Sunday, December 27, 2015

Defection of a Christian Apologist


 photo bizarro_atheists.jpg

 




Kyle Roberts, Professor of Theology at  United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, writes about "Dr. Steven Davis, Christian apologetics professor who, after becoming an atheist, recently resigned his position at Manhattan Christian College. He had been at MCC for 15 years and prior to that was a pastor for 14 years." [1] There is an interview of  Davis in which he enumerates five guiding principles that helped him decide  for abandoning the faith. I will comment on these reasons and upon the observation Roberts makes about them.  First, Roberts expresses admiration for Davis in that he had the guts to own up to his true feelings about his life's career and commitment of faith that has grown cold. Roberts expresses the notion that this is more honest than living a lie. Of course it is and I have to kind of admire that too, although he threw away security, his income and someth9ing he worked away his youth to achieve in the first place. Why did he seem convinced about God in the first place. Think of 1st John, "they went out from among us because they were not really of us."

On the other hand it's heart breaking to see this happen. It's always easy to answer other people's doubts, not so easy to get them to accept the answers, It's also easy to think "all he had to do was read my book." Really all the answers, facts, and logic are of no avail when someone wants to leave the faith., Who are we to say their reasons are not equal to my answers? Years ago (sometime around 2001-04) when the CADRE [2] was still just a band of message board warriors, we lost an apologist, gave up the faith right in the middle of our heated battles. The irony was he had been touted by a member who brought him into the group. "my friend is a fine apologist, he'll give those atheists what for..." Our arguments were getting better, the atheists were getting stupider (to hear us tell it) and so on. This guy just gives up. Why? He had personal reasons we did not know about, and I suspect that's the case with most such cases. Atheist like to flatter themselves that they are paragons of reason, I would be willing to bet that true reasoning rarely decides the matter either way.

The first of Davis's principles:

(1) “The Truth has Nothing to Fear.”  "We should seek 'unadorned truth,' no matter the cost or no matter where it leads." Sure no one says "I just want to be wrong, hopefully falling prey to deceptions." Truth may have nothing to fear but deception not so much. What happened to the truth he accepted as the Gospel before? He is going to play a game with this concept of truth, as we will see, It seems his hidden assumption is that if he is seeking the truth he can't be deceived but there was a time when he thought Jesus was truth.

(2) 'Humans are Not Objective.'
Rather, we are interpreting beings who operate on the basis of received assumptions about the way the world really is. He doesn’t use this word, but my assumption is that by being “not objective,” he is simultaneously acknowledging that humans are thoroughly subjective creatures–people whose subjectivity shapes, influences, limits, and colors our perception of reality.  Thus, there is no reality as such (unmediated, pure, “objectively” accessible); rather, there is only reality as it appears to me. I’m saying more than Davis said there, perhaps, so he can correct me if I’ve imported something he doesn’t say or believe.  
Note that saying 'there is no truth' and 'we are subjective' are not the same things. There has to be a nature of the case if there is any semblance of reason or order in reality. If there is not then what the hell are all of these atheists doing talking about science? There could be truth but we can't find it. Then which general direction is closer to it might become the paramount issue. This means one could go in a better or worse direction; if we equate truth with 'better.' So the fact that we are subjective does not mean there is no truth or that it does not matter in which way we turn. I've preached  for years that there is no objective truth (meaning from human perspective) I also accept the correspondence theory of truth [3] so there is a "nature of the case," then it matters how close we can come to understanding that nature, or the correspondence to reality.

I think he will find that atheists do not appreciate the notion of subjective truth. It is my experience from 15+ years of message boarding that, even though there are different kinds of atheists a hallmark of the "new atheists" (aka Dawkamentalists, or "Dawkies,") is their fear of subjectivity. They need to believe that science gives them the objective truth. They tend to equate subjectivity with emotionalism which they see as the worst aspect of life, they seem to equate it with sheer stupidity. There is also the concept of inter-subjectivity. [4] By this notion we can correlate our subjective experiences with each other. Paul Tillich had a major aspect of his theological method that was based upon the correlation between scripture and doctrine, scientific data, an d personal experience. Tillich holds that understanding the human condition is a philosophical task the Philosopher must draw upon interpretive materials from all realms and aspects of culture, this includes science. This vast array of material is given focus by one central question "what does it mean to exist?" Science cannot deal with this issue. Science does not deal with questions of meaning, that is a philosophical issue. Such a question is totally beyond the domain of science. [5]

(3)  “Religious beliefs have been socially constructed.”
He refers there to The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann, making the point that religions are disseminated, passed on, through the mechanisms of cultural inheritance and social influence. The problem is that many people are not quite aware of the way religious beliefs get passed on to them (or of how they come to believe this or that) and so they have naive assumptions about and unfounded certainty in those beliefs. And this is no doubt true.
.I have not read Berger and Luckman but this notion of social constructs is all over postmodernism. One of the major influences is Derrida, and it probably goes back to structuralism or post structuralism. [6] A lot of people seem to equate "construct" with "made up." Construct does not mean fictional. It means that a concept is understood in cultural terms. Everything is a construct even true things are constructed in that our concepts of them are filtered through cultural understanding. One example is the idea of separate restrooms for men and women. It is not a fact of nature than the sexes should segregate what the commercials call "the go." A compound construct (my term) is the idea of representing the restrooms by pictorial symbols such as a butterfly and a crab. Which is which? I bet every readers knows: men = crab, women = butterfly. How do we know? Our culture has so construed the difference and communicated it to us in so many subtle ways that we just know. That is a construct.

