No Magic Bullets!

I don't know how many emails I get each month from newly made atheists and agnostics, asking me for "ammo" to defeat an apologist's claim, to win an argument, or to cause someone to once and for all lose faith in Christianity. Here's how it ends up working; They get from me my views on a position and then naively assume that because I am an ex-minister, my answers will somehow make an atheist out of any theist who hears them. When this person's opponent has a reply for the objection I supplied them with, they are back again for another answer, unwilling to do their own research and somewhat perplexed that any other answers would be required. It is at this point that I explain to them that theists will always have some retort to offer up, as will the ardent believers of every cult or philosophical belief system. Newbies to the search for truth tend to want quick, simple, booming answers and tend to want to test the waters and see how formidable they are in debates. I consider both of these characteristics ridiculously juvenile.

Inquirers like these are looking for a "magic bullet" sort of answer, a "one shot deal", one they think is so indisputable that when confronted with it, a Christian or god believer will just melt and say, "OK, you got me. I will now renounce my faith and am an atheist from this day forward." This just doesn't happen.

Would that all who will be emailing me for answers with this mentality would read this: There are NO magic bullets! There is no one answer that totally destroys a belief system or answers a point that all will see and be receptive to anymore than there is one wrestling maneuver that will counter all kinds of attacks all of the time from all types of opponents. It is foolish to expect so. There will always be points, counterpoints, and counter-counterpoints, ad nausium. Anyone in any belief system can always put their spin on something and make a claim make sense no matter what the issue. If someone looks diligently enough for answers to the hard questions that trouble their belief system, they will find them. The Mormon finds "evidence" of Jesus having come to the Americas and witnessing to Native Americans regarding himself. The literal creationist finds "evidence" that the earth is 6,000 years old. Even the geocentrists and flat-earthers (rare as these may be) manage to come up with clever ways to respond to even the most sensible debaters who represent true science. Tons of information and misinformation is out there in a tremendous sea, waiting to be preferentially cyphened out by an individual. Psychology is involved in adopting the positions we hold and the lifepaths we choose to walk, factors beyond simple deductive and inductive reasoning. Humans have ways of making even the simplest of things complicated. The search for truth is never a simple one unless you are a gorilla...

1. Here are bananas.
2. I like bananas.
~ Therefore, I will eat them!

Nope! We humans just don't get off that easy! Our 3 pound brains bring us lots of heavy considerations, and there's no way to escape them and live.

The only way to get to the bottom of an issue and "prove" a conclusion is by being able to draw a demonstrable conclusion from an assortment of facts, and this usually requires a good level of knowledge. But this still does not guarantee everyone will accept it, and it shouldn't have to. Instead of getting discouraged at the fact that the hallway of truth is so dimly lit, at times making us uncertain of our own conclusions or whether we can really "know" anything, we ought to realize that the discovery of truth is first a deeply personal thing, then a collective thing. People will not automatically change their views, but one at a time, those individuals will change and come to form a new consensus.

So while it may say a lot to convince someone who does not agree with you, by sidestepping their objections and belief barriers, and leading them down the logical path to clarity of thought, this rarely, if ever, happens. Human nature always gets in the way. A paradigm shift is an arduous process. It takes time and reflection to occur if it ever does, and when it happens, no one ends up being able to take home the bragging rights for it's accomplishment. I have learned through the years to rejoice in the fact that the discovery of truth is of such a personal nature. Indeed, this is the biggest benefit of being able to call myself a freethinker: I don't have to agree with anyone! In the search for answers to the meaning of life, I came to find myself and contentment in the conclusions I draw. This means I am not terribly eager to fall on my face to hear what the "big guns" say about this or that subject. I am not aching to believe something just because someone smart or well known in a field believes it. I am only eager to believe something that rings of truth in my mind, as it "clicks" along the way of inquiry. For most of us, the seed of investigation can only be planted, and in time, may grow into the tree of knowledge that becomes our new world view. The search for truth is a journey, and journeys take time. Sensibility dictates that I must neither expect, nor look for magic bullets to complete the journey for anyone. There are no magic bullets!



paul said...

Wow Vadinci,


You just shot J.E. with a magic bullet.

Anonymous said...

JH – I agree with you that the path to truth is a truly personal experience and forums like this blog are places people can go to talk about their thoughts and ideas about the truth. With anything in life there can be multiple different ways to get the job done. In essence I often wonder if there are multiple paths to the truth, a path for every person if you will.

Anyway, thanks for another thought provoking article.

Anonymous said...

