Fugitives from Fundamentalism

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

Angry Conversations with a Childhood Friend & Calvinist: Part VIII

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on May 8, 2009

Calvinist Friend:

I’m jumping around a bit in my response, but next I want to address your analogy of baldness and hair color to support your assertion that you have not placed your faith in no god. Think of an alternative analogy. Light has color. But what color do you call the absence of light? You see that there’s actually an answer here. The absence of light is called black. Like other analogies you provide, these are simplistic reductions that don’t really apply. Going back to proof in the strict mathematical sense of certainty, because you can’t prove that there’s not a god then you must either say that you’re uncertain as to whether a god exists or that you believe (or have faith) that god does not exist. You seem to strongly suggest that you believe that God does not exist. So this is why I assert that you have faith. You’ve placed your bet. We can argue evidence all day, but you won’t accept mine and I won’t accept yours. So join the crowd- you’re a believer. The content of your belief is just different.

Your comment about modernity (i.e., the development of the modern age being good or bad) sounds very Durkheimian. I was a sociology major for undergrad, so we dealt with that a lot. But I digress.

You go back to the issue of absolutes in your comments as well. You say that there is “no good or bad in an absolute sense”. I think this is very dangerous and would like to test your thinking on this more. If there are no moral absolutes, then on what basis can you or any other person make a moral judgment on a child molester for example? I don’t care if 99 out of 100 people believe it to be wrong. If there’s no absolute standard to say that it’s wrong than nobody really has the authority to say it’s wrong. That is why those of us from a Judeo-Christian heritage often say that those who don’t believe in moral absolutes are using borrowed capital. They are using moral language that comes from religion and yet are claiming that there are no moral absolutes. Do you believe that there are no absolutes at all? If so, this is even more illogical since you could not even say that there are absolutely no absolutes if you don’t believe in absolutes.

I want to turn back briefly to one of the arguments I have already made for the existence of God. To me perhaps the strongest logical argument for the existence of God is that cosmological argument. Again, every effect has to have a cause. This is not the same thing as saying that everything has to have a cause though. It is no violation of logic to say that there can be something that exists in and of itself without requiring a cause. But that something (or someone) could not be an effect. If anything is an effect it must have a cause. This is the law of causality, which is really just an extension of the law of non-contradiction since by definition if something is an effect then it has to have a cause. So a god (and I’m not even saying my God here) is to me the only thing/person that can be self-existent and not an effect (or result) of something else. I’d be interested if you could point me to something else besides a deity that you believe is self-existent and not an effect. I believe I briefly raised this point a while back but can’t remember where it took us.

The last thing I wanted to end with in this response is to say that I’ve been routinely checking your blog site. I find the posts there misguided, abrasive, agenda-driven, and anti-intellectual (don’t mean to insult but just calling it how I see). Why are you such an activist against Christianity? If you really believe that it is such a silly and juvenile thing to believe in god, why do you dedicate so much of your time to writing your opinion about it? Do you view this as an educational campaign? If so, I find that arrogant. I find too that the people posting on this site are a very small group of people who all pretty much agree with one another. I don’t find it to be a real exchange of ideas. I think what the posts there amount to most is ganging up/bullying the “weak”. The one post mocks fun of that email forward that is supposedly going around in Christian circles. One person commented that this is like something that his/her grandmother would send. Exactly. That email is theologically void. Why pick on those with such a weak understanding? As they say, pick on someone your own size. You and the other bloggers here seem to almost be on a mission to search out the most strange elements of Christianity, ignoring the rest. The post on prayer is way off, since the point of prayer is not to convince God to change something but in order to change us through process of praying. I mean really, what kind of a god would it be that needs begging or convincing in order to make a decision or who doesn’t already know the outcome in advance?