Why would that equate to falsehood? If our concept of God is constructed and taught to us though culture, does that make it untrue? How else would it be passed on? What he's missing is the fact that science itself is a pile of constructs. Science works by paradigm shifts paradigms are nothing but constructs

The claim that the consensus of a disciplinary matrix is primarily agreement on paradigms-as-exemplars is intended to explain the nature of normal science and the process of crisis, revolution, and renewal of normal science. It also explains the birth of a mature science. Kuhn describes an immature science, in what he sometimes calls its ‘pre-paradigm’ period, as lacking consensus. Competing schools of thought possess differing procedures, theories, even metaphysical presuppositions. Consequently there is little opportunity for collective progress[7]. 

One of the most crucial concepts in science is cause and effect. This Davis wants to call himself an "empiricist" and apparently he hasn't read Hume (the most important empiricist), because the concept of cause as Hume construed it is nothing but a construct. He says we don't see causes the whole point of empiricism is the construal of cause based upon tight correlation and how that feeds into probability in the construction of inductive methods in science.[8] If he is scraping belief in God because it's s construct and he's becoming an empiricist because he thinks that guarantees a factual approach free from constructs, I have some sad news for him. Empiricism is itself a construct. If he argues that he doesn't think empiricism guarantees objectivity but it's closer than belief in God, I still have news; I not only can remain a Christian and use empirical scientific data  to bolster my view, but I have done so in my book, The Trace of God: Rational Warrant for Belief (available on Amazon).[9] 


(4) “the necessity of critical thinking.” Roberts quotes Davis:,

"My doctoral program in adult education introduced me to the specifics of critical thinking. I came to realize that adopting and implementing a critical thinking strategy would provide me with the best methodology for applying guiding principles 1 and 2."  He needed a doctoral program to tell him to use critical thinking? Roberts adds:
By applying the skills of critical thinking, one can “accurately assess his social construct” and “discover, challenge, and expose inaccurate assumptions.” This makes sense. As a theology professor myself, I extoll the merits of critical reflection and “deconstruction” of inherited assumptions. This is all part of the educational, formational, and theological process. 
Had he done that he wouldn't have ditched one construct for another under the guise of being more objective.

(5) “apologetics requires engaging counter-arguments.”

"The apologist can’t keep her head in the sand, but must bravely face all “comers”–otherwise the apologist is basically admitting defeat." Shall I repeat myself Calling yourself an empiricist without reading Hume might qualify as keeping your head in the sand, or someplace...

As Roberts reports he doesn't really pin down a reason why he changed his assumption that Christianity was true. He could defend it in spite of its constructed nature as long as he assumed it was true. For some reason he changed that assumption. He seems to be setting himself up for the same probablematic in assuming that there is nothing beyond the material. Roberts observes a contradiction between the assumption of human subjectivity vs, scientific empiricism.
Should we really trust our critical thinking to give us something like “objective” truth, particularly when it comes to the question of whether there is a God/god/gods or not? 
Davis now calls himself a “Rational-Empiricist.” He defines this as, “the epistemological position and methodological approach of modern science.” and believes it to be “the best way humanity has for discovering, understanding, and anticipating facts about our world is when reason and experience (empirical data) work together.”
Someone should send Davis a copy of  Stephen J. Gould. Science and religion do not compete. They pertain to different sphere's of influence (magisteria). They exist for different purposes and they answer different questions. Even in areas where they seem to overlap they don't. The most contested area is literal reading of Genesis vs. evolution. That's just a case of the literalist not understanding that her literalism transgresses upon the scientific domain, Why? Because the question is about understanding physical nature not about how to be saved.

