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with an Agnostic
The following is continued from Correspondence with an Agnostic - Part One. My comments to which the agnostic is responding to are in purple and enclosed in double "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. The agnostic's responses are in black and enclosed in single "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My replies are in red.
Dear Gary, Thanks a lot for giving me such a detailed response. I definitely want to reply because now we're getting down to the real issues!<
Sorry for the delay in responding but I have been busy getting ready for Christmas. Also, my health took another turn for the worse. But I will do my best to respond to your response.
>>The first thing that jumps out at me is your mention of being a "Charismatic Christian."<<
>As I see it, the Bible is ambiguous on a number of the bones of contention between Charismatics and non-Charismatics. Given that unlike you, I do not find Christianity intellectually appealing at the moment (and for reasons that apply to Calvinism too), the only thing that it could have in its favour is the 'signs and wonders' - evidence that God does exist and is working in peoples' lives. Charismatic Christianity provides this (although I wonder how much can be explained psychologically) more than other denominations. If I did find answers to my problems, this would no longer be the case and I would not have a problem with other denominations.<
One my frustrations in e-mail discussions, along with Newsgroups, is trying to figure out where someone is coming from a few sentences or, at best, paragraphs in their e-mail or Newsgroup post. If I was talking to someone face-to face- I would try to find out their background, especially in regards to the Christian faith, their specific objections, etc. (Prov 18:13).
But in writing back and forth it is very difficult to do so. It is also frustrating trying to express myself in a manner that people will understand where I am coming from, especially since, as I said, my health is very poor so I am unable to sit at my computer for very long. So it is difficult for me to give people detailed replies.
That is why in e-mails and Newsgroup posts I often just point people to articles I have already written on the subject, if I have any, and leave it at that.
>>Second, you mention that you "was" a Christian. Here my first disagreement with the charismatic movement will come into play. The charismatic movement is by and large Arminian in its theology. A part of the Arminian belief system is the idea that a true believer can loose his salvation.
Contrasted with this Calvinist or Reformed system that I ascribe to. In this system is the belief of "eternal security" or better, "the perseverance of the saints." According this belief, a true Christian will not totally and finally fall away from the faith.<<
>My church did believe in eternal security actually.<
Unique for a charismatic church but not unheard of.
>>So if the latter is true, then I see two possibilities: 1) You were never truly a Christian in the first place. 2) God may be allowing you to "struggle" for awhile but he will eventually bring you back to the faith.
This difference is important. It leads me to ask why you became a Christian in the first place. You don't mention if you were raised in a Christian family, or if you became a Christian later in life. If the former, then I must ask, did you just become a Christian because your parents were? If so, was it really YOUR faith?<<
>I was brought up a Christian, but re-affirmed it myself at various stages as I grew up. This means that although I cannot point to a moment of conversion, I would say that it was MY faith. I therefore think that if God does exist, then your option 2) is what is happening - God wants me to learn some things, and will bring me back to faith (by giving me answers to my problems) when I have learnt them.<
Thanks for the clarification.
>>Let me just say, IMO, there is only one reason to become a Christian, because you realize you are a sinner that needs a Savior. This will become important as I go on.<<
>I couldn't agree more. And that is my main problem: I no longer believe that I am a 'sinner', as I will explain later.<
A main point of difference then.
>>As for the other possibility, you say you are "still trying to work my belief system out." So you have not become "hardened" in your current beliefs. So maybe God is still dealing with you.<<
>I cannot become 'hardened' in my current beliefs because they are contradictory! Half of me is atheist, and the > other half Christian, so I end up a split-personality agnostic!<7
Personally, I would find it very difficult to live in a state of holding "contradictory" beliefs. Which is one of the reasons why I am a Christian. I believe the Christian worldview is a logically consistent viewpoint, as I try to point out in articles throughout my Web site.
>>In any case, I mention this as I can understand that if you go to a school and have a bunch of atheistic professors claiming there are a "multitude of intellectual problems" with the Christian faith, it could cause a crisis for a believer. This would especially be so if, as I suspect, there was no one of equal caliber or authority around to refute their claims.<<
>I take your point, but:
a) It wasn't what I was being taught in Philosophy that caused problems, it was the analytical way of thinking that I learnt (which of course was a good thing).<
As stated, I believe the Christian faith is a "logical" viewpoint and can be defended as such. In fact, I would say it is with only within the Christian worldview that there is a basis for logical and "analytical thinking" as I point out in my article Voyager, Science, and the Christian Faith that I pointed you to in my first reply.
