Simon's reasons for abandoning Christianity

In the comment thread of Stuart’s ‘Liar, Lunatic or Lord’, Simon gave a number of reasons (out of “many others”) for abandoning his belief in Christianity. I find “deconversion” stories to be fascinating for their sameness, and for evidencing no good reasons for the deconversion itself. Simon is no exception. I’d like to address this post to him. Here are the reasons he gives, with my comments inline:

The blatantly false claims of miracles. Anywhere. Anyhow. (And 13 pages of excuses doesn’t impress me or any other sane thinker without compromising presuppositions)

i. Simon, how much research have you actually done into this topic? Plainly, you have no ability to test the miracle claims of the Bible itself, unless you’ve invented a time machine. So presumably you are testing modern miracle claims. In that case, can you direct us to the modern research you have conducted—the eyewitness testimonies you have evaluated; the scientific studies, if any; etc?

ii. Having done so, and persuasively shown that miracles do not occur today, can you then present a compelling reason to believe that the miracles in the Bible are myths? What correlation can you offer between modern miracle-claims being false, and biblical miracle-claims being false—without begging the question?

The realisation that I would have been equally zealous for my birth religion no matter which I was born into.

i. How could you actually know this? Do you have some kind of ability to look into all the possible worlds and recognize which ones would be actual, given some base parameters?

ii. How does this actually constitute a reason to reject any given religion? What if you had been born into an atheist household? Would that have constituted a reason to reject atheism? Or, would a person born into such a household, who then converted to Christianity citing the reason “I would have been equally zealous for my birth religion no matter which I was born into”, be offering some kind of persuasive testimony against atheism or for his chosen faith? In the same vein, what of people like myself who were born into a different religion, then deconverted from it and became atheists—and then later converted to Christianity? It’s hard to see how the “birth religion” argument is anything but a flagrant non-sequitur.

The convenience of anything religious as being ‘beyond’ falsification.

i. What do you mean by “anything religious”? Are you saying that no Christian truth-claims are falsifiable? That seems, itself, to be trivially false. If you don’t think that the authenticity of the gospels is a falsifiable belief, then why did you go to so much trouble trying to falsify it in the comment thread of Stuart’s article?

ii. What does falsifiability have to do with truth? Are you just presupposing that, in order to be justified in believing some proposition p, that p must be falsifiable? What if p is the proposition that “we are only justified in believing falsifiable propositions”? How would you go about trying to falsify p to show that you’re justified in believing it? In fact, isn’t it the case that the most strongly justified beliefs we have are actually unfalsifiable? I believe that I have a slight twinge in my neck right now. Is that belief falsifiable? Or is it in fact true by definition of its referent? Ie, I would not have the belief if its object were not true—so it is impossible for the belief to be false, and it is impossible to falsify it, even in principle? Similarly, what of the belief that “a mind-independent world exists”? How would you propose we falsify that? Should we actually consider our inability to falsify this belief as a reason to regard the belief as untrue? If not, what is your argument against unfalsifiable religious beliefs?

The fact that morality is largely the same no matter the religion (including the fact that the claim that all the ‘wrong’ people live in god’s universe and so exhibit similar morals works in any direction)

i. Again, how is this an argument against Christianity? In what way does it constitute a reason for disbelieving Christian truth-claims? Is it not, in fact, a Christian truth-claim that all people are made in the image of God and that “the law is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15)? So, isn’t this a reason in support of Christianity? Or do you reject confirmation theory—viz:

IC: If T raises the probability of e, then e is evidence for (raises the probability of) T.

Where we can see that T is a Christian truth-claim like Romans 2:15, and e is the fact that, indeed, all people appear to have the same law written on their hearts.

ii. Since an atheistic worldview cannot even ground morality as a prescriptive phenomenon, what is your alternative to the theistic view? Reduce morality to descriptions of how humans behave? If so, there is plainly an incongruity between your worldview and one of the basic facts of human existence—namely, the prescriptive nature of morality. Does this not serve to falsify your atheism? If not, why not?

75 replies
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  1. Damian
    Damian says:

    Hey Bnonn,
    I realise that you pretty much know Biblical scripture inside out and that you’ve probably given good thought to your strong claim that it is impossible for God to lie. But what do you make of the following?:

    “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived” – Jeremiah 20:7

  2. Simon
    Simon says:

    No it isn’t.

