Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part III

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on April 30, 2009

Calvinist Friend:

I’m glad you recognize that science cannot answer all questions. I agree. I’m glad too that you must admit that you don’t know how the universe came into existence. So the other part of my original question that you didn’t answer is what will you accept as evidence for an intelligent designer? Because you recognize that there is a gap here in human knowledge, then I want to know what evidence you are willing to accept that God fills that gap. Since you cannot disprove that God fills the gap, then lay out some ground rules for what you will accept as evidence that he does. Notice that the key here is evidence “that you will accept”. I know evidence exists. It’s good evidence. It’s strong evidence. It’s logically consistent evidence. But there’s no point in me laying out the evidence if you won’t accept it.

The “god of gaps” argument is not proof for the existence of God. Just because there is a gap doesn’t mean that my God fills it. I fully recognize that and was not about to suggest that. But we are still left with a real gap. And when left with a gap in knowledge, all people naturally fill in the blank. Some “fill in the blanks” have more evidence supporting them and some have less evidence supporting them. But everybody does this, either consciously or subconsciously. If you go back a couple of responses earlier, you’ll note that my original question was “how do you believe the universe came into existence”. Notice I didn’t say how science says the universe came into existence, which is the answer you gave me. How do you personally believe it came into existence? How do you fill in the gap? And what evidence do you have to support your belief?

As far as your question about the “holy word of Zerisut”, there is no such book. There is in fact a Bible and a Koran and a Torah, etc. So let’s stick with what’s real and what really exists. Do you want me to fill in the word Koran for “holy word of Zerisut” and answer your question? Then we can both go to a REAL book and provide proofs for the validity claims therein. This question is impossible to answer with an abstract, make-believe book. For example, how can I test the historical reliability of a text that doesn’t even exist? But before we even do this exercise with a real book, I again repeat my point that I need to know the ground rules. What will you accept as evidence?

Lastly just a quick note on the “big bang” explanation, in case you believe this theory to be correct. In my limited knowledge of the details of the theory, I know enough to know that it doesn’t ultimately provide an answer the question you have suggested it answers, which is how the universe came into existence. It may be a theoretical explanation of how the universe expanded. But it supposes that something is already in existence, whether that be heat or an atom or a distant planet. So where did that come from? You see how the theory is really not even a theory of initial causation but more of expansion. So aside from the scientific gaps in the theory, it doesn’t even answer the real question. I can take you down a road to demonstrate to you that the only way to be logically consistent in understanding the initial origins of the universe is to recognize that there must be a first cause or an “unmoved mover”. This gets deep but I’ll again hold off explanation until I understand your evidence you’ll accept.

I promise I won’t do to you what someone said on your blog site that Christians typically do in debates of this sort and just give up and walk away by saying that “you won’t accept any evidence that I give anyways so what’s the point”. I personally don’t think you will accept anything I give as evidence, no matter how strong and logically consistent the evidence is. That is why I want to know SPECIFICALLY what you will accept, so that I can hold you to it in outlining further arguments.

The Chaplain:

Calvinist Friend: You will accept any evidence?!?

Of course, why wouldn’t I?

Calvinist Friend: Will you accept experiential evidence? I’m sure I read somewhere on your blog where you discounted such evidence, even though I’m also sure you’ve relied on experiential evidence alone to put your trust in something at some point in your life.

If by experiential evidence you mean personal experience or observations, then yes, I will of course examine all evidence I am presented with. Of course, it is important to not be intellectually lazy when discussing evidence. Clear dividing lines should be made between “descriptions,” “claims,” and “evidence.”

Calvinist Friend: You seem to accept the formal rules of logical propositions, which is a good thing and a fundamental starting ground, even though you frequently misuse and abuse these rules.

According to you. I am not inclined to trust your judgment on this issue, namely because you lack the training to make this judgment. Also, your entire worldview is based on a logical fallacy (an assertion with no supporting evidence), so things aren’t looking too good.

Calvinist Friend: How about the laws of science? Is evidence equated with science to you?

It depends. Conclusions reached or discoveries made using the scientific method have a very good record. Another thing working in the favor of evidence found using the scientific method is that it is always open to revision or to complete revolution (think Einstein). All assertions that originate in science do not fit in the same category though.

Calvinist Friend: Do I have to conduct a double-blind randomized experiment to prove anything to you? This is why I need to know what rules you accept as evidence. It is mine and others experience that typically folks like yourself have a narrow view of evidence.