Then there’s your recent post on Bart Ehrman’s book. I haven’t read Ehrman’s book but I hope your example of John 7:53-8:12 is not a sample of what he’s writing. What no Biblical scholar would raise an eyebrow at is that this passage was not a part of SOME Greek texts. You make it sound like it was not a part of any Greek texts. Some old texts did exclude it, some didn’t, some had it in Luke I believe, and some had it in a different place in John I believe. I could point you to some good literature on why the majority decision has been to include this text in the canon where it is in most Bibles. Regardless, this does not speak to infallibility. Keep me in the loop on what this Ehrman dude is writing (I may even try to read his book myself). I spent a year and a half at Moody Bible Institute (where he received his educational training) and I can tell you that I don’t value the Biblical scholarship there (I’ve learned more on my own than I learned in my year and half there in formal training). I see that he went on to Princeton Seminary, another red flag in my mind for several reasons. In any case, as with many of these things, make sure you’re not getting a one-sided view. I realize I need to do the same, which is why I should probably read his book.

I know my thoughts here are scattered. It’s been a couple of weeks since we left things so I’m trying to pick up the debate again. Let’s keep it going as we have time. I thought we were ready to “agree to disagree” and end it, but it seems like you’re game for keeping it going. I am too.

The Chaplain:

Calvinist Friend:I’m jumping around a bit in my response, but next I want to address your analogy of baldness and hair color to support your assertion that you have not placed your faith in no god. Think of an alternative analogy. Light has color. But what color do you call the absence of light? You see that there’s actually an answer here. The absence of light is called black. Like other analogies you provide, these are simplistic reductions that don’t really apply.

That isn’t true. You are ignoring my point that you don’t go around calling yourself a non-Zeusist, etc. no walleWhat you are labeling “black” does not refer to the light. It refers to what IS THERE when the light, or anything else, is not there. That is why it is called black and not “non-light” or an infinite list of other things that are missing where the black is (for instance, non-spaceship, non-planet, non-Wall-E, etc.). You don’t call black paint: non-green, non-red, non-purple, etc do you?

Calvinist Friend:Going back to proof in the strict mathematical sense of certainty, because you can’t prove that there’s not a god then you must either say that you’re uncertain as to whether a god exists or that you believe (or have faith) that god does not exist. You seem to strongly suggest that you believe that God does not exist. So this is why I assert that you have faith. You’ve placed your bet. We can argue evidence all day, but you won’t accept mine and I won’t accept yours. So join the crowd- you’re a believer. The content of your belief is just different.

I am only uncertain about the existence or non-existence of the Jewish God to the same extent that I am uncertain about Zeus, and every other invisible thing that lives in some other non-natural realm that people claim exists. I believe that it is so unlikely that an invisible creature exists that it is silly to live life as if there is one. I make this assertion based on the available evidence. As I have already said, this is not faith (which is belief without evidence). I am getting the sense that we are starting to go in circles.

Calvinist Friend:Your comment about modernity (i.e., the development of the modern age being good or bad) sounds very Durkheimian. I was a sociology major for undergrad, so we dealt with that a lot. But I digress.

I’m not familiar with his ideas. I was only trying to say that there are both positive and negative aspects to modernity. I happen to prefer shitting in a toilet, so I am inclined to favor modernity.

Calvinist Friend:You go back to the issue of absolutes in your comments as well. You say that there is “no good or bad in an absolute sense”. I think this is very dangerous and would like to test your thinking on this more.

Whether you think it is dangerous is irrelevant to the issue of deity-existence. I don’t think it is dangerous. Even if it were, it would just be the ways things are. It has no bearing on the existence of magical beings and acts as evidence for nothing.

Calvinist Friend:If there are no moral absolutes, then on what basis can you or any other person make a moral judgment on a child molester for example? I don’t care if 99 out of 100 people believe it to be wrong. If there’s no absolute standard to say that it’s wrong than nobody really has the authority to say it’s wrong.

I totally disagree with you on that. Since absolutes do not exist, and since us humans have created this civilization, we have decided (through experimentation) that some modes of life and attitudes and ways of living are better than others. Is this “absolute”? Absolutely not. There are countless reasons for making a law. In modern Democratic societies we have decided that this system of government is better than other ways. Rules of law are like rules of writing. There is no absolute, correct way to accomplish a writing task. There are only heuristics. Some of these heuristics have their root in our biology, and others go against our biology. flagRegardless, our society has decided that they are superior to other heuristics. They have decided that they are worth dying for. I agree. I am a member of a community (this nation) that shares certain values. Those values are not absolute, but I think they are superior, and I think they are worth dying to uphold. In a Democratic system, we the people give authority to certain individuals to defend and enforce those values—that is where those authorities derive their power from. If someone else values a Nazi-Germany type of government, then go right ahead and enjoy that, but I would support using force to get you to use a system of government that doesn’t cause so much harm to fellow humans. This is a value that Democracies are the best (so far) at upholding. I prefer to live in a society that won’t arrest me for speaking my mind or for smoking a cigar. I would prefer to be able to do a few other things that are currently illegal, but such is life. I’ll go along with what I see as the bad laws if I get agreement with my fellow citizens for the most important things I value.

