Friday, March 27, 2009

Not trying to convert anyone?

A redated post.

Duke wrote: Well, I guess I agree with the basic statement here, but I'm not trying to "convert" you to atheism. Believe in the Christian god, if you want; sure. Believe in Shiva. Believe in the Tooth Fairy. All I'm doing is pointing out that those three beliefs are equally irrational.

Really. Atheists aren't out to earn converts. You should really explain that to Dan Barker, the head of the Freedom of Religion Foundation and well-known atheist. See the link below.

I don't think of myself as engaged in evangelism. I do hope that my work helps to make it possible to believe, but I think the step of commitment to Christ is distinct from that of accepting arguments; it is an act of will, not of reason or the emotions. I actually think that I do most to support the credibility of my religion when I attempt to reflect honestly on philosophical matters pertaining to my religion, which means that I will reject popular apologetical lines if I think these lines lack rational support. For example, I took a lot of flack from fellow Christians a few months back because I opposed the view that there are really no atheists. I personally avoid making irrationality charges against people with whom I disagree. There are substantial arguments on both sides of the question of God, and there are plenty of people who are brilliant on both sides of this question. Do people really think that Christians like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Robert Merrihew Adams are stupid, similar to an adult who retains belief in the tooth fairy?

I won't say I don't want people to believe the truth, especially the sorts of truths that matter. So do you, or you wouldn't bother to post. I'm sure you don't like seeing people who caught up in ancient superstitions, and rejoice when the leave the fold. I am nowhere near as "evangelistic" about my faith as some people are about getting out of Christianity.

So let's hear no more of this nonsense that atheists aren't interested in converting others.

Addendum 3/27/09. There's something incoherent (Ilion would use a different word), about saying on the one hand thar your belief is just as dumb as believing in the Tooth Fairy, but I really don't care whether you give up the belief or not.

25 comments:

exbeliever said...

Duke wrote: "I'm not trying to 'convert' you to atheism.

From which you derived: "Atheists aren't out to earn converts." and "So let's hear no more of this nonsense that atheists aren't interested in converting others."

"I'm" = personal
"atheists" = general

Tom Gilson said...

Is there a significant difference between "convert" and "persuade"? And is Duke not trying to persuade?

JohnO said...

Convert and Persuade are the same, I would think. Paul persauded Jews out of Moses and the Prophets concerning Christ. And he was the best evangelist (one who converts others) we've (Christians) have had since Christ.

Victor Reppert said...

Atheists very often argue passionately against religious belief and then piously pronounce that they aren't trying to convert anyone. What do they mean? That they don't intend to send the police in to force people to reject God? Of course Christians have resorted to those methods, but so have atheists (in the Soviet Union and other communist countries). I have a "right" to believe whatever I want to so long as I admit that it is irrational? Gee thanks.

Everyone who discusses these matters presents reasons to believe what they do in hopes that others will also find these arguments persuasive. It's extremely disingenous to say "I'm going to prove to you that you are a complete idiot for holding the position that you hold, but of course you can hang on stubbornly to your insane belief if you want to. See, I'm not really trying to convert you." To that, I can only ask "What the heck would you be doing if you were trying to convert me?"

Jim Lippard said...

There are certainly evangelical atheists, but engaging in debate--and even trying to persuade--is not necessarily the same as trying to convert or evangelize.

Successful persuasion on a single argument doesn't entail conversion to a worldview. (Now, of course, atheism is something less than a worldview, and if the conclusion of the argument is "There are no gods," then I'd agree with the equation of persuasion and conversion (or "deconversion") in that instance.)

But you can't equate willingness to engage in debate with a desire to evangelize or proselytize. There are more possible motivations for debate than that.

Victor Reppert said...

I think when we debate we hope that our opponent in debate will come to agree with us, or at least come to accept certain ideas they might not otherwise have. This desire is perfectly common and natural.

I don't think much about people being converted when I argue; I think that perhaps in some cases my words will make a contribution to a conversion, but I don't look for it. You might get a somewhat different attitude from Bill Craig. World-view decisions are so complex that single arguments usually don't carry the whole weight. The case, on both sides, is cumulative.