This entirely depends on what is being discussed. If you want to claim that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer in non-smokers, then you would be best served by referring to research studies that are rigorous and well-designed. It would also help discuss whether the results are statistically significant. It also depends on what your goal is. Is you are going to be making policy decisions that use tax-payer money, then you want to justify what you are doing based on very high standards. If you are going to be making legislative decisions that will affect people’s lives and livelihoods, again, that evidence had better be definitive. Imagine a legislator who approaches a restaurant-owning tax payer with this evidence, “I am going to pass a bill that will outlaw smoking in your restaurant, because my daughter got cancer from second-hand smoke.” The business-owner might respond with, “Wait a minute here, your personal experience is irrelevant. There are a whole slew of other variables and explanations for your daughter’s cancer. You can’t decide that you are going to use my tax money to affect my business simply because of your daughter’s cancer!” In other words, how rigorous the vetting process is for evidence is entirely dependent on the situation. However, most people would agree that evidence gained using the scientific method is much more credible than anecdotal evidence (which is limited in numerous ways).

Calvinist Friend: In fact R.C. Sproul in his book “Defending Your Faith” demonstrates how all of the most formidable atheists of Western thought (John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, etc.) have patently denied one or more of four fundamental laws of knowledge: 1) the law of non-contradiction, 2) the law of causality, 3) the basic reliability of sense perception, and 4) the analogical use of language.

R. C. Sproul: believer in inerrancy

R. C. Sproul: believer in inerrancy

Well, if Sproul said it, it must be true. I have heard of the people he mentions, but have never heard of him. Does he provide any evidence to support this assertion of his? Besides the fact that the people reading him like what he has to say?

Calvinist Friend: So let me provide you with a little bit of evidence. I won’t use experiential evidence since I’m sure you will repeat what you’ve been told- that experiential evidence is wholly subjective and thus can never be trusted. I won’t even go there. Since you wouldn’t answer me on what evidence you would accept, I’m going to presume that you won’t accept this.

All knowledge is subjective to a certain extent, since it would not exist outside of a specific individual’s mind. It’s the extent of the subjectivity and the method used to obtain the knowledge that matters.

Calvinist Friend: Now let’s use some logical propositions as evidence. If you’re familiar with the law of causality, then you know that part of this law states that every effect has a cause. Notice it doesn’t say that every “thing” has a cause, but that every “effect” has a cause.

This sounds a bit like Newton’s understanding of causality. Causality has slightly different meanings in different fields, but I think I accept the general point you are making, that something occurs prior to something else occurring.

Calvinist Friend: So if everything that exists in this universe is an effect, then it must logically have a cause. Can you think of anything other than God or some other intelligent designer that is not an effect? I can’t.

Why do you have to have something to fill this gap in human knowledge? Why not leave the gap alone, to be filled at a later time when the knowledge and tools necessary become available? It’s okay to not know something. Am I right in thinking that your claim here is as follows: 1) There is a gap in human knowledge, 2) My imagination only allows me to come up with one explanation that, coincidentally, happens to coincidence with my own personal belief in an invisible, non-natural realm and supernatural being, 3) Ergo, God is the only explanation and He must therefore exist (and of course, He has all of the characteristics from my holy book, not other religions holy books)!

I hope that you can see the flaw in this “logic.” This is wishful thinking, not logic.

Calvinist Friend: Everything else is in fact an effect. But any theory of how the universe came into existence that relies on anything other than intelligent design must ultimately go back to saying that there existed an effect without a cause.

I don’t follow. If one theory is that the universe has been in a constant process of expansion and contraction for eternity, then how is there an effect without a cause? Also, why are you only considering one possibility? And one that cannot be tested? Again, this is wishful thinking that eliminates all other possibilities in favor of the one you want to believe, and would believe, anyway.

Calvinist Friend: Thus it is logical nonsense to believe anything other than an intelligent design perspective.

It is actually kind of funny that you think you just established this. You just performed an exercise in wishful thinking with a foregone conclusion. You are also trying to establish a “fact” in a gap. Humans don’t know what existed prior to the singularity. Period. The only evidence you have provided to explain this gap in our knowledge is that your God is really big, and He could be a first cause. Yes, He could, and so could Thetans and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Your “evidence” proves that anything invisible that people believe in can be used to explain a first cause. It might explain a first cause, but it is an explanation devoid of any evidence whatsoever.

Calvinist Friend: Something cannot, I repeat cannot, come from nothing. This is fundamental logic. In fact, did you know that the greek word for logic comes from the same root as the word for design. There has to be a design.

Is this a bad attempt at an “argument from definition”? You can’t seriously be trying to sneak this one past me. Logic is the use of reason. There are numerous types of “proofs” that fit the definition of logic. The etymology of the word logic suddenly means that you get to replace the word “logic” with “design”? This is a bait and switch tactic.

