholarly analysis' that led William Lane Craig to write that certain children he to be killed, because they could not be allowed to grow up and interfere with God's plans?

What 'scholarly analysis' led Craig to his knowledge of what these children and babies would have done if they had not been killed?

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, were you ever a believer? Just curious, for it seems as though you weren't. If not you don't understand the mindset. If so, you have forgotten it.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, if the goal is a mutual understanding and the chance to change minds on these issues then treating the other side with disrespect will provoke still more disrespect. There is enough of that to go around, of course, but there is no need to instigate it, okay? Surely you see the distinction.

Steven Carr said...

Should statements that children had to be killed, because if they grew up they would disrupt God's plans, should such statements be 'respected'?

Should they be hushed up by atheists, and never mentioned in polite society?

What should be done about such statements, John?

All I asked was what scholarly analysis lay behind them?

What is disrespectful about that?

What is disrespectful about asking how Craig came to know what dead children would have done, if they had been allowed to live?

John W. Loftus said...

Nothing, Steven. What did you mean with your first comment?

Darrin said...

>>John

Thanks so much! I enjoyed the drive, too. I would be interested in speaking about the Moral Argument for God that Bill presents, which I am about to deliver the full refutation I presented to Paul via email (remember we god distracted by Calvinism in the middle of it).

I think Steve's question is valid, John. He means if I think Bart and Hector will end up being castigated by all of fundamentalist Christianity like the popular novelists. I'll address it here.

>>Steve

Haha, I think they're more respected amongst the evidentialist crowd than Dawkins and Hitchens are. I know, for instance, that Quentin Smith (whom I model with the attitude I bring to this blogging) is a good personal friend of Bill Craig, as is Ray Bradley; Anthony Flew, whom Gary H. says is as far as Christianity as can be and who doesn't really see his deism as any kind of victory, has been friends with Habermas for decades. And who can forget the more media-friendly friendship between Falwell and Larry Flynt, after what they went through?

There are *some* Christians who will burn the former two more, seeing them as a greater threat. Like I told John, I hope Bart knows what he's up to in January when he debates James White. White is very knowledgeable, but atheists in general aren't prepared well for Calvinists, and in specific this is a Calvinist who was, according to his recent blog, actually angry that Prop 8 passed by "only 55%."

Yeah - I know some aren't gonna be nice. But some will. You have to talk it through with those folks. They have the best evidence to temper your own views, and they provide the best chance for a rare convert, hehe.

Am I saying to fly to their house for barbeque every week? Not at all; I doubt I'll see any of these people beyond Internet contact any more than once a year or so. But that doesn't mean I didn't find people of value to challenge my ideas with! They didn't win out, of course, but as a result my arguments are more solid, more sophisticated, and avoid the old canards that the Four Horseman (well, maybe at times not Harris) constantly make.

Bill would likely counter (if you're pro-Choice) with a "no u!" finger-point that should be obvious since Bill is pro-life. Isn't it funny, though, that since most Christians think aborted/miscarried infants go straight to Heaven, they make abortion a method to fill Heaven to the brim with souls that have no chance to lose their salvation? ;)

Matt said...

Welcome Darrin. I'm a graduate student in physics at ISU. I hang out with some of the math grad students so I'm sure we know some of the same people. I just wanna ask one thing though... why don't you come to the Atheist and Agnostic Society meetings?

Darrin said...

>> Matt

Nice to meet a fellow ISU grad student.

I actually don't get along with some of the math grad students here, for reasons stemming from both me and them. If you know two or three people specifically, you'll get a completely false impression, as one math grad student in particular has attempted to report me doing things on the job that are fireable offenses (and getting reprimanded properly after my boss quickly discovered they were in fact totally untrue). I'm actually looking to leave here ASAP, with hopes of continuing my dissertation from afar while working at a juco with my M.S.

The reason I don't attend the atheist and agnostic society is twofold: (1) the girl who ran it last year (not Anastasia, who is awesome) couldn't tell the difference between talking about nontheism and being hit on, which I found offensive; (2) I apparently scheduled games over weekly meetings this semester before I knew of the meeting times, and I keep forgetting about Sunday brunch.

BobCMU76 said...

Hi Darrin. A pleasure to hear your story, and your commitment to opposed Theonomy. I'm a Christian who believes that Judaism and Islam and various oriental religions set up systems of government, but that Christianity speaks of individual conscience and voluntary community within a secular, pluralistic, or competing theistic culture. Christianity sets forth no rules for governing others, only ourselves, and those who happen to be among "One Body"

I also feel that Clark/Robbins/North represent the spirit of the anti-Christ. But I have more fun forwarding that notion in places where their acolytes congregate.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on questions of moral authority, especially moral authority with which one may bring truth to power, that is: that which challenges Spenserian notions of "Might is right" so prevalent among the loony right.

Darrin said...

Heh, BobC, as a math guy I gotta have a weird affinity somewhere for Clark, even though he's bizarre as they come. I love axiomatic systems of philosophy; they're quite rare; it's no wonder why their bookstore (which doesn't have too many books, like 84 or so) has two books on Ayn Rand, one from a convert to Clark's system and the other from Clark's "heir."