    Yes it is. The arguments you make involve ‘propositions’ which assume the conclusion you want. I don’t agree to your absurd propositions such as your definition of ‘miracle’, just as I don’t agree with your reason for having that definition: so that you can equivocate between the miracles in the bible – which you so want to be true – and the miracles you so want to still happen today.

    It seems like a pointless exercise since no one believes those definitions

    Yes, you keep telling yourself that! What is the symbol for rolleyes?

    You’re welcome to argue against your own definitions of omnipotence as much as you like. It seems like a pointless exercise since no one believes those definitions, but don’t let that stop you. Just don’t do it here. This is a place for debating the truth of Christian doctrines. If you aren’t going to do that, don’t post.

    On the contrary, this is the place for discussing my reasons for abandoning christianity. “The truth of christian doctrines” is not determined by whether the bible agrees with you, Bnonn! There is a real world out here, and most of it flatly disagrees with you.

    Firstly, the term “all powerful” applied to God without qualification

    All means all. Qualification nothing.

    I simply deny that God is “all powerful” in the sense you mean, because Scripture denies it.

    Okay, then. He is not all powerful.

  3. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I realise that you pretty much know Biblical scripture inside out and that you’ve probably given good thought to your strong claim that it is impossible for God to lie. But what do you make of the following?:

    “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived” – Jeremiah 20:7

    Hey Damian. That’s a reasonable question, thanks. In reply, I’d say two things:

    1. I think the burden of proof is on you to show that Jeremiah’s claim here is accurate. As the ESV Study Bible puts it with some irony, “cf Jer 12:1–4; 15:10–21; Jeremiah’s complaints are not always pure”.

    2. Even assuming you can show (1), which I don’t think you can because it’s not a legitimate complaint, but a merely Jeremiah having a sook, there is a distinction to be drawn between deception and lies. Lies are only one kind of deception. God may certainly deceive without lying himself—whether by means of ordaining someone else to lie (cf 1 Kings 22:22), or by immediately directing the psychologies of those he wishes to believe a falsehood (cf 2 Thessalonians 2:11).

    Hope this helps.

  4. Damian
    Damian says:

    Bnonn, I can see the logic behind the explanation that Jeremiah’s words might not have necessarily reflected the reality of the situation but find it harder to swallow the attempt to divorce the word “lie” from “deception” or God’s use of an intermediary to avoid the charge of deception.

    Cheers.

  5. Damian
    Damian says:

    Another thought: Does this mean that anyone commenting on anything Jeremiah says has a burden of proof regardless of how it relates to the general message of the rest of the Bible? Or does the burden of proof only lie with those claims that seem to contradict other parts of the Bible?

  6. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Simon:

    The arguments you make involve ‘propositions’ which assume the conclusion you want.

    If I have made such arguments, I will correct it or retract them. Show me where I have made them.

    I don’t agree to your absurd propositions such as your definition of ‘miracle’, just as I don’t agree with your reason for having that definition: so that you can equivocate between the miracles in the bible – which you so want to be true – and the miracles you so want to still happen today.

    Your disagreeing with my definition has nothing to do with my begging the question. In a debate, each side must be allowed to define their own terms. If my definitions are incoherent in some sense then that would prove their falsehood, but merely expressing incredulity does not advance any case against me. Furthermore, for the record, I have no particular theological convictions about the continuance of miracles today. I don’t have a considered opinion on that issue. I just think the prima facie evidence points to their continuance.

    Yes, you keep telling yourself that! What is the symbol for rolleyes?

    Can you give me an example of a Christian who believes the definition of omnipotence you are attacking? A Christian relevant to this debate? A theologian of note, for instance? A Christian philosopher? Even a lay apologist?

    On the contrary, this is the place for discussing my reasons for abandoning christianity.

    Indeed. I can see why you would find Christianity untenable if you thought that it taught that omnipotence entails the ability to do the logically impossible. But it doesn’t—so if this was one of your reasons for abandoning the faith, it was in error. You did not abandon a Christian doctrine in this particular instance, but your own ignorant view which happened to have the same name as a Christian doctrine.

    “The truth of christian doctrines” is not determined by whether the bible agrees with you, Bnonn!

    Indeed. Where have I suggested that it is? The issue here is whether you are debating against Christian doctrines so as to try to prove their falsehood, or whether you are debating against imaginary doctrines of your own invention. As I have shown several times now, you are doing the latter. That is a fallacy which, in standard nomenclature, is called a “strawman”.

    There is a real world out here, and most of it flatly disagrees with you.