Calvinist Friend: The natural order begs for a design.

That is your opinion, and you are making use of a common Christian argument: the argument from design. If I understand you correctly, you argument is: 1) Humans design and build things, 2) the things I see around me have similar characteristics to the things people design, 3) people didn’t design those things, 4) something else designed those things, 5) my childhood deity designed those things. There are a couple of problems with this argument, not least of which is the assumption that everything is designed.

Calvinist Friend: How else can you explain the intricacies of the human body or of a human cell? Was this an accident? I ask you, who is being illogical to suggest that order came from randomness?

behe gorillaThis is another common argument Christians make. Specifically, those in the ID camp, like Michael Behe, argue that evolution can’t be true because of “irreducible complexity.” However, the “intricacies of the human body” are explained by evolution. Each time Christians point to something like the eye or immune system, they then have to find something else to point to as “irreducibly complex,” due to the fact that science ends up breaking down that complexity. We can now see how the evolution of the eye could have occurred, by looking at primitive forms of the eye in less complex creatures. In the Dover trial, Behe claimed that the immune system (I think it was the immune system) was “irreducibly complex.” The trial lawyer plopped down this massive stack of studies that explained the development and evolution of the immune system, and asked Behe if he had read them. I’ll let you guess his response. What an embarrassment for him to hold the title of scientist. It should be clear, from this discussion, that this argument is another “God of the gaps” argument. Behe and other IDers are trying to make the argument you want to make about the origins of the universe: there is a gap in human knowledge, so my God fits in that gap (until science fills this gap—then I’ll look for another hole to put my God in.)

I am not being illogical at all. You are trying to equate randomness with chaos. They are not the same, since randomness can exist within an ordered system. Also, there is more to “randomness” in evolutionary theory than you might be aware of. I put up a link to the evolution of evolutionary theory that you might find interesting. Evolutionary theory was started by Darwin’s idea of natural selection as the mechanism, but the theory has since been refined in many important ways. The way chance works within that mechanism is one area worth reading about.

Calvinist Friend: Even noted skeptic Carl Sagan recognizes that we are studying “cosmos not chaos”.

He would probably prefer the title “noted scientist,” since that is what he has contributed to the world. He made a name for himself with science (as opposed to Behe).

Calvinist Friend: If the natural order is chaos then it’s unintelligible, and if it’s unintelligible then there can be no knowledge, and the pursuit of knowledge is what defines science.

No one is arguing that the natural order is chaos. Science is defined by the scientific method. It is a heuristic for creating models that explain natural phenomena. An accrual of knowledge is its end result—I wouldn’t say that its main goal is “pursuit of knowledge.”

Calvinist Friend: Without an intelligent designer, where did laws such as laws of gravitation, laws of motion, laws of thermodynamics, etc. come from?

These laws are human creations, so they come from humans; they are models to explain natural phenomena. And, again, we don’t yet know what was in existence prior to the singularity.

Calvinist Friend:These laws require an order put in place by an intelligent designer. There is no escaping that. It is utter rejection of logic to do so. This is the kind of evidence that has convinced noted atheists such as Anthony Flew to reject atheism and embrace theism.

It is an utter rejection of what YOU are calling logic. I call it wishful thinking and a convoluted attempt to arrive at a conclusion that was never in doubt from the beginning: that God exists and created everything. What convinced Anthony Flew does not interest me. I am also wondering what you are referring to when you use the word “evidence.” You are making a claim, not providing evidence. That is a very important distinction. Your claim is that there is a gap in human knowledge that you feel compelled to fill. You argue that only your God can fill it. You point to causality as evidence. However, I do not feel compelled to fill gaps with your God, or anyone else’s. Also, causality cannot be explained only by invisible, magical beings. There are other explanations that should be examined. Until then, we don’t know.

Calvinist Friend: I would again point to the writings/teachings/podcasts of R.C. Sproul for clarification on these outlined logically intact propositions.

I’d prefer not to waste my time, if your summary is a fair representation of the “logic” he uses.

Calvinist Friend: How about some statistical evidence?

Sure, but are we talking about evidence for the existence of God, or of God as an explanation for the origin of the singularity? I guess it doesn’t matter in the end, since it is clear that your goal is to establish that your deity is real.

Calvinist Friend: I presume you do not dispute that Jesus did in fact exist as a real person. No serious historian has ever rejected this.

I like the bandwagon appeal in the second sentence. ☺ I do not dispute that the Bible and a few other historical documents mention the existence of a teacher named Jesus. (And, of course, the Bible does much more than merely mention his existence.) That is all. To say that he was a “real person” should not imply anything other than the existence of a human being with this name.

