Monday, April 21, 2008

On atheists using the Calvinism debate

I certainly don't endorse any attempt by atheists to get points for their own view based on our controversy here. Atheists disagree about all sorts of things. For example, evolutionists never tire of reminding critics of evolution that any controversy between advocates of gradualism and advocates of punctuated equalibilium provides any basis for calling evolution into question. Can't we say that same thing to atheists with respect to this debate?

10 comments:

exapologist said...

It's certainly legitimate in principle, from an epistemological point of view, to use the problems with one view as at least a partial case for another view (e.g., libertarians can, at least in principle, use hard determinist criticisms of soft determinism as a part of a case for a libertarian account of freedom and responsibility); non-theists can legitimately do the same re: criticisms of calvinism, at least in principle ("If Christianity, then either calvinism, arminianism, or ...; not calvinism; not arminianism; not....; therefore, not Christianity"). But sure, I hope and trust that your readers are able to see that to criticize a particular version of a worldview isn't necessarily to criticize the worldview per se.

Hans said...

Atheists are not spiritual and cannot comprehend how the Holy Spirit inspires the understanding of both Paul and Victor when they read the Bible.

Atheists lack the Spirit, and so do not comprehend these things.

Robert said...

I think the very fact of debate is what atheists can point to. Christians claim to possess the unalloyed, objective truth, but they are no closer to agreement on what exactly this truth consists of than they were 2 millennia ago.

The Christian god, if he exists, foresaw this confusion, and yet allowed it for reasons which his followers (or he himself) have yet to satisfactorily explain.

Mike Darus said...

The history of Christian theology hints of a scientific method of hypothesis followed by testing and verification. Our best theology sprung from hypotheses from those we now call heretics. Their assertions caused a search for clarity which came from looking for data of revelation in the Scriptures.

The Calvinist/Arminian debate is a great example of two hypotheses in conflict based on a very large base of agreement. The mistake would be to ignore the extent of agreement by focusing on the differences.

What is often lost is a sense of humility on questions that we don't have good data on. The paradox of divine sovereignty and human freedom is a good example. Another is a detailed understanding of heaven and hell. The data is sparse indeed.

When skeptics remind Christians that they have some unanswered questions on these issues, it is a good time to admit some ignorance. I keep hoping against hope that the evolutionists would realize something similar when they conjecture about origins. The farther back we go, the less evidence we have and the more conjecture must be injected.

Christian theologians don't seem to realize when they have crossed the line from divine revelation to human imagination. Likewise, evolutionary scientists fail to sense when they have lost sight of the fossil evidence and started imagining the oolor of the skin or insisting that the transitional fossil must be on the next ridge.

Robert said...

Another Robert wrote:

“I think the very fact of debate is what atheists can point to. Christians claim to possess the unalloyed, objective truth, but they are no closer to agreement on what exactly this truth consists of than they were 2 millennia ago.”

This is not quite accurate. A couple of things. First, if we have *any* group of humans we will have disagreement whether they are theists or nontheists! :-) Especially if they are thinking and intelligent people! :-)

Second, if we make a distinction between the essentials with which all Christians agree and the non-essentials of which there is disagreement, we see this statement to be false. Example, Christians agree that the bible is a revelation from God, though they sometimes disagree as to the proper interpretation of some of the verses. So for us it is an objective fact that the bible is a divine revelation, while subjectively we may sometimes interpret parts of it differently from one another. If you want to see what the essentials are, just look at the beliefs held across the board by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants (e.g., all hold to the Trinity, all hold that Jesus was God in the flesh, all hold to the bible being a revelation from God, all hold to the existence of God and that His character is loving, good, merciful, all hold to the importance of being in personal relationship with Him, etc.). You will find that while there is disagreement with regard to some beliefs, there is also broad agreement concerning many other beliefs.

“The Christian god, if he exists, foresaw this confusion, and yet allowed it for reasons which his followers (or he himself) have yet to satisfactorily explain.”

Actually the reality of the human capacity for choices partly explains these many differences to me. If the world were a necessitated world where we all believed exactly the same thing, there would be no differences. On the other hand, in a world where we make our own choices (including foolish choices and irrational choices), where rationality cannot exist without the reality of choice (again I encourage all to read Antony Flew’s essay on CHOICE AND RATIONALITY which demonstrates this point nicely) we would expect there to be differences. Take away the reality of choices and you have “vanilla” world; keep the reality of choices and you have “rainbow” world. If you want to see this played out with human persons study cultural anthropology and see how different cultures make different choices and how those choices lead to divergences of belief and practice. I believe that God wanted a “rainbow” world rather than a “vanilla” world. The various and divergent choices people make prove that, at least for me. And as one friend remarked recently: “that includes the right to be wrong!” :-)

Robert

John W. Loftus said...

The one thing I think it shows is as I said before, it doesn't matter who uses an argument, the argument stands on its own and should be evaluated according to its own weight. Any further attempt at saying I cannot argue against Calvinism (or the problem of evil) because I need an ultimate objective moral standard to do so is a red herring, pure and simple, for as a Christian theist that cannot be said of Vic.

Robert said...

The other Robert wrote: "Second, if we make a distinction between the essentials with which all Christians agree and the non-essentials of which there is disagreement, we see this statement to be false."

I don't think those who hold the "non-essential beliefs," as you describe them, would characterize them that way. Wars have been fought and lives have been ended over these "non-essential beliefs". Clearly they mean something dear to those who hold them.

The other Robert wrote: "If the world were a necessitated world where we all believed exactly the same thing, there would be no differences."

But we're not talking about the world; rather, we're talking about Christian theology. A unified Christian theology is not incompatible with a world in which different beliefs exist (outside the theology), particularly if that theology originates with a perfect being.

The other Robert wrote: "I believe that God wanted a 'rainbow' world rather than a 'vanilla' world."

Substituting "world" for "Christian theology," as is proper, then you're saying that God wanted confusion and disagreement in his church, which has historically led to much bloodshed and death.

Anonymous said...

Atheists say that their disagreement on things is different from Christians, because Christians claim the Bible as an infallible authority. But don't atheists claim reason and science as infallible authorities?

exapologist said...

No -- at least that's not inherent to atheistic or agnostic views. They can take the justification issuing from the standardly accepted sources -- perception, memory, introspection, rational insight, and testimony (and by extension whatever can be properly deductively, inductively, or abductively inferred from them) -- as defeasible. In fact, that sort of view about evidence and justification is the norm among analytic philosophers -- secular or otherwise. Accordingly, non-theists can hold their views tentatively, proportioning their degree of conviction to the strength of the evidence with respect to any given belief. But of course, that's true of theism as well.

Stan said...

Don't worry, Victor. Atheists may be using the Calvinism debate for their atheistic purposes, but they seem to be siding with you. ;)

(By the way ... we're practically neighbors.)