Cole: "I'm tired of looking stupid by trying to defend the Bible."

Cole first arrived here at DC a few years back as a Christian under the name Calvin, and he was the answer man. He quoted the Bible. We argued against him. Finally I challenged him to read my book WIBA. Then a few weeks passed and he said he no longer believed. He changed his name to Cole and became an angry atheist for a while, a typical reaction for many ex-believers once they realize they were duped. But months passed and then he came back to DC as a Christian again by arguing in the same fashion as I originally saw him do. Just today he gave it up. He said: "I'm done with the Bible." And then "I'm tired of looking stupid by trying to defend the Bible." You can read the exchange I had with him right here. I'm glad for him. He did look stupid defending the Bible. Many Christians do. But Cole is not stupid at all. He was just deluded, and I wish him well. Finally, no more cognitive dissonance for him.

49 comments:

Lynn said...

As upsetting as it can be to leave your faith, it is also SO freeing! You no longer have to wrangle with things that don't make sense. You get to stop trying to figure it out. It's a huge weight off your shoulders when you no longer have to defend the Bible to yourself or anybody else. The Bible's on its own now! And good luck and encouragement to Cole. And you gave him good advice, John.
I also see Cole as another serious person-like myself-who is tortured with it all for a long time. Do pastors know what they do to THINKING SERIOUS people??

dguller said...

Good for Cole.

Life is far too short to waste valuable time on nonsense.

As John said, it is far better to simply do good in the world, not to appease an imaginary divine dictator to gain entrance into an eternal fantasyland, but because the world desperately needs more good in it.

We are all interconnected, and the health of the whole depends upon the healthy relationships between its parts. Heal the parts, and thus heal the whole.

You really do not need to know anything more to find satisfaction and contentment in life on earth.

Anthony said...

How can Christians worship a God who saves his child (Cole), then never gives him any rest while he's a Christian, loses him, regains him, and then loses him again?

What a pathetic excuse for a God!

Cole, we've all been there, and I'm sure anyone here would be more than willing to talk with you, just as John Loftus would, if you are dealing with any issues.

I hope you can overcome this and become a stronger person because of it.

I wish you the best.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I totally identify with Cole and wish him well.

Dropping supernaturalism has helped me enjoy life.

Cole, if you feel the need to not feel alone in your journey please feel free to check out my blog info and drop me a line at my email address.

Coming to grips with the reality of your doubts can be a painful experience but, know that it is not a terminally unique one.

Be good to yourself.

Peace

Bill said...

I'm new here (though I have read WIBA and listened to a number of podcasts featuring John), have just met Cole, and I, too, would like to encourage him in his journey out of religion. Like Cole, I have waffled back and forth somewhat because those damn programming tapes can keep playing in my head when I don't want them to.

So I'd like to encourage Cole to explore and enjoy his new freedom and to not feel the pressure to be anything except what he is, a person who honestly seeks the truth. For many of us, Christianity is more than a religion, it is a culture, a way of life, and a worldview that doesn't let go quickly or easily. That is why, IMO, it is helpful to be around others who are exploring the same freedom. We discover that we are not the only ones whose world fell apart and are trying to rebuild a life of meaning and purpose without "the eye in the sky." Cole, I wish you all the best, my friend, and hope to hear much more from you as you turn this corner and, hopefully, discover new life without God.

Chuck O'Connor said...

John,

This whole thread seems to contradict the notion that people need God to care about other people.

stamati anagnostou said...

This is Cole Houx we're talking about? Good for him. He always seemed like a deep thinking fellow. Cole, I gotta say that I am proud of you. It takes guts to have pride in yourself, and I salute you.

Rob R said...

Cole's focus was a bad one (the one promoted here). The question of how Christianity is best understood is more basic than whether it is true. What kind of God it is that we say exists is far more basic than whether he exists. Determining the existence of something you have an inferior understanding has a great potential to skew your investigation. Thus bare existence is not the right place to start and it is not the best place to focus attention (particularly for a believer/former believer like Cole (hopefully his current frustrations are no more permanent than his last frustrations).

What little I read of the comments cole made in the immediate vicinity of that topic demonstrated that he embraced too much mystery as a cover for bad doctrine (God's reprobating choices). We Christians value and understand the importance of mystery, but when it is used to make God more inscrutable than he is, than he intends given his design of our minds, the gift of his revelation, our ability to think together more effectively than we can on our own (a feature of both science and good theology) then we have taken mystery too far.


Cole, don't give up on your faith, get help in prayer and in understanding. Don't lean on your own understanding and don't be limited to the answers that your own subtradition offers but know that the church has far richer resources even within the variety of theology that has developed both yesterday and today. God never quit teaching the church and our tradition has provided the base for progress, and not for a stagnant unchanging set of doctrines that have never been developed.

Chuck O'Connor said...

So says you Rob.

I for one am hoping you too drop your "answer man" mask and practice the true humility naturalism and skepticism offer.

You are intelligent. I think our society would benefit if someone of your smarts turned his intellect towards solving real world problems rather than parsing and defending superstition. Pity.

zenmite said...

Cole wasn't a true christian? His understanding of Christanity was inferior? To yours?

This is the common reaction to anyone that leaves Christianity. The pope could convert to Islam tomorrow and catholics would claim he wasn't a real christian.

"Don't lean on your own understanding"

I hear this over and over too. Don't trust your own mind and reasoning...trust the word of god. What mind or understanding do you suppose decides to trust god or the bible and distrust itself? If Cole decides to be a believer again it will still be his understanding and his mind that makes that decision. If you decide the bible is the word of god, that is also your own understanding. The advice to not lean on your own understanding is common to most mind-control cults too. Would you tell a devotee of hanuman (the hindu monkey god) that was beginning to question her own beliefs and assumptions to 'not lean on your own understanding' too?

"The question of how Christianity is best understood is more basic than whether it is true."

