Wednesday, July 28, 2010

L 1.1

On p. 22. of Why I Became An Atheist, Loftus asks “At what point can someone say she can make an informed decision about the Christian faith?” Similarly, on p. 29 he states that he “began to ask whether it’s possible to have a correct understanding of the Bible if people as close to each other as he and I had such a misunderstanding.”

These quotes are paramount because they are substantial to his method for rejecting Christianity. They indicate his mindset and impetus for developing the rest of the book that follows after the first chapter. It is critical in the context of this book to understand that Christianity literally is a relationship with Jesus Christ. To answer the first question, the point at which a person can make an informed decision is when they realize that Jesus loves them and they accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That’s it. Everything that occurs afterward indicates the state of the relationship at that time. Relationships wax and wane, ebb and flow, crest and trough. People are closer to each other when they put effort into the relationship, reciprocate and prioritize each other’s needs. A relationship with God is very similar. Even if you are a Calvinist, you have a choice to put effort into a relationship with God or let the relationship deteriorate. Loftus implies with the two quotes I cited and throughout the first chapter that having a correct understanding of the Bible and making an informed decision is the crux of Christianity. Knowledge is fantastic and a great aid to us in many ways. Despite that, it remains just one aspect of Christianity and Christian apologists often acknowledge that intellectual information is not what transforms lives. Genuine prayer, fellowship, service and worship are other factors that figure prominently in a relationship with Christ. Knowledge can serve to strengthen faith but, Loftus in the first chapter turns to it almost exclusively. Indeed, the rest of the book consists of intellectual objections to Christianity.

At this point, a non-Christian could certainly say that observing a Christian is the best test for discerning what Christianity looks like. In doing so, do Christians have adequate knowledge to make an informed decision and conclude that Christianity is the best representation of truth? The caveat of that method is that it is incredibly difficult to judge a relationship unless you are the one in the relationship. If this weren’t the case, there would be no need for counselors and psychologists. A relationship would be nothing more than a prescribed set of actions for each person to perform. In reality, we know that relationships are much more complex than that. Therefore, to assess someone’s knowledge and then pronounce that their lack thereof indicates they aren’t intellectually equipped to make an informed decision about a relationship with God, as Loftus stresses, is to commit a philosophical category mistake. It’s akin to the color of hot or the taste of joy. We all know that intellect and information do not drive our relationships. Relationships are too complex to rely so heavily on knowledge to establish the legitimacy of a relationship with God. It seems to me after reading the first chapter that Loftus stressed intellect in his relationship instead of the kinds of relationship building interactions I mentioned earlier. Basically, he put the cart before the horse.

It’s difficult to judge the authenticity and desirability of a relationship by assessing the knowledge of the person in the relationship. Even relationship counselors sometimes have failed relationships because both parties didn’t invest in the relationship to the extent of their abilities, despite one of the two being an expert in relationships. The success of a relationship isn’t dependent on how much knowledge is possessed. Success is based on how much each person invests in the relationship over time; the longer the better. Naturally, former Christians often say that they vigorously pursued a relationship with God for years but, once they learned the intellectual objections to Christianity, they couldn’t maintain their faith. The problem with this statement is that it is guilty of the same misunderstanding of relationships outlined earlier. There is an outcome of science called reductionism. The conclusion is that we are basically the product of our genes and determined circumstances. In other words, we are not free. Based on the physical unfolding of the universe, we are predetermined to meet a certain person at a certain time and our genes dictate that we are attracted to them. According to reductionism, love is an illusion. It’s just a blind combination of inorganic and biological circumstances. Despite this, people continue to pursue relationships and “fall in love”. That’s because we know that the knowledge in question can’t account for our feelings. A relationship with God is much the same. It requires that we genuinely invest in it especially since there has never been an intellectual objection to Christianity that has gone unanswered.

Additionally, he states on pp. 27-30 “I did find people who told me that God loves me and that Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters. So it seemed natural that when I was a troubled juvenile, I would reach out to the God of the Bible and find the meaning of these Bible stories for my life”. Even in this statement, it seems he is looking for what he can get out of the relationship as opposed to what he can invest in it. Regardless, notice how different the purpose in this statement is to rest of the book (intellectual objections to biblical miracles, the creation account in Genesis, the reliability of the Bible, etc.). He says “Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters” but throughout pages 20-33, he chronicles several conflicts with fellow Christians. There is no mention of relationship with Jesus in this section. During these episodes, he seems to have turned away from the relationship he might have had at one time. Only John Loftus can look back on his life and say that he genuinely had a relationship with Jesus in the time period he records. It just seems from what he writes that he didn’t. Unfortunately, that’s not all. He furthermore sanctions intellect as what should be the concluding force in a relationship-oriented issue.

