Saturday, August 01, 2009

My response on Beautiful Redemption

Heather, from the blog Beautiful Redemption, wrote the following post in response to my poem, The Potter and the Clay. I wrote the following comment in a response to her post (I see it's currently awaiting moderation, so it might take a little while before it appears):

Dear Heather

I just want to say thank you for visiting my blog, and for taking time to respond with your thoughts on what I’ve written. I always appreciate feedback.

For me, the poem was my own way of trying to describe the turning point in my life when I finally let go of faith in God. I know that, in your eyes, placing God as the clay and myself as the potter does seem like an extreme case of hubris, but in my view this is not the case. You compare me to Satan in your post, but I’m not like Satan in one important aspect. Even the Bible says that the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), but they still rally against him. But I am not like them, simply because I don’t believe that God exists. That is the difference. For me, I don’t regard myself as being defiant in any way, simply because I no longer believe there is a anything to be defiant against.

You also quote Psalm 53:1. This verse misrepresents the position that most atheists (including me) hold. Ellie Arroway, the main character in Carl Sagan’s book, Contact, makes a distinction between being convinced that God doesn’t exist; and not being convinced that he does exist. I fall into the latter camp. I've never made the absolute claim that God doesn’t exist; rather, I’m simply unconvinced that he exists.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Kevin

29 comments:

David Murdoch said...

I don't know if most atheists hold the belief that atheism is just an absence of belief in God, because many of them do seem to say that God doesn't exist or that it is probable that He doesn't exist (even consider the bus advertisement slogan: 'There's probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy life.') Some of them simply say that He may exist but that the christian God or that which is taught by current religions is a god that doesn't exist, and psalm 51 would still be applicable to those people.

If you don't believe in God, but you believe that He may exist and you just don't know, then you should probably be simply called an agnostic to differentiate yourself from the people who are denying that God exists and that those who believe in Him are delusional.

You might find this useful also:

http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=9179467206976930820&ei=_OJ0SsLWOKXmqAKXqfyWDw&q=faith+and+science+ricardo&hl=en

God Bless,

Laughing Boy said...

Thank you, David! Finally someone else makes the point that there is a perfectly good label for the unconvinced—agnostic. Perfectly suited as it is to your stated position, Kevin, you (and others in your circle) reject it. Perhaps it doesn't carry the same cache these days as "atheist". David also points out that to choose to stand apart from God and deny His claim on your life is an act of defiance even if it seems passive to you.

That said, although I generally agree with Heather on content, maybe she could have adopted a more engaging tone. I'm guilty of this, too, from time to time.

You also might want to think about morsecOde's comment that he didn't think any atheist above the age of 12 has ever made the argument God doesn't exist if we can't see him. If memory serves, you have on occasion argued along those lines. I'm just sayin'...

Kevin Parry said...

Good points all around. I was thinking of posting something up along these lines, as I had a very similar discussion with a group of friends the other day at a book discussion, about the difference between agnosticism and atheism. It’s something I’m still trying to sort out in my own mind.

For me, I think it revolves around the two issues of (1) probability and (2) certainty. The type of conclusion that some atheists reach (i.e., that there is no God) holds absolute certainty as a premise, I think. For me, this doesn’t work, as no-one can be absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist (i.e, that God is impossible), simply because we are not omniscient. However, most atheists might argue that the existence of god (especially the one advocated by Judeo-Christian tradition) is improbable, as they find current arguments for God’s existence unconvincing. Even in the atheist bus campaign, the sign read “there is probably no God”, not “there is no God”. This is where the difference lies, I think.

So yes, I am an agnostic, when it comes to knowledge of the existence of gods. I am not certain that they exist. But when it comes to belief, I am an atheist, because I don’t feel I have enough certainty to warrant any kind of belief in gods. So, as I’ve written before, I’m an agnostic atheist. And interestingly enough, there are those who claim to be agnostic theists.

And anyway, isn’t Psalm 51:1 simply an ad hominem logical fallacy? It focuses on unbelievers themselves rather than addressing arguments for the subject at hand (i.e., God’s existence).

Let me know what you think.

Kevin Parry said...

Just quick thought on defiance.

LB wrote
David also points out that to choose to stand apart from God and deny His claim on your life is an act of defiance even if it seems passive to you.

But it is only an act of defiance in the mind of the Christian, who believes that the God of the Bible is indeed the one true god who created the universe. In the mind of the Muslim, the Christian is also acting in defiance, by choosing to stand apart from Allah and to deny Allah’s claim on the Christian’s life. Would you say, as a Christian, that you are acting in defiance to Allah (and to a myriad of other gods)? Maybe in defiance to belief in Allah, but not to Allah himself, as I assume that you don’t believe that Allah is the one true God.