Calvinist Friend: I also presume that you don’t dispute the chronological timeline of the writings of the Bible, as again no serious anthropologist does so.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. The timeline of the Bible has multiple inconsistencies. Remember, there are contradictory versions of the genealogy of Jesus given in the gospels. Also, according to the Biblical timeline, the Earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old.

Calvinist Friend: Do you realize the number of prophecies that were made hundreds of years before the birth of Christ that were fulfilled in the life of Christ? Josh McDowell, in his classic book “Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Historical Evidence for the Christian Faith” (I highly recommend this one if you haven’t read it), points to at least 61 such prophecies. Peter Stoner, in his book “Science Speaks” (which was by the way reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation members and found to be dependably accurate in terms of scientific material), examines the statistical probability that these prophecies could be fulfilled in Jesus. He finds that the probability that any man who has ever lived could fulfill just 8 of the 61 specific prophecies is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

You do realize that the books in the New Testament were written after the Old Testament? It is nothing to construct a narrative with a main character that “fulfills” prophecies. What is a prophecy anyway, if not a fortune cookie or a horoscope (filled with vague generalities that can be applied to any event or fact)? What is this statistical analysis crap? This is pseudoscience. Yes, IF Jesus were an invisible deity turned visible and human, and IF he broke the laws of nature to perform miracles, then yes, the statistics are incredible. They are not nearly as incredible as being a God on Earth, or performing miracles, but impressive nonetheless. However, these statistics only apply IF all of that stuff is real.

Mary about to be impregnated by God

Mary about to be impregnated by God

This guy’s argument is another exercise in wishful thinking: assume that something is true, and then try to attach the trappings of respectability (evidence, statistics, etc.) to what is patently ridiculous (magical, invisible realms, spirits, people walking on water, invisible deities putting holy sperm in human virgins, etc).

Calvinist Friend:Some try to argue that the fulfillment of these prophecies were intentional on the part of Jesus, which in nonsense since many of the prophecies such as the place of his birth, time of his birth, manner of his birth, manner of his death, people’s reactions to his teachings, etc. could not be intentional.

I am not interested in what “some” try to argue. Don’t attribute their arguments to me, since that would only end up being a straw man fallacy.

Calvinist Friend: And there is no denying that Jesus claimed to by God.

I disagree. There is no denying that the gospels say that Jesus claimed to be God. That is an important distinction.

Calvinist Friend: This leads to the famous trilemma which I believe was initially outlined by C.S. Lewis; that is that Jesus was either Lord, liar, or lunatic. There is really no other option.

I can think of other options. You don’t have to be locked into this model simply because someone bothered to come up with it. There is also the possibility that the Gospels do not speak for Jesus. Rather, they are texts written by people about this guy named Jesus—none of whom knew him personally.

Calvinist Friend: He cannot have been simply a good teacher or a role model based on his claims to deity. So which is it? What has the most evidence to support it? Based on the statistical probability of the prophecies he fulfilled alone, I would have to rationally lean towards recognizing him as Lord.

This is an either-or fallacy. There are other options. There is no reason that he could not have been a good teacher. He could have also been a lot of things that the gospels never touch on. Language and narrative is tricky and slippery—it is more akin to water than steel. Jesus lived a long time ago, and all we have to go by are a few texts that were written a long time ago by some people who did not have the benefits of a modern education. They were an ignorant and superstitious bunch. They thought Jesus was awesome, and their goal in creating their narratives was to convince others of that.

Calvinist Friend: As to your assertion that I need answers right now and am not content in not knowing things, this is untrue. I am comfortable with not knowing (as one of the great Protestant reforms said, “where God chooses to keep his holy mouth closed, so shall I”). But at the same time I have an intellectual curiosity to know. Ignorance is the opposite of intellectual curiosity.

I disagree with your definition of ignorance. One can be intellectually curious and ignorant. For instance, scientists are an intellectually curious bunch, but they are currently ignorant of what came before the singularity. Hopefully, one day, they will not be. Their ignorance drives them to find the answer, but if the answer is not available (due to a need for more testing, a better model for understanding phenomena, or new tools for conducting experiments) they are content to not know until that time. You, on the other hand, are not content with not knowing; you have your faith in God to fill that gap. This is not to suggest that you believe in God solely to fill that gap—that is just a happy side effect.

Calvinist Friend: So if you’re not at least curious enough to try to figure out for yourself how the universe came into existence then you would seemingly embrace ignorance.

