Tainted Icons

More than most other belief systems, organized religion emphasizes tradition and continuity with the past. The historical figures who founded today’s prominent churches are considered larger-than-life and thought of as possessing uncommon character and virtue. This is probably because religion is widely equated with morality; given this mistaken assumption, it follows that very religious people must also be very moral.

But in fact, the opposite is true. Just as with the character of Jesus, many of the founders of today’s sects lived in more primitive times, and wholeheartedly believed many of the moral errors and prejudices of those times. This post will detail a few of the more prominent examples, many of which are still idolized by modern believers unaware of their founders’ failings, in order to correct these mistaken perceptions.

Martin Luther: The famous dissenter who set the Protestant Reformation in motion. Founder of the Lutheran denomination, which is named after him, but arguably all Protestant denominations owe their existence to his work. He was also a vicious, raving anti-Semitic hatemonger who wrote tracts with titles like On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he argued that all synagogues should be burned down, that all Jewish holy texts should be destroyed, that rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and that Jews should either be put to forced labor or killed. Luther’s writings were explicitly cited by the Nazis to justify their campaign of genocide.

John Knox: Sixteenth-century Scottish clergyman; a major figure in the Protestant Reformation. Is considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church, which still names churches in his honor. A loathsome misogynist who argued at length that women were unfit for leadership and should never be permitted to hold any position of authority over a man, and that “if any presume to defend that impiety, [we] ought not to fear, first to pronounce, and then after to execute against them the sentence of death.”

John Calvin: Another key figure in the Protestant Reformation, founder of the Calvinist denominations that still exist today. When given the chance, he gained control of the city of Geneva and turned it into a brutal theocracy with himself as dictator, where torture was used to extract confessions and “blasphemous” speech was punishable by death. Dozens of people were burned at the stake for heresy, including the Spanish physician Michael Servetus, whose arrest and subsequent execution Calvin personally instigated when Servetus came to Geneva. (Confessional biographies of Calvin like this one tactfully gloss over these incidents.)

The Southern Baptist Convention: The largest Protestant denomination in the United States and the largest single Baptist association in the world, boasting over 16 million members. Well-known for its official stance against female pastors and in favor of wives being expected to obey their husbands. However, the SBC has a more unsavory secret: it was originally formed specifically to support the institution of slavery (see also). The SBC arose in the 1840s from a disagreement between northern and southern Baptists over whether it was permissible for missionaries to own slaves. Those who defended the practice withdrew from national Baptist organizations, forming the SBC in Augusta, Georgia in May 1845. The SBC did not officially apologize for its role in supporting racism and slavery until 1995.

Billy Graham: A beloved American evangelist whose counsel was sought by multiple U.S. presidents and whose ministry is said to have reached millions of people throughout his lifetime. He also appears to have been a secret anti-Semite, as revealed by recently released tapes of Graham’s conversations with President Nixon:

“A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country…”

As Graham went on to say, the Jews had a “stranglehold” on America, which “has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain”, and he expressed his hope that Nixon (who said he agreed with those remarks) “might be able to do something” about that situation.

Francis Schaeffer: One of the founders of the modern religious right; credited by modern right-wing leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson with inspiring them to political activism on issues such as gay rights and abortion. According to his son Frank, Schaeffer was also violent and physically abusive toward his wife; when they got in fights, he would throw things at her as well as engage in other, unspecified but even worse acts of violence. His son also says he often contemplated suicide.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.skepticalmonkey.com Ted Goas

    I can already hear rebuttals from the followers of the icons profiled above…

    Nobody’s perfect. Since these people had a relationship with God, they all repented and their sins were forgiven.

  • mikespeir

    I’ve never considered the hypocrisy argument very persuasive in and of itself. I wouldn’t expect Christians to be perfect. But the claim is made in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that anyone who is “in Christ” is a “new creature.” You would think this would suggest at least that Christians would be able to avoid the most egregious sorts of sins. But when you look closely, the “new creatures” seem remarkably like the old ones. The “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) are about as common among Christians as unbelievers. Curiously, the “fruits of the Spirit” (5:22-23) are easy to find among those who don’t even believe in “the Spirit.”

  • exrelayman

    Insofar as religion is arguably insane, promoting as it does faith in ‘things not seen’ and contradictory to the nature of physical reality, it is not surprising that those enthralled by it experience a discordance in their life analogous to that discord between what is experienced and what is to be believed. This discord, if not protected by cognitive dissonance, is what led most of us who frequent this and similar sites to investigate the validity of our religious beliefs and ultimately abandon them in the light of the best available evidence. The examples cited in the post exemplify the results of such mental imbalance, as also does the tragic case of poor Andrea Yates, the crusades, the inquisition, 9/11, etc. This is why the effort to free mankind from superstition, as being conducted by Ebonmuse and others, is important and laudable.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Nobody’s perfect. Since these people had a relationship with God, they all repented and their sins were forgiven.

    That only applies if these people actually repented, Ted, which I don’t believe is the case for any of them. In any case, many of these believers are still cited as if they were worthy figures whom we should look up to (Slacktivist‘s post from last week, which quotes Martin Luther, is a case in point). It’s worth the effort to dilute the reverence with a solid dose of reality.

  • Wowbagger

    Sadly, these instances don’t seem to make much difference. Equivocation is the watchword – they’ll say things like what they did for the ‘good’ of humanity more than made up for the few bad things they did; that they were products of their times and not responsible; that they wasn’t a True Xian (handy when there’s so many different sects – if you want to distance yourself from someone in your church who’s been caught doing something bad you just change the name); that the claims are exaggerated by atheists and so on.

    If that doesn’t work then they’ve still got the favourite get-out-of-jail-free card – that he/they, being weak and human, could still make mistakes. And doesn’t that just make God even that much more likely?

    Cognitive dissonance at its finest.

  • RollingStone

    You forgot Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and their multiple wives. Today, most Mormons insist that their religion does not condone polygamy, but this definitely wasn’t the opinion of the founders themselves.

  • Samuel Skinner

    You forgot Martin “crush the peasants” Luther. Because, just because you admire them for their hard work and believe in a book that up holds the poor doesn’t mean you have to actually empathize with them.

  • velkyn

    oh golly, ebon, how can you accuse all Christians of being idiots like their leaders? Let’s see, what excuses will you hear from them (if they even dare speak up, since Christians sure don’t like to admit the vermin in their midst):

    “I have a relationship, not a religion” to get them and their God out of having to be responsible for other Christians.

    “You don’t understand the magic words of the Bible” Definitely not what they’d say verbatim but oh that magic decoder ring does get a lot of use.

    Funny how their God can’t clean up his troopies when he was more than willing to back in the OT. heck, just touch the ark to make sure it doesn’t fall would get you killed back then.

  • watercat

    All your examples come from the western patriarchal religions. How well does your premise apply I wonder outside this, to founders like Buddha, Confucius, etc?

  • MS (Quixote)

    It’s worth the effort to dilute the reverence with a solid dose of reality.

    Yes, it is. Calvin College, to which the Calvin bio link connects, has a body of water on its commons named after Servetus as a daily reminder to seminarians.

    I can already hear rebuttals from the followers of the icons profiled above…

    Though I would not agree with every contention of this essay, Christians should not be offended by this post for at least a three reasons:

    One, it concurs with our worldview, that all are sinners by nature.

    Secondly, let’s be honest. Christians are noted for trotting out the sins of atheist figures. I see no foul play involved with atheists doing the same. In fact, if grievous sin were not present within Christianity, I would abandon the faith.

    Thirdly, and I apologize in advance for listing, a believer should not expect someone outside the faith to necessarily hold Christians in high regard simply because they are Christian, which is a simple truism consistent with nearly every organization, belief, nationality, institution, etc., I can think of.

    Let’s see, what excuses will you hear from them (if they even dare speak up, since Christians sure don’t like to admit the vermin in their midst):

    Sadly, this is too often the case. I prefer to call it like it is.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Calvin College, to which the Calvin bio link connects, has a body of water on its commons named after Servetus as a daily reminder to seminarians.

    I hadn’t known that, and that’s admirable. It goes to show that many of today’s religious sects have advanced beyond the cruelties of their founders. Still, I don’t think it redresses the balance. Let’s be blunt: This college has named itself in honor of a murderer. I don’t see how this is mitigated by their also naming something in honor of his victim.

  • John Nernoff

    Jim Bakker, jailbird, and Jimmy Swaggart, a whoreson, are also not to be forgotten.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I don’t see how this is mitigated by their also naming something in honor of his victim.

    I never intended it as a mitigating factor equal to the task of balancing Calvin’s sin, more that it was an example of “an effort to dilute the reverence with a solid dose of reality.” I’m sure you would agree that the intent of Calvin College’s founders was to name the school in honor of Calvin’s theology and Christian service, rather than his sin.

    I appreciate your blunt criticism. It is a common criticism within Christian circles and certainly not the first time I have felt its weight, theological Calvinist that I am.

    I also thought it was a nice word play against my “call it like it is” boast:) If you consider capital punishment murder, or if you consider an injustly applied capital punishment murder, or if capital punishment based on an injust law is murder, then I suppose I have no logical disagreement with your conclusion that Calvin was a murderer, given your assumption. Otherwise, your blunt criticism seems to be that the college was named after a cruel historical figure, rather than a murderer. Either way, I would expect you to maintain that he is a poor choice of namesake.

    Before I argued this further, I would prefer to educate myself with more than a passing familiarity of the history surrounding this event, since there are competing versions of what actually happened. Anything I could give you in excess of that at this juncture would be from ignorance on my part.

    Interestingly, the original draft of my Master’s thesis (secular Humanities, BTW) referenced Dan Corner’s article cited above for a description of Servetus’s execution. I am not sure I would trust him as an objective secondary source, given his axe grinding against Calvin and eternal security.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m sure you would agree that the intent of Calvin College’s founders was to name the school in honor of Calvin’s theology and Christian service, rather than his sin.