That's how it is with me: I might be in defiance to the Christian belief in God, but I am not in defiance to the Christian God himself, because I don’t hold the belief that the Christian god is the one true god. In other words, the most that my non-belief can do is upset a few Christians; it doesn’t make sense for me to consider how my actions would affect the feelings of a being that I don't believe exists.

Cori said...

Laughing Boy wrote: "That said, although I generally agree with Heather on content, maybe she could have adopted a more engaging tone. I'm guilty of this, too, from time to time."

I've been deeply disturbed by the hostility in the tone of many Christians when blogging with those outside the faith. I've written about this at my blog and also at Emerging Africa (http://www.emergingafrica.info
/blog/2009/08/03/responsible-blogging)
where I send a call out to Christians to form accountability partnerships to ensure their blogging content but also tone is responsible and a reflection of a Christ-like attitude.

desiderius said...

In his introductory posting to this blog, Mr Parry describes how his spiritual crisis came about. He was part of the charismatic branch of Christianity that teaches that extra-biblical revelation is a valid way of "hearing" from God. The teachings of these churches also imply (or sometimes say outright) that you can get God to do your bidding - if you get the formula right. Alas, this kind of theology (or abuse thereof) invariably ends in tears or anger or both. It has occurred to me that a not-so-subtle motivation for this blog is Mr Parry's belief that if he keeps on saying nasty things about God/Christians/Christianity in cyber-space, God will get so miffed that he will be "forced" to provide some kind of answer that will satify Mr Parry that he really is out there. Alas, that day won't dawn. The answer, my friend, isn't blowing in the wind, or in doing random scripture searches or in trying to divine the mind of God using all kinds of weird techniques. It's in the Bible. As for the other stuff that won't matter two cents in eternity, such as career, studies, house, where to live, etc, etc, use the thing God put between your ears: your brain.

Melanie said...

Kevin,

I don't have much to say, though I did comment on "Beautiful Redemption." But I just want you to know that your sincerity is above reproach and in coming to know you I know I am coming to know an amazing person.

Just thought you should know.

Laughing Boy said...

Kevin:
I'll have to get back to you on the atheism/agnosticism issue.

Re: Psalm 53:1 (not 51:1)
I don't see a logical fallacy here. In order to qualify as an ad hominem fallacy, the argument would have to imply that God exists because the one who says He doesn't is a fool. But that's not what the verse, or the psalm, is proposing, rather, that no one seeks after God. Verse 1 may contain an ad hominem (an attack on one's character), but it's not a logical fallacy.

Re: Defiance
In other words, the most that my non-belief can do is upset a few Christians; it doesn’t make sense for me to consider how my actions would affect the feelings of a being that I don't believe exists.

If God exists, you stand in defiance of Him in reality. If He does not exist, you stand in defiance of a mere concept, in which case it's inconsequential. It's defiance either way. If God exists you will stand before Him one day; will you say that you weren't defiant, just that you didn't believe? I don't expect to convince you to believe in God and put your trust in Christ for salvation, but I do think you should be able to say to yourself, "Self, if the Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) God exists I'm in trouble."

Cori,
I think oversight and accountability among Christian bloggers is a fantastic (and biblical) idea. The body of Christ is much more powerfully expressed in community than independently. Feel free to hold me accountable.

Finally, I do agree with desiderius about the tendency of charismatic churches to generate unbelievers. This is also true of pietism and liberalism.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kevin,

I have read several of your blog entries and I enjoyed them v much. I too have rejected the Christian faith after spending many years following it. My current position is agnosticism because I have only started to learn much more about religion, science and philosophy 2 years ago and hence I have not gathered sufficient knowlegdge to be certain. However, with the knowledge I have gained thus far, I can only say that the God of the Bible does not and cannot exist.

We have alot more to talk about but first, I would like to point out the futility of discussing anything with a person like Heather (from Beautiful Redemption) and her friend Miles Counterman.