Calvinist Friend:That is why those of us from a Judeo-Christian heritage often say that those who don’t believe in moral absolutes are using borrowed capital. They are using moral language that comes from religion and yet are claiming that there are no moral absolutes. Do you believe that there are no absolutes at all? If so, this is even more illogical since you could not even say that there are absolutely no absolutes if you don’t believe in absolutes.

God helps Israel slaughter the Amalekites.

God helps Israel slaughter the Amalekites.

I’m not borrowing capital. I don’t think the Bible teaches my values. I think that the genocide sanctioned by God in the OT is despicable. Those aren’t my values. Christianity tries to lay claim to “good” human values, but I don’t see the evidence for it, except for in rare cases of charity. Christians pick out the things they like in the Bible and ignore all of the stuff like misogyny, genocide, murder and all the rest of it.

Calvinist Friend:I want to turn back briefly to one of the arguments I have already made for the existence of God. To me perhaps the strongest logical argument for the existence of God is that cosmological argument. Again, every effect has to have a cause. This is not the same thing as saying that everything has to have a cause though. It is no violation of logic to say that there can be something that exists in and of itself without requiring a cause. But that something (or someone) could not be an effect. If anything is an effect it must have a cause. This is the law of causality, which is really just an extension of the law of non-contradiction since by definition if something is an effect then it has to have a cause. So a god (and I’m not even saying my God here) is to me the only thing/person that can be self-existent and not an effect (or result) of something else. I’d be interested if you could point me to something else besides a deity that you believe is self-existent and not an effect. I believe I briefly raised this point a while back but can’t remember where it took us.

I would end up cutting and pasting what I originally wrote in response to this, and you can find the response as easily as I can. Let me add that the list of arguments you referred to (first cause, etc.) have all been debunked. When I see that list I am thinking, “Why are you giving me arguments that have already been refuted numerous times?” I think it is because you are reading people who are living in a fantasy world where their arguments have never been responded to. If you want to see a good and brief response to each of those arguments check out John Allen Paulos’ book Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up.

Calvinist Friend:The last thing I wanted to end with in this response is to say that I’ve been routinely checking your blog site. I find the posts there misguided, abrasive, agenda-driven, and anti-intellectual (don’t mean to insult but just calling it how I see).

I’m not surprised to hear that, since you are very emotionally invested in your beliefs. That comes through in the anger you express in your posts to Facebook and your writing voice. Any argument against your beliefs is seen by you as a personal assault on yourself. Honestly though, if your God is real, I think He is tough enough to handle himself. Don’t let my heresy or my opinion that you believe in ancient superstitions get to you personally. I am entitled to my opinion.

Calvinist Friend:Why are you such an activist against Christianity?

Former MKs who do not believe in the Jewish God any longer have no voice that I have found anywhere. Now they do. I also think that faith is dangerous. It took a lot for me to escape from my brainwashing. If I can help anyone else on the fence to escape from it, I view it as my moral duty to do so.

Calvinist Friend:If you really believe that it is such a silly and juvenile thing to believe in god, why do you dedicate so much of your time to writing your opinion about it?

I wouldn’t quite put it that way. The thousands of years of writing and theorizing about the Bible has produced an impressive and huge collection of theory and apologetics. It is quite possible for a person to feel intellectual and intelligent while believing in absurdity because of how elaborate and complex those theories are. You really do have to be quite intelligent to follow them. That is why it is important to cut through the convoluted attempts at circular rationalization concerning the existence of the supernatural. Still, “silly” and “juvenile” are not adjectives I would use at all.

Calvinist Friend:Do you view this as an educational campaign? If so, I find that arrogant.