    As it happens, I don’t think much of Calvin’s theology either. Calvinism is an extraordinarily cruel and sadistic doctrine, one that stands out even among the many varieties of Christianity that preach eternal torture. But that aside, I don’t think either Calvin’s theology or his service can be so lightly divorced from the acts he himself chose to undertake in the name of that theology. Calvin made it clear that his religious beliefs were precisely what compelled him to have Servetus put to death. Here’s what he himself wrote on the matter, quoted from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church:

    Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honor, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories?

    Don’t tell me you don’t feel a shudder when you read that passage; I certainly do. Knowing that any church or college considers this cold and brutal man a hero to be honored is a thought that fills me with revulsion.

    If you consider capital punishment murder, or if you consider an injustly applied capital punishment murder, or if capital punishment based on an injust law is murder…

    Yes, I do. Having someone killed simply because of their opinions is murder. Some tyrants have tried to disguise their action in a facade of law, but it is murder nonetheless. There is no conceivable system of morality in which putting someone to death for disagreeing with you is just.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    MS (Quixote), I must concur with Ebonmuse. Naming a pond after the victim of a zealot doesn’t change the past and, in the eyes of outsiders, does nothing to separate the consequences of Calvin’s thought process. The seminarians may look upon it as that one thing that they must forgive Calvin of in order to absorb his teachings. Outsiders just see red flags alerting them to the faults in the man’s entire outlook on life.

    Also, I think you’re making things a little complicated, no? It’s not as if Servetus stepped on a rake and broke his nose. He got killed because that’s what Calvin wanted. This isn’t an opportunity to bring up the finer points of capital punishment. People were getting burnt alive at the stake for religious reasons. Not a single one of those deaths can be justified because they all fell victim to one man’s power struggle and a religious system for which there isn’t the slightest bit of factual evidence.

  • MS (Quixote)

    There is no conceivable system of morality in which putting someone to death for disagreeing with you is just.

    I agree.

    Don’t tell me you don’t feel a shudder when you read that passage; I certainly do. Knowing that any church or college considers this cold and brutal man a hero to be honored is a thought that fills me with revulsion.

    Yes, I do find it revolting, frankly. And I disagree with him when he puts words in God’s mouth in the pasage you cited. But, I am just not convinced on the basis of one quote that he is a cold and brutal man, when I have books full of his writings that read otherwise.

    I could be wrong and am willing to be shown such. Secondary sources are just not that convincing, however, especially when provided via a link. Tell you what, I will look for Schaff’s book and the source he cites and report back. Fair enough?

    Calvinism is an extraordinarily cruel and sadistic doctrine, one that stands out even among the many varieties of Christianity that preach eternal torture.

    You would make a great Arminian. Perhaps you should give me an example of its cruelty and sadism. With all due respect, this comment is fairly routine and suggests that you have not understood Calvinism the way Calvinists do. Calvinism most likely is cruel and sadistic the way you conceive it.

    But that aside, I don’t think either Calvin’s theology or his service can be so lightly divorced from the acts he himself chose to undertake in the name of that theology.

    Calvin’s problem stemmed from entangling himself and the Church in government. I am consistently against Chrisitianity seeking to insert itself into politics. You have hit on a prime example of why. If this is portion of his theology you are referencing here, we are in agreement.

    Calvin made it clear that his religious beliefs were precisely what compelled him to have Servetus put to death.

    As I said earlier, I do not have the requisite historical knowledge to speak with any authority regarding Calvin’s motives.

  • MS (Quixote)

    bbk,

    This may surprise you, but I tend to agree with most of what you have said, though I might shade it a bit differently. This was particularly insightful, though the verb absorb smuggles in a hidden assumption:

    The seminarians may look upon it as that one thing that they must forgive Calvin of in order to absorb his teachings. Outsiders just see red flags alerting them to the faults in the man’s entire outlook on life.

    In addition, the last thing I am interested in is arguing capital punishment. I just wanted clarification about whether capital punishment was generally synonymous with murder on this site. I think I got that in EM’s reply. Paid dearly for it, but I got it :)

    I especially agree that none of those deaths were justified. But just out of curiosity, why would you finalize an otherwise rational post with a false statement suggesting there is not one bit of factual evidence for Christianity? Did you mean Calvinism in particular? Did you mean scant evidence? Proffered evidence that doesn’t meet your standards for truth? Flimsy evidence that you deny personally? Am I taking the bait here? :)

    I can offer one: didn’t we find Caiaphas a few years back?

  • MS (Quixote)

    After further reflection, I have to admit I am wrong about the name of the College. I owe Ebonmuse and bbk a debt of gratitude. Funny, I can see it now, clearly. Thanks for showing me a blind spot in my thinking…much obliged.

  • mikespeir

    One, it concurs with our worldview, that all are sinners by nature.

    Of course I don’t know the particulars of your own faith, MS, but I was brought up in the Assemblies of God. There, we were taught that Christians have a special “unction” from the Holy Spirit that enables them to live above sin. (They mean, to live better lives than the “unredeemed,” at least.) And yet there is so little evidence of this holy living.

    I realize that the average Christian of today isn’t going to burn heretics and infidels at the stake. Some of the finest people I know are Christians. What is troublesome is how ardently these same fine people will work to justify the atrocities of the Bible. I have a hard time thinking of someone as moral who will twist himself into knots trying to show that the crimes of, say, Numbers 31 and First Samuel 15 were in fact good things to do.

    In light of that, it’s a little scary when I see how certain Christians in this country are striving to regain temporal power. Though they would like to distance themselves the the barbarities of the Medieval Church, in fact the Medieval Church came by its cruelty honestly. It was just following the examples handed to it in Scripture. Even today Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians anticipate a day when Jesus will come back to annihilate all who don’t believe in him. Whether this will actually happen is irrelevant here. What is relevant is that this is something they fervently hope for. They insist that it, too, will be a good thing to do. Who, then, can make me believe the Church has gotten beyond its savage past?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Tell you what, I will look for Schaff’s book and the source he cites and report back. Fair enough?

    Certainly, if you like. I don’t know what you’re looking for, though. As far as I’m aware, the basic facts of the story are not in dispute. Calvin vowed that if Servetus came to Geneva he would have him executed, and that is just what happened.

    With all due respect, this comment is fairly routine and suggests that you have not understood Calvinism the way Calvinists do. Calvinism most likely is cruel and sadistic the way you conceive it.

    In my understanding, Calvinism states that the salvation or damnation of humanity is based entirely on God’s predestination and has nothing to do with human choice. God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so. Instead, he saves some based only on whim, and condemns others to eternal punishment for no reason other than that they are the people whom he has decided to condemn to eternal punishment.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Who, then, can make me believe the Church has gotten beyond its savage past?

    Not I. There are some particularly bad views of the second coming in vogue currently as you mentioned. The thought of the Church regaining temporal power worries me as well and is common ground that like-minded atheists and Christians can agree on and work to prevent.

    You’re right, Church authorities wielding supreme politcal authority today probably wouldn’t burn infidels at the stake because you can’t kill people in great enough numbers that way.

  • goyo

    Calvinism is certainly one of the most sadistic theologies out there. I used to teach it. (Southern Baptists are five-point calvinists even though most won’t admit it.) The fact that god has chosen his elect from before the foundations of the earth is cruel. You had no choice in the matter.
    Don’t forget that Dominion Theology is directly descended from Calvinism.

  • velkyn

    MS Quixote, you wrote “I especially agree that none of those deaths were justified. But just out of curiosity, why would you finalize an otherwise rational post with a false statement suggesting there is not one bit of factual evidence for Christianity? Did you mean Calvinism in particular? Did you mean scant evidence? Proffered evidence that doesn’t meet your standards for truth? Flimsy evidence that you deny personally? Am I taking the bait here? :)

    I can offer one: didn’t we find Caiaphas a few years back?”

    There was an tomb that had name Caiaphas on several ossuaries. First one must understand how common the name was. I don’t know anything about that, but perhaps someone else does. Second, is here any evidence that this is the actual “high priest” of the time around Jesus, another problem since there is some disagreement on just when that was. third, Mark and Luke don’t even mention Caiaphas.

    If you consider this “proof” of a being that was supposedly the “son of God” and did magic, then you must also agree that the fact that Tom Clancy wrote about Washington DC then *must* mean that Jack Ryan was President of the United States, or that Athena and Poseidon must exist since Athens was mentioned in the story. Just a little thought here would prevent Christians and others from making the same mistake about “evidence” they make again and again.

  • MS (Quixote)

    If you consider this “proof” of a being that was supposedly the “son of God” and did magic, then you must also agree that the fact that Tom Clancy wrote about Washington DC then *must* mean that Jack Ryan was President of the United States, or that Athena and Poseidon must exist since Athens was mentioned in the story. Just a little thought here would prevent Christians and others from making the same mistake about “evidence” they make again and again.

    I wasn’t aware we discovered archaeological evidence of Jack Ryan. No, I don’t make the leap from Caiaphas to the Son of God. What I offered was just one quick reference out of a very large set of evidence. The point that is refuted is the claim that no factual evidence exists for Christianity. It is not offered in an attempt to convince you, nor to argue with you about the validity of the evidence. You have obviously taken the time to explain above why it is faulty evidence with regard to Christianity; hence, I have to conclude that you were considering evidence that exists. I like bbk and simply wanted to bring this to his attention.

    Just a little thought here would prevent Christians and others from making the same mistake about “evidence” they make again and again.

    Absolutely true, however, please rememeber that “others” includes all non-Christians as well…

  • MS (Quixote)

    Southern Baptists are five-point calvinists even though most won’t admit it

    Generally, they are three or four pointers.

    You had no choice in the matter.

    This is not a Calvinistic belief. It is found in hyper-Calvinism, which many hard-shell Baptists engage in. Perhaps that is your reference to Baptists above?

    Don’t forget that Dominion Theology is directly descended from Calvinism.