Of course, the non-Christian is going to attempt to preempt all this by saying that it takes intellect to even determine whether or not Jesus lived and died for us, whether or not God was with the Hebrews in the OT, whether or not the Bible has been faithfully recorded and handed down throughout the ages. In other words, it takes intellect to know whether Christianity is true or not for us to even consider it a basis for a relationship with Jesus. To the non-Christian, religion is just a spiritual placebo and there is no real supernatural truth. This objection seems to have great force to it and indeed many non-Christians bank their spiritual eternality on it. Consequently, Christian explanations that clarify all the false accusations and misconceptions that have ever been raised against Christianity get blithely rejected because of that kind of thinking. In the end, these Christian responses reasonably show that Christianity is based on truth as best we can understand truth. For the person who has established God as their ultimate authority, the responses to objections to Christianity are sufficiently explanatory.

In summary, it just doesn't seem like Loftus ever had a relationship with God to begin with and that his motivation was suspect. From the first chapter, there seems to be none of the elements that make up a Christ follower's life; service to others in the name of Christ, joy, fellowship, etc.

12 comments:

GearHedEd said...

"There is an outcome of science called reductionism. The conclusion is that we are basically the product of our genes and determined circumstances. In other words, we are not free."

This is utterly bogus. Reductionism as described in the article you linked is an APPROACH, not an outcome. And there is nothing in any of that that implies some form of "scientific determinism", i.e. that due to our genetics we are pre-determined in any way.

And having a "reltionship" with someome generally requires that the other "person" can interact with you for mutual benefit. Neither God nor Jesus do this; they are demonstrably absent, and outcomes based on claims made that some event or aspect of existence have been affected by mythical supernatural entities is exactly equal to the statistical probability given for randomness.

You have a "relationship" with your imagination.

trae norsworthy said...

Reductionism as described in the article you linked is an APPROACH, not an outcome.
that's not all it's described as. it does lead to a reductive conclusion as i stated.

And there is nothing in any of that that implies some form of "scientific determinism", i.e. that due to our genetics we are pre-determined in any way.
it's the logical outworking of the idea. ontological reductionism is the idea that our being can be reduced to mental states. reductive physicalism in behavioral studies reduces mental states to physical conditions. even science itself isn't immune. some scientists think that all sciences will one day be reduced to physics. the point is that some people believe that, based on reductionism, people are determined; they are a product of physical process and events can't have unfolded any differently than they have.

And having a "reltionship" with someome generally requires that the other "person" can interact with you for mutual benefit. Neither God nor Jesus do this
how can you prove this assertion? christians assert precisely the opposite. there is plenty of proof of completely transformed lives that is directly attributed to christianity.

they are demonstrably absent
this is a baldly unproveable assertion

outcomes based on claims made that some event or aspect of existence have been affected by mythical supernatural entities is exactly equal to the statistical probability given for randomness.
not exactly. the teleological explanation of God's existence asserts precisely the opposite of your statement.

You have a "relationship" with your imagination.
what would serve as proof either way?

GearHedEd said...

I said,

"...having a "relationship" with someome generally requires that the other "person" can interact with you for mutual benefit. Neither God nor Jesus do this..."

Your reply:

"how can you prove this assertion? christians assert precisely the opposite. there is plenty of proof of completely transformed lives that is directly attributed to christianity."

Neither of us can "prove" anything here. It's a wash, and I vote in favor of parsimony. People transform their own lives. How many times have I heard that one has to "make a decision" to give one's life to the Lord?

How about we just "make a decision" and leave it at that? For example, I had a conversation with a lady who was selling me some knives and cutlery in my kitchen a while back. She blathered on about how she had turned her life around (got religious), when she used to be promiscuous, drug- and alcohol- user, smoked cigs, etc. She said there was no way she could have "done it without the Lord". I then told her that I quit smoking after 30 years (pack and a half daily) cold-turkey, and I'm an atheist. AND I haven't had a cigarette in over three years.

We each have the power within us to effect change in our own lives without delegating responsibility to a phantom, if we choose to be strong enough. But folks are told that they can't do things like this for themselves. Why? (and more importantly, who is telling them this?) Because then they wouldn't attend church and drop money in the collection plate anymore if they didn't NEED the Godly help.

This is just ONE of the literally hundreds of reasons why religion (and the superheroes religion wants us to believe in) are unnecessary.

trae norsworthy said...

Neither of us can "prove" anything here.
i feel like loftus is looking for scientific proof of something non-scientific, something metaphysical. i'm not sure if that's the case for you as well but, a reasonable case can be made for theism from several perspectives

It's a wash
it is most certainly not a wash. no person can substantiate what naturalism maintains; that there is nothing supernatural. theism has several things in it's favor over and against nontheism.

People transform their own lives. How many times have I heard that one has to "make a decision" to give one's life to the Lord?
while it is true that individual choice is part of the equation, people wouldn't have anything to transform themselves TO without the existence of God.

But folks are told that they can't do things like this for themselves. Why? Because then they wouldn't attend church and drop money in the collection plate anymore if they didn't NEED the Godly help.
this unfortunately does happen. however, it is perpetrated outside of christian precepts.