>b) I've done a lot of my own thinking, and my main problem of 'free will' (see below) goes against my tutors!<
>c) I have raised all my problems with respected Christians and to my mind haven't had them dealt with.<
As I said previously, I was also unable to find Christians to talk with that were able to answer my questions so I turned to reading. The kind of books I read are represented in the "bibliographies" and footnote sections at the end of my articles. The writings of Francis Schaeffer and Gordon Clark are two in particular that have been very helpful to me in formulating my worldview.
>>To be honest, this was one of my concerns in writing that article [Dead Men DO Bleed!], that it could lead to a "skeptical" view of life. But I proposed a "sample" of questions that I thought could be asked to try to evade this skepticism. One of these was, "can a person live consistency with the worldview on a day-by-day basis?" I would say that a true skepticism would not be truly livable. No decisions could ever truly be made. A consistent skeptic could not affirm that two plus two equals four.<<
>But why is consistency important? If you believe philosophically that nothing can be known, there is nothing wrong with saying "OK, I think that's the truth, but since I can't know if my life has any ultimate meaning, I may as well make the most of it and be happy, which will mean not applying my skepticism in everyday life". There is no reason why the truth should be easy to live with.<
Or I might as well commit suicide and end all of my suffering now. Such a "leap of faith" that you propose is probably only possible because of your Christian background. But if a person does not have such a background, and his life is one of constant pain as mine is, the conclusion that life has no ultimate meaning would more rationally lead to suicide than for the person to try to "make the most of it and be happy." Be assured, for someone like myself whose body has been falling apart piece-by-piece for over 15 years, "happiness" is not very easy to come by.
Moreover, if "philosophically nothing can be known" then there would be no basis for modern-day science, or "truth" in general. As such we would see a great breakdown in our society.
On the subject of science, see the article I referred to above. As for the more general question of "truth" and the consequences of saying it cannot be known, see the article Truth (it is written by a friend of mine, not me).
>Maybe you would question the value of the skepticism if you don't act on it in your everyday life? Well, it does effect your life because it means that (for me at least) you go for maximizing your own happiness (which if you have been brought up with morals will involve being nice to other people), rather than perhaps joining a(nother) religion.<
Again, I personally could not hold to a worldview that I could not act on in my everyday life. Further, "if you have been brought up with morals" - but what if you have not been?
The "mantra" of teenagers in the 60s was "Do whatever you want, as long as you dont hurt anyone." But now that the 60s generation has teenagers of their own, they seem to be having a hard time teaching their kids that "exception" clause. The rate of violence among youth in the USA is skyrocketing. It seems possible to me that the kids have figured out there is no basis for saying, "As long as you dont hurt anyone" in such a worldview.
Furthermore, there are other ways of hurting people other than just physical. If I want to "get something" off of a woman, why not just lie to her and tell her I love her. So what if I hurt her feelings later, as long as the sex helps to "maximize my happiness."
Also, what about love, compassion, charity, and most of all, self-sacrifice? I continue to do this ministry at much sacrifice to myself. As I said, my health is such that just sitting at this computer is very difficult. It would be much easier for me to just "hang it up." But I continue to push myself out of a desire to serve God and other people. Such a desire is a natural result of my worldview. But the viewpoint youre promoting, as far as I can tell, provides no such basis or reason for self-sacrifice, etc. The only way some one would be self-sacrificing would be for them to "leap" beyond their worldview rather than act in accordance with it. But again, there is no reason why they should.
It seems to me you are operating with the "memory" of your previous Christian upbringing. But eventually, the "tension" will be too much. If not in your life then in the lives of your kids, this tension will break and there will be no basis for morals left.