Does this apply to other religions too? Other beliefs? Is the question of how hinduism, buddhism or islam is best understood more basic than whether it is true? Is the question of how astrology is best understood more basic than whether it is true?

Rob R said...

Cole wasn't a true christian?

I explicitly said precisely the opposite govenah.

His understanding of Christanity was inferior?

Is it so implausible to think that the differences between legitimately understandings can be indeed be in terms of quality?

His understanding was inferior that led him to leave (or at least say he left) the faith. And his understanding that was expressed in the discussion from which this belongs almost led me to lose my faith. But I didn't try to hack it out with atheists. I sought a better researched understanding prayerfully (bitter angry prayers no less) with the help of scholars at my own school and on line discussions with scholars. I never asked anyone to pray with and for me in this, but that would be a very good idea as well.

I hear this over and over too. Don't trust your own mind and reasoning...trust the word of god.

I didn't exactly say that, and it is an oversimplification. If trust in scripture is at stake, clearly, it is reasonable to not only continue to meditate on scripture (as I did) but also to get help from others. God didn't write scripture to you, to me or to cole. It was written to his people and it is not only to be read and studied privately but corporately as well taking advantage not only of our local faith communities but also the work of those who devote their lives to studying and understanding it as well as to the work of those who study related matters.

On trusting our own mind and reason, it's all we got, and yet if there is anything that the internet discussions should teach anyone, it's that our best attempts (as percieved best by ourselves) at reasoning do not lead us all to the same conclusion. Seems reasonable in light of that to take the humble route and admit that we must depend upon others (and from the church's perspective, that means God and prayer as well).

The advice to not lean on your own understanding is common to most mind-control cults too.

And even science demands that we rely on the thinking and research of others. No one can verify it all for himself.

Would you tell a devotee of hanuman (the hindu monkey god) that was beginning to question her own beliefs and assumptions to 'not lean on your own understanding' too?

I'd make some suggestions on who he could rely.

Does this apply to other religions too? Other beliefs? Is the question of how hinduism, buddhism or islam is best understood more basic than whether it is true?

Absolutely. The insiders understanding is very important in pondering their veracity.

Kilre said...

--Cole's focus was a bad one (the one promoted here).

How are you sure that yours isn't?

--What kind of God it is that we say exists is far more basic than whether he exists.

So, it's far easier to define a supernatural being than it is to say it exists. Of course: that's what authors do all the time! For instance, Cthulu and the Elder Gods.

--Determining the existence of something you have an inferior understanding has a great potential to skew your investigation.

Basic barebones approach to skeptical inquiry, except...

--Thus bare existence is not the right place to start and it is not the best place to focus attention (particularly for a believer/former believer like Cole (hopefully his current frustrations are no more permanent than his last frustrations).

...you're doing it wrong. Bare existence, which I'm interpreting as the naturalistic world that we can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and in general interact with, is the null hypothesis to test everything else from; from there, we can set up tests with things that interact with us. With "bare existence".

--What little I read of the comments cole made in the immediate vicinity of that topic demonstrated that he embraced too much mystery as a cover for bad doctrine (God's reprobating choices).

Are you too certain that he wasn't being mysterious enough? Maybe you're not embracing the awe-inspiring, slack-jawed wisdom that is "GOD MOVES IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS".

--We Christians value and understand the importance of mystery-

We non-Christians know too well, but mystery is just another word for "will be tested soon, because we want to know".

--but when it is used to make God more inscrutable than he is, than he intends given his design of our minds, the gift of his revelation, our ability to think together more effectively than we can on our own (a feature of both science and good theology) then we have taken mystery too far.

Unfortunately, since mystery is all you have to run on, I'm inclined to agree.

--Cole, don't give up on your faith

Cole, do what the doubt in your mind craves: seek out the answers for yourself.

--get help in prayer and in understanding.

Prayer is the last thing Cole needs. More telepathic communing with the sky-daddy. No, what Cole needs is to sit down amongst some books on geology, philosophy, biology, anthropology, astronomy, and learn about this wonderful universe.

--Don't lean on your own understanding

I agree! It's impossible to know everything personally, unless you're a computer I guess. Lean on the understanding of the giants that have come before, and learned about this pitiless life, and of course, make your own path, for yourself, not for the glory of some invisible Big Brother.

--and don't be limited to the answers that your own subtradition offers but know that the church has far richer resources even within the variety of theology that has developed both yesterday and today.

Variety of theology? There's only "God exists, here's a bunch of mysterious reasons built up with credulous logic"!

--God never quit teaching the church and our tradition has provided the base for progress

Funny how he never "quit teaching" and yet it's always man doing the preaching.

dguller said...

Rob:

>> Is it so implausible to think that the differences between legitimately understandings can be indeed be in terms of quality?

Could you please elucidate the factors that you consider essential to determining whether a supernatural hypothesis is quality or not?

>> On trusting our own mind and reason, it's all we got, and yet if there is anything that the internet discussions should teach anyone, it's that our best attempts (as percieved best by ourselves) at reasoning do not lead us all to the same conclusion.

And? Consensus is not the goal, because there will always be people who fundamentally do not understand how to reason properly, and will be in the thrall of fallacious arguments that just so happen to support their preconceived ideas. A more important issue is whether one’s arguments are sound or not.

>> Seems reasonable in light of that to take the humble route and admit that we must depend upon others (and from the church's perspective, that means God and prayer as well).

What? So, because of the inherent limitations of our ability to reason properly, the conclusion is not to limit our conclusions to what we can know with a high degree of probability, but to submit to the decrees of others, such as the church? That’s rather bizarre, especially since the church is also affected by the cognitive limitations of human beings, as well as the additional elements of institutional bias and distortion for the sake of retaining its power and influence in the world. Of all the sources of epistemic support, the church?! Wow.

>> And even science demands that we rely on the thinking and research of others. No one can verify it all for himself.