I remember a discussion with an atheist in graduate school in which the atheist ended up saying "Hey, this is kind of tough!" If I can instill a respect for Christian thinkers in the mind of some skeptic, then I feel my job is done, regardless of what happens after that.

Conversions to Christianity are affairs of the will as well as the mind, and as a Christian I maintain that they involve the work of the Holy Spirit. People who think that since I am a Christian I am trying to shove the Four Spritual Laws down everyone's throat are stereotyping Christians.

In other words, I think of my work as an apologist as weakly, but not strongly evangelistic. I think most atheists are engaged in evangelism in the same weak sense that I am, and some are engaged in evangelism in a stronger sense.

Shackleman said...

Dr. Reppert,

I appreciate this post very much, as I've asked a related question on another post here on your blog that, because of a "gotcha--you're an idiot" error I committed, went summarily ignored.

I'm hopeful you'll get some honest discussion and feedback since my attempt failed.

unkle e said...

Victor

Full marks again! I agree with your approach.

"There are substantial arguments on both sides of the question of God"

In my experience, this is the killer. I have discussed with many atheists on forums and by email, (not many face-to-face), and I have found few who will agree to this. I don't fully understand, but I think it is easier to say christians are "delusional" than to engage with some of the arguments. I suppose there are christians who say the same but opposite, but I have never felt that was correct either.

If each "side" could recognise we are not dealing with black and white issues, but a balance of what is most reasonable, there would be less heat and more light!

Thanks again, and best wishes.

Ken Jacobs said...

Victor says (quoting a supposed atheist curmudgeon):
"I'm going to prove to you that you are a complete idiot for holding the position that you hold, but of course you can hang on stubbornly to your insane belief if you want to. See, I'm not really trying to convert you."

Victor: To that, I can only ask "What the heck would you be doing if you were trying to convert me?"

Answer: Be much more polite, nicer.

Ilíon said...

How cool is this? I just noticed that the posts now have not only a time-stamp, but also a date-stamp.

===========
VR: "There's something incoherent (Ilion would use a different word), about saying on the one hand thar your belief is just as dumb as believing in the Tooth Fairy, but I really don't care whether you give up the belief or not."

He might use a different word; but not automatically so. And he doesn't object to 'incoherent.'

Ilíon said...

VR: "I don't think of myself as engaged in evangelism. I do hope that my work helps to make it possible to believe, but I think the step of commitment to Christ is distinct from that of accepting arguments; it is an act of will, not of reason or the emotions."

But you are engaging in evangelism: to sow the seed, first till the soil.

Indeed, conversion (in either direction) is an act of the will; likewise, refusal to convert is an act of the will.

What you are doing -- and what I am doing, even if worshippers of "niceness" will not see it -- can expose to such anti-Christians (and to everyone else) the irrationality and futility of the post facto rationalizations they like to pretend rationally justify their rejection of Christ, but that's about it: one can't *make* another admit the illogical and/or irrational nature of his argument; how much less power does one have to *make* another repudiate the underlying stance for which the argument is but a fig-leaf?


VR: "I actually think that I do most to support the credibility of my religion when I attempt to reflect honestly on philosophical matters pertaining to my religion, which means that I will reject popular apologetical lines if I think these lines lack rational support."

But of course: Christianity is not fideistic.


VR: "I actually think that I do most to support the credibility of my religion when I attempt to reflect honestly on philosophical matters pertaining to my religion, which means that I will reject popular apologetical lines if I think these lines lack rational support. For example, I took a lot of flack from fellow Christians a few months back because I opposed the view that there are really no atheists. "

Now you're getting confused (I suspect it's your "niceness" gene, and perhaps your professional need to stay on the good side of your atheistic and/or anti-Christian colleagues); what follows the "for example" does not *really* relate to what precedes it.

A *real* atheist is also a nihilist (each -ism implies the other), and there are very few actual nihilists around, anywhere in the world. Certainly, none of the village atheists with an internet connection one encounters are indeed nihilists. They may often behave and "argue" nihilistically, but they are not nihilists.

Can one *really* be a Christian while maintaining that, or behaving as though, there is no God? Can one *really* be an atheist while maintaining that, or behaving as though, anyting at all matters? No. And no.


VR: "I personally avoid making irrationality charges against people with whom I disagree."