>>In any case, how do we get out of this epistemological circle? Well, as you say, you could "argue" that atheism could answer my questions as well as Christianity. But it is in that "arguing" that questions can be decided. At least, we each need to make that decision. I have always believed that a person needs to look at both sides of an issue and decide for themselves, at least on the human side.<<
>>But there is another way to look a this question. From the Calvinist viewpoint that I ascribe to, regeneration precedes faith. This is opposed to the Arminian view that faith precedes regeneration. What this means is, that it takes a special act of God for someone to first come to believe in God unto salvation. When God regenerates the mind, a person can then "see" the problems with atheism, or other worldviews, and come to see the truthfulness of the Christian faith.<<7
>a) This is very convenient for Christianity isn't it, since anyone who has problems with it can be told "Your mind is unregenerated"!<
I have never said to someone, "you cannot understand this because you are unregenerate." I simply mention this as, to me, it is part of the overall Christian worldview that I promote. And with such Calvinist points as this, everything begins to "fit" together in a logical whole.
>b) Doesn't this contradict what you said in response to my point 3?<
God generally works through "means" and one of the means that He uses to bring His people to Himself is the preaching and defense of the Gospel. So there is no "contradiction" between saying God needs to regenerate someone for them to believe and apologetics.
>>But in the Reformed view, God is under no such obligation. We are all sinners who deserve damnation. If God were to damn us all He would be totally just to do so.<<
>This is the crux of the matter for me. I do not believe that we are sinners who deserve damnation. There is a distinction between committing a sinful act and being morally responsible for that act. To be a sinner deserving damnation you have to be morally responsible for your sinful acts. But I am convinced that humans are not morally responsible for their actions i.e. they don't have 'free will'.
It is only worth communicating my reasoning for this in its full form, and so I have attached a document outlining it and dealing with various objections that have been raised against it. So please don't reach any conclusions until you have read it! (if anyone reading this wants a copy, my E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). Suffice to say, the model of the mind that I advocate, I believe fits the facts of human decision-making better than any other.<
Thank you for the document. I do not have time to comment on all of it. And to be honest, I am not sure I understand everything you are trying to say. But I will make a few remarks about your introduction and conclusion.
You write in the introduction:
Free will will be taken to be about moral responsibility, which may be seen to be a concept that is used to refer to when it is morally fair to hold someone to account for what they have done. Whether you see people to be morally responsible depends upon two things: the model of the human mind and decision-making that you explicitly or implicitly hold to; and the conception of responsibility you apply to that model.
In this, you seem to be assuming that if we do not have "free-will" in an absolute sense then we are not morally responsible. Let me say, I, and Calvinists in general, do not believe in "free-will" in this sense either; but we still believe we are morally responsible.
As this is a complicated topic, I will refer you to a book I review on my Web site: No Place for Sovereignty.
Please read the review and, if possible, attain a copy of the book. Dr. Wright discusses the subject of human "free-will" and responsibility at length.
Next, you write in the conclusion:
I have gained considerably from applying the Collective Self model to myself, since it enables me to accept myself as I am, and understand what is going on within me.
d) Interpersonal relations: it enables you to understand people much better. Although you accept difficult people completely as they are in the moment (since you know they ultimately couldnt help being who they are), you know that there is potential to help them change. For instance, it might be necessary to pretend to be angry with them in order to discourage them from doing something.
First, the claim of "accepting" yourself could be used to justify any behavior a person wants, especially when combined with your "maximizing my happiness value. See my article "But I Was Born This Way" for my comments in this regard:
Second, you believe you should try to "change" other people. But from within your "skeptical" worldview, I dont see what gives you the "right" to try to change anyone. There seems to me to be no basis for deciding what behaviors need to be changed. If someone is a "nasty" person then who are you to try to change them? Maybe they are "happy" being nasty so they should be left alone. "Maximizing ones happiness" is the ultimate value is it not? So let them in their "happiness.
>Given the model of the mind that I outline in the document, I believe that fundamentally all humans are 'decent', in the sense that we are minds that are trying to defend what we perceive to be our interests, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do since if we did not look after our interests we would not survive in the world.
If we end up hurting others it is simply because our mind (conscious and unconscious) has come to perceive it as in our interests (making both our emotions and possibly our thoughts in favour). Such misperceptions arise because we partly learn through making inferences about things, and are bound to make wrong inferences, particularly in childhood. As humans we therefore inevitably do things 'wrong', not because of 'original sin', but because we have limited processing capacity.<
I guess I have read, listened to, and watched too much news to believe "that fundamentally all humans are 'decent'" in any sense. The human capacity for evil is simply to great. On the other hand, we also have the capacity for great acts of good. To me, the Christian position of humans being created in the image of God, yet fallen best explains this dual capacity of people.