That is a false analogy.

Science requires human beings to work together in a division of labour, because it is impossible for a single individual to have all the relevant scientific knowledge. However, the scientists that one relies upon are solely upon the basis of whether their research meets standards of sufficient quality to be reliable. Again, it is the EVIDENCE that matters, not the prestige of the scientists in question.

If someone claims to have proven something that no-one can understand or replicate, then their claims are rejected until they can be understood and/or replicated. They will not be believed just because they are a professor at a high quality university.

And ultimately, the validity of scientific claims rest upon whether they fit the empirical world or not. Religious claims do not have any such restrictions, because there are many who take pride in the fact that religious knowledge is fundamentally paradoxical and incoherent, as a means of reducing man’s reliance upon the arrogance of reason and logic instead of faith.

Apples and oranges. Again.

>> The insiders understanding is very important in pondering their veracity.

To a certain extent, this is true. However, you also have to remember that insiders have multiple perverse incentives to muddy their thinking to avoid cognitive dissonance. So, although it IS important to consult with insiders to get a fair sense of the belief system that you are trying to criticize, their understanding is NOT sufficient to demonstrate the belief system’s veracity. Once it is elucidated, its evidence must be evaluated. Again, and again, it is ALL about the evidence.

Rob R said...

How are you sure that yours isn't?

I'm as sure as the quality of my investigations into the matter have led me to where I am at. The devil is in the details.

So, it's far easier to define a supernatural being than it is to say it exists. Of course: that's what authors do all the time! For instance, Cthulu and the Elder Gods.

This comparison is loaded. You'd beg the question to think that it is appropriate to suggest the Christian picture is equivalent to a fiction. And the matter isn't so much about defining God as it is working out that definition by reflecting on revelation, reason, experience, tradition, and then some.

Bare existence, which I'm interpreting as the naturalistic world that we can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and in general interact with, is the null hypothesis to test everything else from; from there, we can set up tests with things that interact with us. With "bare existence".

Nothing in "bare existence" implies that you are correct in this unsupported assertion that this the way to measure all knowledge.

We non-Christians know too well, but mystery is just another word for "will be tested soon, because we want to know".

There is no way to test this claim, especially not in our life time. Thus it is self refuting.

And some things cannot be tested empirically such as morality and intrinsic human worth.

Variety of theology?

Which shows that you wax elequont on something for which you have little education, and if you've been reading too many new atheists, you've had the opposite of education.

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

As a former Christian (who is now an absolute atheist on the Bible (there is no Biblical god)) I am often asked: Without God and the Bible, just what keeps you from raping women and children, pilling, lying and setting churches on fire?

My response is: The very same things that keeps all non- Christians / non-Bible believers moral and ethical…common sense: Daaahh!

What continually amazes me is the very fact that the Bible is held up as a book of total true. Only it, and it alone is the standard for ALL moral and ethics.

Thus, it is by its own view, a holy book so full of God’s truth that once it is ever rejected, all hell will break forth on the earth just as described in the Book of Revelation!

What also astounds even more, is the very notion that this Bible Holy Book is so full of absolute universal truths and is the standard of all morals and ethics that it must be continually defended and propped up by the same totally depraved people it condemns as sinners!

This sick relationship is like the abused wife who is beaten up by a worthless husband who won’t work and stays drunk. But whenever the police are called by their neighbors to intervene and stop the husband's abuse, the wife will not file charges and tells police she loves her husband and that he would not beat unless she needed it!!!

Now as for a the claim that as a non-Christian / atheist, I have nothing to stop me from raping women and children, pilling, lying and setting churches on fire: I’ll leave that to the Israelites in the Books of Numbers and Joshua in the Old Testament or to the constantly exposed corrupt Televangelist and Catholic priests who are continually being exposed as pedophiles!

Greg said...

"His understanding was inferior that led him to leave (or at least say he left) the faith."

What a strange and picky personality this god chappie is.

Here is a person who wanted and felt he knew the presence of this god person, and yet this god person withheld the grace of belief. So, BELIEVING isn't good enough now.

This god chappie is unable to meet Cole halfway on this, to step in a clarify Cole's misconceptions. Rather that correct Cole's belief, this god chappie sees fit to let Cole's belief run out.

Basically a being of perfect love has spurned the love returned.

dguller said...

Rob:

>> You'd beg the question to think that it is appropriate to suggest the Christian picture is equivalent to a fiction.

That is incorrect. It would beg the question if one assumed from the beginning that Christian beliefs are essentially fiction. However, if one examined them and found that they were nothing but byproducts of the human imagination without any genuine grounding in empirical reality, then they could fairly be considered fiction.

>> And the matter isn't so much about defining God as it is working out that definition by reflecting on revelation, reason, experience, tradition, and then some.

So, what is your definition of “God” based upon “revelation, reason, experience, tradition, and then some”? I mean, you must have SOME definition of him, right? If you don’t, then what are you talking about?

I think that what is so frustrating is that believers will define God in a certain way, and when that definition is found to be wanting, they proceed to make ad hoc adjustments to maintain the consistency between God and the facts of the world. However, there is no way of knowing whether those adjustments are appropriate, except for the fact that they allow them to continue to maintain the possibility that their version of God can exist. The problem is that the whole point becomes revising the definition until God becomes impossible to falsify, and thus the matter becomes fundamentally circular.

>> Nothing in "bare existence" implies that you are correct in this unsupported assertion that this the way to measure all knowledge.

Then how should one measure knowledge?

>> And some things cannot be tested empirically such as morality and intrinsic human worth.

Why not? One can empirically investigate whether people DO follow the rules of morality (or perceive others as having intrinsic worth) and whether people SHOULD follow the rules of morality (or perceive others as having intrinsic worth) in terms of improving the quality of their life. It is just incorrect that science has no role to play in this matter.