To paraphrase that quote about Kant, "he sacrifices everything in his mad rage for rationalism." He translates "Word" in John 1 (and elsewhere!) as Logic. God is logic! I just have to have some kind of warmness for the guy, like you do for that relative who thinks a lot like you but somehow comes to the opposite conclusions about life and bashes you with 'em each Christmas.

Robert_B said...

Happy Turkey Day to all at DebunkingChristianity. :)

BobCMU76 said...

I don't really know Clark and his successors so much as his proponents, who swarm the internet. I've meant to read from the horses mouth at some point.

I just discovered that Robbins and North are closely tied to Ron Paul, which scares me. My atheist son (who may deconvert me yet) is positively enamored with the man. I've yet to break the news that Ron Paul is the covert vanguard of Rushdoony and all he aspires to.

My big objection to Clark's teaching that God may be known with precision through reason is that the (metaphorical) Serpent likely said something to that effect to Eve. I've several other objections, some I've mentioned in this blog (many of these new atheists remind me of Clark acolytes), but such squabbles are secondary here, just as counter-Calvinist arguments won't persuade an ex-Armenian to reconvert.

I think Franky Schaeffer is onto something. Orthodoxy doesn't get lost in Dort, or Trent, for that matter. They pretty much aren't even into the Augustine/Pelagius controversy. But they are into THREE THREE THREE, to the point of nausea.

Robert_B said...

John Loftus wrote a fine synopsis of the POE in his showcase piece featured at Infidels.org

"The problem of evil is as clear of an empirical refutation of the existence of the Christian God as we get. As James Sennett has said:

By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil—the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don't understand it.[24]

If God is perfectly good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. A perfectly good God would oppose it, an all-powerful God could eliminate it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. For the theist, the extent of intense suffering in the world implies that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. If God exists, the reality of intense suffering is a stubborn fact indicating that something is wrong with God's ability, goodness, or knowledge.

Christians believe that God freed the Israelites from slavery, yet allowed multitudes to be born into slavery and die as slaves in the antebellum American South. They believe that God parted the Red Sea, but refrained from holding back the waters when an Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people in 2004. God provided manna from Heaven, so the story goes, but does nothing to prevent the deaths of over 40,000 people around the world who starve every single day, nor anything to alleviate the hunger pains and malnutrition that the starving face throughout their short lives. God is said to have made an axe head to float, yet allowed the Titanic to sink. He is said to have added 15 years to King Hezekiah's life, but does nothing for children whose lives are cut short by leukemia. God allegedly restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar, but does nothing for those suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. While alive Jesus is said to have healed the sick, but does nothing today to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. The handicapped and those born with birth defects are untouched by divine healing. As God sat idly by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the 20th century due to genocide and war. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while other animals continue to viciously prey on each other.

Consider the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. If God had prevented it, none of us would ever know that he had prevented it precisely because it didn't happen. A good person who knew that it would happen and who could easily prevent it would be morally obligated to prevent it, and God said to be capable of preventing such a thing with the "snap" of his fingers, so to speak.

Stephen Wykstra argues that it's possible that we cannot see the good reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good God allows so much suffering.[25] Because God is omniscient while our knowledge is limited, we are told, we can't understand God's purposes, and thus can't begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world, especially since we do have a good idea how God could've created differently. The most probable reason that we find so much apparently gratuitous suffering in the world is that there simply is no perfectly good, all-powerful, and omniscient God of Christian theology."

Good job John.

Jason Long said...

Welcome. Storm chasing is one of three professions that I actually wanted to do in life (astronaut and number theory, the other two), but alas, I chose something more boring for job security.

Darrin said...

>>Steve

Number theory! I always loved number theory. Tons of application for cryptography ...

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

I am glad to see another Iowa State University voice on this blog.

James said...

Robert B: Calvinism takes care of the problem of evil quite easily, based on my understanding. All creatures are "totally depraved" and worthy of eternal torment. At least that's what I've been told. Thus, it's easy to write off human suffering as a just God exacting a just punishment on rebellious and evil creatures. If you try to insist that not everyone (or even "most") people are worthy of eternal torment or dying horrible deaths, you're told that people are "good" only because God has doled out "common grace" (which basically means that God is pulling the strings of evil people so that they don't become too much of an irritation in the lives of the "elect").

My guess is that Calvinism will eventually kill empathy in the believer, and based on my readings, that certainly seems to be the case (though admittedly not always, perhaps because people do not always follow things through to their logical conclusions).

Steven Carr said...

What sort of respect should scholars show for other scholars?

Leading postmodernist and other strange uses of language


Here James Crossley writes about NT Wright - 'Wright's language is poetic etc but it's content does not work as an argument (one very good reason why content should really come first) and it seems he's making it up.'

This is pretty strong language for one scholar to use about another.

It is my opinion that much New Testament scholarship consists of making things up...

Luke said...

Welcome.

Ehrman is a sophisticated thinker, but not in "Misquoting Jesus," a very misleading book.

Don't toss out the mythicist postion so quickly. The "explosion" of the early church actually charted the same growth rate as Mormonism has, as shown by Rodney Stark in the first chapter of "The Rise of Christianity."

I think Jesus probably existed, but we don't know, and there are a few compelling mythicist cases out there. Richard Carrier's is perhaps the strongest.