    Some Dominion Theology is descended directly from Calvinism. Do you mind if I join you in rejecting it? :)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,
    I believe Velkyn’s point was that even though there may be some historical accuracy to the events described in the Bible, none of this lends any credence to the fantastical claims that god exists, etc. If that were the case, then we really could conclude that Jack Ryan exists despite the lack of archaeological evidence for Mr. Ryan (or should I say President Ryan?) IOW, if finding a tomb that might be Caiaphas somehow gives evidence to the person of Jesus Christ (who we also have no archaeological evidence for) and for god, then why not Jack Ryan as well, since we know that Washington DC exists?

    I happen to agree with BBK and others that there is no evidence for Xianity, or at least the supernatural claims of it.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I believe Velkyn’s point was that even though there may be some historical accuracy to the events described in the Bible, none of this lends any credence to the fantastical claims that god exists, etc.

    This is a good way to put it, not that you need my concurrence.

    I happen to agree with BBK and others that there is no evidence for Xianity, or at least the supernatural claims of it.

    That is beyond question, my friend. What I like about this site is that most here, if they did find any evidence for a particular religion convincing, would follow it. Fair enough & I am not here to proselytize.

    But this is my question, which is meant sincerely: Do atheists claim that there is no evidence for Christianity, or that no good evidence exists? Everytime I read the claim that there is no evidence, it puzzles me, and on lesser sites than this, it is delivered like a creationist claiming there is no evidence for evolution (I believe there is evidence for evolution, so don’t jump on me).

    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it seems that what is being claimed is that there is no good or valid evidence for the truth of Christianity, not that there is no evidence for Christianity. I am thinking that is what bbk had in mind by including the modifier “factual.” I just wanted clarification, so I asked.

  • MS (Quixote)

    In my understanding, Calvinism states that the salvation or damnation of humanity is based entirely on God’s predestination and has nothing to do with human choice. God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so. Instead, he saves some based only on whim, and condemns others to eternal punishment for no reason other than that they are the people whom he has decided to condemn to eternal punishment.

    Hey EM,

    Sorry, I did not notice you slip in there this morning. Based on the above, I don’t blame you for characterizing Calvinism as cruel and sadistic. However, this is the only statement above that an orthodox Calvinist would affirm, and it is commonly held by all forms of orthodox Christianity, not only Calvinism: “God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so.”

    This may be enough for you to call God cruel, I reckon…

    Sorry to wreck the thread yet again, I was only trying to agree, I think :) I picked up a great nugget though with the college thing, and for that I thank you.

  • mikespeir

    But this is my question, which is meant sincerely: Do atheists claim that there is no evidence for Christianity, or that no good evidence exists? Everytime I read the claim that there is no evidence, it puzzles me, and on lesser sites than this, it is delivered like a creationist claiming there is no evidence for evolution (I believe there is evidence for evolution, so don’t jump on me).

    That is a good point. I know I always try to make it clear that I mean there’s no good evidence for Christianity. I suspect that’s what’s generally meant even when the “good” is omitted. (Which, by the way, really isn’t what Carl “There is no evidence for evolution” Baugh means.)

    Of course there’s evidence for Christianity. The Gospels, the epistles, the testimonies of the Church Fathers–even the witness of present-day Christians is technically evidence. But is it good evidence? Is it good enough to make the outlandish claims convincing? In my opinion, nowhere remotely so.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,
    In answer to your question, I would say that there is no evidence that does not beg the question or engage in some other logical fallacy. Also, I would say that there is no evidence that actually leads someone to a conclusion of anything supernatural.

  • MS (Quixote)

    (Which, by the way, really isn’t what Carl “There is no evidence for evolution” Baugh means.)

    :) Glad you caught my meaning…

    In my opinion, nowhere remotely so.

    No worries, mate. Thanks for the answer. Good one, too, in my opinion.

  • goyo

    MS:

    You had no choice in the matter.

    This is not a Calvinistic belief. It is found in hyper-Calvinism, which many hard-shell Baptists engage in. Perhaps that is your reference to Baptists above?

    In my understanding, Calvinism states that the salvation or damnation of humanity is based entirely on God’s predestination and has nothing to do with human choice. God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so. Instead, he saves some based only on whim, and condemns others to eternal punishment for no reason other than that they are the people whom he has decided to condemn to eternal punishment.

    Hey EM,

    Sorry, I did not notice you slip in there this morning. Based on the above, I don’t blame you for characterizing Calvinism as cruel and sadistic. However, this is the only statement above that an orthodox Calvinist would affirm, and it is commonly held by all forms of orthodox Christianity, not only Calvinism: “God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so.”

    I thought that was what I said: You have no choice in the matter.

    I have often meditated on the fact that I was one of the chosen for many years, teaching, praying, counseling, etc…and then slipped away. So, for a Calvinist, I was never really one of the elect, because of the “perseverance of the saints” issue.
    Just think of the multitudes of mistaken saints that are not “chosen”, but think sincerely they really are. Who knows, you may be one yourself.
    Especially if you keep exposing yourself to this website and continue thinking for yourself. It’s a good thing Calvin isn’t alive today, or you could be roasting over a hot fire, too.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Quixote:

    However, this is the only statement above that an orthodox Calvinist would affirm, and it is commonly held by all forms of orthodox Christianity, not only Calvinism: “God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so.”

    I’d say that’s about 75% of my argument right there, but I’d like to explore this further. If you mean to say that my description of Calvinism as given above is incorrect, in what ways is it incorrect?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Especially if you keep exposing yourself to this website and continue thinking for yourself.

    Thanks Goyo, I love this website and I love being a freethinker. I’ll try to pick up the choice issue below.

  • MS (Quixote)

    If you mean to say that my description of Calvinism as given above is incorrect, in what ways is it incorrect?

    As long as we can remain civil, no problem. This is not a charge against you guys, but the issue in general is emotionally charged. I visited a Christian site where thousands and thousands of posts were devoted to this topic without resolution. All I intend to accomplish here is an extremely brief, high level overview, presented in an informal, non-technical style.

    What I meant to say is that your description of Calvinism resembles the manner in which it is commonly portrayed by Arminians, and is not an accurate reproduction of the Calvinist system. If your intent was to criticize it by following its logic where you think it leads thereby describing it as such, that’s another matter altogether and you are free to do so without any objections from this end. Anyway, a few quick thoughts…

    the salvation or damnation of humanity is based entirely on God’s predestination and has nothing to do with human choice.

    Setting aside special cases such as mental retardation, etc., Calvinism professes that no one enters heaven without choosing Christ freely, and without wanting to choose Christ. It is considered a genuine choice bearing real consequences. Likewise, no one is damned who wants to come to Christ. Calvinist (I prefer the term reformed) theology teaches that those who want to reject Christ do so. The apparent paradox between the sovereignty of God and the will of the creature is resolved within the framework of the compatibilistic view of the will.

    Incidentally, predestination is not peculiar to Calvinism. Every orthodox Christian group I am aware of teaches it based on the words’s usage 4 times in the NT. At issue is the basis for the predestination, not its occurrence.

    Instead, he saves some based only on whim, and condemns others to eternal punishment for no reason other than that they are the people whom he has decided to condemn to eternal punishment.

    The Calvinist claims that God saves some based on the basis of the good pleasure of his own will as cleary stated in the Biblical text. God’s will, being perfect, is not whimsical nor capricious. That there is mystery involved with God is freely admitted. We have argued this before, so I suppose we don’t need to again. I only point it out to demonstrate that the sentence above is the Arminian conception of what Calvinists believe, not what Calvinists themselves teach.

    In the Calvinist view, and the Christian view overall, people are condemmed because they deserve it based on their sin, not because God decided to condemn them to eternal punishment for no other reason than because he decided to condemn them. (I apologize if that last statement offends anyone, but there is really no other way to say it)Your objection that god could have saved them is valid, but is a separate issue.

    OK, that’s a short intro. It’s all conclusions and no rationale–I didn’t want to bog your blog with pages of justification, only to describe what Calvinists teach in contrast to your description, as requested. The right or wrong of it is a whole other matter.

    PS-I have to log off and get some sleep, so if you wish to respond I will need to pick it up again tomorrow,

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Calvinism professes that no one enters heaven without choosing Christ freely, and without wanting to choose Christ… Calvinist (I prefer the term reformed) theology teaches that those who want to reject Christ do so.

    But, according to Calvinism, the sole reason why people either choose or reject Christ is that it is God’s sovereign will that they do so. Is that not true?

    The Calvinist claims that God saves some based on the basis of the good pleasure of his own will as cleary stated in the Biblical text. God’s will, being perfect, is not whimsical nor capricious. That there is mystery involved with God is freely admitted.

    You say that God’s will is not capricious, but you also admit that it’s a mystery to us why he chooses some and not others. You also believe, do you not, that God does not choose people to be saved because of any merit that those people possess? No person is more deserving of salvation than any other, correct?

    I don’t mean to sound unduly harsh, but I want to be sure we have these points nailed down before I offer any further thoughts.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    MS (Quixote), a pastor once told me that to him, God was like a thousand unfinished bridges all pointing in the same direction. I’d say, unfinished indeed. I sat there that day with him in awe of the graceful euphemism he used and the sheer irony of it. This pastor had just moved to Pittsburgh months ago… he must have had no idea about the “bridge to nowhere” and the student who drove off it that is enshrined in the local folklore. But moreover, it was amazing to me how someone can take what impartial observers see as a bunch of incomplete and inconclusive observations and turn it completely on its head in such a beautiful sounding, philosophical manner.

    That’s the problem with religious belief and the evidence for it. Each one of these little half finished bridges, when looked at up close, turns out to be lacking in any number of different ways. It’s only when one looses sight of the individual shortcoming of each piece of incomplete evidence that it’s possible to conjecture about where it all leads to. There’s a reason why these half finished bridges point in the same direction: the common thread that links them all together is the bias of the believer.

    Ebonmuse gave us an example of just one type of the shortcomings of in this post about tainted religious icons. You yourself gave us an example of how believers shore up the flimsy foundation of their belief system. By doing such things as naming a body of water after Servetus at Calvin College, instead of condemning Calvin as the vulgar tyrant that he was, believers seek to make the teachings of their religious leaders a little more palatable to those who may have a little bit of a conscience.