Brad Haggard said...

Would people here quit calling me deluded and biased and naive, and stupid not question my education anymore if I said I was now an atheist?

I'm just sayin...

Anthony said...

Brad: Would people here quit calling me deluded and biased and naive, and stupid not question my education anymore if I said I was now an atheist?

Atheists (speaking as one) can also be deluded, biased, naive, and stupid. They can be just as irrational as anyone else. I have read some of the most asinine arguments by atheists promoting non-belief.

That all being said, I am still convinced that the atheist position has the upper hand intellectually and better represents reality than the various forms of theism.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Brad,

my answer to your question, no.

Now if you started calling yourself Agnostic then . . .

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

The truth about the Biblical salvation is that “Tear Jerking - Sob Stories” work!

Be they in the movie Titanic or The Mission, or in any story where someone or something gives its life for another, the theme pulls at the old heart strings.

I used this same theme to get my children to eat their chicken at lunch as follows:

When they refused to eat their baked chicken (based on my evangelistic background), I would tell them a story that, from its birth, this chicken on their plate was once a baby chick which grew up so very happy with the knowledge that one day it would give its life for my children so they could be healthily and grow up big and strong. And now, with it total sacrifice given by its life for my children, they have refused to eat it.

I would end this story with the description than this poor chicken is now in Chicken Heaven looking down upon them, but now heart broken with the knowledge that its very sacrifice was rejected.

This caused both my kids to sob and then eat their chicken! (A chicken sinner saved and a meal finished!)

I can not count the times, back in the 70’s (as a Christian ) I attended Baptist revivals, where (after preaching for almost an hour) the Altar Call was given and NO BODY came forward for salvation.

Since this did not sit well with the visiting evangelist, he would use a similar Tear Jerker / Sob Story to create converts. It could go like this:

Please, Please! Stop the music and choir: Lets stop singing. Now, every head bowed and every eye closed.

(The evangelist would sob a little here for affect before starting.)

There was a very small, but happy child named little Timmy.

Little Timmy was the apple of his mother’s eye and attended church and Sunday school every time the doors were opened. All the church cherished and loved little Timmy almost as much as his mother and daddy did.

But one day, little Timmy was struck down with an unknown fever of which all the doctors and their medicine were of no help.

As little Timmy laid dying on his death bed, with all his loved ones around him, he told his sobbing mother:

"Don’t worry Mommy. I’m going to be with Jesus!"

It was less than an hour latter that little Timmy slipped into the precious arms of Jesus.
,


After this Tear Jerker / Sob Story ended, I could hear people sniffling, many wiping tears from their eyes with some even outright crying.

Now, this time when the altar call was given, the aisles were packed with so-called "lost people seeking salvation" (even if they were already members of the church and had given their heart and life to Jesus the last time a similar Sob Story was told during a revival!)

The fact of the matter is that Tear Jerking Sob Stories work; be they in the movies, at the dinner table or for salvation at church!

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Now, what about you dear Christian? As you sit at your computer struggling with so many doubts and probably weeks and years of guilt as you read all the posts and comments here on John’s Blog?

Can you say with absolute certainty - that deep within your heart - you know there are no problems with the Bible and its God that have not troubled you for years?

That you know most all of what you read here and what non-Christians have been saying on John’s Blog is true and it is really the doubt and guilt of denial of these facts that keeps you here?

Now dear Christian, I’m going to ask you a simple question and only you can be honest about its answer:

Would you like to have a intellectual peace and cast off years of struggle and doubt about whether the Bible and its god are true?

You can! Plus, we here will welcome you into the brotherhood of secular humanists; be it the path of an agnostic or atheist.

My dear fellow human, I trust you will make that decision now and rest with an honest peace of mind tonight and in the many years of happy and open intellectual grow.

Let us hear your conversion story here on John’s Blog so we may rejoice with you!

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, Harry, an altar call. Excellent!

Can I pass the plate? ;-)

dguller said...

Harry:

Amen, brother! :)

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Hey, John. You just might become more famous than Benny Hinn with your Blog!

Seriously, I wonder just how many Christians you have put under conviction with the spirit of intellectual truth and honesty?

And Brother Dguller: Your place is in the Amen Corner of the choir! (No speaking in tongues, please!)

Preach on John!

stamati anagnostou said...

I just want to throw my two cents in on the idea that we have to have a superior understanding of God in order to have an authentic faith, or however you'd like to put it. When did this all become our job anyway? At what point is one's understanding of God too low fidelity to warrant faith? Why, if God were real, would he not see the misunderstanding and then supernaturally fix it? Such bullshit, I'm sorry.

Eric said...

Re: our understanding of, or ability to define precisely, god, I usually put it like this: imagine a particular Abyssinian cat. Suppose I asked you to describe it to me. There's quite a bit you could say about it: what color it is, how much it weighs, how old it is, etc. But now suppose I ask you describe not a specific Abyssinian cat, but what 'an Abyssinian cat' is. You'd be much less specific here, and for obvious reasons. But let's take it further: you can say more, and can use more precision, about an Abyssinian cat than you can about 'a cat'; and you can say more, and can use more precision, about a cat than you can about 'a felid'; and you can say more about a felid than you can about 'a mammal'; and you can say more about a mammal than you can about 'an animal'; and you can say more about an animal than you can about 'a living thing'; and you can say more about a living thing than you can about 'a thing', or 'an entity'; and, finally (well, almost!) you can say more about a thing than you can about 'existence' as such.

