Fugitives from Fundamentalism

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

Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part VII

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on May 8, 2009

More angry conversations with a Christian academic; the mental masturbation continues…

Calvinist Friend:

Ok, here’s my next round of comments. First, I agree with your comments on the relative meaninglessness of dictionary definitions. Nonetheless, I disagree that evidence and proof have the same meaning, even by dictionary standards. Following the link to the dictionary definition that you yourself provided for the word “evidence”, it states that evidence is “that which tends to prove or disprove something”. Notice it doesn’t prove it or disprove it but only tends to prove it or disprove it. In its purest form, proof is a mathematical certainty. Evidence is more probabilistic. I’m sure you can think of many things that you can’t prove but that you have evidence for. For example, I can guarantee you that neither you nor any scientist you could point to can prove natural selection as an absolute fact (I would challenge you to do so with mathematical certainty if you think you can do so). So it comes down to probability. You believe that you have read evidence supporting a high probability of natural selection or of any other number of explanations on the origins of man, correct? What you are left with is only probability though. This is what I am differentiating between when I indicate that I can’t prove God but I have evidence for the existence of God and in support of my faith.

You also hold that there is a difference between the analogy that I gave you of faith in your wife and of faith in God. Again, I disagree. You say the difference is that you have observed your wife’s past behavior. So you are limiting evidence in that case to first-hand observations that can be made (which is a good source of evidence no doubt but also not the only source of evidence). I don’t have to observe God in person and with my own two eyes to have good evidence behind my faith in him (I’m sure I could come up with another analogy of something or someone you have faith in but that you’ve never actually firsthand met or experienced). I have given you the evidence supporting my faith: the cosmological argument (the requirement of a first cause), the teleological argument (complexity requires order and design), the anthropic argument, the moral argument, the historical argument, the scientific evidence (2nd law of thermodynamics), etc. There is other evidence often presented too: the ontological argument, the “mind-body problem”, the “majority argument”, etc. But you know all of this. I find your refutations of these points of evidence wholly unconvincing and logically flawed. You find my evidence wholly unconvincing. In the strictest sense of proof, you can prove nothing and neither can I. So we are left with probability. We’re both placing bets dude, and I like my odds. To tie it back to the analogy of faith in your wife, you say you have faith in your wife because you have “observed her behavior in the past”. You haven’t observed ALL of her behavior in the past though, have you? So she could have cheated on you while you were at work. But you’re running probabilities in your head and placing faith in the evidence based on the probabilities you’ve inadvertently calculated from the observations that you have made of your wife. Again, you have to differentiate between evidence and proof. Probability (which is the meat of evidence) requires a degree of faith since it can’t be strictly proven. Thus you have faith in your evidence of there being no god and I have faith in my evidence of the existence of God. Do you still not see how this is faith? Do you not see how you’re a believer?

Your idea that I would be Hindu if born into such a family is flawed as well. You were on the mission field and so should have witnessed conversions first-hand. Our family were missionaries specifically to the Muslim population when we were in Africa. We saw several converts who risked their own lives and family to become Christians. They certainly were not born into Christianity. This story has repeated itself over and over millions of times around the world. Of course there are converts to other religions as well. Yes, the pull of family and culture is strong. But they certainly aren’t deterministic, and it would be a serious logical flaw to assume that just because my family/culture is Christian that this explains why I am and continue to remain a Christian. To suggest so is also an insult to my intelligence and autonomy as an individual with my own thoughts/beliefs/opinions. I think you’re trying to put me in a box that you can’t put me in. Maybe you remained a Christian for so long simply because you were surrounded by Christians. But you can’t extrapolate that experience to me.

I want to touch on another point you briefly mention in response to my mentioning that my wife is a Catholic. I would again disagree with you (and my wife) that the Catholic view and the Protestant view are on equal footing as far as adhering to the true intent of scripture. I could go into a long debate on this point. I’ve done a LOT of reading on the theological differences between the various Christian/Catholic views. I actually find Catholic theology to be sloppy. In my experience, most Catholics don’t really even understand what the Catholic church teaches. I probably understand more about Catholic theology than your run-of-the-mill Catholic. The difference in Catholic vs. Protestant theology actually touches on a very brief point you make later on in your response where you state that “I am aware of the claim that salvation is not earned, but that is not exactly true: having faith is the entrance fee needed to earn the prize”. Actually I come from the Presbyterian Church (PCA) which is in the reformed tradition and does EXACTLY hold that salvation is not earned. As the Bible states, it is “by grace we are saved through faith”. The grace of God gives us the gift of faith. We don’t have to perform an act of faith (inwardly or outwardly) first before receiving salvation. God chooses us and tracks us down despite our rejection of him. His salvation is NOT contingent on an act of faith on our part. He first gives us faith and then we embrace it. The act comes afterwards. In theological speak, we say that salvation is a monergistic work on the part of God. I could get more technical on this point, but the bottom line here is that I absolutely hold that salvation is not earned. I’d be screwed if it was earned, because I surely don’t deserve it.