Yes. I’m not sure I follow you. Why would educating people be arrogant? I am a teacher, but I have never had someone refer to education as arrogant. I think this is another example of your emotions getting the best of you simply because you don’t like people to disagree with you. I think that you thinking you know absolute truth and are therefore right in your interpretation of the Bible, etc. is the ultimate height of arrogance. Get over yourself. Us humans don’t know shit, and an old book some goat herders wrote in the desert doesn’t make you the arbiter of Absolutes.

Calvinist Friend:I find too that the people posting on this site are a very small group of people who all pretty much agree with one another. I don’t find it to be a real exchange of ideas.

I would have to agree with you on that. The small percentage of people who have escaped their childhood brainwashing is very small. Also, Christians aren’t visiting the site or contributing much to it. Who knows why? Maybe they have better things to do, or maybe they don’t know enough to defend their beliefs. Those are just conjectures. The truth is that the site doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic.

Calvinist Friend:I think what the posts there amount to most is ganging up/bullying the “weak”.

I can’t think of any examples of that. Didn’t you just say that there was only a small group of people on there who agreed with each other? Where are the weak (or is it the meek? Wink, wink.)

Calvinist Friend:The one post mocks fun of that email forward that is supposedly going around in Christian circles. One person commented that this is like something that his/her grandmother would send. Exactly. That email is theologically void. Why pick on those with such a weak understanding? As they say, pick on someone your own size.

That email presented common Christian concepts. It is your opinion that it is theologically void, but I know a slew of Christians who would disagree with that. Also, if I picked on someone my own size, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we? (wink)

Calvinist Friend:You and the other bloggers here seem to almost be on a mission to search out the most strange elements of Christianity, ignoring the rest. The post on prayer is way off, since the point of prayer is not to convince God to change something but in order to change us through process of praying. I mean really, what kind of a god would it be that needs begging or convincing in order to make a decision or who doesn’t already know the outcome in advance?

That is your Calvinist understanding of prayer. It is not shared by the majority of Evangelical Christians I knew at ICA.

Calvinist Friend:Then there’s your recent post on Bart Ehrman’s book. I haven’t read Ehrman’s book but I hope your example of John 7:53-8:12 is not a sample of what he’s writing. What no Biblical scholar would raise an eyebrow at is that this passage was not a part of SOME Greek texts. You make it sound like it was not a part of any Greek texts. Some old texts did exclude it, some didn’t, some had it in Luke I believe, and some had it in a different place in John I believe.

Scribes added the Adulterous Woman to the Gospels

Scribes added the Adulterous Woman to the Gospels

You are incorrect. It does not appear until much later and does not appear in any of the early texts. It was added by scribes. Period. There are multiple examples of this, and those additions or alterations were ways of answering alternate interpretations of the early texts (which we no longer have, by the way). You are viewing a text as inerrant that was not the original text. We don’t even know what the original text was. We can only guess, based on what the earliest texts give us.

Calvinist Friend:I could point you to some good literature on why the majority decision has been to include this text in the canon where it is in most Bibles. Regardless, this does not speak to infallibility. Keep me in the loop on what this Ehrman dude is writing (I may even try to read his book myself).

It is well-written book. Your local library should have it.

Calvinist Friend:I spent a year and a half at Moody Bible Institute (where he received his educational training) and I can tell you that I don’t value the Biblical scholarship there (I’ve learned more on my own than I learned in my year and half there in formal training).

I’m not at all surprised to hear that. According to Ehrman, they teach total inerrancy, despite all of the evidence of scribal modifications to the text.

Calvinist Friend:I see that he went on to Princeton Seminary, another red flag in my mind for several reasons. In any case, as with many of these things, make sure you’re not getting a one-sided view. I realize I need to do the same, which is why I should probably read his book.

Yes, I would suggest reading it. I read it in two days, despite working at the same time, so it doesn’t take too long to read.

Let me add that this discussion about additions, modifications and removals of material from the NT during the scribal copying process in the 2nd and 3rd centuries is irrelevant to the issue of the existence of the supernatural. It is relevant only to the argument that the NT is inerrant and “God-breathed.”

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

  1. Keith said

    I thought this was an interesting quote in light of Independence Day and the argument above regarding moral absolutes:

    “The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.” C. S. Lewis

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