Now the lesson here is that as we move from the more specific to the more broad, we can say less and less with precision. So how does this apply to the god of classical Christianity? Well, let's take that last concept, 'existence.' We can say very little about it, right? (Some philosophers think we can only provide an ostensive definition of existence, viz. a wave of the hand to indicate 'everything.') But no one faults us here once they understand the nature of what we're trying to describe. Yet classical theists will tell you that we can't properly say of god, "God exists" -- not, that is, unless we make it clear that we're using the term 'existence' analogically. For god isn't one item that happens to exist among the many others we know of; rather, god is the ground of all existence. That is -- and this is the important part -- our concept of god is even broader than one of the broadest concepts we have, viz. existence itself. So, if we can say little at all about existence, and nothing with precision, why should we expect to be able to speak precisely and to define with detail that which is conceptually broader still? Or, to put it more plainly, why, given what I've just said, expect us to be able to say as much about god as we can about an Abyssinian cat?

Brad Haggard said...

I think this thread proves how even skeptics can proselytize.

The reason I come to this blog is because, even though rhe discussion is pointed, it's still discussion, unlike, say, Pharyngula. But more Aland more here I'm starting to see that same type of absolutism on this blog. John, don't let this place become an echo chamber like Myers' and Dawkins' site. Less "rah rah" and more substantive discussion.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Eric's monologue reminds me of Nigel Tufnel's speech in Spinal Tap, "But these go to 11"

dguller said...

Eric:

>> That is -- and this is the important part -- our concept of god is even broader than one of the broadest concepts we have, viz. existence itself. So, if we can say little at all about existence, and nothing with precision, why should we expect to be able to speak precisely and to define with detail that which is conceptually broader still? Or, to put it more plainly, why, given what I've just said, expect us to be able to say as much about god as we can about an Abyssinian cat?

That is an intriguing series of ideas that are very similar to Heidegger’s famous question of Being.

My response to it is that it is both a straw man and a red herring.

I do not know anyone who demands that believers present a description of God with the same level of detail as one can describe an Abyssinian cat. That is not the issue at all. The issue is to provide a minimal definition of God that is logically consistent, which can then be examined to see if it fits the empirical world that we experience.

So, if you want to proceed with this discussion, then provide such a minimal definition. However, if your next move is to deny the possibility of ANY definition whatsoever of God, because of his utter transcendence and inscrutability, including that he exists, then feel free to stop talking about him, because the concept is utterly empty of all meaning.

And saying that God is the “ground of all being”? Who says that being needs a ground at all? Have you experienced a being that suddenly snuffs out of existence, because it lost its underlying ground? Or is this based upon an analogy with our ability to walk requiring a ground beneath our feet? If so, then that analogy is firmly entrenched within the empirical world, and there is no good reason that what goes on in the empirical world should also go on “outside” the empirical world in the supernatural beyond.

I think that this is just confusion masquerading as profundity.

Rob R said...

Eric,

I chafe against "classical theism" (not to be confused with all of orthodoxy or all of the tradition). God is more than the abstract ground of existence. God is the quintessential person and as a person, it is indeed through particulars of history biblical values that we know and may speak of him. God has related to us in a personal way and thus there is much to talk about as personhood is very much about particulars.

The most valuable thing about existence is not that it is (and has a ground) but that persons exist and bring life and meaning to existence and that a person is responsible for most of existence (other than himself). There is nothing greater nor more important than personhood in which love and relationality take place, where there is consciousness, emotion, rationality, creativity, morality and God is the ultimate exemplar of this. And it's not as if though personhood should be worshiped because only persons are worthy of such devotion, not abstractions.


stamati,

I just want to throw my two cents in on the idea that we have to have a superior understanding of God in order to have an authentic faith, or however you'd like to put it.

Don't know that anyone here promoted that idea. I know I didn't.

I never suggested Cole's faith was inauthentic. no, given Cole's comments, that's his misunderstanding of the Christianity for which he probably held an authentic faith.

The point of having a better understanding is that it is useful to our faith, not because it is the substance of our relationship to God. It is a part of that, but it is not everything. It can be a source of strength and of ruin for one's faith.

Eric said...

"I do not know anyone who demands that believers present a description of God with the same level of detail as one can describe an Abyssinian cat."

Dguller, I've certainly encountered such people, but since you apparently are not one of them, that's not important. Let me put it this way: would you expect the definition of god *we can arrive at through reason alone* to be more precise than the definition of existence? If so, why? (I'll answer one possible objection in my quick response to Rob below.)

"I chafe against "classical theism" (not to be confused with all of orthodoxy or all of the tradition). God is more than the abstract ground of existence. God is the quintessential person and as a person, it is indeed through particulars of history biblical values that we know and may speak of him."

Rob, I very much agree. But you have to remember that we're speaking with atheists and skeptics here, so any sort of appeal to the Bible will get us nowhere fast. I try to restrict myself, when speaking with atheists, to arguments with premises we can all, in principle, agree with. Does that mean that we'll have to restrict ourselves, for now, to a discussion of god that is less rich than it could be? Sure. But it doesn't mean that what we're saying is therefore less true -- or helpful. Baby steps. That's how I made my way from strong atheism to agnosticism to a general belief in god to Christianity to Catholicism.

stamati anagnostou said...

"I never suggested Cole's faith was inauthentic. no, given Cole's comments, that's his misunderstanding of the Christianity for which he probably held an authentic faith."

So you're saying he had true faith for an inauthentic religion? If that's so,that is what I was trying to get at. Or are you saying that he held merely a misunderstanding of the true religion?

"The point of having a better understanding is that it is useful to our faith, not because it is the substance of our relationship to God. It is a part of that, but it is not everything. It can be a source of strength and of ruin for one's faith."

So you've just admitted that one's knowledge can give them faith or take it away. Unless you were referring to 'strength' and 'ruin' in less than absolute terms.

dguller said...

Eric:

>> Let me put it this way: would you expect the definition of god *we can arrive at through reason alone* to be more precise than the definition of existence? If so, why? (I'll answer one possible objection in my quick response to Rob below.)

I would expect it to be more precise, because God is a complex phenomenon that consists of multiple attributes and properties. Unlike the general concept of “existence”, the concept of “God” is supposed to point out something specific, i.e. a divine person with a variety of characteristics.