I went to that blog site and read through her comments and found them to be based on typical fundamentalist thinking. I respect her rights to think this way of course. However, I had initially counted on her ability to engage in an intellectual discussion. Thus I posted a sincere question on Euthyphro's dilemma. You can find it here :

http://redemptionjournal.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/26/

It is the 21st response to her initial blog entry. I basically asked what is her position on Euthyphro's dilemma :

--- start message ---
Do you believe that a moral act is moral because it is commanded by God (hence God alone decides what is moral or not)

or

Do you believe that a moral act is commanded by God simply because it is moral (hence morality is independent of God) ?
--- end message ---

Her answer was equally sincere and cordial and I appreciate it :

--- start message ---
My answer: both.
Consider Matthew 5 -
[17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
[18] For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
….and James 2:10 – “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

After all, where did the law originally come from? God. Hence, the 10 Commandments – of which most, if not all, of our laws today have stemmed from. You can trace all their roots back to God.
--- end message ---

My critique of her response is as follows :

Critique 1
--------------
>> “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?”
>> My answer: both.
This shows a total lack of understanding of Euthyphro's dilemma. It cannot be both. She can only mean that what is moral is so because God says it which means that God alone can decide what is moral or immoral.

Critique 2
---------------
And then she went on to quote Matthew 5:17-18 and James 2:10. These verses have nothing to do with Euthyphro's dilemma. These verses only show that to the Biblical God, the laws are very important. And the 10 commandments ? Also no relevance.

I do not mean to be disparaging, but I think she is completely confused.

Critique 3
--------------
>> Hence, the 10 Commandments – of which most, if not all, of our laws today have stemmed from. You can trace all their roots back to God.
I had not set out to talk to her about the 10 commandments but now that she mentioned it with the above comments, all doubts about her being a typical ignorant fundamentalist are cleared.

As you well know, Kevin, Dan Barker (in his book "Godless") has done a very good job of analyzing the 10 commandments and revealing how only a few of those commandments are actually relevant to us today.

I rest my case, Kevin. I do not think I will respond to Heather.

Will keep in touch,
TheTruthSeeker_2009.

CyberKitten said...

LB said: If God exists, you stand in defiance of Him in reality. If He does not exist, you stand in defiance of a mere concept, in which case it's inconsequential. It's defiance either way.

Colour me happily defiant then.....

CyberKitten said...

LB said: I'll have to get back to you on the atheism/agnosticism issue.

It's my understanding that an agnostic believes that there is not (and possibly cannot) be enough information/knowledge about the existence of God to make a decision either way.

I am not an agnostic.

Laughing Boy said...

CK is right. That's an agnostic and he is not. This definition makes an "agnostic atheist" an oxymoron (not a plain moron :-) ).

TruthSeeker: What does Euthyphro have to do with either thread? Shouldn't comments have some relevance to the discussion? Nonetheless I'm interested in Euthyphro's Dilemma, so I've started a thread at my blog. Will you respond to me?

Anonymous said...

Hello LaughingBoy,

I was illustrating to Kevin why I anticipate difficulty in discussing further with Heather (of Beautiful Redemption).

Yes, Euthyphro's dilemma is not connected with this thread.

But I'll read your blog entry and respond appropriately.

Thanks,
TheTruthSeeker_2009.

Anonymous said...

Hello LaughingBoy,

I had gone to your site, read your blog and wrote a reply but I had some difficulty posting it (related to Google account) so I decided to temporarily post my reply here while I try to sort out the technical problems (very sorry to take up your space, Kevin).

Here is my reply :

>> ... on the pretext of engaging in some intellectual discussion ...

I was not pretending to engage Heather in "some intellectual discussion" in order to trick her or fulfill some malicious intent. My sincere apologies if that had offended anyone. I mean it.

I had read her blog entry and her replies and I wanted to discuss further with her on her views of God's role in determining morality and her answers were typical of what I had heard before and they really did not impress me.

Note that I stopped further correspondence thereafter. This was not because I had gotten the answers that I wanted (that she is not impressive and that I can now laugh at her or tell on her) but that I believe she does not even understand the discussion at hand - one cannot take BOTH stands with regards to Euthyphro's dilemma (that's why it is a dilemma).

I had discussed this with several Christian friends and even my former pastor and after much thought, Euthyphro's dilemma became one of the strong reasons why I personally changed my mind about the truth of Christianity (but that's another story).

TheTruthSeeker_2009.

CyberKitten said...

LB said: CK is right. That's an agnostic and he is not. This definition makes an "agnostic atheist" an oxymoron (not a plain moron :-) ).

From what Kevin's said so far I'd classify him as an atheist. He's definitely not a moron though.....

Laughing Boy said...

CK: From what Kevin's said so far I'd classify him as an atheist. He's definitely not a moron

I agree with you on both these point, too.

TruthSeeker: Sorry you had trouble posting. I'm especially looking forward to hearing how your take on Euthyphro's dilemma could be a strong reason to question the truth of Christianity.* This is the story as far as I'm concerned. I hope you solve the technical problems. If not, perhaps you could e-mail them to me and I will post them. Let me know if you do, because I never check that account.