I disagree also with your refutation of theology as a serious course of study by saying that any serious study that has nothing to “measure or examine or test” is not a field of study. What do philosophy majors measure, examine, or test? Maybe you are falling back on the word “examine” and can say that philosophy majors examine something, but then so do theology majors. I’m sure you wouldn’t claim that philosophy is not a serious course of study. I think you are too wedded to the scientific enterprise as a strictly positivistic endeavor. I believe this was the mistake of Immanuel Kant.

You also asked about what I meant by “the politics of the peer review process”. I find it hard to believe that anyone in academia could ignore this. We all know it’s there and that it manifests itself in different ways. The politics of the peer review process refers to how people or groups are discriminated against in getting their work published. I’m sure you know that in most journals there is a double-blind peer review process. But even under this process, the editor of the journal makes the final decision. For example, my first article I sought to publish took a risky stance within [Calvinist Friend’s field of study]. To add, I also don’t have a Ph.D. yet and the journal I was seeking to publish in is a flagship journal in our field. Even though all three of the reviewers of my article had overwhelmingly positive comments, I was rejected for publication. I could see right through the bias. This journal’s editor likes to self-select the “stars” in our field to publish in this journal and to only publish on topics that he referees. Even some of my liberal colleagues comment about how the same people get published in this journal over and over. This is not a conspiracy theory. It really happens. What scares me is that it especially happens to conservatives and Christians. I actually have an academic journal article somewhere (I’ll forward it to you when I dig it out) which quantitatively demonstrates the bias against conservatives in publishing and in academia. This is frightening to me- it’s an attack on science itself. I came across another excellent example of this again in my field recently. A guy named [researcher’s name] who is educated and has taught at some very prestigious universities and who is a very smart dude, was attacked and marginalized among the in-group in our discipline because he is a conservative and publishes on conservative [Calvinist Friend’s field of study] issues.

The Chaplain:

Calvinist Friend: I want to touch on another point you briefly mention in response to my mentioning that my wife is a Catholic. I would again disagree with you (and my wife) that the Catholic view and the Protestant view are on equal footing as far as adhering to the true intent of scripture. I could go into a long debate on this point. I’ve done a LOT of reading on the theological differences between the various Christian/Catholic views. I actually find Catholic theology to be sloppy. In my experience, most Catholics don’t really even understand what the Catholic church teaches. I probably understand more about Catholic theology than your run-of-the-mill Catholic. The difference in Catholic vs. Protestant theology actually touches on a very brief point you make later on in your response where you state that “I am aware of the claim that salvation is not earned, but that is not exactly true: having faith is the entrance fee needed to earn the prize”. Actually I come from the Presbyterian Church (PCA) which is in the reformed tradition and does EXACTLY hold that salvation is not earned. As the Bible states, it is “by grace we are saved through faith”. The grace of God gives us the gift of faith. We don’t have to perform an act of faith (inwardly or outwardly) first before receiving salvation. God chooses us and tracks us down despite our rejection of him. His salvation is NOT contingent on an act of faith on our part. He first gives us faith and then we embrace it. The act comes afterwards. In theological speak, we say that salvation is a monergistic work on the part of God. I could get more technical on this point, but the bottom line here is that I absolutely hold that salvation is not earned. I’d be screwed if it was earned, because I surely don’t deserve it.

I only mean that they are both forms of belief in the imaginary. I see all conclusions drawn from false assumptions about the nature of the world to be on equal footing in a general sense. As far as how well they reflect your interpretation of the Bible, I’m not too interested in that point. If your PCA dogma is correct, then maybe I will be in heaven after all.

Calvinist Friend: I disagree also with your refutation of theology as a serious course of study by saying that any serious study that has nothing to “measure or examine or test” is not a field of study. What do philosophy majors measure, examine, or test? Maybe you are falling back on the word “examine” and can say that philosophy majors examine something, but then so do theology majors. I’m sure you wouldn’t claim that philosophy is not a serious course of study. I think you are too wedded to the scientific enterprise as a strictly positivistic endeavor. I believe this was the mistake of Immanuel Kant.

Philosophy has too many branches and sub-fields to generalize about it like that. Take a look: Philosophy.
I guess the main difference I see between philosophy and theology is that philosophy tries to make sense of human existence in reference to the human (and the human’s mind) and the surrounding world. Theology, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of something we have no reason to believe exists: the supernatural. This puts theology on the same footing with other fields that presuppose a realm we have no access to or evidence of: Jediism, Scientology, etc. Let me bring up a little rhetorical device you used a few posts back: what would it take to convince you that Xenu exists? What evidence would you accept? I think that if you try to answer that honestly, you will see that your standards for accepting Xenu are much more rigorous than your standards for accepting the Jewish God.