>> Does that mean that we'll have to restrict ourselves, for now, to a discussion of god that is less rich than it could be? Sure. But it doesn't mean that what we're saying is therefore less true -- or helpful.

First, you still haven’t provided even a minimal definition of “God”.

Second, if you start with a restricted set of definitions in order to begin with some sort of common ground, then you have to be very careful not to overextend your conclusions beyond what is contained within the limited definitions. A classic fallacy that occurs in this situation is the fallacy of equivocation in which the meaning of the terms changes as one proceeds through the argument.

I suspect that the way that you made the transition from “strong atheism to agnosticism to a general belief in god to Christianity to Catholicism” was partially via the fallacy of equivocation, but I would have to see the justification of that process in order to be sure.

Eric said...

"I would expect it to be more precise, because God is a complex phenomenon that consists of multiple attributes and properties."

I would first like to know what you mean when you say god is a "complex phenomenon," since the god of classical theism is neither "complex" nor a "phenomenon."

Second, when you say that you expect the definition to be more precise, would you expect the terms we use to describe god in the definiens to be, with respect to their acceptation, used univocally or analogically?

"First, you still haven’t provided even a minimal definition of “God”."

Right, because that hasn't been my purpose. I was pointing out some obvious and frequently encountered errors concerning the expectations that people often have when thinking about how to define god.

But if you like, here's what a classical theist means when he uses the word 'god': ipsum esse subsistens ("subsistent being itself" or "the subsistent act of being itself"). This definition follows from a series of arguments, so it's not as if we're saying, "Hey, let's arbitrarily say that god is 'ipsum esse subsistens' -- because it sounds so cool!" And, if we work out the logic of these arguments further, we reach conclusions concerning certain "properties" (using the term analogically) we can predicate of god: he is eternal, simple, immaterial, omniscient, good, etc.

"Second, if you start with a restricted set of definitions in order to begin with some sort of common ground, then you have to be very careful not to overextend your conclusions beyond what is contained within the limited definitions. A classic fallacy that occurs in this situation is the fallacy of equivocation in which the meaning of the terms changes as one proceeds through the argument."

So you're saying, "Make sure your arguments aren't fallacious." Right. Thanks for that.

"I suspect that the way that you made the transition from “strong atheism to agnosticism to a general belief in god to Christianity to Catholicism” was partially via the fallacy of equivocation, but I would have to see the justification of that process in order to be sure."

Personally, I'd love to see you try to justify your suspicion itself. Or do you regularly suspect things without justification?

dguller said...

Eric:

>> I would first like to know what you mean when you say god is a "complex phenomenon," since the god of classical theism is neither "complex" nor a "phenomenon."

According to my understanding, God possesses a variety of abilities, including power, knowledge, wisdom, benevolence, freedom, justice, mercy, and so on. At least, that is what religious texts seem to indicate. It would appear to me that anything that possesses such a wide variety of abilities and qualities would be complex, especially if it is responsible for designing, creating, and sustaining the entire universe. Saying that such an entity is “simple” is using a definition of “simple” that is so diluted of meaning that I don’t even know that one is talking about.

>> Second, when you say that you expect the definition to be more precise, would you expect the terms we use to describe god in the definiens to be, with respect to their acceptation, used univocally or analogically?

Ideally, I would like the terms to be unambiguous and clear. If the terms are fundamentally ambiguous and unclear, and can only be understood via analogy, then I find it hard to believe that anything concrete can be concluded about the referent of the term. It would be so hazy and clouded in mist that one would be unable to gain any genuine understanding at all. The only justified response to such a scenario is SILENCE.

>> But if you like, here's what a classical theist means when he uses the word 'god': ipsum esse subsistens ("subsistent being itself" or "the subsistent act of being itself"). This definition follows from a series of arguments, so it's not as if we're saying, "Hey, let's arbitrarily say that god is 'ipsum esse subsistens' -- because it sounds so cool!" And, if we work out the logic of these arguments further, we reach conclusions concerning certain "properties" (using the term analogically) we can predicate of god: he is eternal, simple, immaterial, omniscient, good, etc.

First, can you elucidate the arguments that conclude that God is “subsistent being itself”? I’m very interested!

Second, can you show the further working out of those arguments as concluding the rest of God’s properties? I’m very interested!

>> Personally, I'd love to see you try to justify your suspicion itself. Or do you regularly suspect things without justification?

It’s solely based upon my experience discussing religious arguments with other believers. That is why it is only a suspicion of mine. I’m not saying that it is a fact. However, if you could provide the chain of reasons that led you from one position to another, then it would be easier to see if my suspicion is actually a fact after all. :)

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, God is his essence, eh Eric? God is identical with his nature, right? Did you read Plantinga's book "Does God have a Nature"?

Aquinas' view is incompatible with two fundamental concerns of Christianity, I think. First, God has only one property. His love is the same as his power and his knowledge and as such human beings cannot comprehend him. Second, the Bible presents God as a person but that can't be since the property of person-hood is not distinct from his goodness or knowledge or power.

You cannot even talk about such a being. He becomes ineffable and as such you cannot even say he is ineffable.

Such a high cost to defending your God. You and Aquinas have constructed a supreme being out of your imaginations.

Jeffrey said...

This post makes me so happy... I'm rejoicing along side the demons in hell!

But seriously, for most people (me, for instance) the deconversion process really sucks. Based on his temporary relapse, I wouldn't be surprised if it really sucks for Cole too.

I was mentally freer immediately, but it took over a year to be happier.

Cole, I don't know your set-up, but if you don't have many non-religious friends in real life, take full advantage of the web. Writing out your story and publishing it on a site like de-conversion.com that specializes in stories like this can be very therapeutic. (Mine went up October '08.) I'll bet a lot more people want to hear what you have to say than you realize.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2

Stamati,


So you're saying he had true faith for an inauthentic religion? If that's so,that is what I was trying to get at. Or are you saying that he held merely a misunderstanding of the true religion?