    I’ll leave you with my own little analogy. If you just stopped trying to make excuses to shore up all of these half finished bridges that you’ve got built, you’ll soon see them falling down like a line of dominoes in front of your very eyes.

  • MS (Quixote)

    But, according to Calvinism, the sole reason why people either choose or reject Christ is that it is God’s sovereign will that they do so. Is that not true?

    Didn’t find your tone harsh in the least. No, this is not an accurate representation. People choose exactly what they desire. This excerpt from the Westminster Confession may help:

    God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    You say that God’s will is not capricious, but you also admit that it’s a mystery to us why he chooses some and not others. You also believe, do you not, that God does not choose people to be saved because of any merit that those people possess?

    Correct.

    No person is more deserving of salvation than any other, correct?

    It would be more accurate to say that none deserve salvation and in fact merit the opposite.

  • goyo

    MS:
    Here we go again. Taking the strange words and contradictions written in the bible by ignorant, zealous, half-baked philosophers, and trying to interpret them to make sense to intelligent, educated people of the 21st century.
    BBK is right, this is all philosophical mumbo-jumbo leading nowhere.
    Calvin interprets these passages to mean predestination, the Arminian interprets the same passages to mean something entirely different, the Southern Baptist sees something different, etc…
    Do you baptize by immersion, by sprinkling, or not at all?
    Is baptism necessary to salvation?
    How often do you observe the lord’s supper? Every service? Once a month? Once a quarter?
    (These are rhetorical questions, of course.)
    Now that I am out of that, I look back on my years as a xtian as a futile searching for truth that I never could find.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Excellent metaphor bbk, I may be tempted to borrow it in the future since it has other obvious ironic applications. I agree with you: most everyone believes their own bridge is complete :)

  • goyo

    God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    I’ve read this many times, and it still doesn’t make sense. To say that god ordained everything that happens, but is not responsible for sin, is a non-sequiter.
    I always appreciated the straight-forward confession of this statement, but you can’t say that it’s not contradictory.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    All the Calvinists I know are rather contradictory, but they all say the same thing. We can not come to choose Christ unless god comes and changes our hearts. We will all turn away from god and therefore are deserving of hell, unless god puts his grace upon us, in which case we are compelled to turn to Christ and try to live the path of the righteous. MS, is this an accurate representation in your opinion? If it is not, then how is your definition different from the Arminian? As I understand it, the Arminian believes that we choose to come to Jesus or not, it is entirely up to us. That seems to be what you are saying the Calvinist believes.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I always appreciated the straight-forward confession of this statement, but you can’t say that it’s not contradictory.

    It’s a paradox, not a contradiction. You are correct in highlighting it, though. It’s the most difficult intellectual problem for Christianity, in my opinion, specifically as to how evil arose in the first place. Keep in mind, I am not offering this to convince anyone or to provide justifications for the material. It’s simply for definition purposes…

  • goyo

    You’re right OMGF. Everyone deserves death, god saves who he will, unconditionally, drawing them with irrestible grace. And the true saints persevere in the faith.
    (with god’s help, of course). TULIP.
    And all of the Calvinist’s that I have talked with or read comments from revel in the “special knowledge” that Calvin was given to interpret god’s word.
    In other words, they admire and respect Calvin.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Fairly accurate OMGF, nicely done. I wouldn’t object too much if you used that characterization to criticize my position. The verb compelled is probably too strong, because the creature makes a real choice in response to grace. Did someone really tell you “path of the righteous?” :)

    You have noticed in the past that I have agreed with you that the notion of an autonomous free will is irrational, usually when you are refuting the free will theodicy. Since Calvinists conceive of the will similarly to a philosophic compatibilist, the will makes real choices though the choices are spurred by outside influences. In other words, the will always chooses in accordance with its strongest desire. If it chooses based on its strongest desire, it is choosing what it wants, and if it wants it, its a real choice, determined yet “free”.

    Hume and others claimed this, so its not as if the Calivinist is on an intellectual island regarding compatibilism. That’s a shorthand for the Calvinist view and how it differs from the Arminian. There are some distinctions between moral and natural ability in the will, but basically that’s an acceptable, quick answer.

    That seems to be what you are saying the Calvinist believes.

    For example, I am sure you are freely rejecting Christ, right? As a Calvinist, I believe you are doing that freely. It’s what you want. It’s in accordance with your strongest desires. You are not compelled to will as such. There’s no deity forcing you supernaturally, either now or from eternity past, to reject him. You have considered the evidence, or lack thereof, or whatever you have done, and made your mind up.

    I am not interested in arguing Calvinism here, only trying to clarify a few issues as requested by our host. I will say this as a personal note, however. Based on my limited experience with you, many of the posters here, and even EM, if you were Christians, you would be Calvinists. Y’all are way too analytical in your philosophy and too empirical in your approach to truth to be Arminians. I know that sounds ludicrous, but you have to translate it into “Christianese.”

  • MS (Quixote)

    And all of the Calvinist’s that I have talked with or read comments from revel in the “special knowledge” that Calvin was given to interpret god’s word.

    Goyo is right about this, unfortunately. There is an inordinate amount of conceit within Calvinism. I am hoping she changes that statement in the future to “all but one of the Calvinists.” :) The worst part about the “special knowledge” is that Calvin did not develop TULIP, nor was he doing anything more than rehashing Augustinianism, along with several of his protestant contemporaries.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Or “He” for Goyo. How embarrassing. Forgive me, deeply ingrained with feminism…

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,
    “Path of the righteous” is actually my wording for their summations, but I think it accurately reflects their views. And, I would say “compelled” since that is how it was told to me. god physically changes your heart and you have no recourse in the matter, and you can no longer go back.

    The way I understand it, the Calvinist believes that I freely choose to reject Christ, but that I also have no choice in the matter, because I am unable to come to Christ without grace, without god changing my heart. This is contradictory and I’ve pointed it out to them many times. If I am unable to come to Christ (cease rejecting him) on my own, then I’m not actually making a choice to reject him. Therefore, I’m only doing what god has ordained that I do. When god condemns me for this, then god is at fault, not me.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    You’re right OMGF. Everyone deserves death, god saves who he will, unconditionally, drawing them with irrestible grace. And the true saints persevere in the faith.
    (with god’s help, of course). TULIP.
    And all of the Calvinist’s that I have talked with or read comments from revel in the “special knowledge” that Calvin was given to interpret god’s word.
    In other words, they admire and respect Calvin.

    The most important aspect of Calvinism may be the motive behind it. Just as Southern Baptists were created because the followers needed a Biblical way to justify enslavement of Blacks, Calvinists were created to fit some sort of perceived need of its adherents.

    Calvinism offers a double edged sword. On the one hand, there is the Protestant work ethic. Hard work and toil are seen as a sign of God’s grace and salvation. The poor can demonstrate that they are God’s chosen by working themselves to the bone until they die, even if they earn nothing for it within their lifetimes. On the other hand, there are the aspects of predestination that appeal to the rich – being well off is a sure sign of having received God’s grace. Calvinism turns out to be a rather cunning religious tool to preserve the status quo of Christian societies. It preserves poverty and tolerates tyranny. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense so long as each person who looks at it finds a way to say to themselves “I am one of the chosen ones.”

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    You’re right OMGF. Everyone deserves death, god saves who he will, unconditionally, drawing them with irrestible grace. And the true saints persevere in the faith.
    (with god’s help, of course). TULIP.
    And all of the Calvinist’s that I have talked with or read comments from revel in the “special knowledge” that Calvin was given to interpret god’s word.
    In other words, they admire and respect Calvin.

    The most important aspect of Calvinism may be the motive behind it. Just as Southern Baptists were created because the followers needed a Biblical way to justify enslavement of Blacks, Calvinists were created to fit some sort of perceived need of its adherents.

    Calvinism offers a double edged sword. On the one hand, there is the Protestant work ethic. Hard work and toil are seen as a sign of God’s grace and salvation. The poor can demonstrate that they are God’s chosen by working themselves to the bone until they die, even if they earn nothing for it within their lifetimes. On the other hand, there are the aspects of predestination that appeal to the rich – being well off is a sure sign of having received God’s grace. Calvinism turns out to be a rather cunning religious tool to preserve the status quo of Christian societies. It preserves poverty and tolerates tyranny. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense so long as each person who looks at it finds a way to say to themselves “I am one of the chosen ones.”

  • goyo

    Yes, that is “he”. No offense.
    So does that comment mean that you are of the feminine persuasion?
    The reason I ask is, how do you read the bible and not see the persistent theme of mysogyny that runs throughout? Are you ok with that?
    You can’t believe that interpretation can evolve with society, that would be against all that Calvin taught.
    Are you familiar with the writings of Gary North? He and the other Reconstructionists would actually bring back the biblical idea of public stonings for capital offenses. (including homosexuality, rebelious children, working on the sabbath, etc…)
    I know you say that you don’t agree with them, but they have logical interpretations of scripture also.

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS,

    It’s a paradox, not a contradiction

    Quite frankly, I don’t see the difference in the terms. A paradox is my both waking up and not waking up at exactly 1 am this morning. Of course, dictionary.com gives us a paradox of a definition too:

    1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
    2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.

    or

    A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true: the paradox that standing is more tiring than walking.

    An assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises.

    If something is not self-contradictory, then it isn’t a paradox, it just seems like a paradox, hence that terrible definition. But a legitimate paradox is the idea of the trinty, 3 beings that also happen to be one being; it’s like a triangle with five sides.

    Another for instance, god cannot be all-knowing and still give us free will, for if we have free will god doesn’t know what we’re going to do, but if he already knows before we do it, we never had a choice in the matter.

    In this case, what’s been bugging me is whether or not god is or isn’t all powerful according to most religions, surely, he at least has to power to show himself every now and again. If my believing Jesus was his son and he exists is so important to him, why couldn’t he just show up and tell me himself? Even that doesn’t sound like it would mess with my free-will. I could still choose to believe he was lying, or that it was a delusion, or that I feel like worshipping something else anyway.

