Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This time I interview a theist - TGIF

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being interviewed at TGIF, a Christian forum that takes place on Friday mornings at a coffee shop in Brooklyn Mall, Pretoria. The interview was about my walk away from Christianity, and my current beliefs as a ex-Christian.

Last week Friday, I took part in another interview at TGIF, but this time the roles were reversed: Roger, who interviewed me last time, was now in the hot seat as I asked him questions about his faith. The questions I asked focused on his beliefs as a Christian, in particular his affiliation to the emerging (or emergent) movement, as well as on his responses to some of the arguments against Christianity.

I think that this session flowed much better than last time, and there was much more lively interaction from the audience (especially regarding my question on the problem of evil), as well as between Roger and myself. Roger also did a good job in answering all the questions.

Below are the questions that I asked:

  • You are part of a religion. Do you think of yourself as religious?
  • You call yourself a Christian. What do you mean by that statement?
  • Do you subscribe to any particular denomination?
  • Explain how you got involved with the emergent movement?
  • What is the emergent church?
  • The emergent movement affiliates itself with postmodernism. If staunch atheists and conservative Christians have anything in common, they both attack postmodernism with the belief that it is a threat to absolute truth. Do you share this view?
  • In terms of apologetics (defending the faith): do you rely on apologetics to strengthen your belief? Do the concepts of evidence and reason support your faith in any way?
  • Why do you believe that god exists?
  • There are many who don't believe in god, and there many who argue against Christianity. How would you respond to the following questions posed by a non-believer:
  • (1) The problem of evil: if the theists' version of god exists, then he is by definition a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. Since this god is benevolent, he would want to eliminate all evil and human suffering that is not necessary for some higher moral purpose; and since this god is omnipotent, he should be easily able to do so. But then why does suffering exist in this world?
  • (2) Why would God choose to hide his presence from our five senses?

9 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Did you get any illuminating answers?

Laughing Boy said...

Yes, I second CK's question.

If you don't mind if I'd like to respond to four of them myself, not to generate discussion of the content my answers in any detail (which could go round and round), but just to compare the tone and 'argumentative angle' of my answers to those you received. I'd consider it a learning opportunity.

Feel free to delete this comment if you think it will take responses to far afield. I'll have no hard feelings.

So if you would have asked me I would have said...

****

Do you subscribe to any particular denomination?

Yes, I have a subscription to The Presbyterian Church in America. :-)


Why do you believe that god exists?

I always have. I think belief in God is as basic and valid a perception as that which I have when I see something or when I assume that other people have minds, or that the external world is real and not just in my imagination. I have always believed those things without much rationale. I also think that all people do believe inherently (without being taught) and, only when that belief is challenged, do they loose touch with that perception, at least to some degree. Of course I face the same challenges, but have found that Christianty answers enough of them that I continue to believe even in the face of challenges I can't answer at the time.

* There are many who don't believe in god, and there many who argue against Christianity. How would you respond to the following questions posed by a non-believer:


* (1) The problem of evil: if the theists' version of god exists, then he is by definition a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. Since this god is benevolent, he would want to eliminate all evil and human suffering that is not necessary for some higher moral purpose; and since this god is omnipotent, he should be easily able to do so. But then why does suffering exist in this world?

First, there are very few, relatively, who don't believe in God. I think that the opinion of such a small minority requires at least one convincing positive argument before the majority opinion needs to raise a defense. Neither of these are positive arguments in that they don't give reasons why atheism is true, they merely highlight points about theism that the objector finds confusing. Furthermore they are not compelling negative arguments, i.e., they don't show theism to be self-contradictory. But, in the interest of conversation, here are brief responses to each objection.

Why does suffering and evil exist in this world?

You hinted at it in your question: Because it is necessary for some higher moral purpose. We see unmistakable analogies of this in our daily lives. Medicine tastes bad but heals us, difficult circumstances are painful but they strenghen our character, another's suffering give us the opportunity to show love. On the other hand, when our life is smooth sailing we tend to take our good fortune for granted, our character worsens as we seek first to protect our meterial gains, and we often become insulated from the suffering of others. These later things are evil in themselves. So, people being what they are, if God would iron out all the painful outward circumstances, we would have less pain but be all the more wicked because of it.


Why would God choose to hide his presence from our five senses?

What kinds of 'things' do we perceive with our five senses? Things composed of atoms that exist within the physical universe in immediate proximity to us in space and time. Within the Triune God of Christianty are two completely spiritual Persons (without bodies), the Father and the Spirit. As such, their direct presense is not detectable by our five senses. Of course the other Person of the Trinity is Jesus, Who did not hide His presence from our five senses but lived within our physical universe as percievable 'thing' for about 30 years. The effect of His life was quite profound on those who saw Him and on many millions since who have believed their testimony, which includes me.