As one who wrote personally in this vein to a contributor to this forum, tho' not JEHolman, and who received a thoughtful and useful reply, I am offended by JEHolman's thoughts in this matter.

I am not 'a newly-made atheist [or] agnostic' and neither am I too lazy to think this through myself. I have been known to spend a full half-hour on my doorstep 'arguing' with Evangelists as baiting Bible-bashing morons is the only blood-sport I regard as acceptable. I cannot speak for the authors of the other emails to which JEHolman referred but in my case I was merely asking if the contributors to this forum, with their superior experience and knowledge, could suggest any 'better' challenges to put to these morons than "What were Jesus' last words from the Cross?" or "How did Judas Iscariot die according to the Bible?"

I am not foolish enough to expect a doorstep conversion. All I can hope for is to plant a tiny seed of doubt which in combination with a thousand other such tiny, perhaps even unacknowledged seeds accumulated over months if not years will act like sand in a gear-box and eventually bring the sufferer to the point of having to accept there is something fundamentally wrong with what they believe and bring about a re-examination of it. Whether or not they actually do I don't give a damn. As JEHolman rightly points out it is up to them and only they can do it. Trying to plant that seed is all I can do and if anyone can think of a better, more irritating, substantial and conclusive seed than those I mentioned I'd delighted to hear of it.

Joe E. Holman said...

Why are you offended at my thoughts? I have no idea who you are, but from your writing, you don't strike me as anyone who emails me nibbling for answers on everything.

I have no problem with anyone requesting answers or help on matters, but I do with those who don't bother to do the thinking that they should do for themselves. They're the type to mooch off the atheist "big guns" and then tangle themselves up arguing with everyone. It's quite annoying.

Truth is, the people I'm talking about would not likely be reading this, but emailing someone and monopolizing that person's time on questions they refuse to study out. for themselves.


Francois Tremblay said...

""I am only eager to believe something that rings of truth in my mind, as it 'clicks' along the way of inquiry."

Well, that would explain why you're an atheist."

Do explain this one to us, Christian. What makes YOU eager to believe something? How much you get "moved in the Holy Spirit"?

Instead of laughing, look at yourself in the mirror.

beepbeepitsme said...

Thank you and to your other contributors for taking the time to speak about these important issues.

It is difficult to be an atheist in a rigidly defined religious world.

It is like being the one in "The Emperor's New Clothes" who admits that they can't see that supposedly beautiful suit that everyone one else insists is there.

Anonymous said...

I think Obi Won said it best, that many of the truths we hold to depend on our point of view. There are no magic bullets for either side of the debate. You can look at all that we see in our universe and say it is all by chance, and explain through the scientific process how the universe came into existance without a Creator. You can also look at how precise things have to be to foster life and say it was by design, The earth a certain distance from the sun, the moon having to be that size and only one moon around a planet for life to exsist. All the many other factors that have to be a certain way for life to exsist can both be expained with or without the aide of a creator. A big problem with believing in the creation is that it is looked at as a single event instead of the true nature of creation which is a process. I don't know what the words in the ancient text of the bible were before translated but I beieve at some point, I can't back this up with solid proof but it is my opinion, the word period became day. As in the first creative period as opposed to the first day. It does change the creation story quite a bit in my opinion if this is the case. I don't think that God meant to hide his exsistance but to make it such that we do need to rely on faith to follow his plan of salvation to the end result. While you try to plant a seed of doubt about christian faith I try to plant a seed of doubt about atheism that maybe one day will lead you to the truth. It is a path that one must find on their own. If God were to make sure we did everything right and kept us all from sufering anything in this life he wouldn't be following his own plan and would efectivly take away our freedom. we are asked to endure to the end, endure pain, suffering, evil, ect until this trial of our faith is over and we make an accounting before God of our deeds wether they be good or bad. Contrary to the belief in many here he doesn't immediately remove our suffering ,disease and such upon asking him, but says endure these things for a short time and believe on his words, ask for forgivenss of our mistakes and keep on trying. He doesn't want anyone to go to eternal suffering. He wants us all to return to live with him and then be relieved of all suffering and pain, ect... many of the typical religious answers to problems are given because we too, like you, have no other explination but our belief tells us that God does have a reason and we think that somhow everyone should be happy with that answer because we believe it to be true. It will cause many to investigate their beliefs and they should continually. There is logic in Faith and belief in God and his gospel. There are freethinkers who are religious. Don't jsut right us all off as looneys. We try to do our best but we are human and make many mistakes.