He had a misunderstanding of the truth. But that said, I wouldn't say that my own understanding is the best for the simple reason that our understanding of God, humanity, the world can always improve. God has not finished teaching the church and no religious historian can point to a time when our understanding quit developing, though some of that development is occasionally (and certainly not always) getting back to or clarifying the original teachings. That's not to necessarily say that we have a better relationship to God then those that came before because understanding is only a help to a relationship but doesn't gaurantee that the relationship to be excellent.

So you've just admitted that one's knowledge can give them faith or take it away.

What we think we know can indeed hider us, or what we do in fact know can indeed challenge our faith. But that said, it is not determinative. One can persevere and seek a deeper understanding when the current one fails.

When I almost lost my faith for similar (if not exact) reasons that cole has given up on his, what I learned through my perseverance in response to that crisis was priceless.

Chuck O'Connor said...

What did you learn Rob?

Chuck O'Connor said...

What did you learn Rob?

stamati anagnostou said...

Yes, I too am curious.

But this is the problem, even if, as you're saying, Cole had a misunderstanding of the truth. First of all, I would agree that we all are limited in what we can accurately perceive. We can't escape our rose colored glasses. But the issue arises on what role exactly God plays in salvation and its maintenance. Obviously people have to understand God's word in order for them to be saved- yet what is the point at which that understanding becomes sufficient for salvation? How accurate must one be in order for God to warrant granting them repentance and so on? You will say that Cole's misunderstanding was not the only factor in his loss of faith, but why cannot God correct him? Why, when he comes on to this forum to save us, does he end up damned?

My point is that people never hold God to his end of the deal. It is always up to people to maintain their relationship with God. If someone were to try their best to find him, yet fail to, they would shoulder the blame. But I say, let God come to man, and let him be held responsible.

Gandolf said...

Its not easy to escape indoctrinated faith that often has longstanding traditional deeply ingrained fear factor involved in faith in it.

Hopefully Cole can see that even if there does happen to be some supernatural supreme being,obviously thus far there has been no way for humans to honestly gain any factual scientifically verifiable knowledge of anything about this supreme being or what it may or may not expect etc.

All faiths show factual evidence of always being merely relative to the cultures surrounding them !

Hopefully Cole can see the extreme danger of this total ignorant careless thoughtless guess work,and might be interested in helping gain momentum to finally remove the ignorance of old barbaric laws of rights to total freedoms of superstitious faiths that have allowed for thoughtless ignorant killings of those judged as witches and the very many sufferings historically brought on by this nasty allowance of thoughtless guess work of faith.

Hopefully Cole can understand that in honest reality we never had nothing more than mere human thoughts and learned knowledge and use of logic and common sense to go by,whether it was ancient mans thoughts in the bible the koran some other faith or even that of our own thoughts.There is absolutely no factual proof of any supernatural devine knowledge known to man!,so following any belief is but following thoughts of another man.Why then should there be need for us to fear our own thoughts of logic and common sense etc?.

The difference is we now ALSO know we understand many more things that we once used to!.We need no longer be ignorant cave men and stupidly let our imaginations run riot with (unfounded) fear,such as that maybe there might really be gods punishing us with things like famine, earthquakes, lightning, tsunami, drought, floods etc

Because we now understand what makes these things happen.

Hopefully Cole can see that without decent factual proof either way of whether there be god/s or none,thus far! at best one can only in all honesty be agnostic.

Hopefully common sense and logic will reign and allow Cole to understand,surely it would be a very mean and nasty supreme being that would likely punish anyone for simply choosing to prefer to not promote or support any ancient (unproven faiths) that historically have always!! abused and made a certain ammount of humans need to suffer like Russian Roulette, like it was some acceptable statistic !.

Dont allow yourself to be tortured any longer Cole.Just because you lack faith,doesnt mean there is any need to change so much or lose any humanity or stop caring etc

Relax most likely there is no harsh gods,the sky is not likely to fall on your head.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2


Stamati,

If the context in which Cole was discussing really indicates the essential issue of why he gave up on his faith, clearly, what I learned, contrary to what cole asserted prior to giving up that faith is that the individualistic predestinarian interpretation of scripture is not a solid one and that God's salvation is truly for everyone, not just a preselected group "the elect".

But in the process, my understanding of scripture deepened and issues that are related to this though people don't realize their relationship were touched.

Instead of individualistic predestination, many of the predestinarian passages are about God's chosen people, not a group of people who were individually selected, but an understanding that carries over from Judaism, that it is the group, the people that are chosen, not the individuals within (except on occasion for specific tasks, not salvation from hell). Some have suggested though that choosing of the group entails choosing of the individual, but this is the Division Fallacy (Thanks once again to John Loftus, for insisting we read the IEP list of informal fallacies).

This view was argued for many decades ago but it's strength has increased in recent years from a development in Pauline studies called the New Perspective on Paul which brings a new understanding to what Paul meant when he distinguished faith from works. It wasn't simply salvation via belief vs. earning one's way to heaven by meritorious works. What Paul was really distinguishing was entering the covenant community by faith vs. entering via the works of the mosaic law. This has a powerful effect on many of the old calvinistic prooftexts such that they are undermined. Furthermore, the view of corporate election gets a boost from sociological studies that suggest that many of the target audiences and authors of that period were more corporately minded and not so individualistic as we westerners are.