    So if god could provide me with the evidence I would require to believe in him, and he wants me to believe in him and will in fact torture me forever for something I had nothing to do with and is entirely outside of my power to change if I don’t believe in him, yet lays evidence contrary to what his religion says and does not appear and speak to us, and is perfectly capable of saving anyone, and indeed, everyone if he so desired, but doesn’t?
    How is that just, or fair, or loving, or good, or anything positive really? It might seem like a paradox but that’s only because at just about every turn your average 5th grader might be able to think up a more fair situation. The describition sounds like god is just an average human on a power-trip and more concerned with maintaining power through violence, fear, and capriciousness rather than acting as any good person would.

    Fairly accurate OMGF, nicely done. I wouldn’t object too much if you used that characterization to criticize my position. The verb compelled is probably too strong, because the creature makes a real choice in response to grace. Did someone really tell you “path of the righteous?” :)

    Yet, the religious people do not live lives more ‘righteous’ than non-believers, at least not in terms of how they act or live their day to day lives. What exactly does ‘righteous’ mean here anyway?
    More to the point, doesn’t god know what it would take for all of us to walk that path he wants? And how much effort does he spend in trying to actually convince us to do so himself; not to mention how much effort he then spends after people believe he exists convincing them of the ‘right’ religion?

  • goyo

    Yet, the religious people do not live lives more ‘righteous’ than non-believers, at least not in terms of how they act or live their day to day lives. What exactly does ‘righteous’ mean here anyway?

    You’re exactly right. Believers lives are no different than your average atheist’s.

    I have studied different theories of how believers are different, for example:
    1. They are covered by god’s grace, so he “sees” them differently.
    2. All of their sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven.
    3. They are at “one” with god, so they exist in a different plane than we do.(shades of Dutch)
    4. There is a spiritual covering of jesus’ blood over them in heaven, and again, god sees them differently.
    The list goes on…
    Notice it all has to happen in the spiritual realm, because as you said, there is simply no difference in our lives here on earth.

  • MS (Quixote)

    A paradox is my both waking up and not waking up at exactly 1 am this morning.

    Yours is an example of contradiction, not paradox.

    If something is not self-contradictory, then it isn’t a paradox, it just seems like a paradox, hence that terrible definition. But a legitimate paradox is the idea of the trinty, 3 beings that also happen to be one being; it’s like a triangle with five sides.

    A contradiction is a proposition that violates the law of non-contradiction: a thing may not be A and non-A at the same time in the same relationship. Notice how the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinty does not violate the law of non-contradiction: one in essence, three in person. A and Non-A in time, but not in the same relationship.

    However, since the Trinity is mysterious to us, it is rightly considered paradoxical with respect to some of its attributes.

    Another for instance, god cannot be all-knowing and still give us free will, for if we have free will god doesn’t know what we’re going to do, but if he already knows before we do it, we never had a choice in the matter.

    See compatibilism above. I agree that the notion of an autonomous free will is irrational.

    Yet, the religious people do not live lives more ‘righteous’ than non-believers, at least not in terms of how they act or live their day to day lives. What exactly does ‘righteous’ mean here anyway?

    Did you notice the “:)” ?

  • MS (Quixote)

    So does that comment mean that you are of the feminine persuasion?
    The reason I ask is, how do you read the bible and not see the persistent theme of mysogyny that runs throughout? Are you ok with that?

    Sorry, Goyo, male with plenty of feminist training from the honorable Dr. Howard. I didn’t miss the mysogyny when I read “The Woman’s Bible.” While I would agree that there is mysogyny reported in the Bible, the Bible does not strike me as mysogynous. (ducks head)

    but they have logical interpretations of scripture also.

    My ignorance of the author you cited will not allow me to comment, except to say that I doubt their interpretations are logical if they end up in the place you say they do…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    No, this is not an accurate representation. People choose exactly what they desire.

    Quixote, I think you’re evading an obvious point. In your theology, the reason why people desire what they do is because God willed that they would have those desires. That’s what your excerpt from the Westminster Confession says when it discusses “second causes”, and I assume that’s also what you meant by invoking compatibilism. People act in accordance with their desires, but they do not choose which things they desire; God chooses that for them. Is that not so?

  • goyo

    Another tainted icon in the news recently is Warren Jeffs, leader of the polygamist sect here in West Texas. What a mess this has been!
    Anyway, if anyone has seen any interviews with the women, you can’t help but think: Stepford Wives.
    Apparently the kids are going back to their families, and, I guess, no one is going to do anything about the polygamy that is taking place.
    They can’t even figure out who the kids belong to.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Quixote, I think you’re evading an obvious point. In your theology, the reason why people desire what they do is because God willed that they would have those desires

    If the obvious point is that God is sovereign, then no, I embrace it without evasion. However, your point above was stated that “the ‘sole’ reason why people either choose or reject Christ is that it is God’s sovereign will that they do so.” Stated in this manner, it appears to describe Calvinism as a determinist philosophy where God chooses for the creature, plants microchips in their brains, drags some kicking and screaming into hell while forcing others to go to heaven, or a like number of non-representative scenarios.

    The creed states that “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” While the obvious point of God as primary, not sole, cause is granted, it is also affirmed that secondary causes are valid causes. If a hurricane ravages a populated area, for instance, in some manner God must be involved (hence the problem of evil). Yet everyone acknowledges the secondary causation of nature in the disaster: wind, water, and the interaction of their atomic and subatomic particles.

    So, let me ask you this. Assume for a moment that God exists and Reformed Theology is true. Is your choice to be an atheist suddenly less genuine with this knowledge? You have the same evidence, the same mind, the same excellent freethought blog, the same opportunity to evaluate thought systems. Nothing has changed. In fact, all the same secondary causes are in effect and your choice, in my opinion, is just as real as the hurricane is. Actually, given Reformed Theology, I would argue that your choices would be increasingly adamant for atheism, given the portrayal of God seen here routinely.

    On a visceral level, why do I assume your choice is real? Primarily because I read your blog everyday and you consistently beat it into my head that it is real, informed, and really informed :) You may freely argue that God is evil for not saving all, as 75% of your argument is self-classified. That is another matter, though. Your choice, by all observances, is real.

    And it seems to me this is the only reasonable way for Christian and Atheist to proceed. We should have common ground here, or else reason itself is strained. If you press this argument, I believe you will saw off the branch you are sitting on–with the cut between yourself and the trunk of the tree. Hume puts it this way:

    “We must now shew that as the union betwixt motives and actions has the same constancy, as that in any natural operations, so its influence on the understanding is also the same, in determining us to infer the existence of one from another. If this shall appear, there is no known circumstance that enters into the connexion and production of the actions of matter, that is not to be found in all the operations of the mind; and consequently we cannot, without a manifest absurdity, attribute necessity to one, and refuse it in the other.”

    Even though Hume dozed off while considering miracles, I believe he nailed this one, as he did with most of his philosophic undertakings. He was quite certain of the passage above: “I dare be positive no one will ever endeavor to refute these reasonings otherwise than by altering my definitions, and assigning a different meaning to the terms of cause, and effect, and necessity, and liberty, and chance. According to my definitions, necessity makes an essential part of causation; and consequently liberty, by removing necessity, removes also causes, and is the very same thing with chance.” (both taken from “A Treatise of Human Nature)

    I concur with Hume and subsequently mention that it seems reasonable to me that your stated objection to Reformed Theology, that God’s sovereignty somehow renders the choice of the creature invalid, is false given compatibilism. Moreover, if you are correct, it seems to have undesired implications for atheistic philosophy.

    Since I have been insisting that we arrive at an acceptable definition of Reformed Theology, I tread lightly here in characterizing atheistic thought and welcome any necessary clarifications. Nonetheless, given Naturalism, it seems the atheistic conception of thought is open to the identical criticism which is currently leveled above against Reformed Theology. If the activity of God’s will renders choice invalid, it should follow that the activity of any and all agents upon the mind within the atheistic worldview would be bound by the same philosophic consequences. Perhaps, even, atheists should feel the weight of natural causes more acutely in their reasoning than they would when considering the actions of God’s will, given their acceptance of nature and denial of God.

    There are, no doubt, some nihilists reading this that will cheer, but I suppose the majority of atheists here will not be satisfied with a conclusion that their choices are somehow invalidated due to the operation of outside entities upon them, or as I would say, the necessity of necessity. And I agree with them that this is indeed not the case. The validity of choices under philosophic necessity is one aspect of Jonathan Edward’s (did he really say JE?) argument in “The Freedom of the Will.”

    “It may be more properly said, that the voluntary action, which is the immediate consequence and fruit of the mind’s volition or choice, is determined by that which appears most agreeable, than the preference or choice itself; but that the act of volition itself is always determined by that, in or about the mind’s view of the object, which causes it to appear most agreeable … There is scarcely a plainer and more universal dictate of the sense and experience of mankind, than that, when men act voluntarily, and do what they please, then they do what suits them best, or what is most agreeable to them.”

    The will acts out of necessity, but is considered “free” because the will always chooses in accordance with its strongest desire. I contend that no one ever chooses against his or her strongest desire. The felicitous concurrence of a determined will with choices that are consistent with a person’s desires does not diminish the fact that a person chooses exactly what s/he wants. If a person chooses according to their strongest desire, the volition is “free” in a very real sense although the choice arose out of necessity. Think back to your own experience to determine if you have ever chosen against your strongest desire.

    So what, Quixote’s a compatibilist. Big deal. There are several competing philosophies that deny compatibilism. This is true, but compatibilism enjoys enough support to be invoked as a reasonable and rational foundation. Its implications for Reformed Theology, and for atheism (in a positive sense), are profound.

    People act in accordance with their desires, but they do not choose which things they desire; God chooses that for them. Is that not so?

    This is not the mechanism operating in Reformed Theology. God does not plant an evil desire in the hearts of men (see federal view of the fall) to reject him. He allows them to choose in accordance with their strongest desire.

    Likewise, he does not choose for the believer. Calvinism teaches that god works in the heart of a person, in effect, “opening his spiritual eyes.” St. Anselm defined God this way: “So there exists so truly something than which a greater cannot be thought that that it cannot be thought not to exist. You are that very thing, Lord our God.” Theology describes God as the Summum Bonum, the greatest or sum of all goodness.

