The Calvinist Dilemma...The Atheist Dilemma

[Written by John Loftus]
This is a continuation of a discussion that was started here where I said, "According to Calvinists I don’t believe because God has determined from the beginning of time that I should not believe."

To which amateur wannabe Calvinistic apologist Paul Manata replied:
John, you confuse causes and reasons for unbelief. At least get our position correct. The cause of your unbelief is God's determining that you'd be blinded. The *reasons* for your unbelief are, well, nill.

To which I wrote:
Paul, according to you then, the cause of your belief is God's determining that you'd believe. And according to me, the *reasons* for your belief are, well, nill. If God causes us to believe something, then God is also causing us to accept the reasons for that belief. If God causes us to accept our respective reasons for a belief, then what else can we do but believe? And if God can make us think our respective beliefs are reasonable, then why should we trust our reasoning abilities in the first place? As far as you can tell, God secretly is causing you to believe even though the reasons are on my side.

To which Dawson Bethrick said:
Touché, John! If "God controls whatsoever comes to pass," as Calvinists maintain, then even the believer's own "beliefs" are out of his own control. On the basis of their "worldview presuppositions," there would be no "reasons" underlying their own beliefs, because their beliefs were determined by an invisible magic being, not by logic and reason. They are not held on the basis of a supporting, rational context, for there is no autonomy in the cartoon universe of theism. Their own teaching denies them the rational basis of their beliefs that they so often claim to have. So they may "believe," but they do not know.

Paul Manata replied:
The point was to correct your ignorance of basic doctrines. We've already went over trusting our cognitive faculties within a theistic framework, now haven't we. You can pretend we've not addressed this as that delusion allows you to make your comments. You need to present the entire story correctly. It's not as if we didn't have revelation telling us that God desires we know truth, the world, Him, our relationship to him, the cultural mandate, etc. But, as loong as we're in table turning mode: If the *cause* of your beliefs are the laws of physics, then the laws *cause* you to think your resons are good. But, why trust the operation of the laws of physics to guide you to truth? So, I avoided my dilemma, now it's your turn. ;-)

My response.

I am not ignorant of what Calvinists believe. Why is it you assume that just because I disagree with you I'm ignorant? One of my professors was the dean of Evangelicalism for many years before he passed away, Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, who was an influential Calvinistic evangelical thinker at the time. He studied under the premier Calvinist of the last century, Karl Barth. I took a class with him on Calvinism, and I did my Master’s thesis on Karl Barth. We read through Calvin’s Institutes and discussed them in depth. I had an enviable education studying under leading thinkers among evangelicals (both Arminian and Calvinist, including Dr. Ronald Feenstra) Catholics (including a former President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association) and liberals (like Dr. Daniel Maguire), too. But according to you I’m ignorant on so many things. Hmmm. I just think you’re blinded by your theology.

I am stating my conclusions from it all. And my conclusions will stand the test of your objections. I have not detailed every logical step along the way for you to know I understand Calvinism, in particular. You still seem to think that if someone fully understands Calvinism or Van Tillian presuppositionalism then they could have no objections against either of them, and that quite plainly is ignorant. You even said Dr. William Lane Craig is ignorant about Calvinism, and the only basis for such a statement is that you naively think that if only people understood it, they'd believe it, and that attitude of yours is ignorant and uneducated. [What higher degrees do you have, Paul?] Besides, if God is keeping me from understanding Calvinism, then you have no right to complain if I disagree with it. You should just praise God that I reject Calvinism and evangelical Christianity with it. Why? Because my unbelief is bringing God glory. Praise God! [I know, I know, you have a mandate to offer reasons why I should believe and maybe those reasons might change my beliefs which may be what God really wants, since none of us know what his secret will is, okay?].

Now, about your Van Tillian presuppositionalism argument. You have no reason to trust it…none. Why? Because, from your own theology God is causing you to believe that argument, just like he’s causing me to reject it along with your whole theology. As far as your theology is concerned God may have made the reasons for unbelief much stronger than the reasons for belief and he’s causing you to believe what no reasonable person should believe as part of his secret will. Now how exactly did you avoid your own dilemna here? How? It applies to everything you might reply to me…everything. I must’ve missed it somewhere, maybe because I don’t understand what you wrote, eh? And to think you want to debate me. Get a real education first.

You said, “It's not as if we didn't have revelation telling us that God desires we know truth, the world, Him, our relationship to him, the cultural mandate, etc.” How exactly does this speak anything whatsoever against what I just argued? How? Apply some logic here if you can. The very reason you believe these things in the first place, according to your own theology, is because your God is causing you to believe them. And as I said, you have no reason to suppose that the evidence is much stronger against your beliefs…all of them. Your God can make you believe AGAINST THE EVIDENCE. Admit this, because I think the evidence is against what you believe.