Calvinist Friend: You also asked about what I meant by “the politics of the peer review process”. I find it hard to believe that anyone in academia could ignore this. We all know it’s there and that it manifests itself in different ways.

bandwagonI know no such thing, and it sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy theory. By the way, your proofs in these sentences above are: a “begging the question” and a “bandwagon” fallacy.

Calvinist Friend: The politics of the peer review process refers to how people or groups are discriminated against in getting their work published.

I am only aware of “discrimination” against those who do not have anything new or original to add to the topic they wrote about. Or, their essay was poorly written.

Calvinist Friend: I’m sure you know that in most journals there is a double-blind peer review process. But even under this process, the editor of the journal makes the final decision.

Yes, I had an essay on Albert Camus’ La chute rejected by the peer-reviewed French Review. The bastards.

Calvinist Friend: For example, my first article I sought to publish took a risky stance within [Calvinist Friend’s field]. To add, I also don’t have a Ph.D. yet and the journal I was seeking to publish in is a flagship journal in our field. Even though all three of the reviewers of my article had overwhelmingly positive comments, I was rejected for publication. I could see right through the bias. This journal’s editor likes to self-select the “stars” in our field to publish in this journal and to only publish on topics that he referees. Even some of my liberal colleagues comment about how the same people get published in this journal over and over. This is not a conspiracy theory. It really happens. What scares me is that it especially happens to conservatives and Christians. I actually have an academic journal article somewhere (I’ll forward it to you when I dig it out) which quantitatively demonstrates the bias against conservatives in publishing and in academia.

And I am sure that I could find a study showing the exact opposite, or showing no bias whatsoever. Take a look at the discussion about the “liberal media” on my Facebook wall. [This discussion revealed that the results differed depending on the bias of the researcher; this is probably due to the fact that the term “bias” gets defined and measured in different ways by different researchers. It is too slippery of a concept to quantify with any type of accuracy.]

Calvinist Friend: This is frightening to me- it’s an attack on science itself. I came across another excellent example of this again in my field recently. A guy named [researcher’s name] who is educated and has taught at some very prestigious universities and who is a very smart dude, was attacked and marginalized among the in-group in our discipline because he is a conservative and publishes on conservative [Calvinist Friend’s field of study] issues.

All of this evidence is based on your interpretation of these anecdotes. His colleagues probably have a problem with his ideas because they disagree with his methods and the conclusions he reaches based on the evidence. bad scienceIf you want to consider that bias, then go right ahead. That means equating “disagreement” with “bias.” This discussion of yours reminds me of race issues. I have often wondered about what it must be like to be Black in the U.S. I have had things happen to me before where, if I was Black, I could have easily contributed the behavior directed at me as racism. Since I am White, that is impossible. The same goes for you in academia. Yes, you are in the minority as a conservative. Perhaps some bias towards you will exist, but you definitely want to have hard evidence for it. Otherwise, you will simply be giving into confirmation bias and the belief that there is a conspiracy theory against you.

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

  1. Ann said

    “You also hold that there is a difference between the analogy that I gave you of faith in your wife and of faith in God. Again, I disagree. You say the difference is that you have observed your wife’s past behavior. So you are limiting evidence in that case to first-hand observations that can be made (which is a good source of evidence no doubt but also not the only source of evidence). I don’t have to observe God in person and with my own two eyes to have good evidence behind my faith in him (I’m sure I could come up with another analogy of something or someone you have faith in but that you’ve never actually firsthand met or experienced).”

    This is lunacy. I am an actual, physical human being you can reach out and touch. You can see me with your eyes. If you had the desire, and I allowed you, you could taste me. You can smell my scent, my soap, the shampoo I use. You can hear me literally (yes, I exist). I’m an actual human being–you can directly experience me. I can respond to you, literally today, not with secondhand words from the past, words written during an ancient time of great superstition about the natural world. Faith in me is not the same as faith in an invisible deity. You cannot touch, see, taste, smell, or hear a god literally. A god cannot respond to you directly with a voice. A god cannot be touched, a god is unseen, a god has no smell, a god cannot be tasted. You cannot observe a god firsthand over many years to determine his nature (btw, that guy Jesus from the Bible is dead, so you cannot experience him directly). There is an analogy I can think of to compare faith in a god and faith in other things unexperienced. Faith in other superstitions unsupported by evidence, for instance, in fairies, children’s characters such as santa, or mythical creatures such as dragons. Whereas my husband has no faith in such things, he has faith in me because I’ve told him I’ve never cheated on him, he’s had direct experience with me, and his faith is in a nature he’s observed for countless hours and days firsthand over the past 16 years. True, he cannot observe me 24 hours a day. But you, you have not observed or had an actual, literal experience of your god for even one tiny fraction of a second…ever… Your evidence for god is completely, in its entirety, faith based. Your evidence is your faith. Your evidence has been created by you.

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