>Some other related thoughts:
a) Isn't there conflict between the concepts of original sin and moral responsibility for our sin? If there is original sin then we cannot help sinning, in which case how can we be held morally responsible? Whereas if there was moral responsibility surely one person could potentially go through life deciding not to sin, which the Bible appears to deny.<
We are morally responsible because God says we are (Rom 9:14-24).
>b) Isn't God unreasonable in demanding perfection anyway? OK, we might need to be perfect to be able to live with him in Heaven, but if we're not then isn't it fairer to just 'extinguish' us when we die, instead of putting us eternal torment? OK, you'll probably say "Who are we to judge?", but haven't we been created in God's image and so given his sense of justice?<
We are created in the image of God, yet fallen. So we cannot depend on our inner "sense" for determining right and wrong. That is why God gave us His written revelation.
God demands perfection because He is perfect and holy and just. He is the basis for determining right and wrong, what is "fair" or not fair.
>>Given all of the facts, the unregenerate person would not want to accept Christ. Doing so requires that a person admit that he is a sinner that needs a Savior. It further requires one to submit to God, to make Christ their Lord. But the unregenerate person would not, nay, cannot do so (1Cor 12:3).<<
>This of course depends upon how you view human nature. Given my view outlined above (and given in detail in the document), I would say that given it is in everyone's interests to accept Christ, if they do not then it is because they are mis-perceiving their interests (or more accurately, the unwise part of them is stronger than the wise part). It is this mis-perception of interests that I meant by 'insanity'.
So smokers ARE 'insane' (or to put it more mildly, 'psychologically unhealthy') on this definition, since although they know it isn't good for them, they still do it, because the addictive feelings have a majority over their wise thoughts, a majority that they didn't choose.<
Youve just declared millions of people to be "insane." Throw in all the rest of the self-destruction behaviors that people engage (drugs, promiscuous sex, etc.) and probably the vast majority of people would be "insane" by your definition. Actually, this would be consistent with the belief in original sin" and the fallen nature of human beings, but not with your idea that humans are all "fundamentally decent."
>So someone might not want to admit that they are a sinner and submit to Christ, because the inferences (conscious or unconscious) they have drawn from past experience are that the best way to cope in life is to think well of yourself and be strong in yourself. A Christian might call this 'pride', I would call it a reasonable psychological response. Equally though, peoples' need for meaning in their lives would help to counter this.<
First off, "pride" (or even better, rebellion against God) makes as much sense as what you say. It would depend on the starting point.
On the other hand, a persons past experiences may have shown them that they cannot depend on themselves (such as all the "insane" people who engage in self-destructive behavior). So they recognize the need for a "higher power" to help them overcome their behaviors.
Moreover, without "meaning" in life a lot of people who are "trapped" in this behaviors very often could end up committing suicide. And again, I dont see how your "skeptical" worldview provides any such meaning.
>I still think though, that in the majority of cases this would not occur if someone was faced with God giving them the facts, because the certainty of the experience with God would override the previous experiences from which they had drawn their inferences.<
God has given us the "facts" in His Word.
>Responding to each of your examples then:<
>>Then there are the multitudes of people who continue to engage in "unsafe" sexual practices. If the threat of AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and the host of other STDs do not cause them to turn from their ways, why do you assume that the threat of hell would?<<
>If someone knew for certainty that they were going to die if they didn't wear a condom on a particular occasion, then they would wear one. Humans just aren't very good at weighing up risks when it comes to probabilities not certainties.<
Maybe, maybe not. Again, there are a lot of suicidal people out there.
>>The Bible records many other instances where a miracle does not cause someone to turn form there sin and to God; but instead hardens them in their sin (Exod 7-11; Numb 14:11; 1Kings 19:1f; Matt 21:14f; 28:11-15; Luke 16:31; John 2:23-25; 9:13-34; 11:45-53; 12:9-11,37-41; Acts 4:14-22).<<
>I can't accept evidence from the Bible since that requires making a premise I'm not willing to.<
People have "dramatic" experiences all the time. Sometimes it changes them, sometimes it does not. I just referred to the Bible as an easily accessible example.