Even when they *are* behaving illogically and/or irrationally? Of course you don't avoid making the charge; you just -- as I pointed out a couple of times recently, and as you're doing in this post from two or three years ago-- just do it less directly than I do.

Accusing someone of being illogical or irrational *merely* because he disagrees with one is wrong: it's immoral and, in fact, anti-logical and anti-rational.

On the other hand, pointing out that another is being illogical or irrational when he is, in fact, being illogical or irrational is not immoral. It's uncomfortable to do it (expecially to those who have made "niceness," rather than love, the lodestar of morality) but it *may* be morally required.


VR: "There are substantial arguments on both sides of the question of God, ..."

Not so. There is not, and never has been, and never will be any *good* (i.e. logical and rational) arguments for atheism.

The denial that there is a Creator logically entails that we cannot reason, that we cannot attain knowledge (much less wisdom), that we cannot find and know truth ... and, in fact, it entails that we ourselves don't even exist (for we are but an illusion -- and, oddly, there exists no one to suffer the delusion that we exist).

Atheism is worse than merely irrational and illogical, it is anti-rational and anti-logical. It is logically impossible to present a rational and logical argument for such.


VR: "... and there are plenty of people who are brilliant on both sides of this question."

Totally irrelevant, in both directions.

unkle e said...

Ilion:

"What you are doing -- and what I am doing, even if worshippers of "niceness" will not see it -- can expose to such anti-Christians (and to everyone else) the irrationality and futility of the post facto rationalizations they like to pretend rationally justify their rejection of Christ"

A wise old christian minister once said to me (and others): "We often think that a bold statement of the truth communicates, when often it inoculates against the truth." Dealing harshly with people will likely polarise them and inoculate them even further.

May I respectfully recommend 1 Peter 3:15-16: "Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you. But do it with gentleness and respect."

Ilíon said...

And I would say that you're too enslaved to "niceness" to even begin to understand the context about which you imagine you're sharing your wisdom.

Clayton said...

"There's something incoherent about saying on the one hand that your belief is just as dumb as believing in the Tooth Fairy, but I really don't care whether you give up the belief or not."

Maybe, but is there anything incoherent about saying:
"It's dumb to paint your house bright purple and yellow but since I'm not your neighbor I don't care whether you do it or not"?
I don't see any incoherence there.

How about:
"It was dumb for the ancient Greeks to think that the cold of winter was due to the fact that someone ate seeds but I don't really care that they believed that"?
I don't see any incoherence there.

How about:
"It was dumb for that guy to think that since he's lost so many times at blackjack that he's just due to win next time but I don't really care about him or his beliefs"?
I don't see any incoherence there.

Victor, maybe we disagree about these cases but I just don't see incoherence in saying "S is dumb to A" and "I don't care about what S does". Maybe the "tension" arises when someone bothers to say to someone that something is dumb but then adds that they don't care about it b/c it doesn't make sense to expend the effort when you don't care?

Victor Reppert said...

In the particular case I was mentioning someone back in 2006 had been arguing for atheism and ended it with saying he wasn't trying to convert anyone. Now one happening to say, and feel, that some belief is really dumb, on the order of believing in the tooth fairy, but one doesn't really care whether you believe it or not, is perhaps coherent. But if one has been arguing and trying to convince someone of the irrationality of those beliefs, as Duke was in this discussion, and then to say that it really didn't matter to him what you believe, is a tad weird. It is weird because Duke had been trying to convince us that God, Shiva, and the Tooth Fairy were all equally irrational to believe in.

So suppose a Christian were to answer "Gosh, Duke, I'm convinced. I now realize that my belief in God is just as irrational as belief in Shiva or the tooth fairy, and that it would be far more rational to be a philosophical naturalist. But, to hell with reason, I'm going to be a fideist believer and force myself to believe what I know ain't true." You know perfectly well that no believer is going to be able to do that and look himself in the mirror the next morning. If you are arguing that it is irrational to deny X, then it seems you are trying to get someone not to believe X.

If I engage in a debate or discussion with someone, I may achieve a legitimate goal other than that person's coming to accept my position, and few of us would spend any time arguing if we thought we could only be successful if we converted the other person to our viewpoint. But it looks as if you have to have an interest in someone's coming to accept your position. And when you are making irrationality charges, the motivation has to be there, because, at least in the world of internet debate, you don't see a lot of people who are self-confessedly irrational.

unkle e said...