The universe came into existence because of the Big Bang. Prior to the singularity, you are right, I do not know what existed then. It’s not that I am not curious to know, because I am. Rather, I am not a scientist with the proper training to even begin the process of trying to explain or figure out what came before the singularity. I can try to comprehend the hypotheses currently under discussion, but that is all. “Embrace” is too strong of a word. I accept that we do not know at this point in time. That is all.

Calvinist Friend: You lack self-awareness and honesty if you really think that you don’t come up with some idea in your mind for how this universe came to be. What is your gut feeling? You’re not a blind follower of experts and of science are you? You do think on your own right? So what does your gut tell you?

Gut, is my magical deity a first cause?

Gut, is my magical deity a first cause?

How do you tend to fill in the gap in your own mind? It’s ok to not know and at the same time formulate your own proposition. The two are not mutually exclusive. My favorite line you said above is that “since they [meaning experts] are not sure then how can I be sure”. Think for yourself. Don’t rely on what “experts” tell you. Otherwise they become your idol. For instance, in many of the comments you have already offered I can see that you are basically regurgitating Dawkins “The God Delusion”.

I am relatively self-aware. I know people who are more self-aware and others who are not. I am very honest. If I don’t know something, I own up to it. I don’t try to dress up wishful thinking as proof or evidence. I think I understand why you have difficulty understanding my willingness to accept human ignorance. Are you still having trouble being convinced that you are uncomfortable not knowing things? I don’t have any “gut feeling” about what existed prior to the singularity. There are multiple hypotheses and they all have strengths and weaknesses, as far as I can tell. The idea of an infinitely expanding and contracting universe is the easiest for me to understand, but it might end up being completely wrong. I will withhold any judgment though until scientists have a bit more to go on. As far as experts go, I don’t understand your encouragement to not listen to experts. This is certainly what you have done, by listening to what the ancient writers of a “holy” text tell you about the nature of the world. I prefer to look to people who have a much better track record for explaining the natural world. The Bible’s record is not too good.

Calvinist Friend: So there, despite you not answering my question about what evidence you will accept, I have provided you with evidence.

I actually did tell you what evidence I would accept. Apparently, you wanted some other answer.

Calvinist Friend: Let me make a psychological statement though, even though we’ve already established that neither of us are psychologists. I believe that your disbelief in God is a crutch. You believe in anything other than God because you fear the possibility of the existence of a holy deity that you are to be held accountable to.

Interesting theory, but it is incorrect. I don’t accept the God hypothesis simply because there is no evidence to suggest the existence of a god.

Calvinist Friend: You already suggested on your blog that you don’t like the idea of someone (whether it’s God or Satan) spying on you.

I guess the humor I was trying to communicate missed its mark. I don’t accept conclusions based on what I like or don’t like. If God were real and spied on me, I would just have to live with that. But, since there is no evidence to suggest that the supernatural or supernatural entities exist, it is something I no longer have to concern myself with.

Calvinist Friend: You don’t want any external intrusion into holding the reigns of your own life. Do you see how in a real, deep sense your ideas come from a viewpoint in which you see yourself as god? It’s called secular humanism.

Well, I currently see no evidence of the supernatural, so you could label me secular. I also try to live my life in a way that will minimize harm and suffering to myself and others as much as possible. (Although harm and suffering is sometimes necessary.) I don’t know if that makes me a humanist, but if you must have a label for me, feel free. I have used the term “freethinker” in the past to describe myself. I don’t see how you could think I view myself as a god. Gods are supernatural beings with the power to alter the laws of the universe. I have none of that power. I am simply an organic organism that has a limited life cycle. One day, I will no longer be recognizable as the human I now am. I will be fertilizing some nice, old lady’s roses.

Calvinist Friend: Let me take you down another line of questioning. Do you believe that there are moral absolutes?

There are things that you should absolutely not do, but there are no supernatural moral laws that human laws refer to. What is much more likely, based on what we know so far, such as the fact that there are certain acts the majority of humans find distasteful—regardless of religious or ethnic background, is that there is a general moral human “grammar.” In other words, what humans view as right and wrong is shaped by numerous variables: the underlying moral grammar (based in our shared biology and instinct), our personal nature, our environment, human culture—these are only a few of the variables. The fact that morality has evolved over the centuries certainly seems to hint at this possibility, but, to repeat myself, we have a gap in our understanding concerning this issue.


One Response to “Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part III”

  1. Paulo said

    As to the how did the universe come about question: Yes, something cannot come from nothing. So something always existed. But I do not see how that points to a God. Why couldn’t all this matter and energy, this stuff that makes up the universe have always existed? Before the Big Bang, something was there, and probably always will be.

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