    Practically, here is the mechanism. If a person’s eyes are opened to spiritual things, what would be the most attractive thing possible? What would be most agreeable to a person’s will when in this condition? The Summum Bonum. The beauty and majesty of God. Thus, the person’s will leaps at the chance to worship God. Nothing seems more right. In effect, no truer choice is ever made, and God does not make the choice, the creature does. You may have heard of this referred to as irresistible grace, an unfortunate phrase conjuring up the mental imagery of God puling folk into heaven with a lasso around their neck. The point is that the newfound grace is irresistible to the creature’s whole being, including the will; thus, a real choice by the creature is made, on its own, apart from God.

    That’s the Reformed mechanism, and clearly God does not choose for the creature, nor does he choose what things the creature chooses. Secondary causation is not vitiated, rather established.

    That pretty much leaves us with the statement I originally said I would affirm: “God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so.” This is not particular to Reformed Theology as most Christian groups teach that not all are saved, so we may set that criticism aside for another occasion.

    Hokey Dokey. Sorry for the length. I warned you earlier this exercise was impossible without length, and this is only a hasty thumb sketch of what could be said. Please let me reiterate that I am not concerned with convincing anyone that this is true. It is only offered as an accurate description of what Reformed Theology confesses, in response to a direct request from the blog host.

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS,

    Still doesn’t avoid this point,

    Calvinism teaches that god works in the heart of a person, in effect, “opening his spiritual eyes.”

    So why hasn’t god decided to “open my spiritual eyes”? When there were still other cultures in the world christianity had not had contact with, why did god not open their ‘spiritual eyes’ (i.e. it’s not like explorers happened to chance upon random christian tribes throughout the woods); truly, if god cared about saving all the souls of the non-believers he could simply choose to, but doesn’t.

    It’s obviously not something as simple as “So there exists so truly something than which a greater cannot be thought that that it cannot be thought not to exist. You are that very thing, Lord our God.” On top of not making any sense as to why such a being would need to, or how it managed to, exist in the first place, that refers to some abstract, deist concept of a god, not the specific god worshipped by the christian faith.

    It’s not as if god is choosing to “not save a few souls”, it’s that he wouldn’t be choosing to save a vast, vast majority of souls, either past, present, or future, for what can seem like no other reason than arbitrary unwillingness to.

  • Mrnaglfar

    too trigger happy with the submit button.

    God does not plant an evil desire in the hearts of men (see federal view of the fall) to reject him. He allows them to choose in accordance with their strongest desire.

    Yet he obviously doesn’t appear to be doing much to change their minds. Could he not simply open their spiritual heart/eyes as well? Provided I was believing this theology for the next 5 minutes, it would seem clear that god decided to open some people’s eyes, maybe tried for a few more in some perpherial way, and a vast majority never had so much of a chance. So if god did not try to open their spirit to him or whatever it is he does, they never really had a shot of accepting him, did they, or at least a far less of a chance than one whom he did act on?

    Assume for a moment that God exists and Reformed Theology is true. Is your choice to be an atheist suddenly less genuine with this knowledge?

    So if we assume god exists, then it seems kind of silly to hold the position that he doesn’t. Kind of like if you assume that god definitely does not exist, your faith seems kind of silly. Same way if you assume a world where unicorns exist, then anyone who doubts unicorns would be silly. Assuming what you’re trying to show exists does not constitute any kind of point.

    If a hurricane ravages a populated area, for instance, in some manner God must be involved (hence the problem of evil). Yet everyone acknowledges the secondary causation of nature in the disaster: wind, water, and the interaction of their atomic and subatomic particles

    All of which would have been caused by god’s actions and will. He could stop them, but chooses not too (in fact making it happen in the first place), which if you listen to enough religion media is likely due to gay people, feminists, and people who don’t believe in god because he never dropped by to say “hello”. Whether or not you hold those views is irreleveant to whether, if god exists as you envision him to, god created and/or could have stopped the hurricane whenever he felt like it.

    He’s a better example; I could point a gun at someone at pull the trigger. Sure, that would make me the primary cause of the guy getting shot, but you also have to consider the movement of the bullet through the air, the reaction of the gun powder, and the movement and position of the other person. All of which are entirely beside the point it’s directly my fault.

    Your choice, by all observances, is real.

    Yet if god exists and can open people’s hearts to him, then the choice is real, but biased and ill-informed as god has not chosen to demonstrate his existance in any way. It’s like picking an answer on a multiple choice test without having the question.

    If the activity of God’s will renders choice invalid, it should follow that the activity of any and all agents upon the mind within the atheistic worldview would be bound by the same philosophic consequences. Perhaps, even, atheists should feel the weight of natural causes more acutely in their reasoning than they would when considering the actions of God’s will, given their acceptance of nature and denial of God.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to say here; that an atheist would consider plate tectonics more heavily than they would god’s will? If you could clear that up, that might lead to a better discussion.

    This is true, but compatibilism enjoys enough support to be invoked as a reasonable and rational foundation.

    If you’ve demonstrated that support or shown it somewhere, I must have missed it. What exactly makes the idea reasonable and rationally founded?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Mrnagflar,

    Your entire first post and the first third of your second is summed up in this statement from my post:

    That pretty much leaves us with the statement I originally said I would affirm: “God could have chosen to save everyone, but did not do so.” This is not particular to Reformed Theology as most Christian groups teach that not all are saved, so we may set that criticism aside for another occasion.

    Next, why are you arguing the following? I am not attempting to argue God’s existence:

    So if we assume god exists, then it seems kind of silly to hold the position that he doesn’t. Kind of like if you assume that god definitely does not exist, your faith seems kind of silly. Same way if you assume a world where unicorns exist, then anyone who doubts unicorns would be silly. Assuming what you’re trying to show exists does not constitute any kind of point.

    The point I was making was that if you posit God’s existence, it doesn’t seem to magically render your choices as an atheist invalid. It’s not a petitio…

    I understand your following point, and it appears we are in agreement:

    All of which are entirely beside the point it’s directly my fault.

    You seem to be acknowledging that the secondary causes are genuine, which is the point at hand. The problem of evil and the doctrine of divine concurrence are separate issues.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to say here; that an atheist would consider plate tectonics more heavily than they would god’s will? If you could clear that up, that might lead to a better discussion.

    Most of us here believe that the will is determined in some sense, at least in that it is not autonomous, correct? If this is the case, the atheist will need to incorporate similar reasoning into his or her philosophy as I have done above for a theistic system. The natural causes I referred to would be causes that affect the will, generally not plate tectonics; however, I would not suppose an atheist to consider God in his reasoning of the will whatsoever when developing an atheistic system of the will.

    If you’ve demonstrated that support or shown it somewhere, I must have missed it. What exactly makes the idea reasonable and rationally founded?

    I quoted Hume and Edwards above. I am not claiming its truth is proven, though obviously I believe it, just that I am justified in invoking it based on a wide base of support from theistic and non-theistic philosophers as any general philosophic survey will demonstrate.

    Anytime I agree with Hume, I feel better about things. Smart man, that Hume. Curiously though, we have to be careful to always remember we could be wrong. If memory serves, Kant disagreed with Hume at this point as have many philosophers I have great repsect for.

    The primary reason I trust compatibilism is that I believe the notion of an autonomous free will to be demonstrably false. It seems the best alternative otherwise.

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS,

    For now then, let’s just stick to the gun example.

    You seem to be acknowledging that the secondary causes are genuine, which is the point at hand. The problem of evil and the doctrine of divine concurrence are separate issues.

    I’m acknowledging both that they exist and are completely inconsequential. The only cause that matters in the chain of events was my pointing the gun towards someone and pulling the trigger with the specific intention of hurting them; the wind, the gun powder, physics, none of that has anything at all to do with intentions of the act; they have no vested interest in seeing people get shot or not.

    In the same way when it comes to god not saving everyone (or why he would even create people in the first place), he has the power to save people, or at very least NOT condemn them to hell, and can still appear to people, talk to them, and convince them of things without interfering with their free will, yet for some reason he doesn’t.
    Not only that, but the lives he supposedly works in to open peoples’ spirits are no different from those that he doesn’t.

    So let’s do a quick recap:
    1) God can save or not damn people if he so chooses
    2) God can appear and talk to people without removing their free will, yet doesn’t (which would at least establish the premise that he exists in the first place; this gets back to my example of trying to pick the right answer on a multiple choice test without knowing the question)
    3) Those that god supposedly chooses are no different from those he does not

    That brings us neatly to the idea of the fall. If we’re using the original sin/fall doctrine, god could have simply killed off adam and eve for eatting the fruit and started again with new people and then simply removing the tree from their reach. Yet this simple solution seemed to either escape him (not likely I would think) or he purposely allowed it to happen and continue, thus damning all of people for all of time almost immedately following their initial creation. There are more questions left unanswered by the idea of the fall as well, like what were the original human’s desires pre-fall that would lead them to sin? Surely, they must have been at least shaped by god, meaning that the free will thing isn’t/wasn’t entirely free. Or why god would allow people to be tempted by and only tempted by the snake instead of showing up to perhaps balance the idea of the original sin.

    Most of us here believe that the will is determined in some sense, at least in that it is not autonomous, correct? If this is the case, the atheist will need to incorporate similar reasoning into his or her philosophy

    Whether free will exists or not for humans is interesting to think about but irrevelant. It is irrevelant because there’s no way to distinguish free will from determinism; it simply cannot be done. Unless you can propose a way to tease the two apart and demonstrate reality is one way or the other it’s an impractical question. Then, even if reality was demonstrated to be one way or the other it would in no way change the way people acted; we act as if we have free will now, so if we have free will nothing changes, however, if we don’t have free will, we’re going to act how we’re going to act anyway, so it doesn’t really do much to change anything. There, it’s been incorporated.

    The primary reason I trust compatibilism is that I believe the notion of an autonomous free will to be demonstrably false. It seems the best alternative otherwise.