One can use scientific evidence to bolster one's faith, as Tillich discusses with his method if coloration (see aboveaa0. That's what I did in my book, Through the arguments that I make backed up by a huge body of scientific research from peer reviewed journals there is no reason to give up the faith due to some ill-conceived need for scientific objectivity. See my article on the universal nature of mystical experience. The evidence resulting from Professor Hood's studies using the mysticism scale indicates that mystical experiences are universal to all faiths. Since religious beliefs are cultural constructs this can't be because they are the result of human brain structure. The constructed nature of belief means the symbols that communicate religion are culturally relative. That would imply that to be universal they would have to be the result of an objective external object which is being experienced inter-subjectively. The M scale has been used in cultures as far ranging as Iran and Sweden and Japan, with the same results; when the specific names and doctrinal references are taken out the experiences themselves are the same. These studies are discussed in my book. The argument from universal mystical experience can be read on the Trace of God blog.[10]





Sources


[1] Kyle Roberts," Losing God: From Christian Apologetics Professor to Skeptical Atheist,"     , Unsystematic theology, November 6, 2015, (blog) URL: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2015/11/losing-god-from-christian-apologetics-professor-to-skeptical-atheist/#sthash.hmbfXTID.dpuf


Roberts: (PhD) is Associate Professor of Public and Missional Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (beginning in fall of 2014). Roberts has published essays on Kierkegaard and modern theology, including several essays in the series Kierkegaard Research: 2014-10-14 10.26.51Sources, Reception and Resources (Ashgate / University of Copenhagen) and other collected volumes on various topics, including Pietism, Karl Barth, and Christian spirituality. Roberts has published Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013) and is currently co-authoring a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans).


[2] CADRE: "The Christian Cadre," an apologetics group started way back around 2001. The group reached it's zenith about 2009. It evolved from merely being a lose knit gang of Christians on CARM who where just trying help each other argue with atheists, to a somewhat renowned apologetics group with a huge website (Christiancadre.org) and a prestigious and active blog (cadre comments). We also conducted campaigns to invade various atheist boards other than CARAM  such as secular web. We where somewhat successful for a couple months. At least one atheist remarked "where did all these Christians come from all of a sudden."

[3] David, Marian, "The Correspondence Theory of Truth", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Narrowly speaking, the correspondence theory of truth is the view that truth is correspondence to, or with, a fact—a view that was advocated by Russell and Moore early in the 20th century. But the label is usually applied much more broadly to any view explicitly embracing the idea that truth consists in a relation to reality, i.e., that truth is a relational property involving a characteristic relation (to be specified) to some portion of reality (to be specified). This basic idea has been expressed in many ways, giving rise to an extended family of theories and, more often, theory sketches.
[4] Webster 
Definition of intersubjective. 1 : involving or occurring between separate conscious minds ;intersubjective communication; 2 : accessible to or capable of being established for two or more subjects : objective ;intersubjective reality of the physical world.

[5] Guyton B. Hammond, "An Examination of Tillich's Method of Correlation," Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Jul., 1964), Published by: Oxford University Press, 248-251

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1460502 (accessed 26 Dec 2015).   

[6] Definitions of Anthropological Terms, Anthropological Resources, Updated:Wednesday, 26-Dec-2012 18:00:08 PST. Website URL
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth370/gloss.html  (accessed Dec 27, 2015)

cultural construct - the idea that the characteristics people attribute to such social categories as gender, illness, death, status of women, and status of men is culturally defined

[7] Bird, Alexander, "Thomas Kuhn", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

http://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=thomas-kuhn


[8] Morris, William Edward and Brown, Charlotte R., "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2016/entries/hume/.

[9] Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God, Rational: Warrant for Belief. Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct 2014. Available on Amazon

[10] ____________, "The M Scale and the Universal Nature of Mystical Experience," The Trace of God Blog, no date given. URL
http://traceofgod.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-m-scale-and-universal-nature-of.html (accessed Dec. 26, 2015).
The M scale or Mysticism scale was invented by Ralph Hood Jr. Ph.D. professor in psychology of religion at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  The M scale is a survey but it is constructed in such a way as to test theory of W/T.l Stace. See the article.








 



 
 

1 comment:

Elissa Rae said...

I would like to say that Dr Davis is my biological father, has had nothing to do with me my entire life (even while he was a "man of god") and has proven himself to be a complete wacko at this point. You are absolutely right: he completely contradicts himself in nearly every sense. I love what you said about him needing a doctoral program to learn critical thinking. He is obviously confused. He doesn't understand God, he cannot comprehend God, therefore, because he is so convinced of his own intelligence, he must discredit God. I am not even saying that I do or do not believe in God, only that the concept of God is definitely over Dr Davis' head. One thing he likes to do in particular, he likes to make fun of Osteopathic Doctors, doctors that went to school for many years just like Steve did. Well, it turns out Steve went to school for many years for something he no longer thinks is true, how is that different from those "crazy" Osteopathic Doctors? The bottom line is: Steve is a hypocrite. He is incapable of making sense of any of the crap he says, he takes words in circles so that there is no way to argue with him-much like a politician would. He is incredibly superficial and any sense of depth, or understanding of truth, is completely beyond his level of understanding. Rather than sit on his high horse of degrees and education (which by the way, are also man made), he should consider learning more about psychology and how to be a real, genuine person.