* For example, the dilemma is posed in a pre-Christian setting between polytheists.

Kevin Parry said...

Desiderius wrote
It has occurred to me that a not-so-subtle motivation for this blog is Mr Parry's belief that if he keeps on saying nasty things about God/Christians/Christianity in cyber-space, God will get so miffed that he will be "forced" to provide some kind of answer.

I don’t think God isn’t revealing himself to me because he is upset; rather, I think he isn’t revealing himself to me because he isn’t there to begin with. God’s silence is one of the major things that pushed me away from faith. Many Christians (like Heather) quote Bible verses to me when they find out I don’t believe, but God’s silence speaks louder than any words read from the Bible or preached from a pulpit.

By the way, Desiderius, you can call me Kevin :-)

LB wrote
K is right. That's an agnostic and he is not. This definition makes an "agnostic atheist" an oxymoron

I would argue that indecisiveness cannot be used as one of criteria to determine if someone is agnostic. If I claim that I haven’t made up my mind about God and I’m indecisive, then surely you can’t call me a Christian, or even a theist (because, in my indecisive state, you can’t really say I hold belief in God). Thus, I would be an atheist (ie, I lack belief in God), even if I’m indecisive. And until I make the decision to believe, I will remain an atheist.

Laughing Boy said...

...indecisiveness cannot be used as one of criteria to determine if someone is agnostic.

Right. Indecisiveness is not among the criteria. That is why I like Cyberkitten's definition, it makes a positive statement about the term. Agnostics believe knowledge regarding God's existence is not available to us. Non-agnostics believe otherwise. Among non-agnostics theists believe God exists and atheists believe otherwise—nothing in there about indecisiveness.

Basically you are saying a theist is such-and-such and an atheist is everything else. That's not right. Some rare things can only be defined by stating what they're not, and atheism isn't one of them. "Lack of belief in God" is simply too vague to serve as a definition of an atheist, too many things would fall into that category that obviously can't be called atheist. Agnostics lack a belief in God. So do newborn infants. So does my dog, the door to my house, the trees in my back yard, the dirt in which they're rooted, and the worms that squirm therein. They're all atheists on your definition. "Atheist" is only one of several members of the set of things not of the set "theist". You say, "until I make the decision to believe, I will remain an atheist." No, this makes you merely a non-theist of an undetermined subset.

...he isn’t revealing himself to me because he isn’t there to begin with.

There you go! This is a statement of belief! Why are you so reluctant to acknowledge that?

carole said...

Good point, LB- you may want to check out Cori's Blog (all about cori) where she has posted "everyone's a believer". I'd like to footnote what you have said with this- to the atheist: the real dilemma is whether what you believe is true or not (same as us theists). For you it is not a question of "does God exist?" (because you don't believe this.) It is a question of "does God not exist?" Is this statement true? We must be more concerned with what is true, and less concerned with who wins the argument.

Euthyphro's dilemma is solved by the fact of God's existence. Only if you don't believe in God is this a dilemma. If God exists, then He is the first Cause of all that is. Therefore, anything that goes against Him is evil and immoral. He is Good, good does not control Him. Good is good because of God.

Laughing Boy said...

Carole,

Thanks again for the reference. I hope to post a followup on Euthyphro's dilemma soon at my blog. Perhaps you can keep an eye out and share your thoughts there. My reasoning is along different lines so it would be good to get another point of view.

Laughing Boy said...

TruthSeeker:

I changed some settings on my blog that may allow you to post. Try again if you want.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi LB

As I said before, this is something that I’m still thinking about, and our exchange has been extremely helpful in terms of clarifying my own ideas. So thank you for your thoughts – it's helping a lot!

I wrote:
he isn’t revealing himself to me because he isn’t there to begin with.

When I get passionate, as I often do when discussing these issues, I sometimes revert to more extreme language. I should watch out for this next time. The moment I posted that comment up I knew I was going to get into trouble :-)

But seriously, I am guilty for causing some confusion on what I do (and what I do not) actually believe. I fluctuate between describing myself as having “lack of belief” to “I don’t believe” to “I believe that…” This discussion has made me realise that there are differences between these statements, subtle as they might be. Some atheists are more extreme and say something like: “I know for certain that...” but I don’t subscribe to this.