This is just ONE of the literally hundreds of reasons why religion (and the superheroes religion wants us to believe in) are unnecessary.
i don't disagree regarding "religion" but, it doesn't answer the question of whether God exists.

GearHedEd said...

Me: "It's a wash..."

trae: (I didn't capitalize it because you didn't) "it is most certainly not a wash. no person can substantiate what naturalism maintains; that there is nothing supernatural. theism has several things in it's favor over and against nontheism."

I'll bet if you listed them, every one would boil down to something emotional, or based on wishful thinking. Or is that why you left the list of things theism has in its favor out of your response?

GearHedEd said...

Me: "People transform their own lives. How many times have I heard that one has to "make a decision" to give one's life to the Lord?"

trae: "while it is true that individual choice is part of the equation, people wouldn't have anything to transform themselves TO without the existence of God."

I disagree. Morality isn't objective. It's necessary when large gorups of people start living in close proximity to one another, and would occur without God in any case. All of us see things in our lives that we feel we could improve upon "if only"... (unless said individual is a narcissist who thinks he shits fudge marble ice cream). I know I'm not perfect, I see things in my life I'd like to improve; but I don't think God will magically "poof" me into a better person if I don't take action myself (even if I DID believe in God).

"I'm not perfect" is this atheist's equivalent statement to the Christian "We're all sinners". Same result, but without needing to be condemned to realize it.

GearHedEd said...

Me: "This is just ONE of the literally hundreds of reasons why religion (and the superheroes religion wants us to believe in) are unnecessary."

trae: "i don't disagree regarding "religion" but, it doesn't answer the question of whether God exists."

If we arrive at the same place, and you believe in God, but I don't, then God IS unnecessary.

trae norsworthy said...

I'll bet if you listed them, every one would boil down to something emotional, or based on wishful thinking.
Obviously, christianity is based on the reality that the events recorded in the gospels are historically reliable. Plenty of historical experts have investigated the matter and find the case to be reasonable, if not strong. Second, people experience the revelation of God which is just as real as anything else. Nothing from science or any other discipline has proven that the lumen intellectus agentis is not real or is a delusion. Contrast that with nontheism’s untenable belief that there is nothing supernatural and it’s conclusive that nontheism is built on a foundation of sand.

Or is that why you left the list of things theism has in its favor out of your response?
I hope that this blog in it’s entirety suffices

Morality isn't objective.
I’ve said before that you wouldn’t even know what morality is without an objective referent. The postmodern practice of semantics doesn’t change the fact that morality is an appeal to an extreme, an absolute. Without that extreme, morality doesn’t even exist. It has no meaning. Is cannibalism moral or immoral?

It's necessary when large gorups of people start living in close proximity to one another
Even if someone could make a case that this is so, it still wouldn't change the fact that any moral statement would be no more justifiable than it's opposite. In that sense, morality is an illusion. Worse, altruism makes no sense in a naturalistic paradigm.

and would occur without God in any case
Yeah, without God, we get stalin. That's some good morality there.

I know I'm not perfect, I see things in my life I'd like to improve; but I don't think God will magically "poof" me into a better person if I don't take action myself (even if I DID believe in God).
But the problem is that your definition of good is no more justified than any differing idea. Since the two are incompatible, there is an irresolvable dilemma.

GearHedEd said...

"Obviously, christianity is based on the reality that the events recorded in the gospels are historically reliable. Plenty of historical experts have investigated the matter and find the case to be reasonable, if not strong."

And if you looked, I'm sure you'd find that there is likely a comparable number of "historical experts" who disagree.

You should stop using words like "refuted" and "conclusive", as non-theism hasn't been and arguments against non-theist positions are not, respectively.

GearHedEd said...

" Without that extreme, morality doesn’t even exist. It has no meaning. Is cannibalism moral or immoral?"

Depends.
Are you asking me, or a native from a cannibalistic culture?

You'd get two different answers.

trae norsworthy said...

I'll bet if you listed them, every one would boil down to something emotional, or based on wishful thinking. Or is that why you left the list of things theism has in its favor out of your response?
obviously, theists think that they are reasonable and rational. as far as a list, this whole blog serves as a list of sorts. i've also mentioned several on loftus' blog multiple times. for example, theism provides answers to issues such as origins, purpose and destiny. in almost all cases, these issues are either inconsequential or inexplicable to nontheism.

trae norsworthy said...

Depends. Are you asking me, or a native from a cannibalistic culture? You'd get two different answers.
PRECISELY. that's exactly my point. how in the world can two mutually exclusive responses both be moral? they can't. that's the dilemma that secularism can't resolve. so postmodernism plays word games and tries to make truth out to be local. if that's the case, then there is no such thing as morality at all. there are just actions and no one can make any moral judgments that have any real meaning. yet, we intuitively know morality exists. therefore, we need to appeal to an extreme, a transcendent moral anchor.