>>If God were to appear to a die-hard atheist, do you really think the atheist would change his mind about the existence of God? Or would he be more likely to write off the experience as being an hallucination?<<
>If God's appearance could be put down to an hallucination, then it wouldn't be certain enough. I envisage God appearing to the whole world once every week, which could not be explained away. Then the atheist would change his mind.<
>>If God were to appear to a New Ager and warn him about hell, would the New Ager really change his mind about the existence of hell? Or would he write off the experience as being a "false" spiritual experience.<<
>The same applies as for the atheist.<
Before I because a Christian, back when I was "investigating" different belief systems, I did NOT put together what I thought God, if he existed, should be like and then look around to see if there was a religion that taught my viewpoint of God.
I realized that if there was a God, then He was who He was; and I, as a little speck in His universe really had no place telling Him what He should be like. So I have a hard time understudying your apparent attitude, "This is how God should act; but He doesnt, so I wont believe in Him."
As I said previously, from a Christian and especially Reformed viewpoint, God is under no obligation whatsoever to save anyone, to reveal Himself to anyone, to give everyone a "fair" chance to be saved, or anything of the like. God is God, He decides how and who He shall save.
>>Here again is your charismatic background coming out. One of my biggest problems with the charismatic church I attended, and the charismatic movement in general, was the anti-intellectualism promoted. In fact, a part of the "Confession of Faith" for the church was the statement, "We are called to proclaim the Gospel, not to defend it."
Like you, I had many questions I needed answered. But no one at the church seemed willing or able to provide such answers. Fortunately, God led me to do a lot of reading of my own. It was this reading that was the means He used to bring me to faith.<<
>I don't think you can generalize about the Charismatics being anti-intellectual. The Church leaders I have spoken to are into apologetics, but because it is based upon Biblical reasoning, it means that it is difficult for someone from an alternative belief system to communicate with them.<
I was basing my comments here on my own experiences with the charismatic movement, both here in the Pittsburgh area and in the Denver area. But you are correct that I should not "generalize" from my experiences to all charismatics.
You are also correct that it is difficult for someone who has been involved long in a Christian, or any other viewpoint, for an extended period, to look at things from another view.
>>In any case, in the Reformed view the intellect is "fallen" yes. But this does not mean it cannot be trusted in any absolute sense. Yes, we can make mistakes in reasoning. And yes there is the aspect of sin and rebellion against God that needs to be accounted for. But we are still created in the image of God even after the Fall (Gen 9:6; James 3:9). And God is a rational Being and He created us to use the reasoning He gave us. As such, the defense of the faith is one of the means that God uses to bring His elect to Himself (1Peter 3:15).<<
>I think there is a tension here, given what you said earlier about 'unregenerate man'.<
3 x 3 = 9. That is a true statement. I know that truth is possible within a Christian worldview because the universe was created by a rational God in a rational manner and he gave us rational minds in order to be able to understand it.
However, I can remember a time in college when I was doing some math homework. I just couldnt seem to get the right answer. I checked, and re-recheck, my calculations and it seemed I was doing everything right. But the answer was always wrong. After getting frustrated, I set it aside for a while. When I came back to it, I noticed that at one point in the calculation I did the following: 3 x 3 = 6.
My point is, that in the Christian worldview, truth is possible can be found; but we are fallen, so we are prone to mistakes. Hence, the Christian worldview provides a basis for knowing truth, yet precludes the over-confidence that scientists are prone to. Again, see the above mentioned "Voyager" article, along with my article Science and the Bible that I also referred to in my first reply and the upcoming "Truth" article.
>>Your comment here reminds me of a post I saw in a "Christian" Newsgroup once. The poster stated, "Name one thing that God can do that a powerful deceiver couldn't do to the extent that you cannot tell."<<
I figured youd like that one! But I need to point out how impossible it would be to live consistently with such a belief. For instance, someone else responded to this same person. He pointing out that the person had posted a message in a "Singles" Newsgroups saying he was "looking" for someone. If life is really nothing but a deception, why bother? "She" wouldnt really exist anyhow.