Ilion, you say:

"And I would say that you're too enslaved to "niceness" to even begin to understand the context about which you imagine you're sharing your wisdom."

May I ask you to please explain that context so I understand it better please? And perhaps you may also explain to me whether you believe the 1 Peter quote has any relevance. Thanks.

Blue Devil Knight said...

unkle e: I like the cut of your jib. Ilion would have us believe that Jesus would have been an internet troll telling everyone they are intellectually dishonest idiots.

Generally: If I claim that a gram of lead has less mass than a kilogram of lead, and give arguments for this claim, does that mean I'm proselytizing? If someone disagrees with me, and I show them why they are being an idiot, does that mean I'm evangelizing?

Clearly not, as Lippard pointed out.

Evangelizing is more than just showing someone they are wrong and you are right. I don't think that is necessary or sufficient to count as evangelizing.

non-nihilistically and atheistically yours,
BDK

Ilíon said...

Well, Unkle E, there is your reward.

Blue Devil Knight said...

^^^^
unkle-e -- there is your typical admission of defeat from Ilion. While Ilion is entertaining, a bit of a let down, as usually he is funnier.

For a dose of Ilion-style humor, I recommend this book.

Ilíon said...

Ah, BDK ... the amusing pretend atheist who claims that it is 'sophistry' to state the content of the atheistic "explanation" for the world.

What? You didn't recognize what you were calling sophistry? Tsk! Tsk!

Ilíon said...

I wonder, Unkle E, are you capable of irony?

I should rephrase that: Are you capable of recognizing and appreciating the irony of what you're attempting?

This irony includes, but is not necessarily limited to:
1) evading the burden of proof (the irony is because that's a common method of atheistic "argument" which I sometimes expose ... and mock)
2) "proof-texting" (also, sadly not limited to, atheistic "argument")
3) accusing me of moral hypocricy because I expose (and try to shame) intellectual hypocrisy

Blue Devil Knight said...

"There's something incoherent (Ilion would use a different word), about saying on the one hand thar your belief is just as dumb as believing in the Tooth Fairy, but I really don't care whether you give up the belief or not."

Not really. I want my kids to believe in the tooth fairy. If an adult believed, I would think it was stupid, but probably find it cute and lovable. :)

unkle e said...

Ilion

I am truly sorry this has become something that has apparently upset you. I have been trying to express a viewpoint contrary to one you expressed in a polite and respectful manner.

"Well, Unkle E, there is your reward."
I agree. I followed the Bible's advice and I have made a friend rather than an enemy. I like that.

"accusing me of moral hypocricy because I expose (and try to shame) intellectual hypocrisy"
Not really. You brought the subject up when you said: "what I am doing, even if worshippers of "niceness" will not see it". I have simply commented on that and asked you a question about the 1 Peter text which you haven't answered (that I've seen). I haven't accused you of anything, and I apologise if I gave that impression.

But I still suggest that demonstrating the truth of one's own position and exposing the falsity of another's does not require rudeness, and rudeness may actually make it harder.

"I wonder, Unkle E, are you capable of irony?"
I wonder that sometimes myself! : )

But perhaps we should call it a day, if you find my questioning and sermonising offensive?

Best wishes.

unkle e said...

Blue Devil Knight,

I gather from your comments that you are an atheist. If I'd have known that .....! : ) Or is it just a "pretend atheist"?

"I like the cut of your jib. Ilion would have us believe that Jesus would have been an internet troll telling everyone they are intellectually dishonest idiots."
Thanks. It is a matter of historical record that pretty much the only people Jesus criticised vehemently were the religious leaders, who should have known better. To most everyone else, he had sympathy as well as a strong but caring word. (Maybe there are exceptions, but I don't recall them just now.) I try to follow Jesus (but avoid being crucified!).

But I don't wish to become the unwitting centre of a battle between the two of you, so I think I will gracefully withdraw.

Thanks again and best wishes.

Ilíon said...

Unkle E: "I am truly sorry this has become something that has apparently upset you ..."

Please! Spare us the psychobabble.