Now, let’s say your theology is correct and that my conjecture is also correct. Then we each believe what your God causes us to believe. Reasons fly out the window. They no longer matter. God causes you to believe and God causes me not to believe, and that’s it. Puhleeeze don’t talk to me about this supposed and ridiculous distinction between God causing us to believe, and the reasons for what we each believe. Such a distinction is logically indefensible; what I have previously called logical gerrymandering. You do know what gerrymandering is, don’t you? Apply some logic here, if you can.

Now to my dilemna. You wrote: “But, as loong as we're in table turning mode: If the *cause* of your beliefs are the laws of physics, then the laws *cause* you to think your resons are good. But, why trust the operation of the laws of physics to guide you to truth?”

I will own up to my difficulty. You refuse to even see you own dificulty, which is a big difference between us. Own up to your difficulty and you will gain a little respect from me. You have no basis for believing that you have a reasonable faith, but won’t admit it. But the honest truth is that I have been led to reject some beliefs of yours. I am firmly committed to the rejection of Christianity and Calvinism in particular. They do not make sense to me. And in the earlier post I reviewed what I think of your case, here. I cannot bring myself to reject the conclusions of my mind, and that’s the bottom line. Can anyone? Can you?

The bottom line is that I think, and because I think I am entitled to my conclusions. That means I can never say that I am certain about my conclusions, or in my reasoning, but what I believe is what I’ve concluded from all of my experiences in life, all of my reading, and all of my thinking. So this is what I conclude, and I am within my epistemic rights to believe what I conclude, simply because I cannot bring myself to believe against my conclusions. That would be ridiculous, now wouldn’t it?

Let’s say this is the case, i.e., that our moral and religious beliefs are completely determined by our genetic makeup, and by when and where we are born. It still doesn’t follow that what I believe is false. I may be lucky and just happened to get it right.

And let's say that my genes and "the accidents of birth" made me the atheist that I am today. So what? If true, this does not undercut what I believe--it supports it in several ways. I’ll admit that our genes and cultural conditions have an extremely strong influence on us to believe certain moral and religious beliefs that cannot be empirically tested, something I’ve argued with regard to The Outsider Test For Faith [go to the link and scroll down for my posts on this test]. If I am an atheist because of my genetic makeup and these cultural conditions, then I'm right that our genes and our cultural conditions lead us to believe these things after all.

The best that could result from this admission is agnosticism. But this doesn’t grant you any ground whatsoever. For to be agnostic about my agnosticism would again be admitting the basis for testing any moral or religious belief system, and that is to be initially agnostic, or skeptical, all over again. So you see, I don't object to my own skepticism. I'm willing to be skeptical of my skepticism. But it's sort of redundant from my perspective, and so it merely reinforces itself. Besides, I would be quite content to be an agnostic, since my atheism isn't something I am that confident about. I'm merely asking on this Blog, given the proliferation of religions around the world and the fact that these kinds of beliefs are largely, if not totally dependent on the accidents of birth, why Christians aren't willing to test their beliefs with a healthy measure of skepticism? A skepticism with which I share.


paul said...

This is a great post.


Given the evangelical "christian" belief in the fallen state of man, I would think an attitude of skepticism should be at the top of the list for every one of them. If the "heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it," then doubt is a virtue. I believe each of us has an obligation to question our perceptions, and never hold any conclusion in absolute esteem. You demonstrate this virtue by being vulnerable and honest and saying you're not that comfortable in your atheism. I would really pay attention to a christian who made such an admission about their "christianity." "God hates a proud look." To me there is nothing more proud or arrogant than to not possess self doubt, the ability to question ones own perceptions. If God gave us our ears, eyes, nose, mouth, touch, brain, and put it all together in His image calling it good, we would be remiss if we stopped using them to search out truth, knowledge, understanding.

Chris Wilson said...

John-Is your atheism a manifestation of your distrust and contempt for organized religion? Is it a reaction to hypocracy and illogical underpinnings? What do you now believe regarding the organizing principle of the universe?

Anonymous said...

Chris, I've answered your questions here and elsewhere. Please stick to the topic at hand.

Anonymous said...

If what a Calvinist considers reasonable is put into his head by the Calvinistic God, then there is no way for such a person to know whether or not his beliefs are in fact reasonable, because there is no way for him to get outside his head to judge his beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Asked and answered.