    You’ll need to clarify that.
    In your definition, if you’d be so kind, please define compatibilism, and autonomous free will, just so we’re on the same page. Semantics can make rather large differences.
    If you mean autonomous free will in that we have the freedom to do whatever we please whenever we please regardless of genetics, past environmental experience and everything it encompasses then no, we don’t have ‘free will’. But if take away our genetics and environment then there is no longer an “us”, as who “we” are is defined by the interaction of those two things. If you mean that we have no autonomous free will that can’t/hasn’t been influenced, then surely god could influence people to make the choice he wanted them to make if it was that important to him, yet still that avoids the point that god doesn’t; he doesn’t demonstrate his existance, much less his will, so how could one rightly fault anyone for not following it?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Quixote,

    So, let me ask you this. Assume for a moment that God exists and Reformed Theology is true. Is your choice to be an atheist suddenly less genuine with this knowledge?

    Yes! It absolutely is. If God truly exists, and if he willed the universe into being with the intention that I would end up with the beliefs and desires I hold, then he is the primary cause of my decisions and not me. If what you describe is the case, then I am ultimately not in control of my actions.

    If the activity of God’s will renders choice invalid, it should follow that the activity of any and all agents upon the mind within the atheistic worldview would be bound by the same philosophic consequences.

    Yes, it does. If another agent manipulates me into holding some set of beliefs and desires, then I am not “my own person”. I am acting in accordance with the will of another, and my choices cannot be said to be free in the most important sense. But the natural world is not an agent. It has no intentions and no desires of its own; it cannot manipulate me, because that is an act that only another intention-holding agent can perform. If I form beliefs and desires in response to unguided, unconscious natural forces acting upon me, it is still me who is the source of belief formation. Not so if I have been mind-controlled or tricked by another.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,
    As with all Calvinist thought, I find yours to be contradictory. If you wish to assert that god is sovereign over all, you can’t simply ignore that when dealing with the problem of evil or man’s nature or the existence of hell and the souls that god condemns to reside there. god is responsible for all these things. If humans are unable to choose god due to our make-up, god is responsible for it. When we go to hell, it is by act of god. If we suddenly choose god, then it is because god has physically changed us, thus compelling us to follow him, and it must be compelling since he previously made us to always choose to not follow him. You can’t say that it’s a choice by us to not follow god if we have no alternative.

    So, let me ask you this. Assume for a moment that God exists and Reformed Theology is true. Is your choice to be an atheist suddenly less genuine with this knowledge? You have the same evidence, the same mind, the same excellent freethought blog, the same opportunity to evaluate thought systems.

    If you mean that we have the same evidence that we currently have, then even if god exists, we might still be atheists, correct? Since we have very little evidence. Or, maybe you mean that we do have evidence of god, which would make the atheist position untenable, although I could still argue that god is an insufferable tyrant and genocidal maniac that is unworthy of worship. Like Mrnaglfar, I fail to see how this argues for anything.

  • MS (Quixote)

    As with all Calvinist thought, I find yours to be contradictory.

    On closer inspection, they will show themselves to be paradoxes, not formal contradictions, as discussed above. If you have a logical formulation of a Calvinistic belief considered contradictory, I’d be interested in reviewing it.

    I fail to see how this argues for anything.

    You’re looking too deep. All I am saying is that postulating God does not magically dissolve the genuiness of the choices you currently consider real.

  • MS (Quixote)

    EM,

    Thanks to you and the other commentors for playing fair on this one. We are acceptably close now in my opinion, so my response is going to consider only a few pedantic issues. The first is that, philosophically, agents are both personal and impersonal.

    I am ultimately not in control of my actions.

    Agreed, in the ultimate sense, though I think we are still circling each other somewhat regarding the validity of secondary causation. Please keep in mind that I am not providing a theodicy, nor apologizing for God’s involvement, only arguing that Reformed Theology has a mechanism for choice. I love the irony here: I’m the “pro-choice” guy :)

    If I form beliefs and desires in response to unguided, unconscious natural forces acting upon me, it is still me who is the source of belief formation.

    I agree. I am assuming that you have compatibilism in view here. With that assumption, let me add that I believe you would also accept guided, conscious forces, at least in a restricted sense. For example, I found your argument regarding the naming of Calvin College persuasive enough to change my mind, and subsequently my will. I have no reason to assume you were using mind control or tricks, given that my tinfoil hat was in place, and I consider that particular act of my will valid.

  • goyo

    MS: I enjoy your reasoned responses and intelligent discussion. I still don’t agree with your position about contradictions and paradoxes.
    Anyway, with all the studied, philosophical talk going on, what do we do with the person who just picks up a christian bible and begins reading. What if they don’t have access to different studies of philosophy, or what Hume thinks about this or that? What are they going to understand from reading the bible?
    They are going to see that god himself says that he heardens peoples hearts and minds, and that he himself admits to creating evil. He says that basically, he does what he wants to and there is no reason to doubt his ways, or even try to understand them. And it’s none of your business why he does.
    It takes people to interpret these many different scriptures and put them together and fill in holes to come up with all of these many different ways to worship the same god.
    God certainly didn’t explain things sufficiently.
    So if we have a person, say Calvin, who writes his interpretations of what god really is saying, then don’t we have a religion based on Calvin, not god?
    Who says he is correct, and all the rest, wrong?
    Why was your god so vague in certain respects,(salvation), and so clear on others that even you don’t agree with? (the death penalty for homosexuality, disobedient children, etc…)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,
    If god is the author of all that happens, and if we are physically unable to select god without his intervention, then we don’t actually have a choice in the matter and god is to blame for that. It is contradictory to say otherwise.

    Personally, I like Mrnaglfar’s gun analogy. Yes, there are secondary causations in that the trigger causes an ignition that starts the bullet on its path, etc. But, ultimately, the person who pulls the trigger is responsible. It would be folly to heap any responsibility on the gun, because the gun had no choice in the matter.

    In this example, we are the guns and god is the trigger-puller. We don’t actually have a choice in the matter, so god is responsible for our state of rebellion (as he caused it). Your appeal to secondary causation is moot, especially since you hold the sovereignty of god to be absolute!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I have no reason to assume you were using mind control or tricks, given that my tinfoil hat was in place, and I consider that particular act of my will valid.

    This is a good point which, I think, highlights an important reason why a compatibilist theology would deny human beings their free will. Let’s talk a little about the philosophical idea of defeaters.

    If I perceive a pink elephant in front of me, that observation should constitute rational reason to believe that there is a pink elephant in front of me. But now let’s say I discover that I’ve been given a hallucinogenic drug which interferes with my senses and causes me to perceive things that don’t exist. My knowledge that I’m being affected by that drug is a defeater – it undermines the reason I have to believe in that elephant.

    For purposes of this discussion, I consider a free belief to be one that’s formed due to reason – a belief that’s based on accurate perception of the relevant facts, plus a statement of my goals, with a process of logical reasoning applied to those two bases to formulate a course of action. My beliefs are more or less free based on how well their formation accords with this process.

    The knowledge that my beliefs and desires have come about as the result of a long series of natural causes acting on me is not a defeater for the belief that those desires are rational and reflect my best interests. I wrote about why this is so in “Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders?” – because evolution by its nature does produce rational creatures who tend to be concerned with what genuinely is in their best interest.

    Similarly, if you can only persuade me through evidence and reasoned argument, then it is not a defeater for me to learn that you have influenced some of my beliefs. That doesn’t bother me because I know that reason applies the same to both of us, so if you rationally persuaded me to hold certain beliefs, then it really is rational for me to hold those beliefs. We say that those beliefs are in equilibrium, in that the belief withstands knowledge of its own causes.

    But if you can directly implant beliefs and desires into my head (or if you can create me in such a way that I will necessarily end up holding the beliefs of your choosing, which is the same thing) – then it is a defeater for me to learn that you have done so. If you can directly influence me in this way, then you can give me bad beliefs just as easily as you can give me good ones, and from my perspective there would be no way to tell which is which. Those beliefs are not in equilibrium, once I’ve learned that I might hold them for non-rational reasons which you caused me to think were persuasive.

    It ought to be quite easy for you to see how this applies in our case, Quixote. After all, unless you believe something very different from standard reformed theology, then you probably believe that if I die holding these beliefs, I’ll be sent to Hell for an eternity of damnation. From your perspective, that would be the worst decision I could possibly make, the diametric opposite of a rational choice. Yet the only reason I hold this (to you) fatally irrational and self-destructive belief is because God desired, willed and intended that it should be so, and caused this state of affairs to obtain prior to any act or decision on my part. The choice was not mine, but his.

    This is really no different from the ordinary common-sense logic we use to determine whether someone is acting freely or is under the control of another. If I know of a fabulous buried fortune just waiting for me to dig it up and claim it, and then later I learn that I hold this belief as the result of a causal train which my worst enemy set in motion with the intention of causing me to believe this, of course this should make me suspicious of my earlier knowledge. Even if I think my beliefs were formed rationally, the knowledge that another agent had influenced me in this way would be a defeater for that idea, one that would completely undermine my basis for belief in my own rationality.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Goyo,

    This is a great place for reasonable exchange. Thanks, your sentiment is mutual. Along the same lines, my purpose here is not to argue for Christian doctrine, but to learn atheism from the minds and electronic pens of atheists themselves, in their own words, as forcefully as they can present them. You folks are doing an excellent job furthering my education, and it doesn’t cost me a dime.

    I mentioned JS Mill in a past post, as did one of your regulars on a recent post. In “On Liberty,” Mill speaks of opinions and their validity. If one seeks to have an opinion on a subject he should learn it from those who actually hold those views and who argue them with all the enthusiasm and means at their disposal. That’s why I am here, to learn atheism in that manner. Thus, I prefer as much as possible to avoid advocating Christian positions, but as far as it lends itself to providing an authentic Christian response, I am pleased to oblige. It’s only fair…

    I also believe that the Bible requires me to be fair and loving toward atheists. I realize that many atheists believe the same, based on their moral systems. Thus, I think we should be able to meet rationally, though we “strenuously object” to each other at times. The world would be a better place if this were the case. For what it’s worth to you, Christians generally seem to be on the wrong side of this equation more than atheists in my observation.