Now that I've responded to two objections to my view, do you have a positive case to present to support your view to which I can raise objections?


****

...but with a lot of ah's and um's mixed in.

Kevin Parry said...

There were some very interesting answers, but I admire Roger for his honesty. When I asked Roger why he believes in God, he replied that some days he wakes up *not* believing, but added later that the historical nature of Jesus is one of the things that underpins his faith.

His reply to the problem of evil question was that God allows suffering because he allows free will and choice. We choose evil, which results in suffering. When I countered with a follow up question of how choice results in natural disasters, he handed the question to the audience, where an interesting discussion ensued.

A podcast was made of the interview, so I will link up to it when it is online. Unfortunately, due to an Ipod glitch, the recording of our last interview got corrupted.

LB wrote
If you don't mind if I'd like to respond to four of them myself

I don’t mind at all. Your points will probably lead to interesting discussion. I will take a read of them, think them through, and respond at a later time.

CyberKitten said...

LB said: I also think that all people do believe inherently (without being taught) and, only when that belief is challenged, do they loose touch with that perception, at least to some degree.

...and yet I have *never* believed in God. Or do you think that my denial is so deeply embedded that part of me actually believes in God - and always has - but that I have some kind of unconscious/subconscious rejection thing going on for some reason? Can you say with a straight face that even Richard Dawkins *really* believes in God in his heart of hearts? [laughs]

It would be interesting to hear you say that you know me much better than I know myself!

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

great questions man. nicely done.

Gino said...

Deep inside of all of us is the desire to know something. Something more that what we can see, taste, touch, ect... What is it how did it get there? DO we push it deeper down as to snuff out that longing or do we dig it up to explore it. Religion digs it up then kills it. Religion is the dead leading the dead. Thank goodness "God" is not religious. Yes we all hae the seed of belief in us. We have the choice to kill it or to bring it to life.

Laughing Boy said...

KP: A podcast was made of the interview, so I will link up to it when it is online.

I look forward to hearing it.

CK: Can you say with a straight face that even Richard Dawkins *really* believes in God in his heart of hearts? [laughs]

:-| Methinks he doth protest too much. Methinks he is a like a weasel! :-) What carest thee for what methinks?

CyberKitten said...

LB said: :-| Methinks he doth protest too much. Methinks he is a like a weasel! :-) What carest thee for what methinks?

Its just that you seem to be saying that we *all* really believe in God no matter what we actually say. Do you believe that?

If so what grounds do you base such a ridiculous assumption on?

Kevin Parry said...

LB wrote
I think belief in God is as basic and valid a perception as that which I have when I see something or when I assume that other people have minds, or that the external world is real and not just in my imagination

I'm interested to know your thoughts on why belief in God is valid.

LB wrote
I think that the opinion of such a small minority requires at least one convincing positive argument before the majority opinion needs to raise a defense.

But if any claim (let it be from the majority or minority) seems confusing and contradictory, then the burden should be on the claimant to provide explanations to clear up misunderstandings. The questions I asked Roger do not depend on me being an atheist; I’ve heard Christians, in various forums, ask – as well as struggle with – these very same questions.

LB wrote
Neither of these are positive arguments in that they don't give reasons why atheism is true, they merely highlight points about theism that the objector finds confusing

I totally agree with you on this one. The goal of this specific interview was not to defend atheism, but to ask a theist tough questions related to his faith.

LB wrote
So, people being what they are, if God would iron out all the painful outward circumstances, we would have less pain but be all the more wicked because of it.

This response is has merits, but always leaves me with the impression that God was “stuck”, so to speak, in a dilemma: he wants us to grow in character, but this can’t happen without evil and suffering in the world; so he reluctantly allows suffering to occur. But can an omnipotent God experience any sort of dilemma of any kind? If he can, then can he truly be called omnipotent, as being in a dilemma means that some circumstance has been “forced” upon him, that something is out of his control. If God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, then couldn’t he have created a world where suffering does not exist but we still can grow positively as individuals? We can’t begin to imagine what this solution would be, but God – who is infinitely wiser than us – would be able to figure it all out.

LB wrote
Do you have a positive case to present to support your view to which I can raise objections?

This is a good question, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I will throw this into the discussion: do atheists have a positive case to begin with? Do they need to defend their non-belief? For myself, I’ve never claimed that God does not exist. Rather, I’m simply unconvinced that he does. So wouldn’t the burden be on the theist to try and convince me that their respective does God exist; after all, they are making the claim to begin with. What do you think?