    When you are ready to forward an argument to back up this claim, I’ll be waiting.

    All means all. Qualification nothing.

    Well, no it doesn’t. Even without needing to resort to credentialed scholars, this statement is manifestly false. If I say “I was up all night” that does not necessarily imply that I got no sleep whatsoever. It could be taken that way—but then if I qualify the statement by saying “so I only got a couple of hours of sleep”, what person would continue to insist that “all means all” and I must have meant that I didn’t get any sleep? The fact is that “what logicians call the domains over which quantifiers range need not be universal, but are often particular cases roughly presupposed in context” (William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction; p24). What you are doing here is indulging in another logical fallacy called “special pleading”, where you insist on treating a particular case of something differently to normal in order to sustain your argument. The truth is that “all” does not always mean “all” at all.

    Okay, then. He is not all powerful.

    Sure, according to your errant definition of what it means to be “all powerful”. But we must have established this several times by now. It does nothing to affect the truth or falsehood of the Christian doctrine of omnipotence. All it shows is the falsehood of your doctrine of omnipotence. Why should we care about that?

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Damian—

    Does this mean that anyone commenting on anything Jeremiah says has a burden of proof regardless of how it relates to the general message of the rest of the Bible? Or does the burden of proof only lie with those claims that seem to contradict other parts of the Bible?

    It depends on whether Jeremiah is speaking as an oracle of God, or merely as a man. Given the doctrine of inerrancy, anything which he is reported as having said is certainly reported accurately—but one can accurately report falsehoods as well as truths.

    If Jeremiah is speaking as an oracle of God (typically preceded by phrases such as “the word of the LORD came to me” or “thus says the LORD”, etc), then his speaking is like God speaking, and so is accurate and true. If, however, he is speaking merely as a man, then it is incumbent upon the careful interpreter to evaluate his words to be sure that they align with the rest of the biblical record, and with sound reason.

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I don’t agree to your absurd propositions such as your definition of ‘miracle’, just as I don’t agree with your reason for having that definition: so that you can equivocate between the miracles in the bible – which you so want to be true – and the miracles you so want to still happen today.

    Where were miracles defined improperly and how? I’ve been pretty careful with this and Simon merely asserts this without supporting evidence. Please provide a quote and a reason why you think the argument is circular.

  9. Simon
    Simon says:

    They aren’t defined ‘improperly’ (although they are by modern verification standards). They are merely defined so that one has basically no choice but to admit “well of course that’s possible“. Why are they defined in this way? In order to beg the conclusion that miracles happen.

  10. Damian
    Damian says:

    Cool! I’ll have to rejoin christianity. Then I can stay up all night and still get sleep.

    Heh. When I read Bnonn’s initial comment I thought that the phrase technically ought to be “I stayed up most of the night and only got a couple of hours’ sleep”. Which would translate across to God’s power as “mostly powerful” rather than “all powerful”. Or, “powerful X% of the time”.

  11. Ian
    Ian says:

    You can’t “rejoin” Christianity Simon, you never were a Christian remember… ;)

    As for definitions, I’d say it is more like “You can stay up all night unless that causes problems in which case you can sneak in a few hours sleep”.

  12. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    Regarding miracles, they are – according to you – not defined improperly (comment 60) but as an absurd proposition (comment 52). A definition that ultimately begs the conclusion miracles are possible.

    In your response you have;
    (1) failed to provide the definition of miracles we have given. A reasonable request.
    (2) failed to provide the reason why that definition is circular.
    (3) failed to offer any reason to think that miracles shouldn’t be possible.

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Damian and Ian,

    That God does not have the power to contradict his own nature is no real slight on Him. This is just how omnipotence is defined in the history of Christian thought. That because the biblical data has been systematised and the label used to speak of God’s tremendous power was chosen as “omnipotence.”

    In medieval thought God was considered as omnipotent precisely because he could create something from nothing – nothing to do with being able to do everything conceivable, like create a logical contradiction (as a self-existent God who doesn’t exist would be).

    As Christian’s have never conceived as omnipotence in the way Simon suggests, this isn’t a good argument. It creates a version of Christian belief which isn’t actually Christian belief and argues against that – this is known as the Strawman fallacy.

    So I think the real question you should ask Ian, in comment 62 is, “Why doesn’t Simon become a Christian?” It would be interesting to see him really engage with this question. Not just answer flippantly as is his pattern – with things like “because I don’t believe in God” – but with the integrity of a genuine seeker, who would ask, “Why don’t I believe in God?” and evaluate his answers according to the standards of good logic. I suspect that the real reason why Simon does not become a Christian, and originally abandoned his version of Christianity, is that he does not want to believe. Of course, desire and emotion are not any indication on whether a belief is true, or has more warrant than its contradictory.