I think that the statement “I lack belief in God” does not represent a philosophical position, but is rather a descriptive term of identification that sets me apart from the theist. The defining characteristic of a theist is belief in God, and it is this characteristic that I lack. This is what makes me an atheist. If the defining characteristic of a theist was to wear a blue hat, and I did not have a blue hat, then it would make sense for me to say that “I lack a blue hat, thus I am an atheist”, to set me apart from the millions of hat bearing people. In this sense, when it comes to being theists, new-born babies, as well as those who haven’t heard of the concept of God, are all atheists. They lack belief in God, but the important point is that they haven’t taken up a philosophical position concerning God’s existence. These are implicit atheists, if we use George H. Smith’s definition. And you right: they should not form part of the discussion.

But I am not an implicit atheist. I lack belief in God, but I do have beliefs and opinions about the concept of God. In other words, I’ve thought deeply about the topic, wrestled with different points of view, explored the arguments for God and have found them wanting, and have decided that I do not yet have enough knowledge of God to warrant belief (some might refer to this as ‘weak agnosticism’). Until further evidence is in, I will stick to the philosophical position which can be described by the statement: “I do not believe”. I have reasons for my unbelief, and this makes me an explicit atheist.

I think the confusion comes in when some make the mistake of believing that if a person adheres to the descriptive statement, then one automatically does not hold a philosophical position on the topic (e.g., “I lack belief in God, therefore I do not hold any position at all”). This might work for explicit atheists, but not for those who actually call themselves atheists (i.e, those in the implicit camp).

Sorry for the long comment, and thanks again for helping to clarify my thinking.

All the best
Kevin

Julia said...

I'm just starting to get my feet wet here in your blog, but it seems that William Lobdell's "Losing my religion" might be an interesting read for you.

Have you read it?

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

we are all believers in something. i believe in God and you, kevin, believe there is no God. it takes the same faith to believe there is no God as it does to believe there is a God. i choose to use my faith to believe in God - the One Holy God of the universe. you said you never heard God speak to you. the Holy Spirit is what speaks to us. The Spirit is part of the trinity with God and Jesus. you receive the Holy Spirit when you confess that Jesus is your Savior. when you make that confession, the Spirit lives within you and speaks and guides you. He is our helper. so God cannot help us unless we know His Son, Jesus. Jesus is our Advocate because He died a criminal's death on the cross. because He died and rose again, we can now go to God, through His Son because we are covered under His blood. so, until we cry out to Jesus our Savior, God cannot help us. He is a Holy God and we need Jesus to intercede for us.

Anonymous said...

Matt:He is a Holy God and we need Jesus to intercede for us.

If God is all powerful, why does he need anyone to intercede for him?

quasidrop said...

Kevin,

I have just run across your blog and you are an extremely well spoken and thoughtful individual (and even a good poet). There are many atheists/agnostics who are not able to adopt such a kind tone towards believers (Hitchen, Dawkins, etc.). Cori and your blogspots give great comfort to me, as a recovering Christian (from a father and grandfather who were both holiness ministers), who is married to a wonderful Christian woman. We both struggle equally to handle our new situation.

My small addition to this post is that, as believers, people sometimes forget that it takes two to make a believer. It takes God reaching down and man reaching up. This is an action of faith on the man's part. Inaction is not faith or belief. Jesus was fond of using parables, so I'll use one here; to not act on this is an act of faith or belief just as not golfing is a hobby (this last is a paraphrase from some other quote I read so I apologize for swiping it, but it fits so well here).

Kevin, best of luck to you and Cori. May you have the best marriage in the world!

- Quasidrop
(PS. I apologize, but I'm not far enough out of the 'womb' of Christianity to use my real name yet - I would cause irreparable emotional suffering to my elderly parents)

Kevin Parry said...

Matt wrote:

it takes the same faith to believe there is no God as it does to believe there is a God.

Hi Matt. Thanks for popping by. Just to respond to your comment. Both you and I have faith in some underlying assumptions about the universe. We both have faith in the (arguably unproved) assumption that there is an objective reality outside of our own minds, and there is some sort of natural order that we all experience. That’s where my ‘faith’ as an atheist ends. As a Christian, you believe in a lot more assumptions, such as the existence of the supernatural, God, demons, angels, miracles, virgin births, people rising from the dead, etc, etc, etc. Does it then make sense to argue that we both carry equal ‘faith’? The Christian is the one who holds a lot more unsupported assumptions about the nature of our existence.

Quasidrop wrote:
I have just run across your blog

Welcome Quasidrop. Thanks for your kind words. I hope to hear more of your thoughts in future posts.

All the best
Kevin

Vincent said...

Thank you very much for this post... A good read indeed...