    Anyway, with all the studied, philosophical talk going on, what do we do with the person who just picks up a christian bible and begins reading. What if they don’t have access to different studies of philosophy, or what Hume thinks about this or that? What are they going to understand from reading the bible?

    Christianity teaches the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture, which you are probably familiar with being a former Christian. This doctrine claims that the base message of Scripture is comprehensible to even a child.

    They are going to see that god himself says that he heardens peoples hearts and minds, and that he himself admits to creating evil. He says that basically, he does what he wants to and there is no reason to doubt his ways, or even try to understand them. And it’s none of your business why he does.

    The concerns you noted are more prevalent with skeptics (obviously). In my experience, while these are real issues, they are not too much of a concern to the average person who just picks up the Bible and reads it. They generally feel that God is good, trust in that, and leave the question alone, realizing they can’t know everything about God. This seems to be changing slowly in the post-Christian society we live in.

    So if we have a person, say Calvin, who writes his interpretations of what god really is saying, then don’t we have a religion based on Calvin, not god?

    Too often this is the case, unfortunately.

    Who says he is correct, and all the rest, wrong?

    Not I. I don’t know of any mainstream Protestant groups that claim to have the whole truth, especially with respect to peripheral doctrines, though there is considerable agreement in essential beliefs of the Christian faith.

    Why was your god so vague in certain respects,(salvation), and so clear on others that even you don’t agree with? (the death penalty for homosexuality, disobedient children, etc…)

    The fundamental salvation message is very easy to understand. We see through a glass darkly on much of the rest. I get your point, though, I think. I will say this, I wager whatever the truth turns out to be, in some ways it will be much more complex than we think and many people will be surprised.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    “Christianity teaches the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture, which you are probably familiar with being a former Christian. This doctrine claims that the base message of Scripture is comprehensible to even a child.”

    I have to say, that sure wasn’t my experience when I was a child. I was raised agnostic, but had fundamentalist relatives who tried to convert me. I can remember being quite young (probably 5-8 years old) and asking my grandfather, “if God made everything, then who made God?” and he answered, “Oh, he always was.” It was my first experience of realizing that adults don’t know everything, because I KNEW that made no sense.

    And when they told me that Jesus died for my sins, so that I could go to heaven, I did NOT feel moved, or feel my heart open up with love or any of that stuff you’re supposed to feel. I felt creeped out. Resentful. I was a kid — I never asked to have such a gruesome burden laid on me.

    So yeah, sorry, the message of scripture sure wasn’t comprehensible to THIS child.

  • MS (Quixote)

    EM,

    I can’t help but guess that your link “Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders?” is a rebuttal in part to Alvin Plantinga. But that’s only a guess, and not terribly important.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I am accepting of your rather eloquent epistemological system, and no subsequent comment criticizes it. Your post seems to claim that warranted or rational belief is required for a genuine act of the will, and the defeater you present argues along those lines.

    I really don’t think this is what you intended to argue, so don’t beat me up just yet. If I have read you correctly, it appears that you have bypassed my original contention (that the will acts in accordance with its strongest desire) to introduce a much more devastating argument against the Christian faith (not only Reformed Theology in particular), namely that God ordained all events to establish a false belief within our minds that he then holds us accountable to: “It ought to be quite easy for you to see how this applies in our case, Quixote. After all, unless you believe something very different from standard reformed theology, then you probably believe that if I die holding these beliefs, I’ll be sent to Hell for an eternity of damnation.”

    and

    “Even if I think my beliefs were formed rationally, the knowledge that another agent had influenced me in this way would be a defeater for that idea, one that would completely undermine my basis for belief in my own rationality.”

    and

    “For purposes of this discussion, I consider a free belief to be one that’s formed due to reason – a belief that’s based on accurate perception of the relevant facts, plus a statement of my goals, with a process of logical reasoning applied to those two bases to formulate a course of action. My beliefs are more or less free based on how well their formation accords with this process.”

    If you are arguing along these lines, I readily acknowledge the logical strength of the argument, not to mention its visceral intensity. I have no objection to you raising it, it’s fair game. It is probably the second most thorny objection to the Christian faith.

    Here’s the problem. To provide an answer to this question requires invoking thoughts and propositions that are particularly offensive to atheists. I am not comfortable doing that in this setting. If readers think this is a cop-out, that is out of my control. I would rather them think I cannot answer, than to answer and thereby create unecessary turmoil and hurt feelings.

    If, however, you are indeed making the claim that authentic volition requires rational belief, I will be happy to proceed along those lines.

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS,

    Christianity teaches the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture, which you are probably familiar with being a former Christian. This doctrine claims that the base message of Scripture is comprehensible to even a child.

    Yet there are thousands of different sects which interpret the bible differently and:

    The concerns you noted are more prevalent with skeptics (obviously). In my experience, while these are real issues, they are not too much of a concern to the average person who just picks up the Bible and reads it. They generally feel that God is good, trust in that, and leave the question alone, realizing they can’t know everything about God.

    It’s comprehensible by even a child, yet average people need to accept they can’t understand everything about it? Shouldn’t the story be air-tight from all angles? Shouldn’t reality reflect what was written? Why should it require intrepration and contain contradictions (paradoxes are contradictions; it’s part of their definition). Why shouldn’t the story make sense to even the skeptics, or why once they start questioning things does it seem to not add up if this is all actually comprehensible by a child (children, I might also add are far more able to comprehend the idea of santa and the tooth fairy because they tend not to question many things adult tell them)?

    For what it’s worth to you, Christians generally seem to be on the wrong side of this equation more than atheists in my observation.

    I admit you’ve sparked my curiousity with that. What issues are they on the wrong side of and why are they on the wrong side of them?

    The fundamental salvation message is very easy to understand.

    The fundamental message I get is that god created humans that sinned after a matter of days damning all people forever because god held a grudge against them and could only forgive people by sending his son, who is also himself, to be killed, thus forgiving people who believe that’s what happened. Granted, many, many details are missing, there’s no explaination as to why god needs to kill his son who’s also himself in order to forgive people for something they had no way of changing and no responsibility for, and much less why god would be so concerned with belief. What exactly is so important about belief in the absence of evidence that’s so important?

    Again, if this is comprehensible by a child these questions should all be able to be answered. Simply saying “we can not understand” is not an answer, but rather a lack of one. That simple truth I feel even a child can understand.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The concerns you noted are more prevalent with skeptics (obviously). In my experience, while these are real issues, they are not too much of a concern to the average person who just picks up the Bible and reads it. They generally feel that God is good, trust in that, and leave the question alone, realizing they can’t know everything about God.

    I would have to question this. I bet that most children and people read the Bible and believe that god is good because of earlier conditioning they receive. Our culture is saturated with it. Belief is good, god is good, etc. Then, you read god’s holy book and you come in with the preconception that god is good, so it’s no surprise that you kind of ignore the misses and count the hits; it’s human nature. That doesn’t argue for the goodness of god or the Bible, however. A real study would take the stories from the Bible and present them in a way that hid the source, and probably to people who didn’t have these preconceptions and then judge what those people say about the stories. I think I’ve heard of this kind of study before where they changed the names in the Bible and retold the stories to a group, and the opinions about god’s character and the morality of the stories were pretty negative. I’ll see if I can dig up this study.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I bet that most children and people read the Bible and believe that god is good because of earlier conditioning they receive. Our culture is saturated with it. Belief is good, god is good, etc.

    OMGF, I don’t doubt this a bit, I was just reporting my experience. I alluded to this eroding base of cultural presupposition in my companion statement with the claim that noted this is growing less common in a post-Christian environment.

    I also owe you an answer from a previous post. Here it is: I think should probably agree to disagree at this point.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I admit you’ve sparked my curiousity with that. What issues are they on the wrong side of and why are they on the wrong side of them?

    Christians are definitely on the wrong side of some issues, mainly when they get entangled in politics. They’re always wrong when they do that.

    I was speaking more of attitudes and comportment, though. There are atheist jerks and Christian jerks, but it is my experience that atheists generally take the higher road in internet squabbles and handle themselves in a more respectful manner.

    And don’t get me started on the argumentation…definitely an advantage for one side over the other, generally speaking. And no, I’m not sucking up to the boss…

    OK, Mrnaglfar, I know I can get an amen from you on this one :)

  • MS (Quixote)

    So yeah, sorry, the message of scripture sure wasn’t comprehensible to THIS child.

    Well, from what you wrote, it sounds like you understood the message, it just made you want to throw up. Fair enough.

  • goyo

    Mrnaglfar:

    The fundamental message I get is that god created humans that sinned after a matter of days damning all people forever because god held a grudge against them and could only forgive people by sending his son, who is also himself, to be killed, thus forgiving people who believe that’s what happened. Granted, many, many details are missing, there’s no explaination as to why god needs to kill his son who’s also himself in order to forgive people for something they had no way of changing and no responsibility for, and much less why god would be so concerned with belief.

    The explanation that I used to teach was from Romans 3:26; that is, the desire of the atonement was to justify god in the pardon of sin. In other words, he couldn’t pardon the sins of anyone until a penalty had been paid.
    Now that I see and think freely, why did he have to pay a penalty to himself?
    Who does he need to show proof of anything to?
    You’re right, it doesn’t make sense in the order that this is god we’re talking about, not some earthly ruler.

    MS:

    OMGF is correct, you know as well as I, in sunday school and certainly from the pulpit, god and jesus are nothing but good. I had never heard or read anything from the bible about the horrible things god did in the O.T. while I was in church. Or, if sometimes we touched on a questionable scripture, we just glossed over the details, saying god is good, and those things were done for his purposes, and we can’t understand them.
    If a child picks up a bible and starts to read, they won’t understand it, and would probably be bored to death. Everything that a person knows about salvation, they have been taught by someone. That’s why we have so many denominations, people are taught what to believe. I don’t believe the doctrine of salvation is easy to understand, because you have to sew so many scriptures together to make sense. After all, what jesus says about being saved, is different than what Paul says about salvation.