  14. Ian
    Ian says:

    I don’t see why it is necessary cling to this notion of omnipotence at all when one could, with equal evidence, say that a god is simply powerful enough to do whatever said god needs to do and leave it at that.

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Very well. That’s close enough to that correct systematic theological definition. Then there is no contradiction in Simon’s argument so it fails to be a good reason to abandon (or stay abandoned) to Christianity.

  16. Simon
    Simon says:

    Okay stuart, you keep telling yourself that you’re staying up all night and still getting sleep. Meanwhile some of us are busy actually letting the real world inform us, rather than the other way round.

  17. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    Your making too much out of Bnonn’s use of the word all. I think he’s right – like when I say “I eat all the time!” I’m not literally meaning all of the time – but its irrelevant to the discussion on the cogency of your reasons to abandon Christianity.

  18. Simon
    Simon says:

    Okay, that’s fine. We agree. God is not all-powerful all of the time; he is not all-powerful.

    It is partly relevant to my reasons for shedding christianity in the sense that you are not prepared to see logic for what it is. It is but a tool. If god was the origin of all logic, how is it that we are now even conceiving of concieving of a power more powerful than god; a power that can manipulate logic? Yet our language and logic allows this! How are you ever going to ground your understanding of god? For even if you were given the understanding by god himself, in what way can that understanding be objective, what would it be objective to without being external (and more foundational) to god himself? Who created god? To say he is uncreated would be like particle physicists insisting that quarks are made of ‘nothing’.
    Our descriptions of the world are axiomatized models. But we cannot ground them properly, for what would that to which we ground things be grounded upon? This does not mean our descriptions are uselsess, it just means that they are descriptions.

  19. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    You’ve asked a lot of questions. Questions are fine to ask, but they’re not arguments.

    I think there might be an argument in here, but you’ll have to articulate it a lot more clearly.

  20. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    If god was the origin of all logic, how is it that we are now even conceiving of concieving of a power more powerful than god; a power that can manipulate logic?

    What power? You seem to have a different view of the discussion than I do. I haven’t suggested any such power, and neither do I acknowledge one. The idea itself is incoherent; if you’d read the fairly short section of the PDF I linked, you would understand that.

    For even if you were given the understanding by god himself, in what way can that understanding be objective, what would it be objective to without being external (and more foundational) to god himself?

    Why do you think our understanding being subjective is a problem? And how, if it is, is that not a double-edged sword with regard to understanding anything at all, including things which you apparently think are quite comprehensible?

    To say he is uncreated would be like particle physicists insisting that quarks are made of ‘nothing’.

    I don’t see the analogy. You’ll need to actually argue for it. There is nothing inherently problematic about saying that God is uncreated, unless you believe that uncreated things are intrinsically impossible. In that case, you will need to argue for your position, since there is no prima facie reason to accept it. Furthermore, you will need to overcome some fairly difficult problems re infinite regress.

    Simon, I’m going to be blunt. Either present an argument in your next comment, or do not comment again. At this point you are really just wasting everyone’s time.

  21. Simon
    Simon says:

    Questions? Lol. Look at the OP. Look at Bnonn’s last comment. There has never even been a cogent argument agaisnts my statements in the OP.

    Anywho, I’m glad you guys agree that god is not all-powerful.

    Bnonn,
    I don’t mean objective as in objective vs. subjective. I just mean objective as in grounded.

    I think the analogy is very good. Everything is made of matter(particles), just like everything is caused.
    I can’t believe that you have managed to be so deceitful as to insist that it has to be proven by me that an uncaused thing can’t exist. Nothing we have ever come across in our universe is uncaused and it is ME that has to show that it doesn’t exist?!! Please, Bnonn, you really have deluded yourself.

    I am comfortable that I cannot ground logic or knowledge, ultimately. I am comfortable with infinite regress, and I am comfortable with contradiction. I can see why you are so angry Bnonn, living in this real word.

  22. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I particularly like the bit where he says ” just like everything is caused.” That’s wonderfully similar to the Kalam Cosmological argument’s first premise. In any case he just is assuming again that everything is made up of matter or particles. That is obviously no the case. That proposition itself is not made up of matter or particles, and neither is God – the first cause.

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