Moreover, if the universe is just an deception, why bother to investigate it? See under the sub-sub-title "1. Nature is real" in my "Voyager" article. My comments there would apply to this viewpoint also.
In addition, if life is just a deception, given that I have been "deceived" into a life of suffering, then I might as well as commit suicide and end the deception.
>>Everyone has to start somewhere in determining truth. Or to put it another way, we all have to start with some kind of presuppositions and epistemologies; some posting in this thread (and elsewhere) start with the assumption that empiricism (and consequently science) are THE way to determine truth. But can you prove that?
Others start with the presupposition of the existence of God; can that be proven? Not anymore than you can prove you are not a dream. But that's the point. Its a presupposition.<<
>OK, we're not talking about proof anymore. When it all comes down to it you just go by subjective probability (to give you 'personal proof' when you go over your own required probability level), using the most objective method you can given the situation. On this basis it appears to me that it is easier to gain personal proof of the existence of Satan (or at least evil spirits) than the existence of God, since although Satan (if he exists) wants some not to believe in him (since that could bring them to God), he does reveal himself in predictable ways when people become involved in the occult (whereas God is unpredictable). The only problem with this are the personal risks of getting involved in the occult if he does exist!<
I am not sure where you get your idea that God is unpredictable yet Satan is predictable. So really cannot comment beyond what I said above.
>>To add to the above, IMO, it would be difficult to trust your reasoning in any worldview other than a theistic one.<<
>That isn't an argument for believing theism though.<
It is an argument for a worldview that makes "truth" a possibility.
>>First, I need to address your apparent definition of the word "faith." You seem to think that "faith" is something beyond the intellect. Biblically, faith is simply my intellect operating. It is taking what one knows is true and acting upon it. To put it another way, a Christian commitment is not a "leap of faith" but a step in the direction that one's intellect is taking him. I would say that Biblical faith is intellectual assent plus commitment.<<
>But if, as we agree, you cannot prove anything, you must instead operate on the basis of probability not certainty. There will therefore always be an element of a 'leap in the dark'.<
Given that the name of my ministry is "Darkness to Light" I would prefer to say it is a "step into the light" - but theres not sense in arguing semantics. Furthermore, with deductive reasoning, as is used in presuppositional apologetics, certainty is possible (as opposed to the induction used in evidential apologetics to which your comments would apply).
See my Newsgroup Post on Josh McDowell and Apologetic Methods for more on this point.
>>As for your comments about "emotionally believing" I assume you mean this as opposed to "only" believing intellectually. Let me say Biblically either one believes or he does not believe. There are not two kinds of belief (except for hypocritical versus true belief but I don't think that is what you are referring to).<<
>I think the human mind is much more complex than that. When the Bible was written they didn't have the benefit of modern psychology (he says provokingly!). I know that I personally have unconscious beliefs about the world and myself that differ from my consciously thought out ones.<
I do not see how you can "know" about something that you are "unconscious" of. But I will stand by what I said (and ignore your comments about psychology as that would really get us side-tracked!).
>>As for experience, yes God might use some kind of experience as the turning point in someone's commitment, or maybe to get their attention. But again, a true Christian faith would not be based on this "experience" but on the truthfulness of the Gospel and one's need for a Savior.<<
>But it's the experience that helps them believe the truthfulness of the Gospel and their need for a Savior.<
I am currently reading the first issue of the Journal of Christian Apologetics published by Michigan Theological Seminary. In it is an article titled, "The Personal Testimony of the Holy Spirit to the Believer and Christian Apologetics" by Gary Habermas. I refer to one of Habermas books in my article Has Christ in Fact Risen?
In any case, Habermas relates how he went through a period of "intense doubting" of the Christian faith for a period of about ten years. He eventually came through this doubt when, " the factual questions were finally assuaged only by the data" (p.51). More specifically, Habermas believes, among other things, "The cornerstone of salvation, the Gospel data, can be historically verified" (p.63).
The context of these statements is Harbermas discussion of the "testimony of the Spirit" to the believer that he is a child of God. But he is careful to point out that this "experience" is not the basis of salvation, but apologetics is.