This is all important and had a significant impact on my understanding important things within Christianity, which I don't consider invalidates the evangelical presentation of salvation or my former view, but merely serves to deepen it. But there are other related topics in my understanding which may be even deeper and more widespread than what I described above. In studying the topic of predestination, I studied it's place in theology and the history of theology, that it was first emphasized by Augustine, Aquinas and then Calvin (and several other figures in between) as a part of their theology that had developed as a result of the synthesis of classical Greek thought and Christian thinking. So earlier, Eric had used the term classical theism which is the result of this synthesis. As I noted earlier, I chafe at classical theism though I am quick to point out that I agree with Christian philosopher William Hasker who said that it was divine providence that we had that Greek influence that helped us to analyze and develop our theology, though, as Hasker continues, we shouldn't think that the early church fathers always made the right decisions in their use of that Greek thought.

Individualistic predestination is a part of this picture as it is a part of determinism which is a part of the classical view of God that says that God is so otherworldly that he is not affected by the world. God, in this view is outside of time, immutable (which means he does not change in any way shape or form... even in thought), and impassible (which means that he is not affected by us and is without emotions, or if he does have emotions, he is perpetually happy as Calvin put it), simple (without parts). Such a God must determine all things because if he allowed us libertarian free will, then his plans for us would indeed be affected by our actions, and he would not be immutable. And involving himself in our temporal free actions would entail his own temporality.

Rob R said...

There is also another reason to reject God's impassibility (most evangelicals and laymen never embrace that one though anyway) is because God's suffering is a frequent part of scripture and those who have suffered terribly in life may take comfort that God suffers with them (This was very important to Christian Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff who lost his son in a mountaineering accident).

Additionally, my views on free will, the reasons for it and the implications of it have developed as well. Contrary to one of John Loftus' criticisms of free will which if I recall correctly suggested that the only thing freedom makes possible is evil, I have identified several reasons for it. It enables a special type of love, consciousness, creativity and allows the soverignty that God intended for us to exercise in the world to mimic his own through that freedom making the divine reflection even greater.

I also believe that to truly embrace free will means that our future is open and thus our future free actions are not truly knowable. Thus God's omniscience must necessarily exclude such free acts (though God can know the variety of possible actions, he can know what he sovereignly determines, and he can know that some actions are psychologically determined as some societal movements are sociologically determined as not all of our behaviors are indeed free in the libertarian sense, thus there is plenty of room for prophecy and prediction in this view).

Most of this (with the exceptions of my reasons for free will which is my own thinking) comes from a movement called open theism which I fully embrace.

What is emphasized or protected in open theism against some movements in theology is our understanding of the reality of the personhood of God which we believe suffered to some extent. And studying these things made me realize how profound and excellent the concept of personhood is, that common ground between us and God that is the source of the divine image which we reflect. And that leads me to much of my thinking even here that is relevant to considering the merits and truth of Christianity. And the merit is that Christianity in fact provides the strongest foundation for humanism noting that we persons are deeply sacred.

I could go on a bit further, for example, inclusivism on a few levels becomes important here as well which has to do with the question of other religions and the question of salvation outside of the gospel, but I think this is enough to answer your question as to what it is that I have learned and why I say it was so priceless.

Individualistic predestination led Cole to reject his faith. But the rejection of the concept led me down a fascinating path that continues to unfold before me and will continue to unfold in spite of attempts here to shake my faith which know nothing of the vast richness of what the infinitely complex and wondrous Yahweh has wrought.

As to your other questions, I have spent all my time on this one.

Rob R said...

What is emphasized or protected in open theism against some movements in theology is our understanding of the reality of the personhood of God which we believe suffered to some extent.

As is my bad habit of not proofreading, this is one item that came out less clear. What I meant is that the personhood of God suffered at the hands of classical theism.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob,

You wrote, "But the rejection of the concept led me down a fascinating path that continues to unfold before me and will continue to unfold in spite of attempts here to shake my faith which know nothing of the vast richness of what the infinitely complex and wondrous Yahweh has wrought."

Do you think the opposition to your ideas exists to "shake" your faith?

Do you not see the narcissism in that?

I know I oppose your ideas because they are obviously rationalizations masquerading as universal truth and, as such, are very bad for society.

I could care less about your faith.

I care about the truth.

I don't know if you were referencing me in that indictment but, since I have openly opposed your ideas and their implications, I wanted you to be certain that my opposition has little to do with you personally and everything to do with the importance of honesty in the arena of ideas.

Rob R said...

Stamati,

as to your other questions,

But the issue arises on what role exactly God plays in salvation and its maintenance.

I wouldn't pretend to know how to answer the question of maintenance fully. But all of scripture is about God's role as the instigator of his plan of salvation (not just to keep individuals out of hell, but to redeem the world) that culminated in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. And God energizes and directs the church through his spirit to take part in the salvation of the world by spreading it. The Holy spirit of course convicts.

What role does God play in maintenance? There is conviction for those who sin. There is guidance, but this is also to be sought within the church.

Obviously people have to understand God's word in order for them to be saved-

If they don't understand it sufficiently for not having anything to do with their own rebellion, then I see no reason to believe that God will judge them for it and instead, they may become a part of God's kingdom on the basis of how they responded to his grace that was available to them which according to your scenario would not be the gospel sufficiently understood.

You will say that Cole's misunderstanding was not the only factor in his loss of faith, but why cannot God correct him?

Cole is free and if he does not want to persevere, then no correction will take place. If he persevered and sought help, God would provide it. God can correct him, but Cole has to pursue that as scripture has directed him to pursue it.

My point is that people never hold God to his end of the deal.

I did. I was persistent and on occasion, I was angry with God. You are right. People don't hold God to his end of the deal in spite of the fact that scripture says over again that we are to do precisely that. Moses interceded for the Israelites reminding God of his promises. And Jesus in more than one instance told us to be persistant in our requests to God.

But I say, let God come to man, and let him be held responsible.

I say you have a good idea. And God did precisely that and he was held responsible and his blood was on us and on our children.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob,

"I say you have a good idea. And God did precisely that and he was held responsible and his blood was on us and on our children."

I wasn't there so I'll let you shoulder the blame if you want but I'll defer to justice and truth.