Habermas also relates an interesting point that relates back to our discussion on eternal security. He writes, "Long before I had ever studied the work of the Holy Spirit, and precisely during these times of doubt, I had often experienced what I could best describe alternately as an unusually potent restraint or a personal conviction concerning the truth of Christianity. Especially during the times of my most intense religious doubt, I had the distinct impression that I could not relinquish my Christian faith" (p.50).
He then proceeds to explain why he believes this "impression" can not be "explained in psychological terms" (p.63).
I mention all this as it has been my experience also. I have had my times of doubt, with my body and life falling apart on me. I discuss such times in my article Value of an Intellectual Faith that I previously referred you to. I originally wrote that article in 1991 for The Shield newsletter. I then revised it somewhat and re-printed it in my newsletter at the beginning of this year (1997).
When I re-printed it my life was in worse shape than at the original writing, and I am in even worse shape now. But through it all I have always had the "impression" that Habermas mentions. So yes, experience plays a part, but not as an apologetic to prove the faith. But as an assurance to the believer.
For me to ever leave the Christian faith, I would have to somehow "forget" all the reasons I think it its true, along with somehow shaking off this "impression."
Incidentally, Francis Schaeffer also mentions about a time when he went through an extended period of "doubt" in his books also. He took several months off of ministry and re-thought through all the reason why he went from being an atheist to a Christian. And for purely intellectual reason he remained a Christian.
I mention all of this to indicate that even those of us involved in apologetics ministry have our periods of doubts. But we resolve them through intellectual means. But this does not negate the testimony of the Spirit as "contributing an assurance" as Habermas puts it (p.59).
I am not sure if any of the above is meaningful to you or not. But as I just finished the above mentioned article, I thought it would be worth relating. Also you might want to check out this new "journal." I am only part way through the articles in it but it seems very good. See the link above for further information on it.
>>It is true that once one begins to go in a certain direction that they will "find" supporting evidence along the way. As a person becomes involved in his new belief system he will come across others with similar beliefs, and this will help to confirm his new commitment. But none of this affects the question of whether the initial change was "correct" or not.<<
>I think it undermines the reliability of their judgement, and so the initial change.<
>>Moreover, people often change their beliefs within a system or from one system to another, or go back and forth between systems. So these "confirming" experiences are not all encompassing.<<
>I'm not saying the experiences are all encompassing, just that intellectual support is a necessary but not sufficient condition.<
See my comments above.
>>This sounds like William James and his book The Variety of Religious Experiences. I read this book quite a few years ago before becoming a Christian. As I remember, he did make some interesting observations, but I did not think all the "experiences" he described could be explained away via purely "psychological" means. There were objective elements that could be critiqued.<<
>Thanks for the reference. It's those "'experiences' that cannot be explained away via purely psychological means" that make me agnostic and not an atheist (on the basis of my subjective judgement of probabilities).<
>To summarize, I think it would be fair to say that our basic difference is over human nature. I believe that I and all humans (no matter how 'twisted') are fundamentally 'decent', and so I have no fear in meeting God on judgement day.<
You are correct that "our basic difference is over human nature" or at least that is one of our fundamental differences.
To summarize what I have said, unless God decides to draw you back to Himself (John 6:44), I believe that once you, or possibly your children, leave go of your Christian "memory" the "skeptical" system you are promoting will leave no basis for truth, science, morals, self-sacrifice, or a meaning or purpose in life.
Moreover, given my life, your system simply holds no attraction for me. Meanwhile, the Christian faith provides a basis for all of the above. Also, if a society as a whole were to ascribe to you system I believe it would have disastrous results.
>>Lastly, unless you object, I will be posting your letter and my responses on my Web site.<<
>Great! I hope you can post this too.<
It will be posted along with my reply.
>Sorry if I've been a bit adversarial, but I like a good
Actually, compared with some discussions I have had with atheists, your comments seem rather "tame." I also enjoy a "good debate" - but with my failing health it is getting to be rather difficult to have discussions like these. But I hope the above is helpful. Please try to check out the articles and other items I referred to in this and my previous letter.
I will close by wishing you a "Merry Christmas" - or maybe better "Happy Holidays" or whatever you agnostics say to each other this time of the year.
This discussion is concluded at Correspondence with an Agnostic - Part Three.
The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site in December 1997.
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